Thursday, December 19, 2013

Kashmir Kahwa with Christmas Cake

Some Adventure in Prayer group meeting, I thought; we were sipping Kashmiri kahwah (kawa, qehwah) tea and tasting "tea cake." The tea cake is actually a "Christmas cake" and quite unique. It is not the Bavarian, European/English plum puddings or the dreaded "fruit cake." This cake is one of the many good things of life, a result of the British presence in India for ~400 years. The marriage of English, Scottish, Irish, and Welsh baking and culinary traditions with the rich heritage of Indian flora is a compelling taste of the divine goodness that fills our earth.  

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

At Home in the Kingdom of God

I've talked about Jesus' Kingdom of God, building the Kingdom, and also about receiving it. Today, I would like to share my Advent 2013 story. It is both a coming home story as well as one of finding myself at home in the Kingdom of God. I share this story as a response to the Synchroblog Coming Home, Tuesday, Dec. 17th prompt (another first for me!). First,  I repeat the beautiful Frederick Buechner quote from the Synchroblog website here along with their questions, so as to help you understand the context. 

The Kingdom of God and Home. These words together are an interesting combination.

Frederick Buechner writes, “The Kingdom of God is where our best dreams come from and our truest prayers. We glimpse it at those moments when we find ourselves better than we are and wiser than we know. We catch sight of it when at some moment of crisis a strength seems to come to us that is greater than our own strength. The Kingdom of God is where we belong. It is home, and whether we realize it or not, I think we are all of us homesick for it.”
...
What does Coming Home mean to you this season? Is it practical, spiritual, emotional? What does “home” look like or feel like in the kingdom of God? Do you have a “coming home” story that you’d love to tell?

Monday, December 16, 2013

Emmanuel: God-With-Us

Well, my first STM to Pravaham in rural south India is officially over. Thanks for all your prayers and good wishes. If I was allowed to say only one thing about my visit it would be this: God's powerful love was present throughout my visit to Chennai and Pravaham, a miraculous and unforgettable experience. I can't wait to share my tons of videos and stories. In the meantime, here are the opening highlights of my visit and my first video. It is of Hari sharing his faith story as he drives me (and others) up the hill and down into Pravaham on Saturday Dec. 7th.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Booty Ballet is a hit!

Pravaham students and the leadership team LOVED Booty Ballet! Here's what one student said after the first day: "I feel light, free, happy." All glory to God! Thank you Jennie for so beautifully submitting to the Spirit and coming alongside us to help build God's Kingdom. Thank you, Marilyn, for never doubting my "dancing" vision and always, always supporting me. Isn't God amazing how he brought all this together? And, you've been so faithful, so committed. A mother could not have done more! Thank you, Don, for your part in this without which I could not have written the grant. Thank you, Christie, for walking alongside me, as many of the steps towards Pravaham as possible. We'll be here together, thangachi :). The picture shows bouquets the students made and gave me, upon my departure, using flowers and foliage from the Pravaham gardens.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Incredible India!

This is certainly a first for me! I'm writing my blog from India, Christ's ambassador  on her first short term mission. I'm super-excited. Remembering that Doubting Thomas, disciple of Jesus and an apostle came to Madras 2000 years ago via Kerala and planted the first Christians on both coasts of south India. More about this later. Ok, here's a bit about a very full day that actually started 48 hours earlier. Dubai, where I had my layover was fun, fun, fun. I wish I'd taken advantage of one of the layover visa and travel packages Emirates had offered. Next time. We flew in from the west across the Deccan but I couldn't see much until we were directly near Chennai. I couldn't see the ocean and I was surprised by what looked like empty land, just lots and lots of green trees. As we neared the airport I also saw a hill, dramatically and unusually hollowed out, water nestling in the comfortable curve. I still have not found out what exactly it is! My flight arrived in Chennai on time, and I deplaned, While waiting in line I chatted with a couple New Yorkers who'd come to sightsee the temples. Immigration was cleared easily, picked up my bags helped by a nice Indian porter, and walked through the Customs green channel. Arlene, Lucy, Sundar had come to greet me. There are no words to convey my feelings. I last saw Lucy and Sundar at their wedding ~ 30 years ago and it's been 10 years since I've hugged Arlene and also 30 years since we were able to be together on her birthday. 

Most people I meet want to know about the changes I'm seeing.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

In His Saddle!

A few days ago, my cousin, who worships here, sent me a totally fun lifestyle story of Norco Christian Church: Peter Fischetti's "For some, riding to church is heaven."

I love that I got to read it today, Thanksgiving Day. There are many great reasons to be thankful to God but the biggest one for me is that I am riding in his saddle :). Puzzled? Huh? Read on.

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Invitation

The formal invitation for the Pravaham Christmas Program was the first thing I saw in my mail today. I am humbled and honored.





Saturday, November 23, 2013

My First STM to Pravaham and Bootcamp Ballet for God's Kingdom

A deep sigh escaped my throat, which had been tight, choking me of much-needed air. I sank back deeper into the cushions and the soft sounds of guitar strings being plucked began to filter into the air, filling me with life-giving oxygen. "You open the horizons in my life of limitless and cloudless hope, You defy the gravity in me, and give wings to my flightlessness, Oh, Christ has set me free from negativity, impossibility. Oh, Christ has set me free, all hope has been released, Oh, Christ has set me free. You've taught my future how to shine all the colors of eternity. You've given my soul the space to breathe, And discover what it is to simply be." For almost two weeks, ever since we'd come back from a lovely trip to Chicago, I'd suffered from a lump in my throat. I felt like I was choking the whole time and was puzzled. Was this from the travel vaccines? Nope. I learned this was a sign of stress. Something was making me anxious. What could it be? Surely, it wasn't the short term mission (STM) trip upon which God was sending me? I'd been so exhilarated that I'd literally shouted the news from the rooftops, sending numerous emails: "After 7 years of diligent preparation God is sending me to Pravaham (rural South India)." Earlier this year, my book Casa Charis: A Daybook of Freedom had been published. Based on Galatians, devotions and narratives in the book describe how I found freedom from many things including stress, and learned to fly to the freedom there is in God, rest in Him, and simply be. Yet, here was a lump in my throat!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Hope Alive! An Unusual Partnership: A School District, Church, and Presbytery

A passion to nurture and inspire young minds by providing them with excellent music education during their middle and high school years is what a public school district, a presbytery, and a church found they had in common. Hope Alive is the name of the benefit concert that they've been coming together to organize for the last few years now. It is an unusual benefit concert, I learned, when I attended the 2013 concert a few weeks ago. Grammy nominated percussionists Sheila E., along with her father Pete Escuvedo, and his son Peter Michael Escuvedo, performed with several students and groups from New Hope Presbyterian Church and 2 schools in the Santa Ana Unified School District who all come together as the Hope Alive Youth Orchestra and Choir.  Funds raised from the concert pay for the salary of a music teacher at the middle school (Willard Intermediate) and rental fees for instruments for the student scholarships (Willard and Santa Ana High).

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Aglow and Burning!

