Posts Tagged ‘Kelly Allen for GA Moderator’

Well – Kelly Allen and I had a great time standing together for Moderator and Vice Moderator of 221st GA. Ultimately, we were not elected. Now, the loss might have been just awful, but we as an assembly abounding in hope! Moderator Rada (or Moderada as some are affectionately referring to him) and his Vice Moderator, Larissa Kwong Abazia are carrying that hope wonderfully for us. We are now looking to them hopefully for their opinions and observations. Specifically, I appreciated picking up the General Assembly News yesterday and finding Abazia on the front page. In Bolin’s photograph, Abazia’s face is lifted slightly upward, perfectly poised to communicate hope. It makes me want to read Ferguson’s article. I already know that she serves the most diverse neighborhood of our nation, so eagerly, I lean through the poise of the picture and into the article to lap up bit more hope. I hope she will tell me what she knows. I lean in hoping that she will tell me the best practices for the future of the church. As I lean in, I read: “If there’s anything I’ve learned about doing ministry, its that there’s no book that tells us all how to be healthy church and how to grow. There is no one right way to do that.” And in the statement there is a tone of trust that each of us will be able to figure it out. I lean out and back and begin to imagine what I know.


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a hunger for the text:

exegesis, translation, grammar, syntax, context, historical critical, literary analysis….what’s overstated?, what’s understated?  Flipping paper-thin pages in search of the first, horrible and lonely draft.

a hunger to communicate

anticipation, what do they need?, what did you mean?, they already know that!, heard it a thousand times!, assumptions, presumptions, projections, truth in the negative, christian jargon. The first draft falls apart  like compost from culinary preparations.

a hunger for sacred proximity

nibbling…nibbling away at the distance between pew and pulpit, distilled words, appropriate humor, a fork and spoon through the mind, heart, into the stomach pit.   Respectful invasion, aided by the Spirit…stilling the room until internal vitality begins a unified rumbling…..THE hunger games of faith.

A congregation moves out to be the least among them….to serve, to feed to find the abundant feast that will consume them but not their hunger.

4 days until the cocoon of General Assembly in Detroit…what will emerge?

hungry caterpillar

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pentecostOh Lord we feel the pain of all that perishes and dies.

We suffer and it feels as if your will may be turned against us.

Even in our suffering, we will not fear change, for Christ  is the agency of Creative Transformation.

Heavenly Host, we feel the advent of something new.

We groan inwardly and outwardly to discern what it is. We suffer and it feels as if your will is breaking through us.

Even in our suffering, we will not fear change for Christ  is the agency of Creative Transformation.

Mysterious Holy Spirit, sustain the dance between our intuition and reason.

We suffer to rationalize one and to fully embrace the other.

Even in our suffering to understand, we will not fear the continual birth of your church, for Christ is the agency of creatively transforming all toward your wisdom and way.


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pride and prejudice


Within the movie version of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, dialogue is quick-witted even as postures and decorum are maintained.  One particular scene deals a devastating blow of dialogue between all-powerful, Lady Catherine and the obsessed Mrs. Bennet.  The scene is late at night, Lady Catherine has arrived by carriage on “urgent business” with Jane, the Bennet’s eldest daughter.  Before Lady Catherine can attend to the business with Elizabeth, Mrs. Bennet is providing an update on the marriage of her daughters and how well things are going for their family.  Mrs. Bennet’s naive joy is cut short by Lady Catherine who declares,   “Madam, your garden is quite small.”

In the movie, the insult is almost lost on Mrs. Bennet for the scene cuts quickly to Lady Catherine’s private conversation with Elizabeth.   But for those of us who are “into” pride and prejudice, Lady Catherine’s comment cuts to the heart of our humanity.    I have watched this movie multiple times.  Each time, I most anticipate Lady Catherine’s statement to Mrs. Bennet.  I have wondered, what would I say to Lady Catherine if I were with her.   I imagine all sorts of bold and witty “come-backs”.  It was during such a viewing, not so long ago that I realized I, serving the church,  was in the presence of Lady Catherine.   Perhaps most particularly, in a culture that continues to be persuaded by bigger is better.

We in the Presbyterian Church USA have many small gardens.  Rural, urban and suburban congregations are all included as place holders for small gardens.  It  has often been said that size is relative.  So, in fact, perhaps everyone has been made to feel that their gardens are small at one time or another, in one way or another.  I would wager that even large churches have been “cut down to size”  as Lady Catherine’s voice is made audible by declaring only a small portion of their congregation is involved compared to the percentage of folks involved in small churches.    Interesting that  congregations a fraction of others can sound Lady Catherine with a booming resonance.  It might not matter who we are.  It might not matter our size. When Lady Catherine’s statement “Madam, your garden is quite small” is made audible, church, congregant and clergy are cut to the quick.  Those referenced might decide to stop gardening or try to get bigger gardens to “show her”. But one must draw attention back to  Mrs. Bennet to fully appreciate the frivolity of Lady Catherine’s insult.

