Sunday, September 30, 2007

LORD AND SAVIOR

There are all kinds of topics that should be discussed before these, but here we are so here we go.

I think we need to start with the appropriate translations of the words. I’m going to stick to the Greek since we are talking about Jesus. The problem is that each of these words can mean a variety of things depending on the context. Thus kurios, the Greek word we translate as lord can mean, in context, God, a ruler of some sort, a master to a slave or a servant or even just one’s social superior. So let’s take a look at the context from which the Church has normally taken the basic meaning for this word: Romans 10:5-13;

5Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that “the person who does these things will live by them.” 6But the righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7“or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8But what does it say?

“The word is near you,

on your lips and in your heart”

(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9because£ if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. 11The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” 12For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. 13For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (NRSV)

The specific context here the question of whether Israel, that is the physical descendants of Abraham, will be saved or not and if so how will they be saved. Paul, as he has throughout Romans, argues that all are saved by faith and not by works. The key verses are 9 and 10. They suggest that one must confess with one’s lips that Jesus is Lord to be saved. The problem is what does the word Lord mean here? We could, given verses 12 and 13 guess that the text means that Lord here means God. But let’s take the basic meaning of the word. Lord is someone who can give commands and expect them to be obeyed.

If "Jesus is Lord" means he can command and expect obedience then we have a basic definition of the meaning of the Christian confession. To put it in the terms of the Gospels, to say Jesus is Lord is to be a disciple of Jesus. We follow Jesus. We commit ourselves to do and live as Jesus commands.

This, of course, could create a problem with Paul’s whole argument. If we say that one is a Christian because one obeys Jesus then we argue the opposite of what Paul says throughout Romans, that one is saved by faith. Reformed tradition has claimed that Paul says in Romans that becoming a Christian changes the use of the Law for the Christian. While in the past obeying the Law was the way to salvation, now one is saved by faith through grace. But after one becomes a Christian one shows love for Christ (and seeks sanctification) by obeying Christ.

There are a variety of problems with this whole argument, not the least of which is recent study by Christians that suggest we have misunderstood the Pharisees and the use of the Law by 1st Century Jews all along, that the basic Jewish position was and is that God elected the people of Israel by grace and that obedience to the Law is not a way to earn God’s pleasure but rather a response to God’s grace. This is a developing argument in Romans studies today. But for our purposes let’s leave that argument alone. Let’s say that the confession “Jesus is Lord” means that the person who says this will be a disciple of Jesus and seek to obey him.

So that I suggest is the first part of the confession. To say Jesus is Lord is to confess that he has the right to command me, to tell me how to live.

The second part of the confession is just as problematic. The Greek word for Savior, soter, can mean healer, someone who saves your life, as well as the traditional way the Church has interpreted the word: that Jesus saves us from sin and thus opens the way to forgiveness and to the coming Kingdom of God.

In fact the New Testament uses the verbal form of the word much more often than the noun form. And the use of the verbal form is even more problematic. Paul uses the verb most often in the future tense, as in the passage I quoted from Romans above. The person who confesses that Jesus is Lord and believes that God raised him from the dead shall be saved. Salvation then is a future event. (And notice that Paul doesn’t say that a Christian is one who confesses that Jesus is Lord and Savior. He says that one who confesses that Jesus is Lord and believes that God raised Jesus from the dead shall be saved, a different statement altogether.)

Again, the Church has traditionally used the word Savior to mean that through Jesus one is forgiven of sins. And Paul does talk about Jesus as the means by which we receive forgiveness; specifically that Jesus’ death gives forgiveness.

(A brief excursus on forgiveness) Unfortunately people often take one Biblical image for forgiveness and claim that image is the one way to think about Jesus and forgiveness. The image chosen most often, at least in conservative or Evangelical circles is the judicial image or that of atonement. I suggest that forgiveness is so big that one image cannot contain all that is meant by it. I think we need all the images, including the judicial image but also the other images like reconciliation and that Jesus’ death exposes the powers of oppression. To claim that Jesus’ death on the cross can only be interpreted by one image is to miss the richness of the New Testament on the subject.

Let’s move out of Paul for a moment. After all, Paul is not the be all and end all of Christianity. In Luke 19:1-10 Jesus himself uses the word salvation. Here is the passage:

1He entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 5When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” 6So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. 7All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” 8Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” 9Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

As we think of Jesus as Savior there are three critical aspects to this passage. Jesus does not proclaim that salvation has come to Zacchaeus’ house until after Zacchaeus repents and reverses his earlier behavior. Salvation then includes a change in the way one lives. Jesus tells the crowd that salvation has come because Zacchaeus is also a son of Abraham. Thus at this point in Luke’s narrative salvation was only open to Jews, a position he changes later in Acts. Finally Jesus, using “the Son of Man” to refer to himself, says that he came to save the lost. Note that there is no content in this passage, if we isolate if from the rest of Luke and other New Testament material that suggests that salvation refers to the future, as it does in Paul. Here salvation means that repentance brings one back into the people of Israel. While Jesus often refers to the Kingdom of God in Luke as both future and present, he does not say that salvation is a future event. Zacchaeus receives salvation at once.

So if we use the word Savior to describe Jesus, what do we mean? Certainly we mean that Jesus brings forgiveness. Zacchaeus repents (after something happens during his lunch with Jesus), and receives salvation. But on the other hand Paul talks about salvation as a future event, suggesting to me that salvation only becomes complete in the Kingdom of God, (and yes I know, that is a term that Paul does not use. Instead he talks about the return of Christ.)

So to confess Jesus as Lord and Savior is to say that Jesus can command and we who confess that he is Lord must obey and that Jesus brings forgiveness when one repents. Ultimately salvation comes when Jesus returns.

Grace and Peace

Bob

Friday, September 28, 2007

COMMUNITIES

I was going to move on to talk about the image of God, but I think you are right, we should talk about communities.

We all belong to various communities. In a sense we, along with all life, we belong to the creation of God on earth. In fact I think that is an important affirmation and an essential of Christian faith. We are creatures along with all the other creatures in creation. In a more limited sense, we all belong to the human community. A Christian point of view on this is that all humans are created in the image of God and all humans are sinners.

There are various other communities like nations, cities, tribes and families, all limited by citizenship or membership. In tribes and families membership is determined by being born into the community. Curiously birth is also how one enters the Jewish community and, for some entrance into the Muslim community.

