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:

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.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Prayer-Tweets @Dream PC(USA)

Recently, I came across @WeDreamPCUSA, a new Twitter group, thanks to @CindyCaporaso.

Dream PC(USA) was "born out of GA220, open to God's Spirit, dreaming of new ways to be the Church..." When GA220 ended, in July 2012 Emily blogged, there was a lot of discouragement, disillusionment and frustration. There was also movement toward hope with the formation of Dream PC(USA); the idea came from other denomination groups already out there harnessing social media: @DreamUMC (United Methodist Church), Acts 8 Moment (Episcopalian Church) and @Mainline Dreams to get the different denominations dreaming together about the universal Body of Christ. On Thursdays at 9:30 ET, DreamPCUSA meets real-time on Twitter to prayer-tweet heartfelt prayers using the hashtag #dreampcusa (if you follow this link you will see all the prayer tweets). It seems quite appropriate, during the last week of Lent, on Holy Wednesday to join their Ash Wednesday Pastoral Prayer (reproduced below).

Have mercy on us, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out our transgressions.
For we have both acted justly and unjustly, spoken carefully and uncarefully, listened with empathy and not listened at all.
You desire justice and righteousness to cascade like waterfalls; You desire wholeness and connectedness.
For the times when we have been too harsh on ourselves or others, forgive us.
For the times when we have been too easy on ourselves or others, forgive us.
For the times we have taken our frustration or anger out on others, forgive us.
For the times we have bottled our emotions up, forgive us.
For the times when we have not taken another’s frustrations or emotions seriously, forgive us.
For the times when we have written off those who are not like us, forgive us.
For the times we chose not to or forgot to take care of ourselves, forgive us.
For the times we let something important slip through the cracks, forgive us.
For the times we forget to find joy and laughter, forgive us.
For the times we have excluded someone, forgive us.
For the times we judged others and ourselves, forgive us.
For the angry words said in frustrating situations, forgive us.
For the times when our thoughts turn to hate, forgive us.
For all that weighs on our hearts and keeps us from you, forgive us.
Gracious God, we remember those who have died this past year.
We remember the personal losses of friends, family members, colleagues, and chosen family.
We remember those killed in school shootings.
We remember those killed in other shootings.
We remember Trayvon Martin.
We remember those who died and those whose lives were destroyed in Hurricane Sandy.
We remember those killed in wars and violence around the world.
We remember those killed in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Palestine/Israel, Lebanon.
We remember civilians all over the world caught in the crossfire.
We remember those who are victims and survivors of domestic abuse.
We remember those who carry physical, emotional, and spiritual scars from abuse.
We remember those who feel as though they’ve lost hope.
We remember those struggling with mental illness.
We remember those who are unemployed and under employed.
We remember those who are struggling under heavy debt.
We remember those who are working and yet can’t seem to make ends meet.
We remember those struggling with addiction.
We remember those who feel stuck in cycles of poverty or violence or abuse or addiction.
We remember those who struggle with hunger.
We remember those who are not insured or have no access to health care.
We remember those who are homeless and refugees.
We remember those incarcerated & their families.
We remember those who are isolated because of age or disability.
We remember those who cannot remember themselves.
We remember those children and youth whose dreams have been crushed by forces beyond their control.
We remember those who suffer from long-term illness.
We remember those who are care-givers.
We remember those who have been told their creativity and imagination is useless or pointless.
We remember those who struggle to find purpose and meaning.
We remember those who are burnt out in caring professions.
We remember those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
We remember those who struggle under the expectations of others.
We remember those who have had to make difficult, life-changing decisions.
We remember those who cannot marry the person they are in love with.
We remember those forced out of their homes after coming out.
We remember those who fight to change the systems of racism in our communities and in the world.
We remember those who fight to change the systems of sexism in our communities and in our world.
We remember those who fight to change the systems of heteronormativity in our communities and in our world.
We remember those who fight against the systems of ageism in our communities and in our world.
We remember those who educate and advocate.
We remember those who have been burned by organized religion.
We remember those who feel distanced from God because of their experiences within the Church.
Holy God, we remember.
We remember & will not allow ourselves to be distracted from working toward Your justice and righteousness for all people.
We remember not simply to remember but also to remind us of our mission within the world.
We are the Body of Christ for the world.
We go forward to help and heal, work and rest, sing and pray, love and comfort.
We go forward knowing the Holy Spirit empowers us to repent & work together for a more just world.
In the name of Jesus we pray, amen.



Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Walking on Water

Saturday evening, before Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week, my husband and I walked into Lowe's. I had prayed, yet again, for God to show me that he is real by making possible what seemed like an impossible task. We had just left Home Depot after unsuccessfully trying to match a paint. Our ceilings were being painted over and the painter had waited until after 4:30 pm Saturday to let us know that the paint we had given him first thing early that morning, for touch-up of the side walls was "no good." To make matters worse he also delivered us an ultimatum. If we didn't have the paint next morning - Palm Sunday - he would not be coming back to do the touch-up, his job was done. Needless to say we were not happy campers. Our walls are Swiss Coffee, a Vista paint and my husband quickly discovered that all the Vista Paint stores in our county had just closed for the day. Hence our evening run into Home Depot (who we found carried Vista paints but not the Swiss Coffee color) and then, Lowe's.

I was talking to God as my husband drove us. I thanked him for how smoothly everything had gone until now. I was hopeful and unstressed about this minor hassle, confident that God would work it out for good. Then, Joseph Campbell (author of The Hero With A Thousand Faces, one of the most influential books of all time) and The Power of Myth (Bill Moyers' chat with Campbell), a PBS TV series, came to mind, bringing in the disquieting thought about God being a myth; Campbell in his book traces the archetypal hero present in the monomyth of many cultures and religions, Buddha, Moses, and Christ included. Jesus is not just another mythical hero, I thought, vehemently, He is God. God, I know you are real. You've showed me that countless times, so why do these random associations of intellectual doubt keep coming into my mind? And, I am not going to keep asking for fix-ups when so many other people have really big problems and mine is just a minor matter, I affirmed. We will have a good experience even if we don't get the paint we need right-away.

Well, Jazmine was our paint expert at Lowe's and what she did for us quite restored my faith, in people. Although Lowe's didn't carry Swiss Coffee, she gave us sample cards we could bring home to match with our existing walls and return the next morning to get the paint before the painters arrived. I left the store walking on water, smiling at Jesus.

Monday, March 25, 2013

World Water Day - "I am thirsty" Jesus said

Today, March 25, the day after Palm Sunday is a part of Holy Week. We are in the final week of our journey with Jesus to the cross and his glorious resurrection. "I am thirsty" said Jesus as he hung on the cross and so I want to reflect on water.

Just a few days ago, March 22, was the United Nations' 20th annual World Water Day. Every year on 03/22, international cooperation in the area of water energy savings, water energy saving projects, and increasing awareness of millions around the world without access to water are highlighted. Amy Sinatra Ayres has written On World Water Day, a Look at Energy Projects Saving Water and Energy in the National Geographic, 2013, if you would like to learn more. I was very pleased to see that Southern California Edison and the Darden Restaurants (owner of Yard House, Red Lobster, Olive Garden and similar other chains) were two of the companies with note-worthy water energy saving projects this year.

I became aware of water scarcity when I was quite young. There were a few summers of severe water shortages in Madras (now called Chennai). Then, the government run Metropolitan Water Supply Board lines failed to deliver water. At our home, we weren't really affected as we just continued to use our own private well and underground "sump" (water storage tank). I do recall seeing long, long lines of people snaking across many streets, waiting with vessels to collect rationed water (about 4-5 gallons per household); street fights would erupt often as some householders brought larger than normal containers or tried to jump the lines. The water was brought to each neighborhood by the Metropolitan's "water lorries." Clearly many were suffering, but I didn't experience any personal hardship and so the scarcity hardly made any impact on me.  It reinforced, however,  my early upbringing in not wasting anything, even a seemingly abundant and freely available resource such as water. A few years ago I learned that Chennai, suffering a chronic water shortage for decades now, has implemented an innovative solution. Swaminathan Natarajan provides details in Innovative India Water Plant Opens in MadrasBBC News 2010.

The study of water and the vast literature on it fascinated me when I became a researcher for a geo-referenced digital library. Water "cuts," water rules such as no watering of lawns, for example, and tiered water pricing all added to my education. My family and I became convicted about water conservation. Water is not just a precious resource, it is another life-giving gift God has given us.