Who wouldn't want flawless glowing skin? Well, Romans 12: 11 provides us with some tips for glowing spiritually! The NRSV crisply notes: Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. The Amplified Bible puts it in this way: Never lag in zeal and in earnest endeavor; be aglow and burning with the Spirit, serving the Lord. It was an extremely busy week but looking back I can see how ardent - eager, spirited, passionate, enthusiastic intense - were some of the people I was privileged to hang out with this week. Ardent is an old-fashioned word and one we don't hear often but aglow and burning (presumably with pleasure and pain) are probably two synonyms that describe it best, coming as it does from the Latin verb ardere, to burn.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Christian Arabic Praise and Worship Music

On World Communion Sunday I worshiped with the Arabic Fellowship and fell in love with their praise band! Here they are (in a quick music video captured on my cell and embedded below) for your enjoyment too. I apologize for the lack of translation as the lyrics are just as captivating as the music. But I promise this is not the last post I will be writing on this subject! I had a chance to meet the pastor, members of the congregation, and almost all the musicians after worship. They are a wonderful group of people and I am looking forward to getting to know them. I would love to learn some of the songs too!

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Price of Freedom: World Communion Sunday


A couple of days from now, my friend and I will be celebrating World Communion Sunday with an Arab Fellowship. The fellowship has been in existence for a while but I only recently found out about it. When I did, quite naturally, I wanted to worship with them. I don't know Arabic and I don't know what to expect but I am sure, it will be pretty powerful. The Rev. Adel Malek's calling alone is an incredible story.  A professional engineer of Egyptian origin, Adel, became an ordained Presbyterian pastor and this is his ministry.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

A Hope Beyond Measure!

Steve Yamaguchi, Los Ranchos Presbytery
Thursday, invited by our presbytery pastor to help him lead the worship at the Presbytery Gathering as liturgist, I had a fantastic worship experience. I LOVE to worship God - lead people in prayer - and I will be honest and admit that I am mesmerized by the diversity of his creation,  feeling at home and sensing him in every kind of music and worship style, traditional, contemporary, eclectic, ethnic, alternative, you name it! As I've written elsewhere on God's Immanence, spiritual patriotism, and the tie that binds, worship with his people never fails to point me to our true home and the reality of his power and presence in our world. But I will also admit that I was a little intimidated by the thought of leading so many elders and saints. One of my best friends, a pastor's kid (I hadn't told her about my day), happened to text me just before we were to start and I got to spend some time in preparatory prayer! I felt the Holy Spirit's presence on many counts, then, not least of which was Steve's teaching based on Philippians 2: 1-11. Crazy Imagination: An Investment in Hope is all about surrender that becomes a win, using an intimate and moving illustration of Steve's "ojiisan." I love how the Holy Spirit is working through Steve to lead Jesus' followers faithfully. In just my own case, I already knew that the next book I would be writing was going to be on joy, based on Philippians, but this just cinched the deal, if one can use such prosaic terms when speaking of our awesome God! More about this later. For now, let's get back to Steve's modern day illustration of discernment as crazy imagination, the mind of Christ, and the values of the Kingdom.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Homemade, Handmade, Organic

Come set your rule here, and reign in our hearts again.
Increase in us, we pray. Unveil why we're made.
Come set our hearts ablaze with hope,
Like wildfire in our very souls;
Holy Spirit, come invade us now.
We are your church; we need your pow'r in us. 

That's the first stanza from the Build Your Kingdom Here song by Rend Collective Experiment, a worship music band from Bangor, Northern Ireland. One of our music worship leaders, Mark introduced the song in our worship this Sunday.  The rest of the lyrics are a similar prayer and I encourage you to give the song a try. You can watch the group's official video on YouTube (embedded below). I've been wondering what multicultural worship really looks like and the Holy Spirit has been so attentive to my questions and brought me two great examples - Rend Collective (Western/European) shared today and Aradhna (East West fusion) which I will share soon - in just this week. Rend is handmade, homemade, organic, worship, and community music, passionate about Jesus and adoration of our living Triune God. An appealing worship combination isn't it? Rend also echoes the powerful cry of  many souls in the West today, young and old. Join me in prayer today as you listen to the song. We're handmade with love by God.

Friday, September 13, 2013

What is the NEXT Church?

European church buildings provide fascinating insight into the communities that nourished them and I like visiting them. Sadly, quantum shifts, as one popular book puts it, are putting a lot of pressure on Christianity. Many of the European churches house very few worshipers on Sundays and we've been seeing that trend here in the States too. At the same time, alternative forms of worship and communities using traditional and post modern liturgies (e.g. the monastic and international communities of Taizé) and service projects have been emerging. NEXT Church is one such American movement. They will be here in the OC next week.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Bibles to Nations

Sept. 11 this year will stand out in my memory as another "God-do-it" day. I went to the beach, quite unexpectedly, Holy-Spirit led. It was my first time, in over a year, since I fell sick, and I had certainly not hoped to see the beach again, so soon.  Still, here I was, sitting in a beautiful home, the ocean stretching out before us, the thunder of the surf reverberating in my ears as I listened to yet another remarkable God-story (so many this summer!). It was the perfect time, the perfect place and the perfect story for my own personal, perfect celebration of healing. The sunset on the right was captured soon after this. Here's the story.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Author Interview with Larry Forcey


The monk sitting by the window, watching the children playing outside, caught my attention. That’s how The Crèche opens and I first heard the hauntingly beautiful lines one spring friday evening. It was two years ago and I was at the Orange County Christian Writers Conference. Earlier this year, the author Larry Forcey came into my life again. I got myself a kindle copy ($3.99!) of the book and could not put it down! Fantasy and the ordinary came together mystically. Mysticism is not magic or mystery but a living reality to those who live under God’s reign. Still, it never fails to enthrall. It also provokes ongoing conversations about God, the meaning of life, and the richness and significance of an inner life. I'm pleased to share an interview with Larry below and encourage you to read his book, if not right away, certainly for Advent reading this year.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Is Your Church's Charity Toxic?

They expected 35, perhaps 50 people for the World Mission Pre Conference at Big Tent 2013, Louisville, Kentucky on August 1st. But people kept registering and registering and finally about 350 (?) people showed up on the day! The Power of We, about our collective impact on World Missions, was a great pre-conference. I am so very grateful to my presbytery for encouraging me and making it possible for me to participate at Big Tent. Thank you.

Hunter Farrell opened the pre-conference with introductory remarks about World Mission. What are the three initiatives of the PC (USA) World Mission? They are poverty alleviation, reconciliation, and evangelism. Later, the next day, I won an autographed copy of Keynote Speaker Robert Lupton's book because I answered the question correctly for a drawing! How cool is that?

Robert Lupton has been an urban activist and community organizer for four decades. His book Toxic Charity: When Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help is based on his decades of experience as a community organizer.  Here are my notes from his wonderful talk.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Christian Marriage 2

"I have no desire whatsoever to dislodge you from the exclusive homage you pay to Jesus. But I would like you to understand and appreciate the other inclusive position." So wrote M.K. Gandhi in one of his letters to Esther Fearing, a Danish missionary. Gandhi is, of course, writing about his inability to perceive the uniqueness of Jesus. As he put it, "I can pay equal homage to Jesus, Mohammed, Krishna, Buddha, Zoroaster, and others that may be named. This is not a matter of argument. It is a matter for each one's deep and sacred commitment." Gandhi's comments, although made in a completely different context (the revelation of Jesus as God), are a relevant reminder in the context of discussions about same sex marriage. Today, I conclude my comments on The General Assembly Marriage Study session at Big Tent 2013.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Christian Marriage

A few weeks have passed since I've been back from Big Tent in Louisville, Kentucky where about 1700 Presbyterians gathered together in celebration of our faith in Jesus Christ, our denominational history (sadly I missed the street party) and connectionalism. I loved my first Big Tent experience. It was amazing, I had great fun, and I not only met a lot of wonderful people but I learned a lot! I've been processing my experiences and trying to fully understand all of the amazing moments when I felt the power and love of our awesome Triune God. Today, I'm finally ready to start blogging about it. Since my friend Bruce has an interesting discussion going on his blog about Biblical Marriage, I've decided to start with marriage. It is a very important topic and one that has increasingly been on my mind.