Then there are all sorts of clubs and other stuff. My great aunt kept pressing me to join the Mayflower Society and the Sons of the American Revolution as I have ancestors who came on the Mayflower and fought in the Revolution. Personally I find this type of organization distasteful. I don’t see why I should be considered special because my ancestors did something. On the other hand I wear kilts because some of my ancestors were Scottish. Go figure.

And there is the Christian community. While at times the Christian community has defined itself by birth, (your family was Christian and you got baptized so you were part of the Church, no other questions asked), there are some clear and some not so clear limits to the Christian community. One limit is baptism. People who were baptized in a Christian community are part of the Christian community. The PCUSA places a limit on what baptism means to help define whether one has been baptized into the Christian community or not. For example, Jews take ritual baths at particular times in life. One of those times is when someone who is not Jewish converts to Judaism. That person takes a ritual bath as part of entrance into the community. The PCUSA would say that this ritual bath is not baptism. We limit baptism to those who are baptized with a Trinitarian formula.

For adults and youth when one joins a PCUSA congregation one meets with the session and the session sets the limits for joining the congregation. Our Form of Government makes the following statements about conscience and membership:

(1) (a) That “God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in anything contrary to his Word, or beside it, in matters of faith or worship.”

(b) Therefore we consider the rights of private judgment, in all matters that respect religion, as universal and unalienable: We do not even wish to see any religious constitution aided by the civil power, further than may be necessary for protection and security, and at the same time, be equal and common to all others.

(2) That, in perfect consistency with the above principle of common right, every Christian Church, or union or association of particular churches, is entitled to declare the terms of admission into its communion, and the qualifications of its ministers and members, as well as the whole system of its internal government which Christ hath appointed; that in the exercise of this right they may, notwithstanding, err, in making the terms of communion either too lax or too narrow; yet, even in this case, they do not infringe upon the liberty or the rights of others, but only make an improper use of their own. (G-1.0301-0302)

We Presbyterians do like balance.

As you pointed out in response to my last post, John, the session sets the qualifications for membership. But there are some restrictions. Again, the Form of Government says:

The incarnation of God in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ gives to the church not only its mission but also its understanding of membership. One becomes an active member of the church through faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and acceptance of his Lordship in all of life. Baptism and a public profession of faith in Jesus as Lord are the visible signs of entrance into the active membership of the church. (G-5.0101)

For those who are not Presbyterians these are from the PCUSA Constitution Part 2, the Book of Order. The numbers are reference numbers to sections in the Book of Order. The first part of the constitution is the Book of Confessions. If you want to read the Book of Order you can find it online at: http://www.pcusa.org/oga/constitution.htm.

So membership in the community called the Presbyterian Church (USA) is defined as those who have been baptized and who place their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Of course in the PCUSA the session decides whether someone believes Jesus is Lord and Savior. It is my experience as a Presbyterian pastor of almost 30 years that we Presbyterians really operate on what I call the L & B method of receiving members. That means if you are living and breathing we will accept you as a member. In fact I think we might accept someone who is just living and not breathing! I rarely hear any questions from the session about the faith of a person who wants to join.

Now that’s the formal stuff. A community is not really made up of people who say the right things. A Christian community does share certain intellectual beliefs but that isn’t what the community is really all about. The community is for mutual support, love and encouragement. We worship together, prayer together and for one another, eat together, study the Bible and other things together, care for one another in times of trouble, reach out in mission in a wide variety of ways, including feeding the poor, visiting the sick and those in prison, speaking to governments about what is just and what is unjust, speaking to the larger community on issues such as gun violence, (a big problem here in Philadelphia), gathering with other members of the larger community to demonstrate against violence, and yes, evangelism. A Christian congregation is made up of people that Christ has called together to be a community. But the Church can too easily forget that it is part of a larger community. When a congregation turns inward and does not participate in the life of the larger community it begins to die.

Someone quoted Bonhoeffer on this subject and I reiterate what Bonhoeffer said: we all have to abandon our wishes and images of what an ideal Christian community looks like. We don’t build the community into what we think God wants. Jesus molds the community into what he wants. This is easy to say and very difficult to do.

Flycandler said something about membership in response to my last post which I think is very helpful. An official member of a particular congregation has one privilege that those who are not members do not have: the member has the right and responsibility to vote in a congregational meeting. Everyone is welcome at all events of the congregation. All those who have been baptized are welcome to partake of the Lord’s Supper. And frankly we don’t ask those who receive communion if they are baptized or not. We don’t give out baptism cards. Will those who attend be encouraged to become members? Of course. Most of the time evangelism is not explicit conversation about becoming a Christian, at least not in congregational events. But worship, education and fellowship all present the message of the Gospel.

What I mean to say is that being part of the community is not so much a formal reception into membership, although those who choose to join may do so. Being part of the community means that you are involved in the community. Everyone is welcomed, everyone is loved, everyone is served and asked to serve. But we will also have conversation about the Christian faith. People will be encouraged to become Christians.

To unpack the basic Christian affirmation, Jesus is Lord and Savior requires some preliminary information on subjects like sin and forgiveness so I will try to get back to that process in my next posts.

Grace and Peace

Bob

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

FAITH, DOUBT AND DOGMA

My continuing conversation with John Shuck.

John. Thanks for the explanation. Sometimes I think I’m an F Christian! At least you have a passing grade. Of course, we don’t earn our way into God’s favor. Grace is a gift. So while we might score low, God, through Jesus, gives us A’s.

I’m going to talk about this first from a personal perspective first. While I agree with you that faith and doubt are things that affect our whole beings I tend think about faith and doubt in several categories.

I have intellectual faith and doubt. Even though I am an INFJ I was trained in school as a thinker. That, after all, is what they want in school. Isn’t it curious? Big advancements in science tend to come from AHA! Moments by people who are well trained intellectually in their fields. But all the training cannot produce a moment like the Theory of Relativity. So anyway, I was trained to think and reason and I have intellectual faith and doubt.

That means that sometimes I am absolutely sure in my mind that Jesus rose from the dead. I know, I can’t prove it, but I can see historical evidence suggesting that it happened. Nevertheless, I have my moments when I think, “What if it isn’t true? Then I have wasted my whole life and made promises that aren’t true.” I stand up at funerals and talk about the resurrection and God’s promise of life beyond life, given through Jesus’ death and resurrection. Usually I believe it at the time but I do have my moments when I think it isn’t true. And frankly, particularly when I’m depressed a long cold nothingness seems like it would be better than eternal life. I know, God will probably take away my bipolar disorder in the Kingdom of God and maybe even let me play the bagpipes! But yes, sometimes I wonder if it is all a lie.