Feeling led, I began to explore how to live biblically with regard to our use of water. We were pretty water-energy savvy inside the home but not in our garden. I began to grow vegetables, fruits, herbs, natives, and drought-tolerant plants transforming a garden that had been purely ornamental. Then, we installed a weather-controlled irrigation system. Last year, thanks to IRWD's Turf Removal Rebate program (Remove Grass, Get Cash), we converted our backyard lawn into permeable ground. It takes about 5600 gallons of water per month to irrigate a 1000 square foot  lawn and all the runoff is bad not only for the land but it affects water quality as well. Life depends on water, water gives life, and water is life. Or it can bring death, if were not careful.

Life-giving "water" flows beautifully (Isaiah) and famously (John) throughout the Bible from the opening reference in Genesis 1.2 to the last one in Revelation 22.17. I share only the first and the last. May you "thirst" and "come to Jesus" so that you are filled and may you be Holy-Spirit led to reflect upon water in new and life-giving ways that heal the millions without water in our suffering world.

The Spirit of God was hovering over the waters (Genesis 1.2, NIV).

And God said, Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures (Genesis 1.20, NRSV).

The Spirit and the bride say, "Come,"
And let everyone who hears say, "Come"
And let everyone who is thirsty say, "Come."
Let anyone who wishes take the water as a gift of life. (Revelation 22. 17, NRSV)

Prayer for today:

Dear Jesus, "I thirst," you said and they offered you vinegar not water. Please forgive us. We don't really know what we are doing, often. Help us, this week especially, be more aware of those who have very little or no water to drink. May your kingdom come quickly, our Father, so that everybody has clean safe water to drink. Give us the courage and the conviction to change our wasteful ways and may we be satisfied ourselves and offer the thirsty the life-giving water that you have given us. Amen.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Make Way, Make Way for the King of Kings - Palm Sunday

Make Way, Make Way is a modern hymn by the British musician Graham Kendrick. It is one of the few Palm Sunday hymns that I know that doesn't have hosanna in it :). What praise or other songs did you sing in your worship today? Will you share your favorite Palm Sunday song or hymn with me? It'd be fun to know. You can just comment online or email me and I'll compile a list and share.

In one of my former churches, Palm Sunday worship began in a special way; children and adults would gather outside the church and form a processional into the sanctuary waving palm fronds and shouting Hosanna. I can almost picture Jesus riding a colt right there in front of us. I see palms, linens, even scarves that we hastily brought from our cars and the church linen cupboards when we realized Jesus had come, a makeshift red carpet, that we, the people laid for him.  When we were inside the sanctuary, he would talk and we'd listen mesmerized. Although Jesus riding a donkey onto my church campus is just a dream, I pray that we will make way more and more, for King Jesus to rule in our hearts and lives.

Make Way, Make Way (lyrics and music by Graham Kendrick) - Listen on YouTube

Make way make way for the King of Kings (repeat twice)

Make way, make way for Christ the king in splendor arrives
Fling wide the gates and welcome him into your life.
Make way, make way for the king of kings
Make way, make way and let his kingdom in.

He comes the broken hearts to heal, the prisoners to free
The deaf shall hear, the lame shall dance, the blind shall see.
Make way, make way for the king of kings
Make way, make way and let his kingdom in.

Those who walk with heavy hearts, who weep and sigh
With laughter, joy, and royal crown he'll beautify.
Make way, make way for the king of kings
Make way, make way and let his kingdom in.

We call you now to worship Him as Lord of all
To have no gods before him, their thrones must fall.
Make way, make way for the king of kings
Make way, make way and let his kingdom in.

Friday, March 22, 2013

An Open Invitation to Readers, Writers, Bloggers

We're excited to share the news about a venture called The Unknowns, A Readers & Writers group. Our encouragement is from Hebrews 10:25a Let us not give up meeting together and our passionate goal and desire is David's prayer Psalm 86, especially verse 11 and its latter half: Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.

This will be a new small group for sharing and discussing books we're reading or writing. We envision real-time discussions of published works, sharing of our own spiritual or books read journals, as well as works in progress for publication by group members, and reader feedback on such writing drafts. We plan to add blogging to deepen the discussion, build and nurture community, besides establishing a vibrant and intellectual presence of our community and faith online. The subjects of our books will be Christianity, Comparative Religion (interfaith books such as Why did Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed Cross the Road: Christian Identity in a Multifaith World), science-related books with an application toward points of controversy in Christian circles (such as The Rocks Don't Lie: A Geologist Investigates Noah's Flood), and such like. We will not be a traditional book club as much as a reading plus writers group that seeks to mentor each other to deeper growth in Christ besides nurturing writing talent. For blogging, we will use an already established blog (Eyes on Christ) or create a brand new one.