One of the sessions I chose to attend at Big Tent was The General Assembly Marriage Study led by Dr. Chip Hardwick, Director, Theology, Worship, and Education, PC(USA). It was not in the tracks for which I had signed up - Presbyterian Communicators Network and World Mission - but sponsored by the Theology, Worship, and Education Conference. The workshop introduced two different marriage studies (curriculum) that are now available for congregations and presbyteries to use. These resources were developed in response to a request by the 220th General Assembly (2012). I also chose to go to this workshop because I keep hearing about the PC(USA) straying away from Jesus and the Bible. I wanted to see how true this was. What does the PC(USA) believe the Bible says about marriage? In other words, what is the Christian view of marriage?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Chivalry by Zach Hunter: A Book Review

How can a young man think like I do, was my first wondering thought when I began to read Chivalry: The Quest For A Personal Code of Honor In An Unjust World just published by Tyndale Momentum (an imprint of Tyndale House Publishers) in July 2013.

"My generation is tired of talk," Zach writes and proceeds to identify the problem his book is going to be dealing with. More people are engaged in social justice and poverty alleviation now than ever before but Zach has become concerned about a double standard in people's lives, including his own. We don't know how to be kind to the people right around us. Chivalry is about becoming a kind and chivalrous people. Zach helps us do that by developing a personal code of honor that is based on his hero, Jesus Christ. Why was I wonder-struck by this? Well, I'd just completed writing something similar - lack of Christ-like love - in my work in progress, a daybook on freedom. Somehow I had not expected a young, single, white male to see American Christians in the same way I,  a first generation immigrant and mother of a young American male myself, did. With different life experiences for both of us to see the double standard in our Christian culture is not quite the norm. This will be a worthwhile read was my second thought. Sure enough, Zach totally delivers in Chivalry.

A quotation starts off Zach's description of the epic quest to which he invites and challenges his readers, young and old, women and men, all the people of the world. It is a poignant quote by Jawaharlal Nehru, First Prime Minister of India: "We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm, and adventure. There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open."

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Friday Five: Divine Libraries

Jan asked a bunch of questions about libraries. How could I resist? My responses are in italics. Church libraries seem to be diminishing and even disappearing in some churches. Our church is full of scholarly books that no one looks at, and how should it change, be developed, or continue? As the de-facto chairperson of the library, I need ideas and suggestions about church libraries in this day and age. Please help!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Garden of Grace: 1 Yr. Anniversary Coming Up!

What can the faithful do when life throws them a curveball? Does faith in Jesus heal? Is faith just a coping mechanism for dealing with the losses, challenges and mundane realities of daily living?Or does faith give true, abundant life? What does that kind of life look like?

These questions and others prompted the Garden of Grace, a collection of 30 devotions drawn from the garden and gardening experiences while studying Ephesians.

Garden of Grace covers a range of territory from uplifting meditations inspired by garden insects such as The Invisible Spider Web and Spiritual Blessings to winsome reminders for daily living in Patience, the Body of Christ, and the Praying Mantis. The colorful devotional of gardening metaphors and allegories is intricately woven with true life stories of spiritual friendships and real photographs of divine and human gifts. In A Life of Resurrection and Zinnias a friend’s gift of

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Hungry Freelancer Interview

This Sunday Beth Jones at The Hungry Freelancer is featuring her interview with me. You can find it here. Thank you, Beth. That was fun!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Pr. Devadoss Is Coming!

Devadoss / pronounced Dev-Das / noun. God-Servant. Devotee. Servant of God. Deva means deity, God, and das means slave, servant, devotee (Deva (देव in Devanagari script from Sanskrit; das from dasa दास in Sanskrit). Rev. T. Devadoss, Chaplain at the Schiefflin Institute of Health-Research Leprosy Centre at Karigiri and the part-time Chaplain for Pravaham: A Community for Peace and Justice (rural south India) will be visiting us Wed. July 24th - Sunday July 28th, thanks to the incredible generosity and super-organization skills of the Dietz family and also our church missions team and Rev. Scott Bullock who have a heart for our whole world!

Pr. Devadoss
Jon wrote a most thoughtful and eloquent letter describing his meeting with Pr. Devadoss. I thought it deserves a wider audience and so here is our first introduction to Pr. Devadoss from Jon. Jon has asked me to help out with Pr. Devadoss's daytime schedule on Thurs. and Fri. Your ideas and suggestions are most welcome. Thanks also for all your prayers for Pravaham. God is answering us faithfully and quite miraculously!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Friday Five: Prayer of Quiescence


Jan wrote: At the beginning of this past week, I attended a conference on contemplative prayer entitled “Turning to the Mystics” at the 2013 Summer Institute at the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, TX. The speakers were James Finley, author and former novice of Thomas Merton; Mirabai Starr, author, translator, and speaker; and Father Ronald Rolheiser, author and president of OST. We were encouraged to regularly sit in quiet to come to realize our union with the Divine, who continually loves us into being.

So for this Friday Five, let us share about our prayer practices, whether silent or not:

Jan labeled her post Prayer of Silence (or not). As you might have already noticed mine is titled the Prayer of Quiescence. My answers to Jan's questions below should make clear why I chose my title.  

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Aliens, Refugees, Illegal Immigrants, and Global Citizens

1 planet - 57.5 million miles of surface land - 7 billion people - 1215 million live on less than $1.25 per day  - 43.7 million refugees/displaced. That's what the data shows. Today, June 20 is World Refugee Day and here are my reflections on not just refugees but also global citizenship. Just for comparison purposes, I start with other statistics intending absolutely no correlation, if you'll pardon the pun. The US population is 313.9 million (2012) and the population of California is 38 million. Of these, 11.5 million people are illegal immigrants and it is estimated that only 7.7 million will qualify for legal status under the new immigration bill that is currently being debated by our government leaders. Worldwide, the number of people who are refugees/displaced is greater than the population of the whole state of California and its only 4 times the number of illegal immigrants in the US. California though has about 239 people per square mile while the United States has 87. Refugees and stateless people, by definition, have no land at all, no place they can call home. Who are these people and where do they come from? Who is helping them and what does the Bible say about refugees? What can followers of Jesus do to help refugees/stateless peoples?

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Parents Day

Every 7 years Father's Day falls on my Mother's birthday and then, its time to celebrate Parents Day. I'm celebrating it this year with a short story about my parents who gave so much of themselves so that I could become the person God created me to be and also enjoy a fulfilling life.

