This is my personal blog. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the congregation or presbytery I serve.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Holy Humor Sunday.

Here are some resources I wrote for Holy Humor Sunday (4/12), the Sunday After Easter.   

Call to Worship

Groovy is the gang of goodness,
the posse of peace, 
the coterie of the copacetic,
the flock of faith,
the minyan of the merciful,
the horde of the happy,
the tribe of the true,
the nation, no
the universe! no
the multi-verse, 
or maybe the super-symmetry,
(depending on which school of physics you prefer),
of the Dad, the Dude, and the… Bird/flame/wind thing,
from now till… whenever….
(Sometimes I wonder about these contemporary liturgies.)

Filling the Baptismal Font

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus 
were baptized into his death? 

Death?  Seriously?  That wasn’t in the brochure.

Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, 

Wouldn’t this go better if we didn’t talk about death so much?
I’m just saying.

So that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, 

“Raised from the dead”?  
What’s up with that?

Stop interrupting me.
So we too might walk in newness of life. Romans 6:3, 4
You’ll see.  Or not.
And it was in the brochure.

In any case, trust me on this:
remember your baptism, and be thankful!


God of laughter:
Are we not just hilarious?
With our blindness, our contradictions, our ironies?

Is our existence not just slapstick?

You created the world and us very good,

Yet we’re suspicious, asking, “What’s the catch?”

You place us in a magnificent, abundant, beautiful garden,

Which we proceed to take apart.

We painstakingly identify and extract the specks from the eyes of others,

While our own eyes are blocked by veritable logs.

We are meticulous about our religious duties,

But if you’re different we refuse to talk to you.

We mobilize to save a kitten in a tree,

Then we let whole species go extinct every day.

Are not our relationships like roller-coasters?

Is not the Parkway like watching bumper-cars?

We react in rage at our enemies’ atrocities,

But when our friends bomb children we shrug or make excuses.

We proudly take the Bible literally,

Except for the inconvenient or challenging parts.

We proclaim our freedom!

While we carefully do what everyone else does.

We present a brave, pious, competent, and joyful face to the world,

While inside we are broken, confused, and unspeakably sad.

We blindfold ourselves and spin ourselves in circles,

Then we are surprised and angry when we can’t see and fall over.

O Lord, how do you stop laughing at us?

O Lord, how do you stop crying for us?

Open our eyes and hearts, Lord,
that we may move from tragic and laughable ineptitude
to true joy in your Spirit.

You turn our mourning into dancing,
and our tears into exultation!

Blessed be your holy Name, O God!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Essential Tenets.

In conversations with Presbyterians considering departing from the PCUSA for another denomination, one thing that keeps coming up is the fact that (even though the category is somewhat unhelpfully mentioned in one of the Ordination Questions) the PCUSA has no written “essential tenets.”  These other denominations do choose to list on paper some “essential tenets.”  Conservatives appear to think that having such a defined list serves as a protection against error in doctrine, and that not having one opens the door to all kinds of eccentric and non-traditional, even non-christian, interpretations.
Historically, the Presbyterian church has always had this fault line between the Scotch-Irish stream that was more “subscriptionistic” in wanting the required beliefs of the church written down in some definite form, and the New England stream that advocated leaving more room for the Holy Spirit, and only requiring less definite and specific affirmations about doctrine.  We’ve already split a few times over this, always eventually figuring out a compromise and reuniting.
The problem with having written essential tenets and requiring subscription to them is that it requires a top-down centralized structure to be enforced, and it results in a legalistic approach to questions of faith.  In other words, instead of leaving decisions of doctrine and practice up to councils, beginning with local sessions, having to subscribe to prescribed essential tenets limits the freedom of local councils, and requires a strong national judiciary to work.
Also, just having people subscribe to essential tenets does not necessarily mean that they will take them seriously.
In declining to adopt written essential tenets and requiring subscription to them the church is not abandoning essential tenets altogether and leaving faith as a free-for-all, open and accepting of every possible interpretation.  It is rather recognizing that the essential tenets of the church have to be in the hearts of the members and councils of the church.  And we trust in the Holy Spirit to work in our gatherings to help us discern the truth and the way forward.
As Presbyterians we do believe the Holy Spirit is present when the church gathers around the Word in prayer.  When we come together for discernment and decision-making we listen to each other in light of Scripture and our own perspectives and experiences.  If a decision has to do with something like the ordination or the calling of a pastor, or the election of elders and deacons, then we are able to take into account what we know of people’s faith, piety, lifestyle, commitment to the church, and other views and behaviors, and assess the degree to which a their visible faith qualifies them for special kinds of service.  What works and may be acceptable or recommended for a church in rural Arkansas may not be the same as for a church in Brooklyn.  And we have more inclusive layers of church councils to serve as guides and to review decisions from a larger perspective and possibly correct any errors that may have been made.
The idea is that people are familiar with and guided by Scripture and our confessions, and are taking the views expressed therein with appropriately significant weight, when making the decision in the first place.  Even if a local council does manage somehow to call someone who is a Unitarian, or a believer in the Rapture, or who makes Sophia a member of a new Quadrinity, or who advocates the reestablishment of slavery, or whatever, that would be subject to review by higher councils.
Furthermore, it is possible for local sessions and presbyteries to adopt their own essential tenets, appropriate to their own missional situations.

