Archive for May, 2014









“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold, by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit.   The one who enters by the gates is the shepherd of the sheep.  The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice.  He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.”  John 10:1-4

I certainly enjoyed a recent exploration  of this text.  In the exploration, I was pouring over all the familiar characters of these four verses when I noticed, as if for the first time, the role of the gatekeeper.  My Sunday School mind kicked in and I was trying to sort it all out.  Sheep equal God’s people.  The Shepherd surely suggests church leadership.  Sheepfold equals the Christian church.  The text overtly declares that Jesus is the gate.  The very thing that can be open and shut by the one character I had not thought much about….the gatekeeper.

I can imagine that some gatekeepers pride themselves on just leaving their gate wide open….this can be hard on the hinges.  A gate that is always open ignores what purpose the gate might serve.

I can imagine that other gatekeepers like their locks.  They take seriously when the lock is released and latched.  They don’t expect the world to hang upon its hinges.  They can explain the importance of the gate for safety and security.

But I hope to be a certain kind of gatekeeper.  I want to be the gatekeeper who enjoys the swings of the my gate.  To be the one keeping watch excites me.

  • There are surely those coming who are bringing easy joy and confidence in the fold.  Their woolly warmth will benefit the entire flock and they will arrive to shear and deposit gifts that the flock may give their warmth and security to others.
  • There are surely those coming with specific burdens.  They are coming to the enclosure of the gate so that they can wrestle well and faithfully with their burdens within understood confines and boundaries.  They will need the gate to hold the tension for a while until they, like Jacob are transformed.  Only when they have wrestled into their larger name will the tension of a closed gate no longer be required.

Wait, do I gate-keep for others?  If so, who are these people?  Am I really so powerful as to manage the gate for them?  Such foolishness!  The most fundamental gate is the Christ gate that I have accommodated to my own heart and mind.  This is the intrapersonal gate-keeping that sets the stage for the interpersonal gate-keeping of the 221st General Assembly.   Through my Christ Gate arrives those things with which I need to wrestle.  Then I have opinions about how others should wrestle.  Through my Christ Gate, I learn, live, experiment and having my being.  Then, I imagine what others should experience and learn.    Through my Christ Gate, I experience an abundance that runneth over the rails and I then imagine how to shear others.  In all these ways, I  have made Christ my own and gate-keeping becomes more complicated.

John 10:1-4  is inexhaustable…but my imagination is exhausted …. for now.

Most all of us will arrive to Detroit through certain airline gate numbers.  In our hearts and minds, we will arrive through the Christ gate.  Pragmatically, we arrive as gatekeepers and we will decide what arrives into the fold so that all who are included can be led out by various shepherds.  Isn’t there somewhere ….anywhere…a variation on this text?  I don’t want so much riding on this gatekeeper within a gatekeeper.  24 days!


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made alive in christ.jpg


I am privileged to stand with Kelly Allen for Vice Moderator of our General Assembly this June.  I have come to know and appreciate her sensibility in this election process.  Kelly is not one to make herself the hero of own story.  She is careful to be a candidate who is ready for the people.  If elected, she wants to be one who participates in the hope and witness of the Presbyterian Church USA as it seeks to be a faithful body.

Her logo by which she invites us to know her best declares,  “Made Alive In Christ”.  There is joy and celebration in this Christian phrase drawn up from the various epistles of our New Testament and specifically, for her, from Ephesians.   Joy and celebration characterize Kelly’s ministry and life.  More than a catch phrase for the Christian faith, this particular phrase is the key to understanding election and what it means for reformed people.

It was Karl Barth who most powerfully drew out the doctrine of election from Calvin’s work.  Barth reminds us that our election begins in God’s election of God’s self to be One who loves freely.   For Barth, and perhaps for us, we understand this love as Christ and the love arrives for the sake of community.

As I have come to know her, I believe Kelly Allen carries this primary understanding of election into her own circumstance when standing as Moderator for our 221st GA.  Jack Haberer said in a recent gathering in Austin Texas, “To stand as Moderator of GA is to present oneself as a sacrifice”.   His humor and energy carried that moment and that statement, but it left me thinking .  Our reformed theology carries us beyond the imagery of sacrifice and into a doctrine of election.  This doctrine reminds Kelly, and all of us, that we are elected to give ourselves completely into loving the Church and feeling the vitality of Christ as we do it.  This is the essential element of election that relieves us from the false moves of contest.

24 days!

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Well – we have missed the formal Presbyopia awareness month.  When you ask?  April is Presbyopia awareness month.  What is Presbyopia you ask?  Presbyopia is the name given to the changes in the eye that happen when one turns 40. Etymologically, the word breaks down like this “presbus”, meaning “old man” and “opia” meaning “eye”.

Turns out, I have Presbyopia.  It was just this year that close reading began to be blurry and produce headaches.  Like many others, I have been prescribed some progressive lenses….or no-line bifocals.  But it has not been the easiest adjustment for me.  I am, at times, confused in my peripheral vision.  With a little research, I learned that to glance too far to the left or right, indeed, to move my head too quickly could contribute to the blurry vision.  The remedy requires careful head movement and attention directly at objects in order to  focus.

You know, now that I think about it, perhaps we have not missed Presbyopia awareness month.  It just so happens that the name of age related eye changes shares part of the name of my denomination…the Presbyterian Church USA.    We gather as a denomination next month to review our life together.  In the review, our assembly will refrain from quick glances.  We will likely even refrain from trying to look too far right or left.  Our job will be to look directly and carefully at important issues facing our church.  Then we will invite the larger church to consider these issues carefully with us…presbytery by presbytery.  Each will negotiate a sort of spiritual presbyopia.