"Is this how your birthday parties were?" he asked. We were sitting in the home of my cousin's family singing songs of praise and giving thanks to God as part of their son's graduation from high school. "I didn't have any birthday parties," I replied.  "What? No birthday parties?" He couldn't believe it. "Well, my English cousins had birthday parties when their mom was still with them. I remember celebrating a couple of those with party hats and firecrackers. But we didn't have any birthday parties," I replied. I could see the incredulity in his eyes. What kind of parents didn't celebrate their children's birthdays? He knew I didn't feel deprived and had enjoyed my childhood. I thought of all the American kids I knew whose parents put in a lot of thought, time, effort, and money to celebrate their children's birthdays every year. Often it didn't seem to matter to the kids. The kids still felt abandoned, alienated, isolated. How do I explain that there are better ways to raise a child than celebrating his or her birthday? What will convince the average American that an annual birthday celebration is unnecessary, an undreamed of and often unknown event for probably 5 billion, if not more, of the 7 billion people living on our planet?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Los Ranchos Discernment Event 3

"Leaving the PC(USA) is not the only option," began Dana Allin, Executive Director of the ECO Synod. The folks considering departure are doing so for a number of reasons including:
1) fundamental authority of Scripture has been damaged;
2) instead of "in obedience to Scripture" the language has now been changed to "be guided by Scripture." At the PC(USA) General Assembly 80% did not want to be "in obedience to Scripture." This is the erosion of the centrality of Jesus in the new Book of Order; and
3) not only standards have changed but critical evangelicals are forbidden to publicly express their dissent. If you try to make Scripture the authority you are not welcome in PC(USA).

Friday, June 7, 2013

Good Without God (Book Review)



"Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism or other supernatural beliefs, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity." This is the definition I found on the website of the American Humanist Association, an organization that has been in existence for about 70 years in the United States and whose motto is Good without God. Humanism, of course, has existed far longer in the history of mankind. One of its greatest periods was during the 16th/17th century Renaissance, and hence called Renaissance Humanism, when learning and rationalism in the arts and sciences triumphed over centuries of medieval superstition, supernaturalism, and ignorance. In recent times, humanism has been on the rise again; last month the British Humanist Association, called into question again, the Church of England's position as the established national church of the United Kingdom in light of the new attendance statistics they had just released. I have often been complimented as a humanist myself. Many followers of Jesus subscribe to aspects of humanist philosophy (indeed it is hard not to do so and it is not always wrong either) without realizing it; the danger arises when we are unaware of our own deep-seated influences, prejudices, false idols, and the many blind spots that may be hindering the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Therefore, it is my delight and honor to present Don Major's review of Epstein's Good Without God.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Freedom from Darkness: Living in the Light


Quality of life. Freedom from death. This weekend I heard just such a story of freedom. I was so touched that I want to share it as widely as possible.

Sunday was the second teaching from Colossians in a dramatically titled new sermon series, Playmaker, Prophet, Priest & King: The Supremacy of Christ. It was on Colossians 1. 9-14. In verses  9-11 Paul is joyful having heard from Epaphras about the faith of the Colossians. He prays with high expectations for the Colossians to be filled with Christ. Pr. Scott asked: Do we pray with high hopes or low expectations? How much joy do we have when people come to know Jesus? What is the transformation from darkness to living in light? Then, we heard from Barbara B. Grace. Dignity. Joy. In Christ. I give you Barbara, in her own words, below.

This is a story of beginnings and endings, light out of darkness and hope.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Friday Five: The Essence of Discipleship

RevGalBlogPals is a blog I've started to read recently; online since 2005 its a "supportive community for women pastors and their friends, interdenominational, inter-generational, and international." They have a game called the Friday Five and I've decided to participate in it today, a first for me! Mary Beth posed this week’s question and I hope you will find my answers inspiring and timely. (Btw, there's a great picture of Paige Bradley's sculpture Expansion and a link to the amazing story of how she created it that you won't want to miss in Mary Beth's post.)

For today’s Friday Five, share five occasions or events in your life that have been turning points…when you have felt like a new thing was being born. You can refer to the birth of children, career, your kitchen garden, or whatever moves you.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Infinite Grace 7

In honor of Memorial Day this post is about grace, peace, and freedom using the sayings of Jesus and the writings of Martin Luther.

Jesus, the most free man to walk upon the earth, said, "If you hold to my teachings, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free." (John 8. 31b, 32). A born-again Christian, immigrant and loyal American, it didn't take me long, however, my eyes and ears no doubt honed by my unconventional, foreign and resident alien experiences, to notice a discrepancy in our national and evangelical rhetoric. We celebrated our rights and freedoms even while many around, me included, were in dreadful slavery to career, work, debt, besides struggling with false teaching, striving, disorders, and addictions, trivial and critical as we chased the elusive, ever-changing American dream; followers of Jesus Christ seemed to be quite caught up by the larger culture and entrapped in -isms (e.g. hedonism). I was pretty sure that Christian freedom was far superior to the freedoms that we celebrate several times a year as Americans: Independence Day, Veterans Day, Memorial Day without denying or detracting from the importance of these. I believed (and continue to believe) followers of Jesus are free (and are being set free). What are the characteristics of this freedom? How is it a part of my daily human experience, I wondered and God in his marvelous way began to weave things together. In 2009, feeling led, I studied Galatians. Four years later, Casa Charis: A Daybook of Freedom is the resulting devotional I began to write, how Jesus leads us to freedom. I will post a sample from the book shortly. In the meantime, I share some words of the leader of the Protestant Reformation. Galatians is the epistle on which Martin Luther hung his justification by faith doctrine. This excerpt on Galatians 1.3 is about grace and peace, divine gifts. Grace frees us from human bondage and peace is also one of the hallmarks of a free life, a life in Christ.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Church and Celebrate are Synonymous Words!

Do you know the joyful sound - or the "festal shout" as Ethan the Ezrahite puts it in Psalm 89 NRSV - of God's covenant people?

On Sunday, I was in a 5-week Sunday school class, What is Worship? led by a Jesus movement leader John Fischer. This was the 4th class session. In earlier weeks, using the story of Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman, John had led us in a discussion of the characteristics of worship and how true worship is 24/7 and happens anywhere. Now, he opened the class with a question: If we can worship Jesus anywhere, why do we come to church? Well, I'd just completed writing What is Church? the previous day. My hand shot up and I precociously rattled off my personal reasons for coming to church: 1) to be instructed (in sound doctrine), 2) to experience Christ (Jesus promised that he's present when 2 or 3 of us meet), 3) obey God's commandments (to honor the Sabbath), 4) get a taste (a preview of heavenly life), and 5) to build the body of Christ. Guess how John answered the question? 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Interacting and Engaging with Irvine Pres Using Facebook Photos

IMPORTANT NOTE: I am no longer doing the social media for our church and so read this article with caution, keeping that in mind. It was written when I was temporarily handling Irvine Pres social media, late spring, early summer of 2013. Interaction can become time-consuming and not all people using social media are into it. Thanks.
Thank you for wanting to engage and interact as the Irvine Pres community using social media such as Twitter and Facebook. Some of you have been asking me how you can post updates, and share photos and videos. In this post I show how you can easily do these things including sharing photos/photo albums that you've already uploaded on your personal FB pages, of small groups, faith activities, and church events. A little bit of a recap for those who just joined us and may not yet have been to Irvine Pres. on Facebook. Here's what it looks like, right now: Direct url: http://facebook.com/IrvinePres.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

What is Church?

Pentecost Sunday, a couple of thousand years ago, was the birthday of the Church. I thought it might be fun to explore what this means. Ive written about church before as what it means and does for me personally, inspiring Spiritual Patriotism and assuring God's Immanence. I now approach it from quite a different and academic angle. I hope you enjoy reading as much as I enjoyed researching.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Infinite Grace 6

Not even out of bed this morning, I received two compliments, from my husband who was already up for the day!