So it is not that the PCUSA does not have any essential tenets or doctrinal standards.  Rather, realizing that committing such things to writing inherently creates inequities and places limits on the Holy Spirit’s work, we have them in unwritten form.  We therefore realize that the “one-size-fits-all,” authoritarian, legalistic approach is unwise and inappropriate for a diverse and inclusive denomination.         

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Change and Leadership in the Church: Part Two - Metamorphosis.

Building on what I suggested in a previous post, about change in the church being apocalyptic, I now invoke the image of metamorphosis.  Metamorphosis is an apocalyptic change because it means that something is guided by its own essence and nature to become what it most deeply and truly is.  Its change is an ongoing revelation of its deepest identity.  The way it transforms expresses the future already embedded and encoded in its present state.  
The word metamorphosis is used in the gospels concerning the transfiguration of Jesus on Mt. Tabor.  During that event, Jesus’ essential nature is revealed to three of the disciples.  It is a foreshadowing or proleptic resurrection appearance.  But it is not so much about what Jesus will be, but what Jesus is and always has been, which will be fully revealed in his resurrection.    
Biologists use the term metamorphosis to talk about the change that happens to a caterpillar when it becomes a butterfly.  This is not a technical change in which the caterpillar tweaks itself into a more efficient little animal.  Neither is this an adaptive change in which the caterpillar is faced with a changing environment and adapts by learning to fly.  
No.  The caterpillar in entering the chrysalis is not “deciding” anything independently; it is expressing the identity encoded into its DNA.  It is becoming what God the Creator has given it to be.
My understanding of this process is that the caterpillar enters the chrysalis and then undergoes a systematic and comprehensive transformation.  It does not simply sprout wings.  Rather, the animal is completely deconstructed so that it may be reconstructed.  Were one to open a chrysalis, I am told that what would be found inside is dissociated mush, an organic goop that is reorganizing itself cell by cell.  Over time, what eventually emerges from the chrysalis is a butterfly, a new being, made out of the stuff of the old, but reorganized according to an internally embedded process and pattern.
For followers of Jesus, butterflies have always symbolized resurrection.  Resurrection and metamorphosis are closely related.  One could perhaps say that metamorphosis is the process; resurrection is the final product.
Change in the church is apocalyptic in the sense that it is revealed to the church in its own identity and calling.  Apocalyptic change, in the sense of metamorphosis, does not first look to the environment and seek ways to adapt to it.  Apocalyptic change looks within, at the very nature of the church itself, and undergoes a transformation by this encounter with its core essence.  It goes back to the DNA, the original blueprint, as it were, of what it is.  And in this engagement, reflection, practice, and implementation, it becomes what it is.
And by looking within, it also comes to the heart of what the world is, for God is not present only in the church.  God’s being and nature is encoded into the world that God speaks and breathes into being.  The whole universe is charged, shaped, engineered, and bears the indelible stamp, the voiceprint, of the One who makes it.  God is therefore somehow present in everything.  When the church goes deep into its own identity, it also finds the identity of the whole creation.
In other words, change in the church has to do with an interaction/encounter with the church’s One and only Leader, Jesus Christ, the Word and Wisdom by whom all things were made.  This happens when the community gathers around the Word in disciplines of discernment, sharing, creativity, and obedience.  To put it briefly and directly, the church lives and changes by gathering for worship, prayer and Scripture study, and reflecting on its experience of God’s saving Presence in the world.  That is how the metamorphosis/resurrection of the church takes place.  
In so gathering, the church looks and listens to its One Leader.  Each person in the gathering — that is, each member of the body — has memories, gifts, and skills to contribute.  While one may convene or moderate the conversation, none is the leader.  The new community has no other “father” (Mark 10:29-30; Matthew 23:9), that is, no figure granted special authority over others.  Rather, all are disciples, finding their way together.  The gathering of disciples is one of equals.    
For the church is not independent of the world; it is leaven, having a transformative effect on the world.  But to have this effect the church has to be the church, that is, it has to be becoming, transforming, meta-morphing, into its true self as a living witness to what God intends and has for the whole creation.  The church is the vanguard, the leading, growing edge of what the whole creation is becoming.
The church is a caterpillar becoming a butterfly, not for itself alone, but as a living witness of transformation in and to a world shattered by sin that is itself becoming redeemed, renewed, released, restored, and remade.
So.  Technical change is useful and necessary in a day-to-day minor adjustment sort of way.  Adaptive change is useful in reshaping tools and tactics for doing mission in the world.  But neither is worth anything unless the church has first whole-heartedly committed itself to an ongoing process of apocalyptic change, by which it is constantly measuring itself according to the standards, values, teachings, example, and life of Jesus Christ, our only Head and Leader.