Once I arrive, I anticipate that my perception will have to adjust.  With God’s help, I will move beyond frustration into careful work.  I don’t want to have an inflexible perception as my age advances.  Rather I will be patient through the adjustment because I want a pliable and perceptive faith.   26 days!  May The Spirit move us through Presbyopia!

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horse and goatJeremiah 12:5

If you have raced with foot-runners and they have wearied you, how will you compete with horses? And if in a safe land you fall down, how will you fare in the thickets of the Jordan?

One of my favorite phrases growing up was  ‘someone has got your goat”.  Only much later did I learn what it meant.  The phrase comes from the practice of caring for race horses.  Goats placed in the stall with a race horse would calm the horse and allow it a peaceful night’s rest before a race.  Sometimes, competitors to a particular race horse would remove the goat the night before the race.  The result was a restless horse who had no endurance for the race.

At times, our Presbyterian Church USA can seem a bit weary in the race.   There are local places that have lost hope.  When you visit these quiet buildings, you can see fatigue in the eyes of the people.  While they know there is a race to run, their weariness is exacerbated by all that seems to clutter the raceway.   Therefore, they wait to race.   These who are weary need the proverbial goat to help them rest.  While Matthew 25 does not make goat a popular image for faithfulness, I believe the phrase of my childhood does.

Historically, called and installed clergy have served as a calming presence for God’s people.  Historically we have served to make sure their minds and hearts are resting soundly so that they can rise up and run the race of faith. *  It may be true that some stalls seem too small for goats, but the truth is that every size stall needs this type of companionship to engage the race of faith and the  ministry of Jesus Christ.

We, as a denomination, still believe in the power of company (congregation and clergy).  We still believe in the power of in-stalling to ministry.   The question is, what sort of adventure will call the calming presence of clergy to be installed and restore wearied congregations?  I believe there is a way.  I believe it is our way and part of what Jesus meant when he sent disciples out to preach and heal.

27 days to GA that has the power to in-stall…. perhaps even to the small.

*Please note that helping congregations rest soundly does not mean that they are fed a simple diet of sugary sweet gospel.  Nor does it mean that they are served as an end in themselves.  Congregations rest well when they are know they are called to work of the kingdom.  They rest well when they have considered inconvenient truths and been challenged to train for their work.


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cobo detroit








I grew up Presbyterian, so I am not sure where I became so attached to the King James Version of John 14.   After all, the NRSV makes more sense spatially “In my father’s house there are many dwelling places”. Yes, that works.  There are many places to dwell within a house.  The KJV is a bit more playful, “In my Father’s house there are many mansions”.   Wait.  Though mansion and house have shared meaning in the Greek (abode), the incongruence of mansion into house gives me pause.  But when I forfeit logic, and allow my imagination to test its plausibility, I find that the incongruence of John 14: 2 mirrors the challenges of living together as a community of faith.

We, as people of faith, bring a mansion’s worth of opinions and passions into the more compact space of a particular issue, circumstances or relationship.   In more compact circumstances, we are challenged to come to decisions and find directions that are faithful.  Because we bring mansions of experience, opinion and passion, we may feel discouraged that not all passions or expressions fit it a particular issue or circumstance.

The promise of John 14 is that the disciples are being drawn forward toward a greater identity.  As a Christian community in a particular generation, we are still receiving the promise and being persuaded and loved in such a way that we, too, are drawn into God’s larger and more beautiful identity  This is the pulsing purpose of our General Assembly.

On June 14th, mansions will arrive to Detroit with an intent to dwell together faithfully.  28 days!

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wiresWe are just 30 days away from the 221st General Assembly.  Privileged to be a commissioner and to stand with Kelly Allen as her vice moderator candidate, I am full of anticipation for the assembly’s work.   We Presbyterians pride ourselves on being a connectional church.   To be connectional means that our congregants do not have to travel far to find a family of faith and a familiarity in worship.  To be connectional means that we are each caring for our corner of God’s world with intentional mission and ministry.  To be connectional means that we are giving particular expression to a strong reformed tradition.

But sometimes it is easier to be connectional than at other times.   General Assembly is the place that we come every two years to regroup in our connectionalism.  You can imagine the build up.  As the particular year of an assembly approaches, our connectionalism takes on a specific intensity.   I have heard it said, that as commissioners and guests arrive to the General Assembly, it is possible to feel the conductive power that is a natural part of being connectional.  We bring our passions, opinions and anxieties alongside our joy and anticipations.   As we do, intensity runneth over the brim of our Presbyterian cup.

In the midst of this intensity, the General Assembly embraces its highest calling.  “…the assembly seeks to protect our church from errors in faith and practice, is responsible for assuring that the expression of our theology remains true to the biblical standards in our historic confessions. The General Assembly presents a witness for truth and justice in our community and in the world community. It sets priorities for the church and establishes relationships with other churches or ecumenical bodies”. 

There are gifts to being a connectional church as mentioned above.  But being a connectional church is not for the faint-hearted.  To be connectional means that we are always attending to how we conduct our shared life.   It means that we are accountable to one another and must, like apprentices to the master,   learn how to safely splice, connect and insulate all that conducts our shared life.

Prayers for the assembly are intensifying.

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