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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!

 

presbyopia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

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.

 

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!

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.

 

 

my promised land 2

 

This month, I enjoyed reading the writing of Ari Shavit.  He generously doubles back over images and assertions about the development of present day Israel.  The result is one of memorable education on the subject.  One prevalent image used by Shavit is of orange groves that contributed to the early economy for the European Jews who engaged the Zionist program.  Like an orange is peeled and segmented, Shavit’s content is memorably organized roughly by decades.

His content is rich with historical fact and historical personalities.  In his content, one speculates about the life cycle of nations in general.  Though he sets Israel apart from any other nation of the world, the reader cannot help but think about their own nation.  Within their nation, the reader cannot help but think about those building projects which are specific to the reader.  Within our vocations and hobbies, Shavit invites us further to wonder about our own person, personality, and passionate daring that may help us do a psychological emigration.    If we cannot or will not emigrate in the direction of another, perhaps Shavit builds up in us the desire to empathize with the complexity of another’s landscape.

I commend the book to you.

my promised land

sweepingMy sister is sweeping up her life into luggage so that the way is clear to move forward.

I am sweeping up evidence of her at Christmas.

She is clearing away the cluttered individualism of North America for she can trip over such expectations in lovely India.

I am clearing away and putting my expectations on a precious shelf. Each expectation of frequent phone calls or emails need shelving as we slip into our 11 hour cycle of tag…one awake the other asleep.

She opens and airs her mind, preparing for what it means for a North American suburban girl in India.  What does it mean to be close and radically interdependent on all those into whose care she has been given?  She is airing out and breathing deep as she prepares to continue learning and honoring another culture.

I am airing out as well.  When water runs from my faucet, I will think about babies bathed in potholes.  When I drive too fast along my streets, I will think of crazy Indian traffic.  In my quiet suburban neighborhood, I will be amazed thinking of how all the many people of India…fit into India.  A fresh breeze blows across an ocean.

She is sweeping but nothing is perfectly tidy.  Evidence of us will arrive where she is going.

I am sweeping but nothing is perfectly tidy.  For another stretch of time, I will sweep in a stirring motion that compels evidence from cozy corners.

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