"There is an intellectual desire, an eros of the mind. Without it there would arise no questioning, no inquiry, no wonder." Bernard Lonergan

"It seems clear that humans cannot significantly reduce or mitigate the dangers inherent in their use of life by ccumulating more information or better theories or by achieving greater predictability or more caution in their scientific and industrial work. To treat life as less than a miracle is to give up on it." Wendell Berry

"Do not be afraid, my little flock, for it is the Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." Luke 12:32

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Faith, Politics, and Complexity in the Post Easter Season

I hear the following comment from time to time: “I went to my son’s/daughter’s church in another city. And you know what the pastor did? In the sermon he told the church that they were going to vote and then he told them who he thought they should vote for.” For a myriad of reasons, this is something that we don’t do at White Memorial. 
Reason 1: Our Presbyterian and Reformed tradition values freedom of conscience. We hold it as a principle of our church’s identity. God has given each of us a mind, and we hope that everyone will use the mind they have been given. We encourage prayer and the leading of informed civic lives.
Reason 2: The current climate of the body-politic is so toxic-laden that any remarks we do make invariably illicit strong reactions. Indeed, even when we preach about political issues as a call to prayer, invariably we risk upsetting people on several fronts. We say what some deem to be the wrong thing. We say something and others deem that we didn’t say enough. Or, some wish the church would be a safe haven, set apart from so many of the debates which dominate the news, the office or the home.  
So what do we do? If we cannot talk and pray about issues that effect our city, state and country at our church, then when and where can we talk about them and give direction to our members and friends about how to pray about them?
Why am I writing about this now? As you know, we are in an election year. Primaries. Conventions. Speeches. Campaigns. On top of this, we live in the capital city of North Carolina and we have an amazingly politics-literate congregation. We have a number of elected officials in our church family. This means we’ll be praying and thinking about elections at church, just as we are praying and thinking about it at home.
Pastorally I will be praying for all of us. Since 2001 I have heard story after story of our toxic political atmosphere infiltrating families—grandparents, parents and adult children who do not speak to one another for months on end because of political disagreements. I have heard stories of friendships lost or permanently altered for the worse. No candidate, no position is larger than our shared faith in Jesus Christ. No vote is worth losing a loving relationship.
Elections matter. Elections affect our lives, and they have impact on real people of every kind. We all know this. But why have our elections become so mean-spirited? The historians and political scientists of future generations will know for sure. But I think it is because so many of us are afraid. It is when our fears divide us one from another and our differences limit our conversations and interactions that we have slipped far away from the beloved community that God has called the church to exhibit to the world.
On this side of Easter, the call is to leave fear in our wake, to remember the Lord who called us to pray for our enemies and to put the needs of others ahead of our own. It may be complex. But Easter asks us for our best, complex or not.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Easter -- All the Reasons to Love

We read a lot of books with our children. The favorite was a beautiful book called All the Places to Love. It is the story of a grandmother who shows her grandson all the places to love on the family farm: the stream, the fields, the trees. The book ends with the grandson showing his newborn sister all the places to love. He is passing on his knowledge of the beauty and the grace of their home. Isn’t that lovely?
As we approach Easter, I am once again reminded that there are many reasons to love Easter. Jesus overcomes the tomb! God’s plan for the flock of sheep of Christ is revealed, and it is triumphant and beautiful! Christ is risen, and with his rising come forgiveness from sin and release from death! Easter is such good news. My hope and desire is that Easter rekindles confidence and trust in the heart of every Christian. It is our best day, and it confirms our best hope.
Of all the reasons to love Easter, one of my favorite is that Easter means we do not need to be governed by fear. According to Matthew, Jesus’ first word of Easter to the women is “Do not be afraid” (Matthew 28:10). These are good words to take to heart.
This Easter let us push back against fear. We are so afraid. Hundreds of people have said to me, “I am so afraid for our country,” or “I am so afraid for our world.” I would safely guess you have heard this, too. Fear dominates the landscape. We are afraid of political outcomes. We are  afraid for our planet. We are afraid for our children and grandchildren. We are afraid of other people who seem intent on harming us. This fear is an equal opportunity oppressor: it infects people of every region, every political flavor, every race and every age.
My point: even though there are real worries in the world and even when the future seems daunting, we let fear control too many of our thoughts and decisions. When I feel afraid and when I let fear overcome my faith, I make my worst decisions as a husband, a father and a pastor. People make many of their worst errors and decisions when they are consumed by fear.
Easter is no accident. Jesus’ command—do not be afraid—is not happenstance. Easter is an antidote to fear. It is a permanent and final reminder that God will have the final say and that God’s grace will overcome all sources of fear. While our fears are real, so, too, is our trust in God. And God is bigger than all things that go bump in the night or that cause our minds to question and our hearts to doubt. And no, no, no— this trust is not naive. It is the most important trust we hold because it is the trust that holds us.
Desmond Tutu wrote these words, now sung the world over, words which fully capture our Easter faith and Easter hope:
          Goodness is stronger than evil;
          love is stronger than hate;
          light is stronger than darkness;
          life is stronger than death.
          Victory is ours, victory is ours
          through him who loved us.
          Victory is ours, victory is ours
          through him who loved us.

May Easter grace abound!  Abound!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Mortification and Vivication

Do you recognize those words? They are quite old and quite out of fashion. But they represent a very important and very old theological idea and practice. “Mortification” comes from the same root for the words “mortified” and “mortal.” It refers to things which are dying or which need to die. “Vivification” is the opposite. From the same root as the word “vital,” it means to come alive. 


The theological and spiritual practices of mortification and vivification intersect in a complex but critical transaction. What is it within us that needs to die in order that Christ might live within us? How can there be any room for the grace, mercy and love that Jesus offers us if we are consumed by greed, lust, envy, or shame, guilt and suffering? How can Christ live in our hearts if there is no room for him to take up lodging?


The book of 1 Peter 2:24-25 uplifts this twinning of mortification and vivification for us: “Jesus himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.” Romans, chapter 6 in its opening verses does the same: “What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it?”


Part of living in the gracious light of our savior is spiritually dying to all things which are consuming our energies. The first rule of faith is letting go of whatever we are clinging to that distracts us from the new life which God is freely offering.


So as you read today, what practices, what distractions, what sins need to end in order that the newness of Christ might live within you? What room do you need to make for the Savior? As you answer these questions, know that you are not alone. None of us are solitary in our need to confess our sin. Nor are we solitary in our need for grace. Mortification and vivification are necessary for all of us.


Living and dying—spiritually dying to deadly things in order that we might spiritually live—we belong to God. And this belonging is an invitation to a life more wonderful than other types of lives we might imagine. As we move to Holy Week, we have a perfect opportunity to consider the gift that God offers us in the Christian life. Will we embrace it?