Sometimes I have moments of feeling God’s presence and grace. Other times I feel like God could not possibly love me. Other people sure, even the people I pray with in prisons! But not me. While I preach grace, I have this place in the back of my head and way down in my heart that says that there are different rules for me, that I have to earn God’s love. And then I sit in the sanctuary during the Lord’s Supper, holding the bread and I feel the presence of the Holy Spirit surrounding me with love, taking me into the center of the Trinity and time seems to stop. (It doesn’t. Often at those times I forget to look up and see the elders waiting to walk back to the chancel with the plates of bread!) Faith and doubt can come as feelings.

Faith and doubt can be expressed in actions. Even if I don’t feel God’s presence, even if I doubt the promises of Jesus I still can go forward and act according to the commands of Jesus. I’m trying an experiment right now! I promised God I would try to stop saying nasty things about my fellow drives and that I would try to have more patience while driving. The not verbalizing is going pretty well. The thoughts still cross my mind but I keep my big mouth shut, most of the time. The patience is coming slower. Fortunately I no longer live in So Cal! Stop and go on the freeways would probably be my undoing. (For those of you who know the Philadelphia area, I avoid the Schuylkill Expressway from 6 AM until 7 PM on weekdays!) So no matter what I feel or think I can still obey.

And then there is worldview. As I think about it that is the area in which I am fairly faithful. I tend to look at the world through Christian eyes. I’ve been living in this worldview for so long that trying to look at it like an atheist or a Muslim feels almost impossible.

I agree with you, John, I think the roller coaster ride of faith and doubt, is part of God’s intention for us. Times when we doubt, if we insist to ourselves that the faith is true, if we live as Christians no matter what we may think or feel, we can grow in faith. In fact I think faithful doubting is a gift from God that actually strengthens faith.

Something we have not talked about is the effect of being part of a community on our faith. We Americans tend to think of ourselves as individuals first and members of a community second. That is not the case through most of the world. In many places people see themselves as part of a family or village or tribe first and as individuals second. I suspect this is definitely and Old Testament viewpoint and probably a New Testament viewpoint as well. While I do see emphasis on individual decision making in the New Testament, (Jesus’ statements about hating parents, siblings and wives and giving up all including family to follow him), I also see family emphases too. There are hints in Acts that suggest that households became Christian because the leader of the household became a Christian, like Lydia’s household in Philippi. (Acts 15:11-15) While I see myself like most Americans, as an individual first, I think we need to reclaim at least a balance between being a part of a community and an individual. The community of faith is vital to the well being of the individual and vice versa. I’ve even suggested that the congregation sell their houses and buy an apartment building! Strange, but there were no takers. We exist as part of the community.

And yes, I used the word dogma up there in the title. I’ve read the responses to your last post that talk about the movie. Thanks flycandler! Most of the time Americans hear the word dogma and think of the Spanish Inquisition. (Okay, it has to be said: No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!”) What I see and hear in these post modern times is that if you say what you think, particularly on religious issues, people think that you are persecuting them if you make a claim of absolute truth. I think dogma has a place in the life of the Church. We make truth claims. Yes they are claims of faith and people can freely disagree with them. But part of the job of the Church is to assert those truth claims. We have learned, at least here in America, that everyone has the right to say what they think, (as does the president of Iran. I may think he is a fanatical anti-Semitic . . . hmm, I better stop there, but I think Columbia was right to let him speak.) One of the best things about America is our tolerance for diversity, even if someone asserts something as true that most think is absolute bunk.

Of course, what I just said means that I think there are essentials of faith in the Church. And in the PCUSA presbyteries and sessions are guardians of that truth. As I’ve said before, I get one vote. We make decisions together. But there are things that we decide together are essential. I assert that faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior is essential. I’m not going to spell out what Lord and Savior means in this post. I’ll save that for later. But faith is an essential, even as we ride the roller coaster of faith and doubt. May our doubts lead us to greater faith.

Grace and Peace

Bob

Thursday, September 20, 2007

WORDS, WORDS, WORDS

Okay, I admit it: I haven’t read Schleiermacher for 10 years. And I think I may have muddied the waters by talking about feelings. My main concern with Schleiermacher is his attempt to start theology from human experience rather than from revelation.

Second, I think we just ran into a situation where words mean different things in different parts of the Church. Among the people I hang with the word “experience” often does refer to feelings. To experience the presence of God often means to have a feeling of awe or peace or sometimes even terror. I wonder if my perspective doesn’t come from the Evangelical tradition of Revival. Going all the way back to Jonathan Edwards, (and before him to communion seasons in Scotland), the experience of grace has often been described in emotional terms. One felt lost. One felt guilty because of sin. One felt the anger of God at sin and knew that there was nothing one could do to make God forgive. One felt peace and joy in an experience of grace. While Edwards, (and again, I’m doing this from memory), insisted that feelings were not grace itself, he acknowledged that feelings were part of the human experience of God.

It sounds, John, like we may agree about the movement of God and humans. While humans may seek God, the true experience of God is always at the initiative of God.

This brings us to one of my concerns as a Presbyterian. We all use the same words but sometimes we mean different things. For example: we both just used what most people would not hear as a philosophical or theological word: experience. We meant different things by it.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. That’s why conversations like this are so terribly important. Before we start condemning each other we need to at least be sure we understand what the other means.

So let me use another word that you used: faith. I believe faith is an all person thing. Faith does involve feelings but it also involves thoughts, words and actions. You said, “My faith or trust in God as creator does not come by proof or scientific method. When it comes, it comes usually by grace, that is, I cannot engineer it. I experience it.” You equate faith and trust, a very Biblical/Greek approach since the word in Greek can be translated either way.

Let me make some affirmations about faith. Some are going to be more Reformed and others are going to be generally Christian, at least I hope.

Faith is a gift from God. Again, God begins the conversation but we are not even able to have the conversation until God gives us the gift of faith through the Holy Spirit.

Faith is also a human response to God. God calls out to us, as God called out to Samuel and we must respond, “Here I am!” My understanding of the Hebrew is that it means more than just, I’m here. It also means I am here with you and for you and I will follow you and do as you command. Therefore, while faith is first a gift from God from a human perspective faith is also the great “Yes!” in response.

I agree with you John, what we believe, what we put our faith in can never be proven. I would use the word believe in different ways for scientific theories and for God. I would say that, given the evidence available at the present time, (I mean the evidence available to me), I believe the Big Bang theory is the best theory at the present time to explain the evidence about the beginning of the universe. But I believe in God, meaning I put my faith and trust in God.