It is important to note that this is not your normal reading - writing - blogging group. Everybody won't read the same book and not everybody has to write, journal, blog, or share their writings.

Important elements members will bring to the group:

A commitment to growing in Christ and sharing our faith through the elements of reading, writing, and blogging.

A commitment to interacting positively, collaborating semi-virtually, and critiquing professionally.

Writers will bring viable work(s) in progress for critique.

Readers will share a new text and offer constructive quality feedback on submitted writing work.

Bloggers will blog on any subject they choose but it must nurture, inspire, and add depth to our Christian calling. We call it 24/7 Christianity - practicing, living, in Christ, with reading and writing adding reflective but practical challenges :). New to blogging? No problem. We will conduct a workshop on it.

Our group size will be limited. Real-time meetups will be monthly for approx. 1.5 to 2 hours. Everybody will take turns to lead the group when we meet. We plan to meet third Wednesdays of the month, starting 17th April. We will meet 7 pm - 8:30 pm.

If any of this sounds appealing to you or if you know someone who might be a good fit (meetings will be in Irvine), please let us know. Thanks.

Anita & Don

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Homeless in Irvine

In the late 1980s the City of Irvine applied for a HUD grant to convert an Irvine dog kennel into a 50-bed homeless shelter. It was turned down. The project was stopped (apparently some on council appealed to HUD to deny the grant). Larry Agran, currently on the city council, was a leading advocate of the project.
A controversial plan to convert an Irvine dog kennel into a shelter for homeless people appeared to be doomed Tuesday after federal officials canceled a $496,000 grant to finance the project.
          ....
Experts believe that up to 30 families may be homeless every night in Irvine. A survey of churches and shelters undertaken by a city task force found that nearly 400 men, women and children from Irvine turned up at shelters in the county during the first six months of this year.
Agran has pushed for a central shelter so the city "can do its fair share" to ease the homeless crunch in Orange County.
Source:  HUD Cancels Grant to Fund Irvine Shelter for Homeless, LA Times, December 02, 1987.  Accessed: http://articles.latimes.com/1987-12-02/local/me-17303_1_hud-grant

Related Reference: Churm, Steven. Animal Shelter to House Irvine Homeless, LA Times October 29, 1987. Accesed: http://articles.latimes.com/1987-10-29/local/me-17073_1_animal-shelter

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

We Cannot Die On Every Cross

In A Testament of Devotion, Thomas Kelly wrote "We cannot die on every cross, nor are we expected to" (109). While there are many needs and laborers are few, it is often my ego or inability to say no, that results in burdens leading to busyness and away from peace, and it is not God who lays them upon me. Discerning and obeying God's will and calling - in small and large matters - is soul care.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

"Icebergs" - A David Damm Original


I am dancing with joy and feeling most blessed. I have a David Damm original! "Icebergs" just fits Casa Charis oh, so perfectly.

David Damm is an award-winning California artist. You can see more of his paintings on his website at daviddammartist.com/.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Eating Into Childhood?


A couple of years, Spring 2011 to be exact, the CBS News show 60 Minutes carried a segment about The Debate on Child Farm Labor. "No work, no pay." The father and two sons (ages 15, 13, I think) earn the minimum wage, during the summer time. They can earn enough - $10,000 to $12, 000 - during the summer to pay for their clothes and books during the school year. It touched me deeply that even here in America there are still many industries where people cannot earn a living wage. One of the farmers explained it in this way: "Americans want their fruits and vegetables the cheapest." Is childhood just an issue of cost or a sacrifice made for my eating? 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

About Staying or Leaving the PC(USA)

Editorial Note dated 24 May, 2014: Since writing this post, Geneva Pres. listed below as one of the churches seeking dismissal, has decided not to leave.