As simple as she is portrayed, Mrs. Bennet is, ultimately, unaffected by the insult of “a small garden”.   In fact, one notices that her only concern is for her small garden of a family.  She exists that it may grow and thrive.  And yes, yes, she is horribly traditional in her understanding of how that happens. However, the point is, that she is always revising and reframing to bring her garden into the best possible light.  Every garden needs light to thrive.  In the movie, it is almost as if she does not hear Lady Catherine.  It is almost as if we should not hear Lady Catherine.  After all, whose garden is not smaller than hers and does that not make her critique irrelevant.

Presbyterian gardens of all sizes (for one size does not fit all) might do good to channel a bit of Mrs. Bennet’s spirit as we celebrate the  Spirit at Pentecost this Sunday.   As we remember the emergence of the church, may we ever lovingly attend to the portion of its vitality entrusted to our care.  And while we are at it…..

During General Assembly, the Congregational Vitality committee of our  General Assembly will consider a recommendation that the entire church be called to live more missionally.  May the gardens blossom and feed! 7 Days!

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Some of the exciting reading in preparation for General Assembly is the report from the Mid Council Commission II Report.  Doesn’t sound exciting but it is actually full of beautiful considerations and recommendations.  It begins be asserting the truth that we are not the church we have been in terms of numbers.  It was in those bygone days that we had created the structure of the Presbyterian Church USA with is current number of Synods.  Synods are those relational entities between Presbyteries and General Assembly.  Because our numbers are less, one might think that the Mid  Council Commission II Report would be recommending few Synods to conserve cost of staff and facilities.

In fact the Mid Council Commission II Report is a response to Mid Council Commission’s report at the 220th General Assembly.  That report called for an elimination of Synods in light of the numbers of Presbyterian members.  Commission II was charged with the duty of reviewing and revising the recommendation to eliminate.  What they came up with was beautiful.

Spoiler alert!  Commission II recommends that Synods be distilled to 8 from their current number of 16.  Not quite as severe as the first commission’s recommendation but not markedly different.   What is different is how they suggest that this happen.  The recommendation is that the middle of our governmental structure would begin to engage one another…Presbytery to Presbytery, Synod to Presbytery with local congregations naturally in the mix.   Through collaboration, the middle would experience an increase in metabolism.  As Presbyteries, Synods and local congregations collaborate to solve a technical challenge (our structure no longer is well suited to our membership), they begin to know one another better and begin to imagine how to  work together.  Imagination is the right warrior to arrive into battle with the adaptive challenges that face any long standing denomination trying to articulate Christ’s call to mission and ministry in a non-denominational world.

Initially, it is sad to think about downsizing.  People’s lives are affected and perhaps also a denominational morale.  But to be called to a new metabolism in our ecclesial life is exciting and exemplifies excellent committee work as we approach General Assembly.

As we run this race…may we metabolize with Grace.  Thanks Mid Council Commission II.   8 Days!

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general assembly 3

Well, my husband has decided to teach summer school. He is teaching because he is a hard worker.  He is teaching because his district needs him.   He is teaching summer school this year because teaching 5th graders is something that he has not done before.   He is interested by a challenge.  Teaching summer school and attending summer school is not an easy thing.  It means finding energy to go against the school’s out for the summer energy that fills school districts, local school building and neighborhoods.  Those students who attend summer school do so because they or their families have an urgency.  The urgency is to improve skills and comprehension in state tested subjected like math, reading, history and science.  Attendance at summer school promises that one will be up-to-speed with one’s peers when the Fall arrives.

As it turns out, Presbyterians have their own summer school.  We do it every other year and it comes together as our General Assembly.  Like the summer school of the school districts throughout our nation, General Assembly requires some unusual energy. But teaching elders and ruling elders, observers and mid council folks, find the energy because there is also a promise.  Attendance at the Presbyterian summer school of General Assembly promises to bring us up to speed in our world and faith.  Summer school always happens when its hot.  General Assemblies are no different.

Presbyterian summer school is diligent in its efforts to develop reading skills.  Throughout the assembly we will read hundreds of documents …. words on a  page.  As we do that, we will be reading circumstances that are of concern and joy in our world.  Presbyterians are known for their political opinion.    We Presbyterians believe in asking the General Assembly commissioners to study. We  believe that a faithful reading of real life circumstances from margin to mainstream  is faithful to Christ.  Christ, who moved at the margins and within the mainstream in order to unite what would otherwise be divided.  As we practice our reading, we Presbyterians gather as a crowd into our Teacher’s  classroom.

Presbyterian summer school is also rigorous in addition and subtraction.  We will managing budgets and questions that surround them.  But the most important accounting will be the counter-intuitive accounting.  We will add up the cost of following Christ. Adding the cost will exercise us all day,  for the entire seven days of our assembly.

In some ways, it is the reading and the math that bring us to the science of being Presbyterian.  At our best we are a laboratory, experimenting with the ionic bonding of faith.  You remember ionic bonds.  Those bonds that are established between two atoms caused by the electrostatic force between oppositely-charged ions.  We teaching elders and ruling elders will come charged for our heated work.  Some say that the 221st Assembly promises to further split and divide our denomination.   But we are more discerning than that.  Even in our oppositely charged passions, we know better.   We remember the charge modeled by Christ to go out into the world and abide together in our differences.

I trust that we will try to find that Christ-like ionic bond that has long been the mystery of the church.  Yes, you are ahead of me…it is, indeed, the ionic bond that produces salt.  Matthew 5:13

9 days!



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“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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