Hmm . . . Curiously I think I would also say I believe in gravity too, not as a theory or any kind of scientific model (although I would say I believe in gravity in the same way as I believe in the Big Bang), but rather as an experience. Having never been farther away from earth than 40,000 feet, my experience is that if I go up I’m going to go down sooner or later too. But my trust or belief in gravity is different in some ways from my trust and belief in God. Consider gravity as an analogy for faith in God: I can depend on gravity. It’s there whether I need it or not. Sometimes it’s there when I don’t want it, like if I fall down the stairs. Part of the way I trust or believe in God is the same. God is always present. I can’t go anywhere where God is not. And yes, sometimes when I sin I wish God was not there but I know God is present whether I want God to be present or not.

But faith in God is different because gravity is part of creation. God is creator. Further, as we have discussed before, faith in God is at least partially relational.

I am curious about your statement that I quoted above: “My faith or trust in God as creator does not come by proof or scientific method. When it comes, it comes usually by grace, that is, I cannot engineer it. I experience it.” I may misunderstand you but it sounds as if you are saying that your experience of faith is intermittent. Certainly I would also say that there are times when I place my faith in God and other times when I do not. The latter may be doubt. It also may be sin, usually the good old human sin of trying to take God’s place and be in charge of my own life. I may, again, be completely misunderstanding what you say but it sounds to me that you are describing faith as . . . the best word I can think of is punctiliar rather than continuous. An analogy for what I hear is a sense experience. I walk in my yard in the spring and smell the lilacs. To fit the analogy better I would have to say that I am surprised by the smell of the lilacs. You seem to say God acts and you experience faith, usually by grace.

I suggest (and also should say I experience) that faith as both punctiliar and continuous. Sometimes I experience the presence of God (arguably an experience of faith) in a way that seems to be a feeling but much more than a feeling. Other times faith is a daily way of life. As mystical seeker has implied in one of her responses, my faith colors the way I look at the world. Faith is, in this sense, a worldview that is much more than intellectual. While saying that I believe humans are created in the image of God, certainly an intellectual assertion, I seek to treat everyone as the image of God. Sometimes this is a conscious decision and sometimes it is not. Of course I don’t always succeed, but seeing all humans as created in the image of God is a central part of my worldview, my faith.

And, as I said in my last post, sometimes I believe in God, I place my faith in God when all around me shouts that I am wrong, God is not present, God does not love me, Jesus did not die for me, God has not forgiven me. I have been to the place that the mystics call the dark night of the soul, or if I haven’t been there I never want to go there because where I was was certainly bad enough! Faith in such times takes great energy, to insist on faith when the evidence suggests that my faith is foolish.

So I think faith is a gift from God, has intellectual content, like the essentials I keep listing, is relational as I trust and also doubt, affects the way we see what happens in the world, should, but does not always direct the way we live and sometimes is an affirmation in the face of doubt and fear.

And faith is much more, but enough for now.

Grace and Peace

Bob

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

ESSENTIALS: AN EXCURSIS ON MEETING GOD


I know, most of us are used to seeing pictures of Karl Barth as an old man. I like this picture of him as a younger man.

I raised the issue about Schleiermacher and Barth for a reason. As I see it, the fundamental difference between Schleiermacher and Barth is the issue: who starts the conversation? It is a fundamental question of the Christian and Reformed Faith.

I think it comes back to a question John and I have danced around a couple of times but have not addressed directly: what John calls Special Revelation. Personally I don’t like the term. It suggests that we can see who God is in a general way, (in General Revelation) through looking at the universe or through reason but that we cannot find a salvific way of seeing God without God speaking to us in a special way. And if I understand you correctly, John, you have rejected special revelation.

Karl Barth responded to the question of general revelation, (and to his friend Emil Brunner), in a document appropriately named, Nein! Barth’s point was that humans are unable see who God is or see God at all by looking at creation or other humans or through reasoning. There is no general revelation. Barth’s point was that when humans set out to find God we cannot do so. It is impossible for humans to find God. Instead Barth argued God reaches out and finds us; that God speaks to us in self revelation, that God reveals God’s self to us in the person of Jesus.

One can see the influence of Barth, (actually he was the primary author) in The Barmen Declaration. The Declaration says, in part,

1. "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me." (John 14:6). "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber.... I am the door; if anyone enters by me, he will be saved." (John 10:1, 9)

Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death.

We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from and besides this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and truths, as God's revelation.

2. "Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption." (I Cor. 1:30.)

As Jesus Christ is God's assurance of the forgiveness of all our sins, so in the same way and with the same seriousness is he also God's mighty claim upon our whole life. Through him befalls us a joyful deliverance from the godless fetters of this world for a free, grateful service to his creatures.

We reject the false doctrine, as though there were areas of our life in which we would not belong to Jesus Christ, but to other lords--areas in which we would not need justification and sanctification through him.

Yes, Barmen was written in a particular historical situation and to meet a particular threat: Nazism. The German Christians were trying to turn Jesus from a Jewish savior who died on the cross into an Aryan hero. Further the Nazis were making claims on the lives of Germans that were in effect divine claims or what we call totalitarianism. Barmen spoke and said that Jesus is Lord of all of life, not Hitler.

But Barmen, I believe, also makes claims on us today. Whenever the Church is tempted to place some idol in the place of God, the most popular in the USA being consumer capitalism, (which yes, John, is a primary source of destruction of God’s good creation), we must say that Jesus Christ alone is Lord. And whenever some say that God reveals God’s self in other ways than in Jesus, as attested in Scripture, Barmen says the only revelation is Jesus.

Thus one cannot go from creation or thinking or reason to God. One can only, (through the power of the Holy Spirit), receive the revelation of God in the person of Christ through Scripture.

I suggest then that Schleiermacher’s way, and therefore the path of liberal Christianity throughout the 19th and into the early 20th Century, (please note I use the term liberal Christianity here as a technical term to describe a school of thought that, went from Schleiermacher down to Harnack), cannot lead to God. Humans simply do not have the power to see our way or reason our way to God. God must find us.

A quick note to flycandler: the Fundamentalist/Modernist debate was primarily between Old Princeton Scholastics and liberal Christians. Neo-Orthodox thought came to America in the 1930’s as a unifying theology for the Presbyterian Church that lasted until around 1970.

