Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A New Day For The PCUSA

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) had (finally) approved changes in ordination standards! We are another step closer to genuine equality in the church! Praise God!!!

Maybe now we will begin to truly believe that God's gift of grace that is made known to us in our baptism is truly sufficient...because, baby...we were born this way...

Monday, May 9, 2011

On The Threshold Of Equality

In 2008, I served as a commissioner to the 218th General Assembly of the PC(USA). I worked with the Church Orders and Ministry Committee, which was the committee that considered amendments regarding G-6.0106b. That year, the General Assembly passed the amendment that became known as "Amendment 08-B". While it was being considered in committee, it was known as "Item 05-09". This proposed amendment would have changed the language of G-6.0106b in the PC(USA)'s Book of Order, moving us closer to real equality in the church.

I moved for its approval in committee (and voted for its approval on the floor of the Assembly), so I was really disappointed when it was not ratified by enough presbyteries to pass.

Many of us in the PC(USA) have been fighting to get the language of G-6.0106b either changed or removed from our Book of Order for years now -- ever since it was added to the Book of Order in the mid 1990s. Many of us wondered if/when that day would ever come.

Well...that day is finally here!!! Most are now saying that Tuesday, May 10, 2011, will be the day that the language of G-6.0106b is finally changed so that it will bring us one step closer to full equality in the PC(USA).

I will be reflecting on this action in the next several days and weeks. Many people will be excited and happy about the voting results (like me!) -- but, others will not... In the meantime, I share these words that I wrote back in 2008:
We are called to trust God in the process – really trusting that God is the one who is in charge. God calls us through scripture to live together, work together, pray together, worship together, and witness together.

I pray that we will seek to live out our calling to live as brothers and sisters in Christ, so that our willingness to look past our differences and declare together that Jesus Christ is Lord can bear witness to the amazing power of the love and grace of God!

Jesus said: "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." John 13:34-35 (NRSV)

Sunday, May 1, 2011

When Does Love Win?

I just finished watching President Obama tell the nation about the death of Osama bin Laden. I must admit that I have mixed emotions about this "achievement". On the one hand, I feel some relief knowing that a known murderer and terrorist has been eliminated. This is the guy who orchestrated the tragic events of 9-11. This is the guy who regularly celebrated the deaths of thousands of innocent people. Let's face it -- even if he had been captured alive, he would have faced the death penalty for his multitude of crimes. So, knowing that he has been brought to justice is welcome news.

On the other hand, I find myself somewhat uncomfortable with rejoicing over the death of someone -- even the death of such a sick, violent, twisted individual as Osama bin Laden. It doesn't sit well with me to cheer when there are acts of violence. While I understand many consider his death to be "justice", I can't help but see it more as vengeance. And as much as I wish that Osama's death would somehow mean that terrorism is now "done", I know that just isn't the case. So, I am hesitant to celebrate...

Now...before the President spoke, the news broke -- both online and on the various television news channels. There was a ridiculous amount of speculation on Twitter. But the speculation about what the President was going to talk about didn't bother me. The "leak" of the news that Osama bin Laden had been killed didn't really upset me all that much, either. What really bothered me was the words of hate and disdain that were being tossed about between political parties and their supporters...

Please. Someone help me understand how throwing insults is helpful. Someone help me understand how calling people or groups names adds anything positive. Someone help me understand how pointing fingers at people or groups we don't like or agree with is ever going to get us anywhere. Someone, please, help me understand how violent, hurtful words answer God's call to love one another.

Is This what peace looks like? Is THIS what unity looks like? When does love win? When do we dare to truly embrace the command to love our enemies? When do we finally decide to follow the command to bless those who curse us and pray for those who persecute us?

We aren't always going to agree on how things should be done. We aren't likely to agree on who should (or shouldn't) get the credit for things that happen in the world. And God knows that we aren't all going to agree on which people to vote for or which news channels to watch. But I pray that maybe -- just maybe -- we who call ourselves Christian might figure out a way to agree on the importance of showing respect to one another -- even when (and maybe, most importantly) we disagree so passionately about other things. If we can find that way... If we can dare to respect one another... If we can refrain from the temptations of violence and vengeance...then maybe...love can win...