Me: It is such a good thing I don't have to look at my face; even I wouldn't want to have anything to do with myself, looking the way I do.
He: Like Smokie, I want to cuddle only you. (Smokie is our pet cat who never fails to come and cuddle with me the minute I sit in my favorite chair.)

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Mommy Time by Sarah Arthur, A Book Review + Author Q&A

Behind the catchy phrase of "Mommy Time" is a very simple idea: New moms are encouraged to take regular time for themselves and do something like have a manicure or lunch with a good friend. In Mommy Time, Sarah Arthur shows how new moms can find peace, joy, rest, and spend quiet time with Jesus in non-traditional and yet completely Christ-like ways by honing in on something they are already starting to do, namely motherhood.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Infinite Grace 5

May is National Short Story Month and I'm feeling led to write some flash fiction. Here's my first short story about a parent's hopes for the legacy she has left her child through his own name, and how God's grace touches even this, whether realized or not. It is a real rough draft and not very good as I haven't written short stories since I left college! Your feedback will help me make it stronger. Thanks.

The picture, btw, is a Hawaiian Hibiscus that's blooming in the Garden of Grace right now. Orange, a friend told me, is the color of joy and I am totally filled with joy!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

P's and Q's of Social Media Engagement

IMPORTANT NOTE: I am no longer doing the social media for our church and so read this article with caution, keeping that in mind. It was written when I was temporarily handling Irvine Pres social media, late spring, early summer of 2013. Interaction can become time-consuming and not all people using social media are into it. Thanks

Mind your p's and q's is an old axiom from a couple of different places. In printing it meant pay attention to details. It was also a phrase I heard growing up meaning "mind your behavior," and more specifically, "don't forget to say please and thank you." In The Ps & Qs of Social Media Engagement, I provide an introduction to social networks along with critical tips and resources for visioning and designing your own strategy.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Twitter Etiquette

IMPORTANT NOTE: I am no longer doing the social media for our church and so read this article with caution, keeping that in mind. It was written when I was temporarily handling Irvine Pres social media, late spring, early summer of 2013. Interaction can become time-consuming and not all people using social media are into it. Thanks

Ann, @dbarkleys6 wanted to know about Twitter etiquette and posting photos. I've distilled from a number of resources and my own experience the following short list:

1) Articulate for yourself why you are on Twitter. I call this Tweet Vision. You don't have to share your vision fully but some parts of it will play out through your profile and your tweets (if you decide to share them and not just be a follower/listener-reader). Do you want to get informed, entertained, keep abreast of breaking news, or just want to give Twitter a try because you've heard so much about it? Do you want to tweet (share information) or listen (just follow and read others' tweets)? How often? About what?

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Infnite Grace 4

GE Welder  - A Metaphor for Grace  
Dietrich Bonhoeffer eloquently and vividly highlights the relationship between grace and discipleship in his classic work, The Cost of Discipleship. Using many examples, Apostle Peter and Martin Luther included, he shows how grace is costly not just because of Jesus' death on the cross. Grace is costly for us, his followers too, and the cost is a life of discipleship: Daily obedience to the giving up of self-will and obedience to the will of Jesus Christ. Bonhoeffer wrote:

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Connecting with Irvine Pres Using Twitter

Whether you've come to this page in response to a personal invitation or you stumbled upon it, thank you and welcome! This post will help identify ways in which you can become a part of the social media team and community that is now emerging organically at Irvine Pres.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Infinite Grace 3

Bernilli blooms in the Garden of Grace
Indeed I heard Ephraim pleading: "You disciplined me and I took the discipline; I was like a calf untrained. Bring me back, let me come back, for you are the Lord my God. For after I had turned away I repented; and after I was discovered, I struck my thigh; I was ashamed, and I was dismayed because I bore the disgrace of my youth." Jeremiah 31: 18-19.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Infinite Grace 2

The phrase "grace in the wilderness" jumped out at me, today, from my Old Testament lectionary reading (Jeremiah 31: 1-9). Jeremiah 31st chapter is about The Joyful Return of the Exiles.

Thus says the Lord: The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness; 
when Israel sought for rest, the Lord appeared to him from far away. 
I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore, I have continued my faithfulness to you.  

It is in the depths of my sin and desolation that I found God; grace (divine and human) in the wilderness is something to which I can totally relate.

Wilderness is a metaphor used by the prophets of Israel for the time of exile. For me, wilderness is a place to which I don't want to go; I don't even like to watch the Survivor reality game show! I often find wilderness is an apt metaphor for my day-to-day life many times. A clear path seems impossible to find because people and relationships are so messy. Then, there's all the realities of living in the world with "elemental spirits" as the Apostle Paul called them. I struggle against cultural and worldly odds to live, reborn, new, in Christ, focused on pleasing God. Yet, it was in the wilderness, Israel experienced God's grace, in no small measure. As do I. What does grace in the wilderness mean to you, today? And, head over to my new Tumblr site to see a picture of my "grace in the wilderness" for today if you need a bit of inspiration :).

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Six Dimensions of Discipleship: Peter's Perspective

Discovery, Disappointment, Denial, Delight, Disgrace, and Deliverance are Peter's perspective (and experiences) of the Six Dimensions of Discipleship, Pastor Scott's sermon yesterday.

Scripture: John 21: 15-19 (NIV) - Jesus asks Peter three times "do you love me more than these?"

Discovery is the 1st dimension of discipleship.
Jesus offers more than a livelihood or a career, a better, grander purpose than we can ever imagine.
 
Disappointment is the 2nd dimension of discipleship.
Following Jesus includes suffering and disillusionment by the fine print of discipleship.

Denial is the 3rd dimension of discipleship.
When the suffering gets too much we sometimes deny our discipleship, deny following Jesus.

Delight is the 4th dimension of discipleship
Impulsive Peter runs half naked through the ocean to greet the risen Jesus, now, perhaps, dimly understanding the suffering.

Disgrace is the 5th dimension of discipleship
To the questions, will you live into the name, the person God created you to be, love him, tend and feed his sheep we often reply "I friend you, Jesus."

Deliverance is the 6th dimension of discipleship
Devoted love to Jesus precedes our commitment to acts of service.

Important: 
It's ok be at any one of these dimensions of discipleship. God is faithful to be with us at any point. Jesus, the risen Savior, has restored our relationship with God and he asks us over and over, just as he does with Peter, "Do you love me? Follow me."



Audio file of the Sermon is available in the Irvine Pres C Sermon Archive, by clicking here.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Infinite Grace 1

420 is Hitler's birthday anniversary. In more recent years, the week of April 15 - 20 has been sheer horror, filled with deadly wounds: Waco Seige, Oklahoma City Bombing; Columbine; Virgina Tech shootings; and Boston Marathon terror. Rather than dwell on these dark events, led by the Holy Spirit, I have decided to focus on grace. God's grace is ever present. The Bible tells us that Divine Grace is infinite. Also, God's illimitable grace fills us with peace, much needed.