Please note I am not a thoroughgoing Barthian. I am probably closer to Brunner. I think, (and here I try to agree with Paul in Romans chapter 1), that the universe does indeed reveal God, but that humans, because of sin, are unable to see that revelation. I would argue against Barth as well that Scripture really is the Word of God, that it is the revelation of God, but that humans are unable to see or hear that revelation without the power of the Holy Spirit.

Schleiermacher bases his argument for the Christian faith on human feelings. Certainly faith involves human emotions. But is faith primarily a “feeling of absolute dependence?” What happens when we don’t feel the feelings? Faith involves the whole human being. When one does not feel the presence of God the Christian says, “Nevertheless I will trust him.” Even in times of despair and depression, something I know a lot about, the Christian confesses “that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” (Ph 2:11 RSV)

I suggest that what Karl Barth gave back to us many in the mainline churches abandoned in the 1960’s and later. Much of theology today again begins with the human situation, often, (as in Liberation Theologies), with particular human situations, and argues that to find God one must start with the human situation. I believe the opposite is true. God must start with us.

Grace and Peace

Bob

Monday, September 17, 2007

CREATION


I was going to write about the economic Trinity as an essential but decided that I’m not writing systematic theology text. I do think the economic Trinity is an essential but if I get that detailed John and I will be writing a series of books. So I decided to move on.

I assert that it is an essential of the Christian faith that God created the universe. If, as some scientists say today that there are many universes, (how they can prove this is beyond me, but I love science fiction and have read of such), I assert that God made all universes. In other words, God is God and Creator of all.

There are all kinds of scientific things we could say about God as creator. We could say, since it looks like macro evolution is the best theory for how life came to be on earth at least with the evidence we currently have, (although some scientists are working on the theory that microbes of some sort came to earth from other places; see the strange rock found in Antarctica that seems to have come from Mars and may have fossils of microscopic organisms in it), that God set the universe to work in the way that it does. I would assert as a matter of faith that God also superintends the process. In other words I believe in some form of intelligent design. That doesn’t mean that I think ID is a viable scientific theory, although I think such a theory could be viable if it was based on probability. I’m saying that God is intelligent, that God designed the universe to work the way it does, and that God is involved in the process of how the universe came to be and the various stars and planets and comets and dust clouds, and life in the universe, (and since at this point we only really know about life on earth) and on earth all came to be because God wanted them to come to be.

Will I be excited if one of the Mars probes finds evidence of life in the past or the present on Mars? I sure will be! While I find life of earth fascinating, I think God is involved in a whole lot more than life on earth. After all, God made a universe in which the gravity is perfect for stars to form. God even made strange things like black holes and creatures near underwater volcanoes that are not carbon based but sulfur based. If there is life, (and let’s face it, it may be life that we can’t even understand), elsewhere in the universe that just tells us more of the glory of God and the wonders that God has created.

As some of you have pointed out, John and I are coming at this from different perspectives. I start with the divine and then move on to the human. John, it seems to me, starts with the human and moves to the divine. Have I got that right John? I would suggest that John comes at this from Schleiermacher’s perspective and I come at it from Karl Barth’s. For Barth’s critique of Schleiermacher see The Theology of Schleiermacher: Lectures at Gottingen, winter semester of 1923-24. For Schleiermacher’s views see his On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers and The Christian Faith.

So what does all this have to do with you and me? I think our response to God’s work in creation should begin with wonder. Leaves fascinate me. When I was in Boy Scouts I could identify trees from leaves. I’m fascinated that each type of tree has its own shaped leaves but even more so that each leaf on each tree seems to be slightly different in size or shape from all the other leaves. I love to watch the buds come out in the spring, turn into leaves that, here in PA, turn wonderful colors and then fall off in the fall. I love the interconnectedness of creation, with trees supplying oxygen which animals of all kinds breathe and turn into carbon dioxide that plants need. BTW, did you know that there are a whole lot more trees in the USA today than there were 100 years ago? Our ancestors cut most of them down and then somehow our society decided to let them grow again.

Microscopic organisms are just as fascinating. Deadly as some of them are to humans, they still are beautiful. Look at the shape of the Ebola virus and you’ll see what I mean. I don’t want it in my body or anybody’s body, but it is beautiful. So are crystals and mountains, (like John I prefer my mountains with the tops left on. Cutting mountains down for the coal not only creates an ugly scene it also leaves a mess of caustic chemicals).

If we start with wonder we should also move to stewardship. I said in my last blog that part of the image of God in humans is participation in community. I also believe that we image God in the way that we care for God’s creation. Immediately following the declaration in Genesis 1 that God created humans in the image of God, (and being male and female is somehow mixed up in all of that, but I’ll talk about that later), God appoints the humans as caretakers of the earth. Literally the passage says:

Then God said, “Let us make humankind£ in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

27 So God created humankind in his image,

in the image of God he created them;

male and female he created them.

28God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” (NRSV)

I know, subdue and have dominion do not directly imply stewardship and responsibility to God for the way we treat creation, but other parts of the Bible make clear our responsibility to God for how we treat the earth. I also wonder sometimes how God feels about the fact that we have made space around earth and parts of the Moon a junkyard. So I have to say we have done a very poor job in caring for creation.

I haven’t said it directly so let me say it now. We image God in our creativity when used as God intends. Since the image of God in us is distorted by sin, (a lot more on this later) as John pointed out in his last blog, creativity can be a two edged sword. Who knew in 1900 that the internal combustion engine would be such a source of pollution? (BTW, if we were all willing to wait a bit for the water to heat up, steam engines are much more efficient in their use of fuel. The internal combustion engine is inefficient in its use of fuel in comparison. But we all want to jump in our cars and go.)

I believe God is Creator and we, along with all the rest of the earth and the universe, are created. The difference is very important and the denial of the difference is a large part of the human problem.

