Thursday, December 3, 2015

The People Who Walked in Darkness

For those of us in the northern hemisphere, the season of Advent coincides with the shorting of daylight, and the lengthening of dark nights.  The further north, the more exaggerated this is.  No wonder the ancient people erected standing stones in Scotland and England to track the annual movement of the moon and sun and celebrated the winter solstice, when the days begin to lengthen once again.

One of the new advent hymns "The People Who Walked in Darkness" #86 in the Glory to God Hymnal is a fresh paraphrase of Isaiah 9:2-7 by Mary Louise Bringle set to music by Sally Ann Morris.
"The people who walked in darkness awaken to see a great light.
The people who dwelt in the land of the shadow rise to the star shining bright."
As I write there are people facing mental illness, some exacerbated by the darkness, SAD Seasonal Affective Disorder.  Some families and congregations grieve the loss of loved ones, brighter times, a sacred place.  Others grieve anticipating what the future might hold.

As I write there are people walking in darkness in Colorado and California after two more mass shootings.  Gun violence in America, which exceeds any other country, once again fills our news cycle until some other news saves us.

As I write there are refugees fleeing war and persecution in Syria.  Syrian refugee immigrates are seeking refuge in Europe and the United States and are being welcomed and served with a gracious welcome in many cases, AND by stiff resistance fueled by fear.

As I write over one hundred world leaders are gathered in Paris, France, to discuss strategies and seeking commitments for addressing our human impact on climate change.

It is into such a world, that God comes among us in Jesus.  It is into such darkness that the bright star of his goodness shines bright.  It is during this season of Advent when we remember the story of how Joseph and Mary were forced by government edict to go to Bethlehem and were welcomed into a crowded peasant home (Luke 2).  We read how word of Jesus' birth threatened King Herod, who ordered the murder of all the children in and around Bethlehem under the age of two.  Being warned of this in a dream Joseph fled with Mary and Jesus to Egypt (Matthew 2).  Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and his family were political refugee immigrants.  Thank God for those who gave them refuge.

Note the two verbs of the hymn's opening verse, "awaken" and "rise." As disciples of Jesus today, may we awaken to see God's shining light of goodness, and rise to its brightness!   May we give witness to God's love for this world through our radical welcome and generous hospitality.  We can do so out of the largess of God's bounteous goodness.  Paraphrasing Isaiah, the hymn's second verse speaks of how "God has enlarged the nation,"  and the "people are blest" so the nation, so the people might be a blessing, to join God in confronting "the yoke of despair and bondage."  This is in stark contrast to political rhetoric today calling for the building of greater walls of separation to control our national borders, and resistance to receiving any Syrian Refugees.  Awakened to God's love, may we resist the fear mongering, and rise find ways of welcoming the stranger, and of breaking down barriers which divide.

I share below Detroit Presbytery's letter to government officials.  I encourage you to use this as a template.  Adapt this letter and sent it to your government officials.  Also, the Synod of the Covenant has information for congregations interested in hosting refugees, and is providing $5000 grants to assist congregations doing so Synod Link.   Please let me know of any activity toward Syrian Refugee Relief.  
[Title] [first name] [Last name]
Dear [title] [last name]:
The Presbytery of Detroit, the regional association of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) churches in Southeast Michigan, approved the following resolution at its November 21, 2015 meeting, and directed that it be sent to you and others:
A resolution to show Christ’s Love to Syrian Refugees
The Presbytery of Detroit of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) communicates to you and others our disappointment in efforts to delay and/or block immigration of refugees from war-torn and oppressive countries. In particular, recent efforts against Syrian refugees should be reversed. State and national efforts should address relieving the humanitarian crisis, facilitating expedient immigration processing and supporting relocation in America.
We make this petition for the following reasons:
Those fleeing Syria are leaving behind all they own, running for their lives in great fear of ISIS and the Assad regime. Those scheduled to arrive in Michigan applied for asylum in the US years ago and have been going through a comprehensive vetting process. America does not make itself safer by ignoring our common humanity and turning away from our moral obligations. We are a country of immigrants and refugees, a country founded by those fleeing religious persecution and seeking religious freedom. A country with liberty and justice for all.
This request is based on our faith in Jesus Christ. Numerous times in Mosaic Law and in the words of the prophets, Israel is commanded, “Love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:34). Jesus then builds on this longstanding tradition by declaring in Matthew 25 that whenever we welcome the stranger, caring for them in their hunger, thirst, sickness, and poverty, we are welcoming Jesus himself. He also makes clear that when we fail to respond to those needs (or even to notice them in front of us), we are turning our backs on the very God we claim to follow. Scripture also repeatedly admonishes us to “trust the Lord, “do not be afraid,” and “do not return evil for evil.”
The Rev. Edward H Koster, Stated Clerk
The Presbytery of Detroit

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Join the Conversations

We are living in a Kairos moment.  By Kairos, I mean God given time.  This fall, leaders of the church have called us to several conversations.

1. Heath Rada, the moderator of the 221st General Assembly has called the church to a conversation about the identity and future calling of the the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).  He suggests that we do not have time to wait until G.A. Commissioners gather next June, and then wait for another two years to make some shifts.  We are organized for a much larger church of the past.  We have six corporations:  the Office of the General Assembly, the Presbyterian Mission Agency, the Presbyterian Publishing Company, the Board of Pensions, the Presbyterian Foundation, and the Presbyterian Investment and Loan Corp.  Undesignated reserved funds have helped keep the Church's mission funded as membership has decreased over time and support from Per Capita and Shared Mission decrease.  We are still a vibrant denomination, but we are now called to be stewards and focus our ministry and mission.  Join the conversation, individually, as Sessions, as groups in the church.  See the conversation questions offered here by the Office of the General Assembly: Responses are due by December 18th.

2.  George Hunsberger, the moderator of the Presbytery of Lake Michigan for 2015, has called together a task force for discernment on Camp Greenwood.  This Task Force has identified that the our pattern and camping ministry strategy of the past 10 years or so is not sustainable.  We have functioned with a part time camp director, and run a summer camping program with minimal investment.  The task force has identified several alternative scenarios, and has seeks input has to what it would take for these scenarios to be feasible.  The Task Force has sought the input from Presbytery Ministry Teams, Committees, Agencies, and Sessions concerning the feasibility and vision around these future scenarios for the camp.  You may join this conversation.  See the Task Force's Scenarios and questions Click Here .  Responses are needed by November 30th.