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Our Heyday Is Yet To Come

One of the scripture lessons that is often read on Easter Sunday – part of the “Easter Vigil” liturgy – is a lengthy passage from Exodus (Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21). In this scripture, we read about the Israelites crossing the Red Sea. We all know this scene – Cecil B. DeMille and Charles Heston made it famous. With Pharaoh’s army close on their heels, the Israelites come to the banks of the Red Sea, where it looks as though they will surely be recaptured. But, God instructs Moses to stretch out his hand over the sea – and, when he does, the water is driven back by a heaven-sent wind so that the people can cross the sea on dry land.

It is a great story. But, we might wonder… why it is part of the liturgy for Easter Sunday? I think that – along with the Resurrection stories that we read in the Gospels – this passage from Exodus could possibly be one of the best scriptures to read on Easter Sunday. Like the accounts of Jesus’ Resurrection, the story of the crossing of the Red Sea is a salvation story. These scriptures tell us about God’s desire to save – even when doing so may appear to be impossible. These stories offer dynamic testimony of how God always makes a way when (it seems that) there is no way.

These stories about the Exodus and Jesus’ Resurrection invite us to make a dramatic shift in our thinking. Conventional thinking would suggest that huge bodies of water are always impossible to cross on foot. Conventional thinking would suggest that death is always the end of the story. But when we shift our thinking – when we put on new, Spirit-tinted glasses and we tune in to see what God sees – then we discover that there are more possibilities than we originally thought. Suddenly, there are dry paths made in the midst of the waves. Suddenly, stones are rolled away and new life springs forth where there once was only death.

Without the shift in our thinking – when we are reluctant to wear those Spirit-tinted glasses – we end up slipping into the murky land of “Should-a/Would-a/Could-a”. The Israelites were there for a while, asking Moses why they had left Egypt only to die in the wilderness – faced with the obstacle of crossing the Red Sea, they were quick to abandon hope and suggest that they were better off as slaves in captivity! “We should-a stayed in Egypt! We would-a never faced this kind of hardship there! We could-a been safe – even as slaves.”

Without Spirit-tinted glasses (offered to us through the promise of God-provided salvation), we – like the Israelites – slip into the belief that our heyday is behind us! We might be tempted to look back to the “Church of Yesteryear” and pine for “the good-ol’ days”. But, God (thankfully) didn’t finish working in and with the Church 30, 50, or 70 years ago – if God had finished back then, we’d still be dealing with issues of institutionalized segregation and sexism in the Church!

Thank the Lord that God is still acting! God is still moving! God is still at work! God – through the Word – encourages us to put on a new vision and recognize this fact: because God is at work, our heyday is yet to come.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Knowing the Mind of God

As I was writing last week, I was reminded of an experience I had while I was searching for a new call. When I was being considered for a position at a particular church, I had the opportunity to interview with a Committee on Ministry of a Presbytery via email. (I will not disclose which church, COM, or Presbytery this was -- I will only say that it is NOT the church, COM, or Presbytery with whom I am affiliated now.)

Here's one of my "favorite" questions about what I had to say in my PIF (Personal Information Form) from a member of that COM:

Under the heading "Key Theological Issues" in Amy's PIF she states: "All Christians must recognize that whenever we claim to know the mind of God we are guilty of idolatry; it is God who calls us and claims us as members of the body of Christ, and not we who call upon or claim God as our own." I need some help in understanding what she is saying here. I would like to ask her: are you saying we cannot know the mind of God at all? Can you explain your statement a bit more, especially in relation to God’s work of revealing to us God's will, God's truth, God's mind so that we can come to know more about God and God's ways for right living? If God can make God’s will known to us, what do you mean when you say it is idolatrous to claim to know what God has revealed? I don’t think I understand what you are trying to say on this point. (see 1 Corinthians 2:9-16, esp. 10-11)

Here is how I answered the inquisitive (and, dare I say, seemingly anxious) individual:

God’s will and God’s truth are, indeed, revealed to us in the person of Jesus Christ by the Spirit of God, and through the Scriptures (again, only by the illumination of the Holy Spirit). Yet, while we (the Church) have received “the Spirit that is from God,” that does not mean that we now “know” the mind of God. Our finite, human minds cannot –- individually or in small groups -– ever fully contain or ever posses the mind of God. As Paul writes, “we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end…For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:9-12).”