Grace and Peace

Bob

Thursday, September 13, 2007

THE RELATIONAL TRINITY AND THE HUMAN COMMUNITY


I said in my last post that one of the problems in talking about the Trinity is that sometimes the metaphors we use lean towards threeness and sometimes lean toward oneness. This post will lean toward the threeness end.
I’ve said that one of the metaphors for the Trinity that comes from our Easter Orthodox brothers and sisters is the metaphor of the Trinity as relational or community. In the words of Kallistos Ware:


God is not just self love but shared love. God is a triunity of persons loving each other and in that shared love the persons are totally “oned” without thereby losing their personal individuality . . . God is not just personal but interpersonal not just a unit but a union. God is social or dialogic; there is within him a timeless dialogue. From all eternity the First Person addresses the Second, “Thou art my beloved Son.” (Mk 1:11) From all eternity the Second replies to the First, “Abba Father; Abba, Father.” (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6) From all eternity the Holy Spirit “who proceeds from the Father and rests on the Son” sets the seal upon this interchange of love. It is this timeless dialogue that is movingly depicted in St. Andrew Rubelev’s icon, which shows the Trinity in the form of the three angels who visited Abraham (see Gen. 18:1-6). The three angels in the icon are not just gazing out into space or looking at us but they are looking at one another. Joining the three together – marked out through the inclination of their heads, and the lines of their shoulders legs and feet – there is in the icon an enfolding circle, the great O of love. 1


When we see the Trinity as loving community and fellowship we also see one of the fundamental parts of the image of God in humans. God created us for community. We image God when we live together in loving peaceful community.


Is the doctrine of the Trinity practical? I mean by this does the doctrine have implications that should, (indeed must) affect the way Christians live? Ware asks these questions at the beginning of his article: “What practical difference does the threefoldness of the one God make to us most of the time? Can we say in all sincerity that it has a drastic affect on our understanding of human personhood, of society and politics?”2 I suggest that if the doctrine of the Trinity is nothing but philosophical speculation it is meaningless and should be abandoned. But the doctrine does have practical effects. In a later blog I will talk about the effects of the doctrine on salvation. Here I will focus on the implications of God as community imaged in humans, creating the human community.


If imaging the Triune God means being in loving community with all other humans, as I suggest that it does, then how we treat other human beings is vital. As we look at another human being we should see not just a person but the image of God. We should see a partner in the human community. Notice I do not say that this community is limited to the Church. Since all humans are created in the image of God, no matter how damaged and broken that image may be through sin, all humans still are created in God’s image and therefore part of the human community.


I believe this doctrine, if correctly applied, has several important ethical implications:


1. The image of God must not be killed by another created in the image of God. This has profound effects on such human behavior as war, capital punishment, abortion and the possession of weapons the main purpose of which is to harm or kill other humans. It even has implications for how one protects ones family and home. I believe this is part of the theological context of the pacifism of Jesus and of his command to love enemies


2. Listening. If the other in the conversation is the image of God then how we listen and with what focus we listen becomes vital. John quoted St. Francis in an earlier blog to the effect that it is out duty to know the other more than to be known. Truly hearing others is a vital part of imaging God. This provides some (but not all) theological background for me in the work that John and I are doing. Hearing those with whom I agree or disagree is a vital part of imaging the God who is the triune God in relationship.


3. The scandal of poverty. If all humans are created in the image of God we who are rich deny that the image of God exists in those who are poor. That malaria continues to kill children every single day when remedies are available for pennies is a scandal. It is a scandal that a large portion of humanity lives so far below the poverty line that they are in danger of starvation when a remedy could be made at little cost to those of us who are rich (rich means if you have a computer and are reading this you are rich. If you had enough food today and have enough for tomorrow you are rich. If you have shelter and more than one set of clothes, you are rich).


4. Religious war. I am happy to say that most Christians around the world today have learned that conversion by threat of death is sinful. But the hatred of Muslims in the West and people who look like Muslims (what does a Muslim look like anyway?) must end. Certainly there has to be caution and care taken to prevent terrorism and much terrorism perpetrated today is done in the name of Allah. But fearing those who kneel and pray in an airport because it proves they are Muslims is foolish. Terrorists usually try to blend in, not stand out. Interfaith dialogue must continue.


The list of human sins against other humans is tragically long. If the persons of the Trinity exist in an eternal fellowship of love and if at least part of the image of God in humans is to reflect that love, then how we treat each other is vitally important.


The Triune God is, from one perspective, a loving fellowship. May we so image God that we are the same.


Grace and Peace
Bob

[1] “The Trinity: Heart of Our Life,” Kallistos Ware, in Reclaiming the Great Tradition: Evangelicals, Catholics, & Orthodox in Dialogue, Jams S. Cutsinger, ed., (Downers Grove, IL, Intervarsity Press: 1997), p. 136.

[2] Ibid, 126.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

GOD THE TRINITY

I think theology is kind of like a quilt. All the different parts are related to the other parts and if one part of the quilt is missing the quilt loses something vital (and makes for a cold spot on a cold night!). One of the problems in describing a quilt is where to start. The same is true in talking about essentials of faith. How does a Christian talk about God without starting by talking about the Bible? And how does one talk about the Bible without first talking about God?

The other problem is how to talk about these topics in a short post. Volumes are written on the Trinity. I’m going to limit myself to just a few observations.
I believe believing in the Trinity is an essential for being a Christian. There are a variety of practical reasons for that but I will get into those reasons in later posts.

God is one God in three persons. To use the specific language of the Nicene Creed: “We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen. We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father . . .” The language about the Trinity and doctrine of the Trinity were developed to talk about the relationship between God the Father and Jesus. The intent of the writers was to say that Jesus is also God. But they wanted to hold onto Jewish monotheism on the one hand and say that Jesus is God on the other. Thus we come to the Trinity.

Some scholars say that the only appropriate way to talk about the Trinity is to talk about the economic Trinity, how we see God at work on earth. This can be slippery and so must be done with care. While early creeds like this one speak as if the Father is creator the Bible says that the Son and the Spirit participated in creation. We need to describe God as God in relation to the universe and specifically in relation with humanity. That, after all, is mostly what the Bible is all about: God’s loving pursuit of and relationship with humans. So we see God described as creator in various places in the Bible. We see God described as redeemer, the one who makes covenants with humans and who keeps covenant promises even when humans break covenant promises. We see God as the one who is present, as one scholar put it in the title of his book, The God who is there.
But different persons of the Trinity come to the fore as God does different things. When it comes to redemption, Jesus comes to the fore, even though the Father and the Holy Spirit are also intimately involved. When it comes to God speaking and being present the Holy Spirit often comes to the fore.

Thus we meet the persons of the Trinity in the actions of God. But God is more than actions.

One of the problems we can run into when talking about the Trinity is that we may lean too far in talking about God as one or too far in talking about God as three. I love the Eastern Orthodox idea that the persons of the Trinity are together in love, overwhelming love. They suggest that the creation of the universe happens because of the overwhelming love between the persons of the Trinity. But this image, if taken alone, suggests that God is really three. On the other hand, we can so talk about God as if there is only one God and we only see different aspects or faces of God. Thus the early Church condemned Patripassionism, the idea that God is only one and that we see the one God doing different things. The balance must be maintained.
I know this is very short and skips over a lot of issues about the doctrine of the Trinity. But I can’t write I book on John’s blog! I already wrote an 8 page post one time and I’m trying to avoid doing that again!