Grace is a very meaningful word and rich in theological significance. It comes from French/Latin gratia, gratus for pleasing, used to denote thankfulness. The Greek word for grace is charis meaning unmerited mercy and blessings. Grace is central to Christian theology. 100 of the 154 occurrences of the word charis in the New Testament occur in the Pauline Epistles, in all thirteen of them, and most often found in Romans and Corinthian letters.In Hebrew, the basic sense of charis is favor and loving kindness. God and Jesus Christ act in loving-kindness and undeserved favor toward humanity. This is divine grace, including the grace of salvation. There is also human grace, as Paul makes clear when he writes about thanksgiving, giving to a collection, offering, or in greetings of grace, and gracious, encouraging words towards others that are of spiritual benefit. Some scholars have gone further and suggested that charis, when used by Paul, isn't just an attribute, it means God himself.

Today, I was able to capture, with my camera, a moment of grace among The Borage and the Bees.

Please click on the link above to see the full photograph. Borage is a herb, plant growing in my garden, 3 feet tall and almost as wide. Ponderous with stalks of flowers ready to bloom, it is a magnet for honey bees, amazing pollinators and critical eco-system managers, that concerned folks tell us are on the verge of disappearing. Yet, here they are, alive, happy, busily buzzing away bees, and filling me with hope and joy. I didn't know borage attracts bees! Nor did I know that borage re-seeds itself every season; a total grace now that I am unable to garden. How on earth are the bees finding my urban garden? Where do they come from?

The borage in my garden and the bees grow by grace. May we too grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. (II Peter 3.18 NRSV).

Monday, April 15, 2013

Bivocational Lay Ministry, Part 2

In my last post, Bivocational Lay Ministry (I guess I should have called it part 1), I shared my excitement about God's calling to us: beyond the "livelihood" part. I further wrote:

These are what excite me about bivocational ministry becoming a possible model for not just leadership development but also discipleship, mentoring, and reaching out, in large, mainstream denominational churches.

1) What if together they molded a handful of laypeople, building the same kind of close, honest relationships within a larger group? They’d teach practical ministry, biblical theology and Christianity’s Jewish heritage in an organic, group setting.
2) The idea would be to empower laypeople with clergy-level vision and skills, incubating their sense of calling prior to seminary training -- or possibly instead of it.

Today, I flesh out the word bivocational. The word vocation meaning calling (a strong feeling of suitability for a particular occupation or career) comes from the Latin noun vocatio from the verb vocare meaning to call. Somehow through the years calling came to be reserved for special people, called by God, those who went on to become priests/pastors. Other Christians who were also  called by God came to feel that their vocatio was not inherently service to God and thus the corruption began. The result, nowadays, is that most Christians feel that their vocational calling and their Christian calling are two different things but are they? I don't think so.

In The Hard Sayings of Jesus, F.F. Bruce expounding on Jesus sayings in Matt 6.24 and Luke 16.13 (You cannot serve God and Mammon) writes: "Service of mammon and service of God are mutually exclusive." (p. 184). We cannot do both.

Christians need a way to earn their living. God is not opposed to that at all; in fact his gifts of special abilities for work are indeed a calling in that sense, but there is a deeper and stronger calling - our true calling - beyond making a living to which Jesus calls us, to trust in God to provide (See the lilies). It is in this sense, we are called to be faithful 24/7 followers of Jesus Christ, loving God first, using our talents for His glory, living in his kingdom even while here on earth, spreading his good news, making disciples of others, denying ourselves daily, and serving others. And, we follow this calling - vocation, even as we work in business, academia, or as a pastor. It is in these two senses of vocation then, that I am excited about bivocational lay ministry. What do you think?

Related: 

Bivocational Lay Ministry, Part 1

Robert Austell's What is a pastor?


Monday, April 8, 2013

Bivocational Lay Ministry

Does bivocational lay ministry have a future in the church? Two United Methodist Church pastors in San Antonio think yes, and have invested themselves in a broad-based training program of lay leaders called the Quarry. Below is an excerpt that explains the heart of this program

Two pastors at a UMC church in San Antonio have created a new model of training they call the Quarry, which has developed into a creative community of leaders
...
A few years ago, the protégé, the Rev. Scott Heare, challenged his spiritual father with a proposal: What if together they molded a handful of laypeople, building the same kind of close, honest relationships within a larger group? They’d teach practical ministry, biblical theology and Christianity’s Jewish heritage in an organic, group setting.
The idea would be to empower laypeople with clergy-level vision and skills, incubating their sense of calling prior to seminary training -- or possibly instead of it.
Three years ago, the idea took off.
Called the “Quarry,” it started with 16 people and grew without formal advertising to more than 50.

Can you imagine what it would be like if more churches did this? There might certainly be less isolation and greater connection in our communities! Congregations too may get to know their fellow pew mates, beyond sharing worship to participating in authentic community rather than superficial fellowship. Most churches have small group Bible studies and the like, whereby people get to meet others, and make friends. Ultimately, these folks might even serve together. In my humble opinion, this small group model, while good, does not put God's calling to us at the center. After all, God has called each Christian to ministry. So, what if the model were reversed?

Bivocational ministry is typically defined as one where God calls a person to ministry even as they work in another profession to supplement their income. Some examples from the Bible are: Daniel, Amos, Luke, Aquila and Priscilla and Paul. That's why bivocational ministry is sometimes called tent-making ministry; it derives from Paul's tent-making jobs that enabled him to earn a living while he shared the Gospel. More recently, I had the privilege of being a part of the ordination of a bivocational minister, the Rev. Erin Dunigan, Los Ranchos Presbytery, PC (USA), several years ago. Erin is on Twitter @edunny and shares her photos, writing, and sermons on her blog edunny.com. A "photographer. writer. somewhat nomadic but planting fruit trees in Baja. ordained evangelist and pastor of Not Church" Erin ministers to expat nones in the Baja; you've surely heard of The Rising of the Nones? If not, follow the link to learn about this demographic, some of whom Erin serves and many of whom you and I know.

In the Quarry, however, a couple of things seem different beyond the "livelihood" part. These are what excite me about bivocational ministry becoming a possible model for not just leadership development but also discipleship, mentoring, and reaching out, in large, mainstream denominational churches.

1) What if together they molded a handful of laypeople, building the same kind of close, honest relationships within a larger group? They’d teach practical ministry, biblical theology and Christianity’s Jewish heritage in an organic, group setting.
2) The idea would be to empower laypeople with clergy-level vision and skills, incubating their sense of calling prior to seminary training -- or possibly instead of it.

What do you think? To read the entire article about the Quarry please consult the Source below.

Source: Levy, Abe. Everything is possible. Faith and Leadership. Available online. http://www.faithandleadership.com/features/articles/everything-possible

References:

Bickers, Dennis. The Tentmaking Pastor: The Joy of Bivocational Ministry. Baker Books, 2000. Link to Amazon. Bickers also maintains a blog, Bivocational Ministry, A community for all bivocational ministers and the churches they serve. Bickers was working in a factory most of the time after he accepted a call to serve at Hebron Church, Indiana. Bickers, while being honest about the frustration attached to bivocational ministry, is positive and upbeat about the joy of serving in this way.

Dorsett, Terry. Developing Leadership Teams in Churches. Crossbooks Publishing, 2010. Link to Amazon. The challenges and stigma attached to bivocational ministry are also highlighted.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Picture This: God's Immanence


 "The immanence of God is a very precious and glorious truth," wrote Percy Ainsworth in his sermon titled Star Counting and Heart Healing based on Psalm 147: 3,4: He heals the broken-hearted...He determines the number of the stars (NRSV). God is not only God of the countless stars, he is very much present with each individual broken heart too, healing it.