It is the Church –- the full Body of Christ –- that has received the Spirit of God, and it is only together as a Body of Christ that we are able to begin to know the mind of God; and when God’s Kingdom is made complete, then our knowledge of God may also be complete. When we as individuals or groups (churches, denominations, affiliate groups, etc.) claim to “know” fully the mind of God, we are quick to forget that we are only a part of the Body of Christ; to claim that somehow one group or another is able to have the knowledge that God has is to once again fall prey to the lies of the Tempter.

In 1 Corinthians 2:12, Paul says that “Now we have received…the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.” Later in his letter, Paul goes on to more fully explain these spiritual gifts, taking great care to remind us that we are members of a body; we cannot live without one another (1 Corinthians 12). In order to accomplish this -– in order to live together as one Body of Christ –- we must have love for one another (1 Corinthians 13). Therefore, this is why I say this in my PIF: “The Church is called to live out the truth of Christ’s command to 'Love one another as I have loved you'. As we are confronted by a barrage of political and social issues, it is vitally important that the Church find ways to be open to persons of all political, socio-economic, and theological standpoints –- we will only be whole when the Church is able to embrace persons of differing views.”

When will we dare to get over ourselves, admit that we don't have all the answers (and that we couldn't handle it even if we did), and just let God be God...?

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Cartoon Song: A Reflection

In the late '90s, Christian radio stations were abuzz with the hidden track on the album Past the Edges by Chris Rice: Cartoons.

Without question, it is a catchy, fun little song. It presents us with a simple hypothetical to consider: What if cartoons "got saved"? And it is clever to imagine how those famous cartoons would say "hallelujah". And yet, as imaginative as this song is, the message that it sends leaves much to be desired...

The song suggests that "Beavis and that other guy" won't be or can't be saved. The slight pause and one word dismissal of "nah" makes at least some people in the live audience laugh -- there are some who cheer, even -- but, I don't see the humor or joy in it. Why is it that we think that these two cartoon characters can be so easily tossed aside? Is it their choice of dress? Is it their choice of music? Maybe it is their presumed education level or their choice of language? Why is it so difficult to imagine Beavis and Butthead getting saved?

The answer really all depends on your understanding of salvation. Some people believe that salvation is totally dependent on our actions -- that is to say that we humans have a kind of authoritative role in whether or not we are saved. Some say -- either with their actual words or with their actions -- that salvation is based on our believing something or doing something or saying something, as though our being saved or not is dependent upon our "works".

I don't agree with this understanding. You see, I don't believe that we humans (or cartoons, for that matter) have any authoritative role in "being saved". Salvation has nothing to do with any choice that I could ever make. It has nothing to do with any magic words or special incantations. It is not something that comes about because of our "works". Salvation is not something that we do. God - and God alone - is the one who acts through Christ. If salvation is dependent on me and my actions/choices, then that would mean that God is bound by me...and that is a really weak God! Salvation is a gift from God -- pure and simple.

So, I have to wonder... why say "nah" when considering what it would be like if Beavis and Butthead were saved? Is God not capable of extending the gift of salvation to characters like them? God doesn't hesitate to save Fred Flinstone, a character who frequently mistreats his wife. God readily saves Scooby-doo and Shaggy, who are known trespassers (and long suspected drug users). God has no problem saving someone like Yogi Bear, who is an admitted thief. And yet, according to the song, God has no interest in saving two teenage boys who like to watch MTV.

Really?!? I'm just not buying it... I wholeheartedly believe that God is fully capable of saving Beavis and Butthead! Do I know that God would save them? No. I don't know that any more than I can know if God would save anyone else! I don't claim to know the mind of God. This is why I find it rather upsetting that there are "Christians" who dare to make judgement calls like Chris Rice has in his song "Cartoons". There is no good reason to suggest -- even in jest -- that God has no interest in or ability to save someone...