Two more quick assertions: we must be careful as we name the persons of the Trinity. Last year the PCUSA General Assembly received a report on the Trinity. There was a lot of controversy because the report seemed to say that we can use a variety of names for the persons of the Trinity. I think that the writers meant to talk about analogies about the Trinity. Nevertheless some of the images were just weird and some of them bordered on describing God as God is not. Calling the Holy Spirit the life giving womb suggests that creation is somehow part of God or a child of God, moving toward panentheism, something I think is beyond the bounds of Christianity.
So let’s be specific: the Bible uses a whole lot of analogies to talk about God and the persons of the Trinity. Jesus uses the analogy of a mother hen who wants to gather her chicks under her wings to describe himself. Prophets and poets use images like fire and wind to talk about God. The Bible says that God comes in a still small voice and that the Holy Spirit comes as a dove, fire and the wind. These are all analogies and images, not names.

The appropriate name for the one God is YHWH, the God who is or the God who is present. The appropriate names for the persons of the Trinity are Father, Son and Holy Spirit. These are the appropriate names because Jesus tells us to call the Father Father. The Father calls Jesus Son. And the Holy Spirit is named the Spirit or Holy Spirit all over the place in the Bible. We can use analogies to describe God but we need, particularly in the context of worship, to name God as God tells us to name God. None of this suggests that God is male. After all, God is Spirit and therefore does not have sexual characteristics. But we must, when naming God, use the names that the Bible gives us. Analogies are one thing. Names are another.
Finally, the doctrine of the Trinity is more than just speculation. The early Church came to talk about God as one and three because of issues about salvation. Can Jesus really bring forgiveness to humans without being human and God? For the early Trinitarians the doctrine had immense practical value.

If ya’ll want to tell me what I left out, go ahead! Like I said, I’m trying to keep this short.

I believe in the Trinity.

Grace and Peace

Bob

Saturday, September 8, 2007

THERE IS A GOD

I continue in my conversation with John by talking about the essentials of the Christian faith.

I figured I’d start with the basics. This is an essential. I believe God exists.

I could go on to list the various qualities and characteristics of God but I’ll talk about those as I talk about what I believe God has done in another post.

Pastor Bob

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The Present


I became the pastor of Tully Memorial Presbyterian Church in Sharon Hill, PA in January of 2005. Sharon Hill is one of the boroughs in the first circle of suburbs around Philadelphia. The city of Philly line is about 3 miles from my house. And that part of Philly is the ghetto.
Neither Sharon Hill nor Tully Memorial is very old. This was farm land until the late 1800’s. The Borough of Sharon Hill was incorporated in 1890. The Church was established in late 1908. Come to think of it, this is the youngest congregation I have ever served!
Sharon Hill has become a racially mixed community over the last 20 years or so. Curiously it avoided white flight. The town is made up of mostly row houses and double houses. Many people moved here to get out of the city over the years, including the African American families who moved in during the last 20 years.
Tully Memorial is an elderly congregation with the average age over 70 years old. There are currently 68 members on the roll. The Sanctuary seats 300. Unlike many urban congregations most of the members of Tully still live either in Sharon Hill or within 5 miles of the church.
So how does the congregation survive? Members left money to the church in their wills. Besides the offering the congregation brings in a decent return on its investments. That’s how we afford a full time pastor, namely me.
I started by hoping that we would be able to reach out to the neighborhood and become a multiethnic congregation. This has proved more difficult than I thought it would be. We need to begin some community outreach, which I hope to begin working on this winter.
I have taught 3 Kerygma classes since I’ve been here, The Lord’s Prayer, Halleluiah, on Handel’s Messiah, and am currently teaching Bible Introduction. I’ve also started a small group Bible study.
We’ve lost members, mostly to death since I’ve been here. Soon we will have a small new members’ class join the church, including an immigrant from Africa.
John mentioned that some of the members in his congregation in Montana wanted the Session to vote to become a Confessing Church. Tully already was a Confession Church when I arrived. In fact so was Titusville. Oneida voted to become a Confessing Church while I was there. The three basic statements of the Confessing Church movement are:
1. That Jesus Christ alone is Lord of all and the way of salvation.

2. That Holy Scripture is the Triune God's revealed Word, the Church's only infallible rule of faith and life.

3. That God's people are called to holiness in all aspects of life. This includes honoring the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman, the only relationship within which sexual activity is appropriate.

I can’t say that we have made any great progress since I’ve been here. But I can tell you a few things that have happened.
1. My wife got elected and ordained as an elder in 2006. This has been an interesting and sometimes humbling experience for me. Debby has no problem disagreeing with me at Session meetings. The rest of the Session thinks this is funny and cheers her on. Unfortunately for my ego she is usually right more often than I am!
2. We rewrote the bylaws of the congregation and the corporation, no mean feat, and something that needed to be done. What surprised me was the number of people who read the proposed bylaws word for word. One member, who just turned 90, called me up and pointed out that one could no longer call an emergency Session meeting by telegraph because Western Union has stopped the telegraph business. She suggested we substitute email in place of telegraphs.
3. I have become much freer in my expression of political opinions from the pulpit. I don’t tell people who to vote for but I’ve had no problem telling people that the war in Iraq was a stupid idea and that taking care of God’s good creation is our responsibility, including decisions about what fertilizer or weed killer to put on your lawn.
How have I changed and what has God done in my life? My meds put me on a more even keel so I get angry less often. I’ve been more involved in Evangelical groups and feel more comfortable in the presbytery as Philadelphia Presbytery is theologically closer to where I am than any presbytery I’ve been in before. I’ve been reading, books on Islam, various viewpoints on homosexuality, translations of the Dead Sea Scrolls and of non-canonical books and stuff on archeology.
God still feels distant. I wonder sometimes if the meds I take have something to do with that. But I still believe that God is present no matter what I feel. I see God in the children who play next door in the park, in the people who come to the church seeking financial help, and the deep, deep faith of elderly people who know they are near the end of life and depend on God every day. One of my members says that every morning she wakes up and says, “Thank you God for another day. Now can you please help me get out of bed?”
I’m 55. It’s a weird age in part because I never thought I would ever be this old! I remember when we said in the 1960’s, “Never trust anyone over 30.” Well I’m 25 years over 30!
My great hope is that we can reach out to the community and become a truly multiethnic congregation. Time will tell.
So John, you want to talk about essentials? I see theological and missiological essentials as intimately related. You choose the topic and we can talk about it!
Grace and Peace
Bob

Monday, September 3, 2007

Pachebel's Children's Canon

Okay, we've been entirely too serious recently on this blog. So here is something for all you parents out there.