3.  It was my honor to represent the Presbytery of Lake Michigan at the inauguration of Leanne Van Dyk as the tenth president of Columbia Theological Seminary on October 28th.  Leanne is a member of the Presbytery, who served on the search committee which called me as General Presbyter and as Dean of the Faculty at Western Theological Seminary.  Leanne preached a powerful sermon on Romans 16 entitled "Welcome."  The Apostle Paul recognizes a long list of persons in this chapter.  Every name represents a flesh and blood story.  Leanne called Columbia Theological Seminary and the church today to the hard work of welcome.  The inauguration service was followed by a panel discussion on "the Call of the Church in the Context of the World Today."  Today's context includes the racially fueled violence we have witnessed in recent months.  The panel addressed the reality of white privilege particularly as it is present in institutions of theological education.  It was a powerful conversation.  

This experience resonated with the conversation I have been having with the Judicatory Leaders in Michigan.  I chair the Board of Directors of the Ecumenical Center for Christian Leadership in DeWitt, Michigan.  This board also has identified as its priority for 2016 an engagement in addressing the racial inequalities today.  Also, this October, at a training event for executives, I was sensitized to the reality of my experience of white privilege.  I have s a white man in this culture benefited from systems and institutional policies.  Women and people of color have not and do not benefit from these cultural privileges.  I invite you to join me in this emerging call to cultural humility.  Look for future opportunities for engaging this conversation.

So is this a Kairos moment in time?  God appears to be doing a new thing.  Yet we disciples are often tied with the old familiar and present things.  In Mark 13:1-8, the lectionary Gospel lesson for last Sunday, Jesus responses to a starry eyed disciple awestruck by the glory and massiveness of the temple, that sacred building and institution by which the Jewish people then connected with God.  Jesus shockingly dismisses the sacredness of the temple.  Eugene Peterson translates it, "There is not a stone in the whole works that is not going to end up in a heap of rubble." (The Message, v. 2)  So much for sacred institutions and structures which mean so much to us, and which have connected us with God.   What we hold so very dear, can be destroyed in a moment.  But keep your head.  In the midst of the cataclysmic storms, keep your cool, give your witness to the truth of God's loving grace.   "Stay with it--that's what is required.  Stay with it to the end.  You won't be sorry, you'll be saved" (The Message, v.13).  

Perhaps the same holds true for these conversations about the sacred institutions, which we hold dear, which have connected us with God, and given meaning to our lives.  Dare we trust them to God as we engage these conversations?  Dare we open our hearts, minds, and wills to what God is doing today?  Ready or not, we are being called.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Covenant Partners

We were blessed with the hospitality of the First Presbyterian Church in Benton Harbor at our September Presbytery meeting.  It was a BIG deal for them to host us.  I heard again and again members of the host church say, "It is our honor to host you!" It took a lot of planning and creativity to use their space and augment it with a couple of tents and auxiliary lavatories, which Presbytery was please to help them rent for the occasion.  Prayers for cooperative weather were answered.

Benton Harbor, First is a small congregation with a vital presence in a poor and challenged community.  What impressed me was the presence of their strategic partners in the community who share their mission to make a difference in the community.  This congregation is a good example of connecting with its community and collaborating in ministry.  This is not by chance but the fruit of their vision motto:  "Root Down, Branches Wide."  They are spiritual rooted in the love of God in Christ and it shows.  We have much to learn from them.  They prepared a video to tell their story.
See it here. 

We have much to celebrate for this congregation is an historic covenant partner of the Presbytery of Lake Michigan.  Part of your congregation's Shared Mission contribution to the PC(USA) helps the Presbytery of Lake Michigan support the outreach ministries of this covenant partner.  Over the past several decades we have invested in their mission. What those of us witnessed at the meeting, and here in this video are the fruits of our covenant partnership with them.

The First Presbyterian Church in Benton Harbor is one of three historic Covenant Partners of the Presbytery of Lake Michigan along with the North Presbyterian Church and it's ministry to those in Kalamazoo with mental illness, and the Advent House Ministries housed at NorthWestminster Presbyterian Church in Lansing.  Advent House Fellowship has received a PC(USA) 1001 New Worshiping Communities of Faith Investment Grant.  The New Life Korean Presbyterian Church in East Lansing is another congregation with a vibrant ministry with Korean students at MSU.  They are in need of financial support.  Speak to me if you can help by increasing your congregation's Shared Mission giving, or by a designated mission support.

Every time I visit and worship at anyone of these congregations, I am blessed and I leave with my spirit lifted.  Each has a vital mission to their neighbors, each causes me to strength beyond my comfort zone.  Each has a vibrant spirituality and faith practice to share.  As a pastor, I led mission visits to Jamaica and Cuba multiple times.  Those cross cultural visits were always transformative for me and for those accompanied me and expensive.  You don't have to travel that far to have such an uplifting experience!  Make arrangements to visit these covenant partners right here in our Presbytery.  They need us!  I believe we need them!!!  Let them minister to you!  We have much to learn from them.  Arrange to send a group to worship with them, or to hold your Session Retreat at their church, and get to know your covenant partners.  Tap some of their loving spirit and experience their radical hospitality.

Yours in Christ,    

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

New Beginnings Conversations, Discernment

Thirty some leaders from six participating congregations attended the New Beginnings Leader Training on August 28-29.  The six congregations are First/Buchanan, North/Kalamazoo, Parkwood/Jennison, Pine Island/Kalamazoo, Westminster/Jackson, Westlake/Battle Creek.  Please pray for these congregations as they meet in small groups this fall to discern God calling.  They will discuss assessment reports prepared by New Beginning consultants.  At the end of each report are future stories. The outcome of the congregations' discernment will be a conscious decision to collectively commit to one of those stories. 1. To redevelop their ministry, 2. To restart, 3. To merge with another congregation, 4. To close and empower a new ministry; 5. Or do nothing different, keep on keeping on as they have been doing but agreeing to set aside the anxiety and fear of the likely outcome of doing so.  The purpose is to bring clarity.  These are hard conversations, hard choices, but so very important ones.  Please hold them in prayer.  

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Grace, Gratitude and Humility

The times I've been the most lost were when I was sure of myself and thought I knew what I was doing!  When traveling somewhere new, I follow directions closely,  Check and recheck maps, and back track quickly when I've missed a turn.  It's the second and third times I go places I've been before, when I think I know my way, that I've gone well beyond the turn before realizing my mistake.  Here are two of my life stories.