My Presbytery of Los Ranchos is in a season of discernment. The ECO denomination unveiled its theology and polity last year - congregations, presbyteries, synod but no General Assembly - and some churches nationwide are prayerfully considering if they should seek gracious dismissal (this link will take you to an article titled Poll: PCUSA Church Members Increasingly Favor Same-Sex Marriage, published by the Free Republic, October 2012). So I, new to the LRP-SCT, put together this little bibliography for myself; please be aware that documents (bibliographies and opinions) on my blog don't represent the SCT, Los Ranchos Presbytery, my church or the PC(USA). Bibliographies may not even represent me as they are meant to be comprehensive :). Bottom line: I'm learning about this issue and I am sharing as it might be helpful to other newbies too.

The Los Ranchos Discernment Website includes a Discernment Resource List and information about the Open Space Discernment Events scheduled from February through May 2013 (see also the new Los Ranchos Discern Blog). How are other churches in our presbytery discerning? Here's the discernment links for: St. Andrews | Trinity Pres. | Geneva Pres. | Good Shepherd
  
News and Views From Around the Blogosphere and On the Web:

Covenant Network of Presbyterians
Achtemeier, Mark. (October 28, 2012). The Plan-B God. URL: http://covnetpres.org/2012/10/the-plan-b-god/ Last Accessed 03/13/13.

ECO: Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians
Members. (This is a list of churches arranged by state) (n.d.). http://www.fellowship-pres.org/eco-members/ Last Accessed 03/13/13.

Ortberg, John. (19 January 2012). A Vision of Ministry and Introducing ECO. URL: http://fellowshippres.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/John-Ortberg-Transcript2.pdf Last Accessed: 03/13/13. I was very sad to read this written by such a godly man.

Fellowship of Presbyterians
Eyre, Stephen and Naegeli, Mary Holder. (2012). Doorways: Study Guide for the Essential Tenets. Leader's Guide. Foreword by Richard Mouw. URL: http://www.fellowship-pres.org/study-guides/ Last Accessed: 03/13/13.
FOP is an interesting concept to say the very least :). Check out their About page:  http://www.fellowship-pres.org/.

GA HELP: Collected PCUSA Commentary.
(by) Austell, Robert. URL: http://www.gahelp.net/. Austell aimed to provide the most relevant online articles from all different perspectives. There's summaries of the GA 220 as well as all the different movements and positions in our denomination (progressive, moderate, evangelical). Austell, as per the About page, is a pastor, served as 2008, 2012 Commissioner and also authored the gracious dismissal resolution. He also has his own blog. Two other helpful features on the GA-Help blog are the Blog Tracker categories page and the link provided to the The #pcusa daily (a newspaper of daily tweets about PC(USA) that uses the paper.li curation platform). Other than the twitter #pcusa feed the site's in archive mode, it appears since October 2012, when it was last updated.

Jeff Keuss: Theology and Culture. A TheoBlog for Creativity, Pop Culture, and God Stuff.
Keuss, Jeff. (29 January 2012). PCUSA and Here Comes the Sun: Listening for the Music. URL: http://www.jeffkeuss.com/blog/?p=1243 Last Accessed 03/06/13.

Keuss, Jeff. (20 January 2012). Making a Way: ECO, PCUSA, and Footpaths in the Rain. URL: http://www.jeffkeuss.com/blog/?p=1228 Last Accessed: 03/06/13.

Keuss, Jeff (14 May 2011). Stained and Poured Out: Baptismal Vows, Acts 15, and Being the Stained Community of God. URL: http://www.jeffkeuss.com/blog/?p=846 Last Accessed 03/06/13.
About his participation  in the Re-forming ministry project through the PC(USA).

Keuss, Jeff (12 May 2011). Amendment 10-A and Dulles' Community of Disciples: Do We Have A Reason to Divide the Church URL: http://www.jeffkeuss.com/blog/?p=834 Last Accessed 03/06/13.
Using Avery Dulles, a Catholic theologian's Models of the Church Keuss provides a convincing argument for why the denomination should look beyond itself to the broken world.

The Layman
Key, Nathan (6 March 2013). Colorado Church Withdraws Request For Dismissal.  URL: http://www.layman.org/colorado-church-withdraws-request-for-dismissal/ Last Accessed 03/13/13. Nice!

LaBerge, Carmen Fowler. (2012). Defining the Relationship Between the FOP, the PCUSA, and the ECO. URL: http://www.layman.org/newsed6a/ Last Accessed: 03/13/13.