Jesus said -- without mincing words -- that we are not called to make these kinds of judgements. "Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get (Matthew 7:1-2)." It is pretty clear that none of us are in any position to decide whether or not God would save someone. If we're going to be judged according to the judgments that we make, then I am going to follow the rules of love and grace...

Thursday, March 17, 2011

If There Is A Hell...

The violent behavior of Fred Phelps that has recently been revealed by his estranged seventh-son, Nate, comes as no surprise. Any person whose entire "ministry" revolves around hate is bound to exhibit violent behavior. (I don't think that I have ever heard any reports of this "pastor" of the Westboro Baptist "Church" even saying the word love.)

At the end of the article, Nate Phelps (the son) says this: "So since the United States is taking steps to move in the direction of equality for gays in America, he says that has doomed America... So anyone who is connected to America, so anyone who is supporting America in any sense is subject to the wrath of God."

So... here's what I'm wondering... The Westboro Baptist "Church" benefited from the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in their favor. The court decided that they have the right to do what they do, right? So... doesn't that mean that they are "connected to America"? I mean, they live in America. They live under the rule of the U.S. government. They were just supported by the highest court in America.

So...according to their own claims regarding what happens to those who are connected to America...doesn't this mean that (due to their association) "God Hates Westboro Baptist Church"?

Just wondering...

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Roll Away Your Stone...

What stone could you roll away today?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Who Does This? Really?

So...it seems that the gal in the video that I posted yesterday - the one thanking God for answering prayers to convert atheists by causing the earthquake in Japan - was making up the whole thing.

Now, on the one hand, I am incredibly happy to find out that the video wasn't legit. But, on the other hand... Who DOES this sort of thing??? I mean, is this meant to be entertaining? Is it meant to be a political statement of some sort? Is it designed to make other groups of people look bad by pretending to be the most rotten apple in the bunch?

Parody or not -- "troll" video or not -- what was posted was just plain wrong. And the "oops, my bad" pseudo-apology doesn't really cut it for me...

Monday, March 14, 2011

A Response to One Who is Thankful for the Tragedy in Japan

I was wondering when we'd start seeing things like this. And, by "things", I mean "crap". I guess I was hoping and praying that the wackos would keep quiet about the horrific tragedies in Japan. Sadly, we're not that lucky. I simply do not understand how it is that people can say these kinds of things.

(I warn you that this video is, in my opinion, incredibly offensive. If you are one of those people who is prone to throwing things when you get angry or such like that...well...you've been warned.)

To say that I am disgusted by this person's words is, perhaps, the understatement of the century.

At first, I figured that this must be a prank video - intended to parody so-called Christians like Pat Robertson and John Piper. But, alas, I don't think that is actually the case. I looked at her profile on YouTube, and I'm fairly certain that she attends (or is at the least greatly influenced by) the Chalcedon Presbyterian Church in Cumming, Georgia. I saw the word "Presbyterian" and nearly came unglued. I quickly checked to see what particular "flavor" of Presbyterian this church claims, and I discovered that they identify with the Reformed Presbyterian Church in the United States. I have a few friends who attend RPCUS churches -- and the RPCUS is quite different from the PCUSA -- but I don't think that this person in the video is a good spokesperson for that denomination.

The real Christians that I know aren't cruel, hate-filled people who think that we should celebrate when tragedy strikes -- they are kind, love-filled people who reach out to friends and enemies alike in the name of Christ. The real Christians that I know don't believe that God is all about separation -- they believe that God is all about reconciliation. The real Christians that I know leave pronouncements of judgement and damnation COMPLETELY up to God -- they don't pretend that they can make those kinds of pronouncements themselves.

The creator of the video posted above calls Christians to prayer. And I say, let's do it. Let's pray fervently throughout this Lenten season. But, I would encourage us all to pray in ways that don't put words into God's mouth. Instead of praying for things like destruction and vengeance, let's dare to pray for those things for which Christ suggested we pray: pray for your own ability to forgive (Mark 11:25); and pray for your enemies and those who persecute you, so that you might demonstrate your love for them as God demonstrates love for you (Matthew 5:43-48). May we learn to pray in ways that answer God's call for us to love as Christ so loved us...