Pastor Bob

Sunday, September 2, 2007

THE CHURCH AND THE HOSPITAL


I have Bipolar Disorder. It doesn’t usually get diagnosed as the first problem. I’d had problems with anxiety and depression since I was a teenager. But in Titusville, NJ things took a different spin.

First Pres Titusville, (I have now been pastor at 3 1st Presbyterian Churches, all with no 2nd Presbyterian Church in town), is a great church. There was a bit more conflict there than I expected but all in all they are good people and a good congregation.

Titusville had mixed worship. That meant that we had some good old organ music with traditional hymns and also some contemporary music with guitars and an electric piano. (My first question was, “Where are the drums?” I was told the congregation wasn’t ready for drums.) Later we added a midweek contemporary service.

Titusville is a very small river town near Trenton, NJ. If you walk out the front door of the church and across the street the ground drops off rather dramatically down to the Delaware River. And yes, the Delaware floods. Fortunately the church and the manse are on high ground. Also in town is the NJ side of Washington Crossing Park. Every year on Christmas re-enactors come and cross the Delaware.

The congregation was starting the Alpha Program when I arrived. It is a really good program for leading people to faith in Christ and also in basic Christianity. You invite people to come to just one class, with free food and fellowship, and they usually stick around for the whole program. There is dinner, some singing, a talk on an aspect of Christianity, (you can use the videos with this crazy English pastor named Nickey Gumbel) and a time for small group discussions. All questions and comments are acceptable! Not to be missed is the Holy Spirit weekend. The nice part was that almost the entire program was congregation led. I started off as a guest in the first program and then moved to helping in the kitchen. I also taught a class on spiritual gifts on the Holy Spirit weekend.

In some ways Titusville was ideal. The kids were both off at college and Debby and I both got involved in the congregation. The problem was I really hadn’t gotten over my anger about being kicked out of Oneida 1st and it affected my ministry. More, it affected my mental stability.


To put it simply, Bipolar Disorder is a mix of depression and mania. It all has to do with messed up brain chemistry and the interaction between life and brain chemistry. I was used to being depressed and anxious. I had never recognized the low level mania before. I started to drink, spent too much money, and said whatever came to mind. Fortunately, or maybe unfortunately for Debby I tended to say whatever came to mind to her and not to people in general. It all came to a head in November, 2003 when I went into a massive depression and went into the hospital.

I have some specific complaints about the U.S. way of doing healthcare, particularly healthcare for those of us with brain chemistry disorders. I am fortunate. I have health insurance. I watch the tragic inequality in the emergency room and hospitals. If you have insurance your insurance company negotiates the cost of your care with the hospital. If you don’t have insurance you pay the full price. When I got home from the hospital I got this weird bill that said the hospital had billed the insurance company an immense amount of money, the insurance company made a counter offer, much lower, which the hospital accepted, and I had to pay a certain percentage of the lower figure. Not bad right? The person without insurance pays the whole bill, no negotiations.

My other complaint is what hospitals do with those of us who have brain chemistry disorders. Most medications that affect brain chemistry take about a month to take effect. Insurance companies allow about 10 days in the hospital, no where near enough time for the medicine to work.

My time in the hospital actually, after I got over a massive panic attack, was actually not bad. There were a variety of people there with Bipolar Disorder and they are some of the smartest, kindest people I know – when they aren’t on a massive mania or unbearably depressed. There were a few people my age there and we became friends and talked about everything. The doctors changed my medications and I went home. Too early, of course.

I went into an outpatient program that actually was helpful. But I wasn’t ready to go back into ministry. Not for a long time.

I went into temporary disability. In the PCUSA this means you have to resign as pastor of your congregation, which I did. I moved out of the manse and into an apartment and tried to fill my days. The medications helped, kind of. I didn’t get too bored because I slept from 12 to 15 hours a day. I got out and got some exercise. I even helped the presbytery start a group for pastors with mental and emotional disorders. It probably won’t surprise you pastors out there that I was the only one who went to the group. We pastors don’t dare be seen as crazy. That’s a career killer. I had a few people in mind in the presbytery that I thought needed the group but I kept my big mouth shut. BTW, do you know that somewhere near 60% of pastors in the USA have some sort of emotional disorder and that a whole bunch comes from abusive homes? It shouldn’t be a real surprise. After all a lot of people in helping professions sign up because they are self diagnosing.

Anyway. Over the summer my parents flew in to PA and I drove to my mother’s hometown. My great aunt needed to move to a nursing home and we had to sell the family homestead.

And where was God in all of this? Well, I’m alive. I could have committed suicide. I discovered that God is there even in the midst of the deepest depression. I also discovered that faith is not feeling the presence of God in the midst of deep depression and believing God is present anyway. I’ve discovered something terribly freeing about being openly crazy . . . um, I mean a person with a brain chemistry disorder. There are a whole lot more congregational members out there with emotional and mental disorders than you would ever believe. They talk with me because they know I know what they are going through.

Oh! I forgot to mention, while in Titusville I got into my ancestry and all things Scottish. I’m a kilt wearing pastor, although I still wear pants most of the time. My children are embarrassed to be seen with me in a kilt. My wife just accepts that it’s me. Have I said I really love my wife? She doesn’t put up with me wearing the bonnet. The bonnet is too much for her. Anyway, that’s why there is a picture of me in full dress kilt at the top of the page. You Can’t see the plain because the picture is too dark but that’s Black Watch, the original Campbell plaid.

Fall came and I felt well enough to circulate my dossier. Actually in the PCUSA it’s called a Pastoral Information Form or a PIF. Churches looking for pastors have similar forms called Church Information Forms, a CIF. It used to be done on paper but now you can download them. Still Pastor Nominating Committees print them out and hand them out to their members. Sometimes I think the motto of the Presbyterian Church should be “Kill a Tree for Jesus.”

As you might imagine it’s slim pickings out there for pastors on disability with a mental problem. Nevertheless this friendly church in suburban Philadelphia offered me a call: Tully Memorial Presbyterian Church.

Next time: Tully and my present life.