During my first pastorate, I was fortunate to be selected to be a part of a Rotary Foundation Group Study Group to visit Brazil.  Five weeks...all expenses paid!  I was in my glory because I knew Brazil well having lived there for 2 1/2 years working as a mission worker with the Presbyterian Church. I was comfortable traveling there.  I was the only one in the group who spoke Portuguese, so a translator traveled with us.  Every conversation was translated.  After five weeks of immediate translation, my Portuguese was very good.  I had arranged for an extra week following the tour to visit the community where I had served and lived.  So at the airport in Rio, I said good bye to my travel companions, and want to wait for my flight to Brasilia, where I had arranged to be met and hosted by a mission couple I knew there, before another flight north to Imperatriz and Porto Franco.  I was feeling very confident in myself.  However, the time for my flight came and went and there was no call for my airline's flight!  When I finally inquired, I was told, "Sir, that flight has already gone!"  What I did not understand was that every flight from Rio to Brasilia was called Ponte Aerea no matter the airline.  I thought Ponte Aerea was another airline and was waiting for my airline to be called! Turns out Ponte Aerea means "air bridge."  Sigh!  That was a shock to the system!  They got me on a later flight.  I arrived in Brasilia in the wee hours of the morning, my hosts long gone. I had to find the office where my luggage was being held. I took a cab to a cheap hotel, hoping the driver was trustworthy.  I called my worried friends, and arranged to meet them in the morning.  All was well, but I was much humbled.  My trouble was, I thought I knew what I was doing and stopped asking questions, stopped paying attention, stopped being open to ways other than My plan.

This summer I had another adventure.  This one kayaking on the Kalamazoo River with my friends Jerry and Janet Duggins.  I have an old kayak which I have used just a couple of times.  We finally scheduled an outing.  The weather was beautiful. The river was smooth.  The current nicely taking us down river, with little effort. I was out in front enjoying myself, fully confident in my abilities.  Then there was an island.  Should I go to the right side or the left?  I went right.  Then there was a fallen tree in the river, which was now half as wide.  There were two openings I could see to get through,  I choose the one on the right.  Jerry and Janet went left.  They passed through fine.  I got caught in a fast current around the tree, went broadside, and in a split second capsized.  I was not expecting that!  There I was, standing in a strong rushing current up to my chest, the kayak's nose was jammed in the tree limbs,  Stupid kayaking rookie me.  I should have expected and prepared to get wet.  There I was with my smart phone was in my pocket, my car keys in my fanny pack in the kayak, not around my waist.  Yikes, I didn't know if it they were still in there or not.  I got my phone out as quickly as I could and held it and my paddle up out of the water with one hand while trying to free the kayak with the other.  It was not budging.  The current was too strong.  I didn't think I was ever going to get that kayak free!  I was stuck! Some pretty dark thoughts entered my mind!  Then Jerry and Janet, who had worked hard to paddle back up river to help arrived.  But, if they came too close, the same thing would happen to them.  I handed Jerry my phone and paddle, and finally with two arms I was able to lift one end of the kayak out of the current, free it, and float down river behind it until we found a place to beach it, empty it of water, and rest.  It was then, that I realized that my hat was gone, my glasses were gone.  The fanny pack and keys, whew...were OK in the kayak, as was I.  Yet, it took just the rounding of a bend, a fallen tree, and a split second to go from self assured confidence to crisis mode.  Again, another time when I thought I had life in hand, and was rudely reminded, not so!

Self confidence, dare I say, arrogance is NOT a very theologically correct stance. We live and serve but by the grace of God, AND the airline workers who patiently deal with irate frustrated travelers, and taxi drivers, hotel servers, who get us to safe places and tend to our needs, and kayaking friends who drag us out of the river, and wait while we catch our breath.  GRATITUDE is the only appropriate response for any of us!  For I suspect, and Paul and Augustine remind us, we all fall short of the glory of God, and stand in the need of grace!  

How appropriate then, while some of us on all sides of the issues of the day, are cock sure of our theological and ethical positions, that the leaders of our beloved denomination chose "Grace and Gratitude" as the theme of the Big Tent Conference in Knoxville this summer.  Grace is the gift our Lord Jesus gives us! Gratitude is our proper response!  Humility is our proper stance.  And just maybe, what is true for me is true for you, we are most lost and get in the most trouble, when we think we know what we are doing, and are convinced we are right! 

So to my fellow traveling adventurers, I say, Grace, Gratitude and Humility!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

A Hymn for Charleston

A few weeks ago we were stunned when a gunman entered the Emanual AME Church in Charleston and killed those attending a Bible Study.  Hymn writer, Carolyn Winfry Gillette, put into words the aching prayer of our hearts in a new hymn, "They Met to Read the Bible." It is a powerfully moving hymn, which has been use by congregations around the world.  PNS, did a news story on it, along with five newspapers. The New Yorker's article on the hymn's creation and use is very well done and can be found that his link, which includes the words and a podcast of it being sung.  

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Summer Schedules

During the upcoming weeks please make note of the following.  Calls to presbytery staff members' extensions, who are on vacation, will be forwarded to another staff member who will be on call.  We will each try to do our best to serve your needs.  Your understanding is appreciated as the person on call will no doubt not be as informed as the staff member called. Also, and very importantly, please call ahead before visiting the Presbytery office and Resource Center.  Office hours over the summer will be very sporadic.  Please make an appointment for your presbytery office/resource center visit to assure that you will not be frustrated.

There is a rhythm to life and ministry!  There is a time and season for everything according to Ecclesiastes.  There is a time to work hard, and a time to rest and allow God to regenerate and restore our energy!  Summer is a time when many of us take some vacation.  So it is for the Presbytery Staff, with the exception of Verla Custer, our Camp Director, who kicks into full time service these weeks.  Likewise, summer is prime time for lake side communities and churches.  Pray for them!  Please see the staff's comings and goings on the Presbytery Calendar

When a pastor or staff member of a congregation plans vacation or time away for professional development, please honor this time.  It is important for the health of the individual and their families, but also the congregation.  I pray for blessed summer adventures!

All the Best!


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Called to Serve

I am often called upon to represent the Presbytery at special events. On Pentecost Sunday, it was my privilege to worship with the Brooklyn Presbyterian Church.  They were sending off their senior pastor, Frank Rupnik, who is also a chaplain in the Navy Reserves, on a tour of duty in Germany.  His mission will be to assist in the reorientation of Navy personnel returning home from tours of duty in the Middle East and Africa.  Frank gave the children of the church small American flags as a reminder of his call to service, and as a call to pray for him, Stephanie, his wife, and their boys, the men and women with whom he will be ministering, and Rev. Christine Barnes, the Associate pastor at Brooklyn, who will be taking on head of staff duties during his absence.  I took one of the flags, and have placed in on my desk.  I invite you to join the Brooklyn Congregation, the children and me in praying for Frank, his family and these returning Navy sailors.