The Orthodox Presbyterian Church
Leaving the PC(USA). Q & A. URL: http://www.opc.org/qa.html?question_id=86  Last Accessed 03/06/13.

Patheos
Robert, Mark. (2008). The End of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Revisited. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/markdroberts/series/the-end-of-the-presbyterian-church-u-s-a-revisited/ Last Accessed 03/13/13.

Roberts, Mark (2008). Why Not Just Leave the PC(USA)? http://www.patheos.com/blogs/markdroberts/series/why-not-just-leave-the-pcusa/ Last Accessed 03/06/13.

Stand Firm: Faith Among the Ruins
Fischler, David (23 May 2012). Two PCUSA Presbyteries Shed 30% of Membership. URL: Last Accessed 03/06/13.

StayPC(USA): Staying in Without Selling Our Solas
Why We're Staying. URL: http://staypcusa.com/2012/06/25/why-stay/ Last Accessed 03/06/13.

Bower, Joshua (27 June 2012). I'm Staying Because God Called Me Here. URL: http://staypcusa.com/2012/06/27/im-staying-because-god-called-me-here/ Last Accessed 03/06/13.

Craiglow, Jodi (27 June 2012).  Staying Put in a Brand New (to me, at least) Home. URL: http://staypcusa.com/2012/06/27/staying-put-in-a-brand-new-to-me-at-least-home/ Last Accessed: 03/06/13.

Huff, Jason (28 June 2012). Because Jesus Loved Samaria.  URL: http://staypcusa.com/2012/06/28/because-jesus-loved-samaria/ Last Accessed 03/06/13.

Normington, Seth (29 June 2012) Why Stay? Why Not? URL: http://staypcusa.com/2012/06/27/why-stay-why-not/ Last Accessed 03/06/13.

Simonds, Mark (28 June 2012). If I go there will be trouble. If I stay it will double. URL: http://staypcusa.com/2012/06/28/if-i-go-there-will-be-trouble-if-i-stay-it-will-be-double/ Last Accessed 03/06/13.

Smith, Shawn (28 June 2012). Staying to Witness to Neighbors (and Colleagues). URL: http://staypcusa.com/2012/06/29/staying-to-witness-to-neighbors-and-colleagues/ Last Accessed 03/06/13.

Sprinkle, Barnabas (27 June 2012) Heretics? Probably. Apostate? Nope! URL: http://staypcusa.com/2012/06/27/heretics-probably-apostate-nope/ Last Accessed 03/06/13.

Theology Matters: A Publication of Presbyterians for Faith, Family and Ministry
Burton, Bryan (1995). Faithful Witness to the Uniqueness of Jesus Christ.  Theology Matters 1 (6). URL: http://www.theologymatters.com/NOVDEC95.PDF Last Accessed: 03/13/13.

Thinking the Faith, Praying the Faith, Living the Faith: A Blog of the PC(USA) Office of Theology and Worship
Ensign-George, Barry (2 November 2011). A Time to Play the Long Game. URL: http://www.pcusa.org/blogs/faith/2011/11/2/time-play-long-game/ Last Accessed 03/06/13.

Btw, my favorite book on Presbyterian history is still Paul Carlson's Our Presbyterian Heritage, Elgin, Illinois, David C. Cook Publishing, 1973. There do appear to be newer editions than mine which was printed in 1976!

Story-telling Revival

Story telling is as old as humanity itself. From the very beginning we have loved stories. The Greeks and Romans had their mythologies, the Germans their Brothers Grimm, the Dutch had Hans Anderson, and so on. Every culture and group on earth has its folk tales, fairy tales, animal fables by Aesop, and goodness knows who else, while Scherazade's tales spanned one thousand magical Arabian nights! India has its share of stories too: mythologies, religious stories, literature, and folk stories are all so popular that they are even available as comic books for many different ages, audiences, and languages including English. One big difference in the Indian classics though is the difficulty in distinguishing a clear line between fiction (what is imagined) and non-fiction (what happens in reality). Many of the historical places and events (such as battles) in the classics are deemed to be true  - imagine Homer's Iliad and Schliemann's finding of Troy :)