Friday, March 11, 2011

A Lenten Fast Suggestion

The season of Lent officially began on March 9th (Ash Wednesday), and it will continue for forty days until Easter Sunday. Beginning in the days of the early church, the season of Lent has developed into a time for learning and preparation – particularly for those preparing to be baptized. For all of us, Lent is a time to renew our faith, reaffirm our baptismal identities, and to learn more about what it means to be a follower of Christ.

Many Christians “give something up” for Lent. Have you ever done that? Many people will fast from something during Lent – giving up meat, chocolate, television, or something like that. Fasting is a common Christian practice – especially during this season. By choosing to refrain from enjoying something that we otherwise enjoy on a regular basis, it gives us an opportunity to appreciate those things that much more when we break our fast. Fasting during Lent also invites us to refocus our lives, to repent from our sins, and to renew our commitment to God and God’s Church.

Over the last several years, I have opted to "take on something" during Lent instead of "giving up something". And this year, I am wanting to do both -- take on something AND give up something. Once again, I will be striving to "take on" blogging on a more regular basis. (Hopefully, I will have better success this year!) And I will be "giving up" the oh so tasty trips to Dunkin Donuts... I plan to use the money I would have spent buying donuts and coffee to support one of our church's missions.

Now... all this is well and good and all that... but, let me share what I PRAY we will ALL consider giving up for Lent this year... It is my prayer that we will give up saying things like "But, we've never done it that way before," and "We tried that once and it didn't work." Seriously. I REALLY want us all to give up these useless phrases! I especially pray that those of us who believe Scripture when it says "Behold, I am about to do a new thing" and "Nothing will be impossible with God" will give up saying things that express hopelessness, reluctance, and fear. Instead of "But, we've never done it that way before," I hope that we will say "Let's give it a try!" Instead of "We tried that once and it didn't word," I hope that we will say "Let's see what happens this time!"

As we begin our Lenten journeys, may we dare to look forward - not backward. May we celebrate the gifts God has given - not whine about what we wish we had...

Monday, February 7, 2011

They Will Know...

One of my favorite hymns is “They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love”. In it, we sing of how we will walk with each other, and we will work with each other. Most importantly, perhaps, is its declaration in the first verse that “we are one in the Spirit” and “we are one in the Lord”. Indeed, as members of the Body of Christ (the Church), we are made one in Christ Jesus. And, as members of the one Body of Christ, we are called to love – to love God, and to love our neighbors.

In John 13:34-35, Jesus gives us the foundation for the well-known hymn. He says to his disciples: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” It is by our showing love for one another that everyone will be able to tell that we are Christ-followers. It isn’t because of the crosses we wear around our necks. It isn’t because of the bumper stickers we have on our cars. It isn’t even because people see us walking into a church building from time to time. Plain and simple – from Jesus’ own lips – it is by our love that people will know that we are Christians.

So, perhaps it is not a big surprise that I – along with (thankfully) a multitude of other Christians – am so disgusted with “pastors” like Fred Phelps (the leader of the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas). I am (to put it mildly) frustrated and deeply troubled every time I see these people on television or I read about them in the news. I fail to understand how it can possibly be a demonstration of God’s love to protest people’s funerals or picket various school or military events. I struggle to understand how a group of self-proclaimed Christians can even consider parading around the country with signs proclaiming that “God hates”. God hates? I dare say that isn’t what we find in scripture!

Again and again, the scriptures tell us about God’s love – not God’s hate. The scriptures tell us that God shows “steadfast love to the thousandth generation” (Deuteronomy 5:10). Through the prophet Isaiah, God declares, “In overflowing wrath for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you, says the Lord, your Redeemer (Isaiah 54:8).” Even when God is angry, God doesn’t stay angry – instead, God showers us with a love that never ends! And that shouldn’t surprise us – after all, God is love (1 John 4:8).

Echoing the words of Christ, the author of 1 John tells us: “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also (1 John 4:20-21).” We show love because we have been shown real love – never ending love – in Christ. And so, we are called to love one another in the same way.

Friends, in a world where “churches” make headlines by preaching hatred, let us strive to be bold in our proclamation of love. May we embody the love of Christ and bring the words of the hymn to life, so that all in our community – and even in all the world – will indeed know we are Christians by our love.