The Rev. Dr. Frank Rupnik's address through the end of the year will be:
Navy WTP
Attn Chaplain Rupnik
Sembech Unit 29926
 APO AE  09136-9926

His email address will continue to be

Stephanie Rupnik's Address is:
400 Case Road
Brooklyn, MI  49230

Monday, April 20, 2015

Be Together, Not the Same

I share in this blog my report to the Presbytery of Lake Michigan at our April 14th meeting.  It was given immediately following our consideration of Amendment 14-F on amending W-4.9000 which states the definition of marriage in the Directory of Worship and while ballots were being counted.  It was later reported that our vote was 88 for and 24 against this amendment.  My report began with our viewing this Android YouTube video commercial "Friends Furever"  click here to see.  Isn't that a great witness to Isaiah's vision of the Kingdom Heaven on earth?  "The wolf and the lamb shall feed together , the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent--its food shall be dust!  They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord." (Isaiah 65:25)
Be Together…Not the Same.  Thank you Android for advertising Diversity in Community.  It is a tough sell these days, even in the church.  Ina Hughs states it so well in a Presbyterian Outlook article covering an Institute for Church Leadership Conference in the fall of 2013. “In Christ there is no East or West—as the old hymn goes—but among his followers today there is definitely Left and Right.  Liberal and Conservative.  Traditional and Progressive.  Red and Blue.  Tensions within churches and across denominational lines continue to unravel the tie that binds.  Current tendencies to draw lines in the sand, so painfully headlined in the political arena, bring American Christians once again to a Babel-like crisis:  hot button issues are so emotionally charged that some fear the church as the body of Christ is dismembering itself in the heat of those battles.
“Is it too late for Christians to turn ideological swords into plowshares?  Are ‘church people’ so far gone in vilifying each other over social or theological disagreements that they can no longer unearth the holy ground that is the Church’s one foundation?  Have they lost the blueprint and buried the tools for building bridges instead of fighting over ‘the loin issues’ or what kind of music belongs in true worship or how the Bible should be read? Have conversations within the church and about the church become a hell-bent race to ‘win’ and grown so cantankerous and distracting that we have  spawned a new fast growing denomination to check when asked for church affiliations:  “none of the above.” ("Purple Church" by Ina Hughs, Presbyterian Outlook, November 25, 2013 pp. 13-15).  
Our stated purpose as a Presbytery is "to challenge, encourage and equip worshiping communities of faith to make disciples of Jesus."  And the fastest growing demographic in America today which the church is not engaging or effective is the “nones,” those stating no church or religious affiliation.  The younger the generation, the stronger the disaffection with organized religion.  The church is being judged not by prophets but by people in the streets.  They do not see Jesus in us.  There is so much uncivil disagreement today in the culture and the church swims in that culture.  Kalamazoo College, an historic leader in social justice and international studies, has had a very troubled couple of months, culminating in a death threat, ..  It has been a rough few months on campus!  In Sunday’s Kalamazoo Gazette newspaper, the President of Kalamazoo College addressing the tension, stated "There is so much uncivil disagreement in the culture, there are few examples in society today for students of civil engagement in difficult issues.  We want a model a more civil way."  (Kalamazoo Gazette, Sunday April 12, 2015)  
Ina Hughs reports in the fore mentioned article how the Institute for Christian Leadership Conference in the fall of 2013 modeled this for the church.  The theme of the conference was “The Church in Purple,” a metaphor intended to underscore the need for mutual understanding and respect among Christians who disagree on a variety of theological and social issues, worship styles, and how to be the church in today’s world.  A judgmental, win/lose approach in dealing with these differences leads to estrangement and brokenness.  "A 'purple church' would be less interested in red/blue labels and more committed to modeling a royal priesthood of believers who aren't all cut from the same cloth, but meld together in a community that intentionally chooses to live out Christ’s call in mutual respect, humility and compassion."
The conference took the form of dialogical conversations in which various pairs from different camps, theological and practically, showed not only how such civility and respect is possible among people from different “sides,” but also how these traits model God’s kingdom rather than a culture of ‘us’ against ‘them.’  Without compromising his or her own viewpoints, each presenter told how their personal life as well as their ministry has been enriched by listening to, learning from and caring about their counterparts.
Thomas Daniel, a self defined conservative pastor from Atlanta pointed to the growing number of denominations, 38,000, at his last count. In dialogue with a progressive counterpart, he asked, “What does that say  about us?  What is it that drives our need to further isolate ourselves from each other?...The biggest problem with church is not our differences, but how we view each other with suspicion because of those differences.”  I would strengthen suspicion to contempt.
Another pair:  Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary and Barbara Wheeler of Auburn Theological Seminary were paired in dialogue.  Mouw said, “Christians are firstly called to be part of a community.  A chose race, a royal nation.  It is not a matter of going off on one’s own.  Furthermore, Christians are to be known as people who honor everyone.  In an atmosphere where the arguments are over racial justice, gender equality, and care of the earth, evangelicals sometimes feel a deep loneliness.  They also feel very misunderstood.  And like their liberal brothers and sisters in this family of faith, evangelicals, too, have a tendency to divide Christians between ‘them’ and ‘us,’ and even to boast that the evangelical arguments are made under the authority of Scripture and therefore on a higher plane.  But Liberals do the same thing.  Which means both sides end up distrusting each other:  Here, I think is the solution to that kind of disconnect.  Only through dialogue can you put yourself within the perspective of the person on the other side of an issue.  You must be careful to put your understanding of who that person is and what they are thinking in their words—not your own words.  What you think or presume they believe is not the way to go.”
Responding, Barbara Wheeler, his liberal colleague, said, “Our friendship and our work together has dispelled and confounded any inclination for stereotyping or preconceived notions.”  She summed up her remarks with a hopeful picture of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth we have from Isaiah and given witness to in the Android commercial, of what will happen when we stop bickering, stop discounting each other and start listening to and learning from each other.  "This, friends, is freedom in Christ:  to be our best selves with each other, to tease each other gently across all kinds of divides, including theological ones, and to make fun of ourselves in one another’s presence.  This is what it will be like, someday, in the church he came to build and the world he came to save:  We will not hurt or destroy in all God’s holy mountain.  Instead we will heal and repair, in our pluralistic societies in the worldwide Christian communion…and in our churches.”
I love this Presbytery because we do a little better at this than many other Presbyteries.  Visitors often comment to me how we get along...Maybe its part of the Midwest/Michigan culture of being nice.  Sometimes its hard to know when someone is agree at you.  People are so nice here!  On Long Island, where I last served, it wasn't so hard to tell.  People got in your face.  We do have room for improvement, as well.  You should not assume when you sit down at a table with colleagues that everyone will be in agreement with you.  The Android YouTube commercial gives us a picture of what Barbara reminds us, Isaiah's vision of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth in Isaiah 65:25, and states it well, "Be together, not the same!"
This Presbytery is who it is because of the witness to diversity of those to whom we have just said good bye:  Phil Henderson was a social justice preacher who advocated in the 80's and 90's for those with HIV and AIDS.  Bill Collins was a small town evangelical minded pastor who one colleague remembered taking men to "Promise Keeper" gatherings.  Karen Haak was an outspoken feminist who loved the church which wasn't quite ready for strong women leaders.  She understood the church as a family system.  Larry Nelson and Willard Curtis were congenial presbyters who served the larger church with great love and wisdom. Willard was this presbytery's commissioner to the General Assembly in 1967, which gave us not only the Confession of 1967 but also the Book of Confessions.  They witnessed how to be together, but not the same.  They were more than civil, but as Jesus would have us be, they were loving of the other.  They are now in our cloud of witnesses, in the balcony cheering us on.  "We’ve done this.  You can do this.  You've got this!"   As disciples of Jesus Christ in this time and place, be a witness, Be together, not the same!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Easter Sunday with the First Presbyterian Church of Holt

It was my joy to worship with the First Presbyterian Church of Holt on Easter morning as they concluded their 150th Anniversary Celebrations.  Along with Kirk Miller, pastor, and Kathleen Henrion, associate pastor, and Dave Milbourn, honorably retired member of Presbytery and former pastor at Holt, I joined the procession and shared in the liturgy.  We celebrated Christ's victory over sin and death with organ and bagpipe, bells and brass, tympani and works of art!  I introduced the passing of the peace with these words. "Aliens or foreigners no more. Christ has broken down the dividing wall between us.  We are sisters, brothers, members of the household of God. The Peace of Christ be with you."  At the table during communion, I prayed, "Feed us with the Bread of Heaven, so we can fill the hunger of the world."   I thought how appropriate these words are for all of us in the Presbytery of Lake Michigan today.  As we also live into our future, may we claim the peace which Christ has already made possible, having broken down the dividing wall between us.  May we live in that peace and continue to be fed with the bread of Heaven, so we may fill the hunger around us.  

From Upstream Worship at FPC, Holt, Easter Sunday
In a time when doing more of the same things better and with more effort no longer produces the same fruit, we are called to adaptive leadership, adaptive change.  Holt, First's history gives witness to adaptive change.  The building they now worship in is their third church building.  When the community began to transform from a rural community to a suburban/town, they strategically moved from Cedar St, the main route south of Lansing, to North Aurelius Road, and build a new building.  A couple of years ago they added monitors throughout the sanctuary for visual aids in worship and introduced an alternative worship service they call "Upstream."

Crosses made from rafter of earlier church building
At an earlier anniversary celebration, I received a gift, three wooden crosses with a candle in the center of them.  The crosses were lovingly grafted by a church member from the wood of a roof rafter taken from the former church building.  The wood had been stored in a members barn over the years.  Every church household received a wooden cross.  These crosses are a physical link to several hundred of years of history in Holt.

This I Believe statement added to FPC, Holt Time Capsule
The culture in which we live and serve today no longer sends people through our church doors.  When our numbers and programs dwindle, we grow anxious, as if our identify were linked to them.   Our identity is rather in Christ as his disciples!  We are the household of God.  We are the body of Christ, the salt of the earth, the aroma of Christ!  We do what Jesus once did and continues to do today through us.  With Jesus, we are called to pay attention to our neighbors, love our enemies, and respond with compassion and healing to those in need.  And though we are not practiced in it, we must learn to give witness to the hope we have in God!  During this Easter worship service at Holt, First, members were invited to bring forward "This I Believe" statements and placed them in the church's time capsule, which will be opened in 2065.
 I pray members will also find appropriate and authentic ways to give witness to their hope.

Kirk Miller has been awarded a Lilly Foundation Sabbatical Grant for this summer.  The Sabbatical Theme is "Divin' into Dreamin'!"  The congregation will hold a series of events and retreat dreaming about what God is doing and wants to do through them.  This theme has a powerful connection with Easter for me.  Some years ago, I preached an Easter Sermon entitled, "Don't Bury Your Dreams!"  The next day I traveled with a church group to my congregation's sister church in Guines, Cuba.  I preached the same sermon there.  Many hopes and dreams were buried on Good Friday when Jesus was crucified on the cross, died and was buried.  His followers, who were so hopeful, were devastated.  Some started to return home.  Yet, God rolled the stone away and raised him.  The tomb did not, could not hold God's dreams!  This message resonated with my small congregation anxious about its future.  It resonated with the Guines Church having survived several decades of religious persecution.  Rev. Madruga, hosting us in Guines, shouted out the refrain like a antiphon through out our week together, "Don't bury your dreams!"   Since then, I've rethought this a bit....maybe we need to let go of some of our dreams, of what we have known.  And may we take up the task of paying attention to God's dreams, looking for what God is doing, and finding ways of joining God in it, with the gifts God gives us.  God's Dreams, though we may bury them for a time won't stay dead.  God raises them anew.  With the Holt, First members, may we be about Divin' into Dreamin!  And through the power of the Holy Spirit bring them to life.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Women Pastors

Our grief work continues.  Yesterday I attended the funeral service for our colleague Karen Haak, who died Sunday, March 15 at the age of 71.   Karen was ordained in 1982.  During her 30 plus years of active ministry, she served as associate pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Grand Rapids, then chaplain at Mary Free Bed Hospital.  She then found a call to interim ministry and served many congregations in this capacity including our congregations in Marshall, Coldwater, and Albion.  She taught interim ministry, and also polity, which she loved.  Elizabeth Candido was one of her polity students at Harvard Divinity School, when Karen was serving a church nearby.  She served the Presbytery of Lake Michigan as interim executive presbyter from 2005 through 2007.

Chandler Stokes eloquently and powerfully addressed in his homily the struggles and inequities women pastors face.  Karen was not shy about naming and challenging these double standards and advocating for a more just way.  As interim pastor, she told truths which were hard to hear.  To the end of her life, she loved the church which struggled to appreciate her gifts.

Today, nearly half or 27 of our 66 congregations are served by women pastors. We are blessed with the gifts these women bring in ministry. May we recognize and fully appreciate them.  They are blessed by the pioneering witness of the women leaders who went before them, and paved the way for them.  Karen Ann Haak was one champion among them.  A memorial fund has been established at the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Grand Rapids to honor her.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Like a Mighty Oak Suddenly Fallen in the Forest.

So far, 2015 is requiring some significant grief work.  I want to thank you all for your many cards, prayers, and expressions of support for me and my family.  They are much appreciated.  Soon after my return from attending my father-in-law's funeral, Larry Nelson, our Presbytery treasurer since 2009, reported feeling ill at the Budget & Finance committee meeting on February 3rd.   He never got back to the office.  It was a whirlwind of events.  He thought he had the illness which was going around, then pneumonia when he did not get over it.  He was then diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, with hopes of a lung transplant.  But alas, his condition continued to deteriorate rapidly. Then, when we were still reeling from this rapid succession of news, he died Friday evening, March 6th.   A funeral service, a witness to the resurrection, and celebration of Larry's life, will be held 11 a.m. Saturday, March 14 at the Edwardsburg Presbyterian Church where he served as a treasurer for many years.  

It feels like a the crashing of a mighty oak leaving a gaping hole in the canopy of our forest, we grieve his lose in our lives.  We are blessed in this Presbytery with talent.  We will be ok.  Others have the needed skills.  Only let us grieve the lose of the character of this man who has touched so many of us, whom so many of us loved and trusted.  He was the most gentle, congenial, upbeat, humble, Presbyterian with whom I've had the privilege of working.  That string of adjectives does not normally get associated with Presbyterians.  We are protesters by name, trained to analytically critique everything! Presbyteries are filled with egos. We have a Scottish and Dutch heritage of being rather dour, and tight with money.  Larry understood faithfully the purpose of those gifts entrusted to the church are for the purpose of giving them away, spending them to make a difference in people's lives, not to keep them in an account in some bank so we can feel secure. We are not really all that, but Larry was a glowing exception.  I will miss his consistent greeting when I popped into his office uninvited, intruding, interrupting his train of thought. "Hello, John," he would say in a welcoming, uplifting voice with an accompanying smile expressing his joy for my presence.  Every time!  What a special gift that was. That's what I will miss.  We have much to grieve, much to celebrate.           

Yet, we will carry on.  The Nominating Committee is assembling a Search Team for a new Presbytery treasurer. As soon as they get organized, a notice will be made with position description, and how to apply, and all that.  The Edwardsburg Church will as well.  In the meantime, Leslie has forwarded to the CPA firm the files Larry had dutifully prepared for the scheduled annual review.  Bob Kleine will be coming in to the office to review the work of our bookkeeper, and help us close February and March. Tedd Oyler, a former B&F chairperson, now a Leadership Team member, and Marilyn Benson, our former treasurer, stand ready to help in any way they can.  We have good, good people who care.  We are blessed and will be ok!  God will provide, and will forgive us for being a little grumpy.  Pray that we recognize God's provision.  God is tapping someone on the shoulder.  Let me know if that's you or someone you know. And let us be as kind and gentile with him or her as Larry was with us.    

Larry's Obituary copied from the CaringBridge blog set up by his granddaughter, Jessica:

Larry R. Nelson
June 17, 1943 – March 6, 2015
Larry R. Nelson, 71, of Three Rivers, born in Akron, Ohio, and formerly of the Edwardsburg-Niles area, as well as Wichita and Hutchinson, Kansas, died peacefully Friday, March 6 at 6:38 pm in Spectrum-Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids after a short struggle with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. Larry was the son of Ralph M. and D. Jane (Lagerberg) Nelson. Larry lived a full and healthy life, loving his family, God, church, friends, lakes, boats, books, music, his mountain dulcimers, cats, dogs, travel, lighthouses, and nature. He earned his master’s degree in accounting from Wichita State University and excelled as a CPA and business man, co-founding two plastics extrusion companies--Liberty Industries in 1976 in Elkhart, Indiana, and Blue Chip Rubber and Plastics in the 1990's in Niles, Michigan. In his “retirement,” Larry worked part time as Treasurer of the Presbytery of Lake Michigan in Kalamazoo and realized a dream by opening the Stray Dog Bookshop in Three Rivers, selling used and collectable books. In addition to collecting books, he collected friends, who were enriched by knowing him. Larry is survived by his wife of 40 years, Nickola Wolf (Nicki) Nelson. He said personal goodbyes to each of his three children, David (Elizabeth) Nelson (son, Jamie), Nichole (Karen Bivins) Nelson (children, Jessica “Lynnie” [great grandson, Aiden], Justin, Jess Jr., Jonathon, Julie, Jaden, and Josie), and Clayton (Tracie) Nelson (children, Katelynn, Bradley, Clayton, and Cody). He is also survived by his two sisters, Linda (Ron) Kassner and Mary Beth “Charlie” Nagle, as well as beloved nieces and nephews of two generations. They shared the wonderful Nelson sense of humor, deep faith in God, and love of music. Visitation with the family will be 4-6 pm, Friday, March 13, at Edwardsburg Presbyterian Church, where he served as Treasurer and Elder for many years. Donations may be made to the church. A memorial service will be held, Saturday, March 14, at 11 am at the church, 68961 Lake Street, in Edwardsburg. Paul Mayhew is in care of arrangements. Online condolences may be left for the family at .

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Reports, Deadlines, and Accountability

A value Presbyterians hold dear is doing things decently and in order.  Until it comes to filing reports!  Paperwork!!  Yuck....we hate it!!!  Or at least most pastors do.  This may be the difference between clerks and pastors, is the affinity and dislike of reports.  None the less, reports are part of our covenant life together.  They are a means by which we present ourselves as accountable each other.  Thus, Clerks of Session are busy with the statistical information for their church and the Pastors are busy with the Terms of Call Reports, and annual reports of ministers in non-parish validated ministries, parish associates, and Members-at-Large.   As of today, February 19th, 29 of our 67 pastors still need to send in their Terms of Call Reports;  26 of 45 minister members still need to send in their Annual Report.   Another way the Presbytery of Lake Michigan holds its members accountable to each other is to require attendance at a Boundary training.   Out of the 26 minister members of presbytery who have not yet attended the training in order to be in compliance with Presbytery Policy, only 1 has registered for the March 11 Boundary Training in Paw Paw on March 11th.  If you have done the training.  Great!  You are in compliance with Presbytery's Policy.  If you haven't, then you likely have received a communication from the Stated Clerk, with the invitation to register for the upcoming training.  Please do so.

Reports and required training are a pain.  Understood.  Just do it.  It's part of living in covenant community which we hold dear.


Monday, February 9, 2015

A Presbytery meeting on Valentine's Day?

Many of you have commented to me, "The Presbytery is meeting on Valentine's Day!?!?"  I'm pleased that so many of you keep your love life in mind when scheduling your work life!  For those of you who are blessed to be married, I pray that your marriage is strong, passionate and healthy.  Our meeting should conclude by 2:45.  I trust, hope, and prayer that you will make plans for a lovely evening with your beloved!  I know I shall!

The Presbytery has been meeting on the second Saturday of February for several years.  Ironically, this year when that day falls on Valentine's Day the topic of marriage will be on the Presbytery meeting docket.  To prepare to vote on the amendment which has to do with marriage at the April 14th meeting, we will engage each other on the topic at our Valentine's Day meeting.  Our new moderator, George Hunsberger, has recruited the Rev. Dr. Theresa Latini, professor of practical theology and pastoral care at Western Theological Seminary and member of the Presbytery of Twin Cities, to design and guide us in a process by which each commissioner will have an opportunity in a small group to be heard and understood in relation to this amendment. When better to discuss marriage than on Valentine's Day!

Joan Gray, the out going moderator, at the opening worship of the 219th Assembly in San Jose, in 2008, preached on John 13:12:  “This is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you.”  She began by saying she had two years to select that text.  She chose it early on during her term, but had second thoughts, thinking it was too simplistic, unsophisticated.  Yet the more she thought about it, the more appropriate it became.  Love one another as I have loved you.  As she traveled throughout the church, she discovered, this is God’s message to us.  And it isn't the weak minded suggestion of Jesus, not his wisdom, but his heart filled, passion gripped COMMANDMENT!  Clear and simple, it’s what Jesus expects of us, his followers/disciples.  

OK.  Sure, no problem!  How hard can that be?” we say to ourselves.  Until we enter community, disagree with someone in a Bible Study, or with a decision at a committee, Deacon or Session meeting.  Or attend and experience a passionate debate at a Presbytery meeting or General Assembly.  You can’t obey this commandment home alone doing your own thing.  There is no such thing as a private practice Christian spirituality.  This command moves a personal relationship with the Lord into a communal practice with His body, the Church, brothers and sisters in Christ, with whom we do not always agree, but with whom we are united in Him in baptism, whether we like it or not.
The church got its name ecclesia, in Greek, from the practice of coming together, assembling, congregating--where we get the word congregation.  Lest we glorify the early church as an era of particular holiness, let us remember the stories in the Book of Acts.  The apostles did not agree and argued vehemently with Peter and then with Paul about sharing the gospel with the gentiles (Acts 10-11, 15).  Paul and Barnabus did not see eye to eye on taking, my Biblical name sake, John Mark on the second missionary journey (Acts 15:36-41).  They did not always agree…they did not always share every mission God was calling some to do.  Later, John still includes in his gospel Jesus' command to disciples to love one another as he loved us. 

Gray concluded her sermon, "It is an impossible commandment to obey.  We do not tolerate difference very well."  Most congregations are pretty homogeneous.  People tend to seek out like minded persons with whom to worship and serve. Yet elders who serve on Sessions and are commissioners to Presbytery, the Synod and General Assembly are exposed to the lives, hearts and passions of people from a broader world and different contexts.  Presbyterians have always believed that God works through the larger, broader voice of the church, that no one person has a monopoly on the truth of God, and that there needs to be room for conscience in matters of faith (Book of Order F-3.01).
Sometimes living in community is difficult.  We are tempted to run away to our private sanctuaries, and do our own thing.  However, Jesus commands us to love one another as he have loved us, which is a self giving sacrificial love.  Not an “I’m taking my marbles home and play with myself self righteousness.”

I believe that the act of being in relationship, and loving in spite of differences is the way of Christ I am called to follow.  I believe the Church is a laboratory for living in covenant with each other.  It isn't easy.  Sacrificial love never was or will be.  It's the hard work of being in relationship, after the romantic body chemistry of attraction flees.  Encountering others who are different, and who bring a different perspective to the table is never easy.  But when we come together to discern the mind of Christ, we must come with an open mind, open heart, and open will.  In so doing, trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit, we become God’s beloved community.  The encounter is a spiritual discipline as Christ's disciple, and a spiritual encounter meeting Jesus in the other.

Few have ventured into this discipline as deeply as our past moderator, Joan Gray, as she traveled throughout the church during her two years as moderator.  In her sermon, which I heard during my first year as general presbyter, she surmised that it’s impossible to fulfill this commandment of Jesus.  "It’s the impossible commandment," she said.  "It’s not humanly possible, only divinely possible!  It is an impossible commandment…WITHOUT GOD'S HELP.  On our own we hit a stone wall and cannot fulfill it. It brings us to our knees. We are dependent on God’s love, which is larger than our love, higher, deeper than our love."
I sense God calling us to move beyond the win/loss legislating of moralityto a third way of walking humbly together with God’s help.  Focused not on what separates us, but what unites us,  And what unites us is the self giving love of Jesus.  He paid the price of staying in relationship with us.  So we engage on matters of importance, such as our deliberations on the nature of marriage today.   But just maybe, it's OK not to agree!  Jesus doesn't mean by loving one another to always agree with each other, but in spite of difference, to love each other anywayand to live in covenant life together as God’s children as a witness.  By so doing we will walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8).  This Valentine's Day, we will have the opportunity to join a Saint of the Church, Valentine, to practice doing just that. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

You Are Witnesses

"You are witnesses!"  That is the take away statement for me by Ray Jones at our Presbytery retreat in September.  Ray referred to Jesus' commission to his disciples before his ascension. "You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8b).  It is my job and the Presbytery's purpose to "challenge, encourage and equip worshiping communities of faith to make disciples of Jesus Christ with the gifts God gives them."  Ray reminded us that part of being a disciple is giving witness to what God has done in our lives.  How does one do that?  The lead in to that commissioning is "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you" (Acts 1:8a).  The Holy Spirit, then, will equip, empower us to recognize God's presence and activity.

My mother was gifted by the Holy Spirit to recognize God in her life and my family's life.  She was a great role model for me in how to witness to God's saving acts in ones life.  She had a way of telling and remembering family stories.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, she recognized and frequently acknowledged God's hand in the surprising twists of her life, and our family's experience. Maybe not in the moment, but as she looked back, she recognized how God had been at work transforming difficult circumstances into unexpected blessings.

With this in mind, let me give witness to the hand of God in my family's life, my life.  Many of you know that my father-in-law, I. Lee Brown, Jr. recently died.  He was a man of God and lived 93 wonderful years in Paradise, Pennsylvania.  He was a third generation funeral director there and for decades, part of his community service was as overseer of the Norman Woods Estate.  At the end of the 19th Century, Norman Woods, a successful banker, and his wife, hosted traveling Presbyterian ministers in their stately mansion along Route 30.  In their will, they set up their stately home and estate as a home for retired Presbyterian ministers.  In the 1970's, the Wood's Estate provided three rent free apartments to honorably retired Presbyterian ministers, who had served in Donegal Presbytery.

My father, a Presbyterian minister for 29 years, had to retire on disability, because of life long diabetes and heart disease in 1973 at age 52.  There were no minimum terms of call during his era of ministry.  He had served rural congregations on minimal salaries. The crisis in addition to my dad's health condition, was where would we live and how?  My oldest brother Charlie was just out of seminary.  My brother Dave was newly married with an infant, and had just landed his first professional job. They were ok, but just starting out with little means.  But my sister Jo was still in college, and I was a senior in high school!  My parents had no extra funds stored away for rent or buying a house.  We had always lived in manses.  My parents did not know what to do!

Then they thought of the Woods Home, in Paradise, Pennsylvania.  They inquired and learned that Lee Brown administered the Woods Home.  My mother called Lee, explained our need for an apartment, for not only her and my dad, but also for my sister and me, at least for summers and holidays.  It seemed like a stretch.  Would there be an available apartment?  Rent free, including utilities seemed too good to be true.  As my mother told the story, Lee's first words of response on the phone were, "Betty, I don't think that will be a problem."

You can't imagine the relief those nine words were to her, and my family!  My brother Charlie's first response to news of Lee's death, were remembering his role with the Woods Home and the relief that apartment was to us.  My parent's move to the Woods Home changed my life!  My parents moved there in March.  I stayed with a trusted church family and finished my senior year at my high school.  One weekend in May while visiting my parents, I went to the young adult Sunday School class at the Leacock Presbyterian Church in Paradise.  I was sitting there in the pastor's study, and in walked this gorgeous girl with long brown hair!  I later learned that her name was Eileen and that she was Lee Brown's daughter.  Later, when I had moved into a room in the attic of the Woods Home for the summer, Eileen invited me to a Bible Study, which she attended.  It was a group of her friends who had gown to high school together.  They were from many different churches, and had just finished their freshman year of college.  I had been involved in Sunday School and youth group.  But their discussions were filled with faith and theological inquiry at a depth and love and ease I had never experienced in my years of Sunday School, Bible School and Youth Group.  I loved it!  From that group came four Presbyterian ministers, one Episcopal priest, a Presbyterian Church Educator, and a Mennonite lay church worker.  I also fell in love with Eileen, and Lee Brown became my father-in-law.

My parents lived at the Woods Home only 15 months before my father died.   My mother, a trained nurse, spend the weeks after my dad died, visiting my Aunt Ann, my dad's sister, in the local hospital. Aunt Ann died just a few weeks later from a fast acting cancer.  My mother was only 52 at the time, and soon found employment as a nurse, and moved on with her life.  She announced to the family during Christmas break when we were all home, that she and my Uncle Harry had fallen in love, and were engaged to be married.  The first words out of my brother Charlie's mouth were, "No more overnight stays until you get married!"  They did get married the next March.  I sang at their wedding.  My mother had two successful marriages, the first with my father for 29 years, and the second with my uncle for 32 years until he died.  Some people may say this was all serendipity circumstance.  My family recognized God's fingerprints all over the blessings that emerged from trying times.  The song I sang at my mother's wedding was, "To God Be the Glory!"

I don't believe that God causes bad things to happen and causes the sorrows in my life or anyone's life.  But I do believe God transforms lives, and brings good out of difficult situations.  My family and I are witnesses to these acts of God in our lives!

As you claim your role as witness and fulfill your commission as a disciple of Jesus Christ, how have you recognized God's acts of love, grace, deliverance, and redemption in your life?  How might you authentically give witness to it?  With the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, it's that simple!


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Winter Storms

The 193 vehicle pile up on I 94 caught national attention!  Likely yours, too!  It occurred at the 90 mile marker just 12 miles east of the Presbytery office in Portage.  Those of us who live here, know it is a dangerous stretch of highway.  My daughter drives that route on her work commute to teach in Marshall. The video images captured by stopped travelers on smart phones causes us all to pause and reflect.

Storms happen!  They are far beyond our control.  Winter storms are normal here in Michigan, and we've learned to motor on, accustomed to winter weather, or we might never get anything done.  Well...thank God, common sense prevailed and schools closed that day and my daughter stayed home!  The drivers of those 193 cars and trucks for at least a brief moment motored on through white out a harsh surprise!

Storms provide an opportunity to slow down, call them spiritual opportunities to surrender our agendas.  During such times, we have the opportunity to yield and acknowledge our humble place in the broader scheme of things, or forge ahead as if we are in charge.  There can be consequences for speeding on as if all is normal and we are in control.  The images of fireworks, burned and crumbled semis and cars, and scorched roadway are harsh reminders to think again.

There are all sorts of storms in our lives, not just winter storms, which disrupt our agendas.  I remember a postponed return flight from Cuba when visiting a sister church there with a group of church folk.  One fellow traveler was a federal judge, who had a full day of cases scheduled the next day at court.  I thought he was going to have a stroke in his anger and frustration.  Then when he realized there was nothing he could do about it, we had a great two day extended visit in Havana at the expense of the airline!

Last week in the devotional book, Daily Feast: Meditations from Feasting on the Word, Year B, on the days before the tragic pile up, Richard Boyce, (a Phd. student at Union Theological Seminary in Virginia, when I was a student there, and whose father was pastor of the Lakeside Presbyterian Church in Richmond, which I attended my second year there), for Tuesday wrote reflecting on Genesis 1:1-5, "This creation story is a way of holding onto hope when all signs of order in our lives have been destroyed and we must look out for signs of the creative work of God beyond our control.  If God is still creating order out of chaos in the succession of day and night, maybe God will one day create order once more out of chaos in the lives of God's people.  Hold on, and do not lose hope." 

For Wednesday, reflecting on Psalm 29, Marshal Wilfong, (a Phd, student at UTS I knew when I was a student there), writes, "There is no clue in this psalm why God's people need 'strength' and 'peace.'  Their predicament could be a natural disaster (flood, famine, drought, etc.)--or it could just as easily be political oppression, war, or exile.  The point is, it does not matter what the predicament might be.  At any time, under any circumstances when 'storm clouds' roll, God's sovereign power is available to bless and deliver God's people, to give them peace even in the midst of storms.  The same God who rules over the universe, whose 'voice' sends forth the thunderstorm, is the God of Israel--the One in whom they can trust and to whom their prayers ascend."

For Thursday, Douglas Ottati, (my theology professor at Union Theological Seminary), reflecting on Acts 19:1-7 wrote, "Baptism in the name of Jesus entails a divinely given reality, but this reality both empowers and disposes people to witness to God's deeds of power (Acts 2:11).  The gift of the Spirit in baptism sweeps people up into the dynamic of the Spirit and its expansive Way.  It drives believers to participate in the church's expansive mission.  It empowers them to witness in word and in deed to a universally inclusive reality."

Then for Friday, the day of the accident, Lee Barrett, (my wife's theology profession when a student at P.S.C.E.), wrote reflecting on Mark 1:4-11, "John, the epitome of the prophets, also points forward to God's imminent intervention in human history to confer a new hope to humanity.  Into the wilderness of our own broken lives and our own bleeding world erupts the promise of a baptism of new life."

How pleasant it was for me to be met by these voices of colleagues of my formative theological education via this devotional material!  How comforting to hear scripture's witness and the witness of those carrying forth our religious tradition!  How awesome to look up from the midst of our storms and believe God rides above them, redeeming them.  Hold on!  Trust God when waiting out a storm, whatever that storm may be!