A little more than a month ago, February 24th to be exact, as Lisa reminded me after Easter worship yesterday, I posted Spiritual Patriotism. That post included quotes from another Ainsworth sermon, The Pilgrim Church. I shared how worship at my church never fails to point me to God and His Kingdom. Well, on Easter Sunday I took a few pictures of our magnificent Easter worship, to help illustrate this experience of our Immanent God.

When I entered, the sanctuary was ablaze with light and color. Flowers and people dressed in all the colors of Spring vied with each other. My eyes opened wide with wonder as I sensed God among us. Sensing God's immanence - inherent presence in everything - and responding with joie de vivre, the Chancel Choir and musicians - especially the trumpets and trombone - out-did themselves in proclaiming the resurrection and victory of our Lord Jesus Christ, the unparalleled Conqueror of Death! It wasn't all peaks, there were valleys too. As when we remembered the sufferings of many people and prayed for the Mario family in our sister church community at El Nino, Mexico. On Saturday, they had just buried their little girl Leila who'd lost her tragic fight with bacterial meningitis. Pr. Scott's sermon "No Idle Tale" (Luke 24, ESV) was practical, nourishing and inspiring. How do we believe that Jesus resurrection is real, true? Pr. Scott would stake his life on it. Do I? Do you? Peter might have dismissed Mary's vision as an idle tale, but he still ran to the tomb because he wanted to believe it. "Fairy tales are more than true - not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten," Scott reminded us, quoting G.K. Chesterton. Jesus has beaten death and so have we.

The vibrant colors, stirring music, and thoughtful sermon were an experience of God's mysterious grace, presence, and kingdom among us. It was also an experience of his immanence in the ordinary, if only we have eyes to see and minds to understand. What followed after worship, thanks to Suzanne and Andy and their helpers, layered it in, in another sense, the sweet taste of foodie love :). Doughnuts and pastries from French's Bakery were lovingly served on beautifully arranged platters; disappearing in record time, they were continuously and seemingly never-endingly replenished :). I loved seeing the different generations together, such a common sight when I was growing up that doesn't happen quite so often nowadays; children, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, hanging out, everybody enjoying the treats. Pam's artificial flower posies, made out of paper napkins and pinned on a paper white lace doily, and table flower pots caught everybody's eyes, as much as the pastries, but I will have to post them separately; those pictures didn't come out well at all because I forgot to turn off the auto flash function on my camera. Which turned out to be a good thing because Pam is now going to teach me how to make them!

How do you experience God's immanence?


References: The Percy Ainsworth book I am reading is titled The Pilgrim Church and Other Sermons. London: Kelly, 1909, 1913. I am reading the electronic version which is freely available from The Open Library (previously called Archive.org). Pr. Scott's sermon "No Idle Tale" and other sermons of his are available from the Irvine Pres. Sermons Online media archive.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Good Friday - Death is not the end and To Love is To Live Forever

It is a Good Friday tradition in my church that we remember Jesus' crucifixion by symbolically nailing our sins on the cross.  However, we also anticipate his resurrection celebrations on Easter Sunday by receiving our forgiveness right away. Death is not the end. Jesus clearly showed us that. He also showed us how to live - forgiven, free, and full of love - as Pr. Scott and one of our elders Bud demonstrated at Maundy Thursday's Holy Week Communion Service.

At Maundy Thursday communion service Pr. Scott and Bud washed each other's feet and also the feet of those attending who wanted them washed. Did I get my feet washed? No, I was amused by the public ritual of what is usually a private act. Besides, while I've washed others' feet before I don't like my own feet washed even in my own church. I continued to process it, trying to understand my discomfort. I shared with a friend who sent me the link to CNN's story of our new Pope Francis washing the feet of 500 juvenile prisoners. The new Pope is clearly a humble man and a bit of a rebel too, washing as he did the feet of two little girls (one of them a Muslim). It was still unsettling.

I am a bit amused and uncomfortable because while it is admirable that our spiritual leaders are blessed with humility, the question for the majority of us is not about an annual foot-washing. It is really a question of how, then, do we live everyday? And, the answer, as was vividly and unforgettably shown us, is by loving all others as Jesus loved his disciples. I might quibble that Jesus must have known his disciples pretty well after three years and so this was no big deal (since he'd upset so many of their cultural norms anyway). He did. He also knew Judas was going to betray him and Peter would deny him. He still washed their feet. The point is, it is hard, a lot of times, to love the people in our work and social lives. Anyway, that's my first take-away from Lent 2013: To love everybody God has placed in my life like Jesus loved is not easy but every true follower of Jesus is called to it. The second take-away is my Easter identity. I live, born again, in Christ, not just believing but also behaving as if death is not the final end. To live in Christ is to love and to love in Christ is life everlasting.  I live in God's Kingdom, with Jesus, right now, forever. Now, to put this into practice. So help me, and the Body of Christ, dear Creator, Co-Partner of our lives, Father God, in Jesus name I ask. Amen.

Friday, March 29, 2013

An Independent People

Just the title is exciting, isn't it? "An Independent People" is a new BBC documentary that totally intrigued and engrossed me because its chock-full of Presbyterian history! While it is the story of the Ulster Presbyterians, Irish Presbyterianism, the history is traced from its roots in the Protestant Reformation of Martin Luther and Calvin's Presbyterian form of government in Geneva. You can watch the full series from here (YouTube) [This link has been removed as it no longer works; please follow this link to BBC instead:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01rl33q] Below are my notes and comments on Part 1: Taking Root. I will write about Part 2: Seeds of Liberty and Part 3: Union and Division shortly.

Key phrases that captured my imagination and rekindled memories from my own faith and life are: Protestant Revolution, dissenting tradition, Milton's "blockish presbyters," Presbyterian marker: "They would speak out even against their own interests if conscience told them they must."

Part 1: Taking Root - Irish Presbyterianism began when educated Scottish ministers migrated to Ulster. Presbyterianism's own roots in the Protestant Reformation of Martin Luther reminded me of how I was taught to identify myself, even as a very young child, as a "Protestant Christian." Presbyterianism as a form of government originated in Geneva under Calvin. Calvinism's 3 gifts to it are: 1) Biblical authority; 2) God's sovereignty; and 3) Simple public worship that everybody can understand.

The Irish General Assembly shown briefly conveyed very quickly the nature of the dissenting, debating, democratic traditions modern Presbyterians have. The two different interpretations of the ordination of Brice in Ireland, where the Anglicans are running the church and Presbyterian ministers from Scotland, because of a shortage of educated ministers in Ireland, are coming to operate the public worship painted a clear picture of the delicate balance being managed; church hierarchy is anathema to Presbyterians.

In 1625, the seminal moment in Irish Presbyterianism - the Six Mile Water Revival - challenged the Anglican authority and Blair was deposed by Ecklund, the bishop who had ordained him (among others). Blair, of course did not give up, and after other failed political moves such as appealing to the King, Blair sets sail for America on Eagle Wing but it was made evident that God did not want them to go to America. Fugitives in Ireland, banned from America by God, they turned toward Scotland where a Holy War was raging. Along with Livingston Blair led the revolt against the new "popish" Book of Prayer that had been introduced to replace Knox's Book of Common Order. And, the fight for Presbyterianism continued with a political time bomb - the Scottish National Covenant, a contract with God- which demanded the abolition of bishops, the establishment of a free general assembly, and the right to live, work, play, and worship as they saw fit! More than 60,000 people signed their names to it. The subsequent Ulster Massacre (4000 killed and 8000 turned out into the countryside who died) resulted in about 12,000 protestants dead but was also seen as an opportunity for a founding moment.