A couple of years ago, I came across Eric Miller and a story-telling institute in South India while I was googling for the Tamil classical epic, Silapadikaram, which I'd studied as a child. Silapadikaram means The Epic of the Anklet. It is the (true, according to some) story of a heroine rather than a hero; a tale of two young lovers, the young woman Kannagi and her husband Kovalan, set among the ancient Tamil kingdoms of the Cholas, Pandyas, and the Cheras around the beginning of the Common Era.  Eric, I learned, runs the World-Wide StoryTelling Institute based in Chennai and organizes story tours based on the Tamil classics. A New Yorker, Eric first traveled the route Kannagi and Kovolan took when they traveled from Poompuhar to Madurai to find a new life after their parents' business had failed. Kovalan, takes Kannagi's anklet, goes into the city, gets infatuated with a dancer Madhavi, and forgets his wife. Meantime, the queen misses her anklet, which is similar to Kannagi's and Kovalan who had gifted it to Madhavi gets thrown into prison and executed. Kannagi comes into the city, finds out and seeks an audience before the king where she throws her own anklet down on the ground with such force that it shatters and the jewels inside spill out. Her anklet, one of a pair to the one Kovalan had was similar (filled with rubies) while the queen's anklet was filled with diamonds (I might have this part reversed). When the king sees the injustice he has unwittingly meted out, filled with shame that his righteous kingdom has been so marred, he dies. His wife follows suit. Kannagi's anger though still does not abate. She's a tragic heroine of magnificent proportions and catastrophic destruction. In her anger she destroys the cultured city of Madurai famed for her fantastic architecture, thriving Greek, Indian and Persian trade, and happy population.

Miller, citing Sobol (1999), notes there's been a story-telling revival in the US and the UK since the 1960s. In India, the story-telling revival is just beginning. His fascinating paper (2011) provides excellent references and description of Tamil story-telling history, present status, and possible future directions. One of the story-telling genres among the Tamils caught my attention: Orthodox Hindu God Stories (Hari Katha) also known as Katha-Kalak-Chebam or  Religious Story-telling. When I look at each word in the second name for the genre, specifically, I am intrigued: Katha means story, kalak means stirred up, and chebam means prayer, literally story stirred by prayer or prayer that stirs up (creates) stories? There are South Indian Christians, especially the Mar-Thoma, who claim a history as old as Western Christianity, since their church was founded by the Apostle Thomas. More than enough time for them to have built a rich treasure-trove of Yesu-katha (Jesus stories) themselves. Also, Indian Christianity brought in by the British, Portuguese, French, Spanish and the Dutch, is now a little more than 400 years old. How do Tamil Christians share katha-kalak-chebam? Are they the same as the stories in the Bible or do they differ? How do they inform the born-again Tamil Christian's Biblical worldview and modern identity? I also think these are good questions to ask of ourselves, many-generation Christians (a misnomer, since we must each be born again to truly have Christ in our hearts, but I think you know what I mean) or just plain followers of Christ? What God-stories make up our identity?

Acknowledgements:
Thanks to Pr. Scott (Irvine Pres.) who played no small part in rekindling my interest in fiction and poetry. Sunday after sunday, meeting after meeting, I heard him re-telling stories, quoting poetry, and other great literature. I remembered growing up on a steady diet of fiction (mostly read with a flashlight under the sheets and hidden from my parents!), that my undergraduate major had been in English Literature, and renewed my love affair with the English language.

References:

Fabricius, J. P. (1972) J. P. Fabricius' Tamil and English Dictionary. 4th ed. Rev. University of Chicago, Digital Dictionaries of South Asia. http://dsal.uchicago.edu/dictionaries/fabricius/

Mathai, Kamini (Oct. 29, 2008). Now, Tourists Can Go Down Story Trails.
http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2008-10-29/chennai/27940996_1_eco-tourism-storytelling-stories

Miller, Eric. (2011). Aspects of the Story-Telling Revival in India. http://www.readbag.com/storytellinginstitute-123

Miller, Eric. (1991). TamilNadu's Silapathikaram, The Epic of the Anklet, Ancient Story and Modern Identity.  A self-published booklet. http://www.storytellingandvideoconferencing.com/18.html

Sobol, Joseph. (1999). The Storytellers Journey: An American Revival. Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois Press.

Storytelling Institute. http://storytellinginstitute.org/

The Places of Kannagi Storytelling Tour (2010). http://kannagistorytellingtour.blogspot.com/