In Spring 1642 the first Presbytery was formed by 4 ministers (and one elder) in the regiments. Presbyterianism came into Ireland with a Bible in one hand, and a sword in the other. The presbytery is an official church court. Presbyterians had a vision for all three kingdoms and spoke out against the English Parliament and resulting in persecution (Presbyterian ministers removed from office in Ulster). Presbyterians began to construct their own churches and religious life in Ireland flowed in three distinct streams: Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Presbyterian but Scotland's killing time was coming as was persecution in Ireland. About 18,000 covenanters paid with their life. Late 17th century Irish Presbyterians suffered under repressive legislation pushing many of them into poverty; there's a beautiful illustration with the Congregation book of life, btw. In the early 18th century, William McGregor, an Ulster Presbyterian decided to take his family and congregation to America, to escape from oppression and bondage, to withdraw from the communion of idolaters and have the freedom to worship as their conscience directed.

There are some excellent reviews already on the web.

From Ireland, Gladys Ganiel, there is a three-part review posted on her blog after each episode aired on BBC 2 Northern Ireland. Titles and links to her review are below.
From the US, Steve Salyards. Review of BBC's Documentary An Independent People - March 25, 2013.

The full-text of the Rev. Matthew Kere's book on The Ulster Revival of the Seventeenth Century written in 1859 can be found in Archive.org.  The preface is quoted in full below:

IT may be necessary to state how I came to think of publishing this narrative. Having recently to deliver a lecture on "The Ulster Revival of the 17th Century," the necessary preparation brought the subject fully before me. The more I read of the Revival, the greater the interest that gathered around it. Then it struck me that a short account of this remarkable work of grace might stir up some to desire such another season of revival. It is to Reid's History of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland I am mainly indebted for the materials out of which this, the most instructive chapter in the history of our Zion, has been compiled. That work is too large and expensive to be generally read to the many it is altogether inaccessible. In the hope of bringing the subject of the Revival before the minds of some who have not access to the History, and with the desire of stimulating the people of God throughout our Church, these pages have been written.

M. K.

THE MANSE, DKOMOEE WEST,
April, 1859.

Source: http://archive.org/stream/MN5159ucmf_6/MN5159ucmf_6_djvu.txt

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Holy Thursday Others

On Holy Thursday or Maundy Thursday as its also known we commemorate Jesus washing the feet of his disciples shortly before he was crucified. Jesus washing the feet of the disciples during their last Passover supper and some of their conversation is recorded in the Gospels as also the institution of the Lord's Supper communion we still celebrate today (Mark 14.22-25) and the foretelling of Judas' betrayal. In fact, Jesus directly said to Judas, "Do quickly what you are going to do" referring to his betrayal (John 13.18-30, NRSV). In Matthew 26.25, Judas who betrayed him, asked, "Surely not I, Rabbi? He replied, " You have said so." I do wonder what both were thinking and feeling as Jesus washed Judas' feet. Jesus had been open and offered Judas love but he rejected it.

In A Front-Porch Ecclesiology, Steve Lindsley, a pastor at First Presbyterian Church at Mount Airy (NC), notes that lack of open dialogue is becoming more and more prevalent in our society. In the 1900s the front porch "was quite literally the doorstep to the community and beyond. The front porch was how people communicated: face-to-face, direct and relaxed dialogue." This is in direct contrast to how Steve grew up in the 70s in Raleigh. The front porch moved to the back as people wanted to come home, after a long day at work, "to separation and seclusion." Steve likens this to the PC(USA)."We sit on our “back porches,” avoiding circumstances that might bring us in contact with those who think and feel differently than we do. We prefer seclusion and separation over true discourse and exchange." He offers three suggestions for how to operate out of a front-porch ecclesiology: We’d stop demonizing “the other.” We'd hear the valid points the other side has. We'd work toward understanding and compromise.

I am making no parallels here between Judas and any other person or group today but Holy Thursday does seem to be a good time to think about the "others," especially the "homosexual problem" that many among us wish would just go away from our politics and our religion. [Incidentally, the correct term I learned, recently,  is LGBTQIA for Lesbian, Gay, Transgender, Questioning or Queer, Intersex, and Asexual or Ally - to get caught up, read the NY Times article on Generation LGBTQIA published January 9 of this year.] Sadly, far too often, homosexuality inspires fear, condemnation and disgust. It does not even inspire the kind of passing compassion most people sometimes feel for the poor. I must admit, though, that a lot of evangelicals are tired of hearing about the problem of the poor too! The Bible to many of them is crystal clear about the sin of homosexuality and they want to distance themselves from it. They fear that if they don't speak out against it, it may spread among us, invoke God's wrath, and in the long run separate not only us from God but our future generations as well.

I wondered what the Bible says about "others," including the concept of heteronormativity? There are different categories of "others," I discovered. Differences between us range across a wide spectrum and include sexuality, gender, ethnicity, culture, religion, nationality, and personal preferences. For example, the affirmation by Paul of everybody being one on Christ, women and slaves included, in Galatians 3.28 was at odds with the prevailing cultural practices of Jews and Greeks; a Greek thanksgiving of the same time variously attributed to Socrates, Thales and Plato and a famous Jewish prayer thanking God for being born quite the opposite, man, not woman, Greek or Jew as the case may be, not a barbarian or heathen, and free, not a slave. In one important matter, however, there is no difference. We're all sinners: "I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin" the Apostle Paul, bemoans. "I do not understand my own actions.. I can will what is right but I cannot do it... Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me...I delight in the law of God in my inmost being... with my mind I am a slave to the law of God but with my flesh, I am a slave to the law of sin." (Romans 7. 14-25, NRSV).  The good news though is that we're forgiven and set free by Jesus Christ: "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus...but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God's law - and indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit since the Spirit of God dwells in you." (Romans 8: 1-9).

What does the Spirit tell us about "others" especially with regard to heteronormativity?

Here's a definition of heteronormativity, if you like me, are new to the term. A huge body of research is available on this topic and so I share briefly. Very simply, heteronormativity assumes that heterosexuality is natural, normal, and right. In Judeo-Christian traditions it stems from the biblical belief that God created male and female (Genesis 1). Other cultures are not so binary. For example, in India and parts of South Asia, there's long been awareness of a third gender such as the hijras (hermaphrodites - intersex). Hijras hold an ambiguous place in India as they live separately in their own communities and not with mainstream society. They are both respected, more out of superstitious fear than true respect, and ridiculed, invited to sing at weddings and other religious ceremonies but also often used as comic relief in Bollywood movies. Easily identifiable, they face social stigma and live in poverty.

Related References:

Hijra (South Asia). Wikipedia.

Hoda, Ayesha. The Third Gender. South Asia Global Affairs, 2007.

Khan, Shivananda and Jolly Susie. Institute of Development Studies. Sex, Gender, and Development. Challenging Heteronormativity. This has a bunch of quotes about the role of heteronormativity in development (poverty of women, women with AIDS, etc.)

Schulman, Michael. Generation LGBTQIA New York Times, 9 January 2013.

Tobia, Jacob. LGBTQIA: A Beginner's Guide to the Great Alphabet Soup of Queer Identity. March 2013.

Young, Jasmine and others (Wheaton College). Refuge Becomes an Official Group for Students Questioning their Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation.