Monday, November 14, 2011

Report to the Presbytery Nov. 15, 2011

What is the Question?

What is the question? As I ponder the life and ministry of our Presbytery, I am both grateful and bewildered. As I ponder the life and ministry of our whole Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) I am both grateful and bewildered. As I ponder the next steps of our common life I would like each of you to consider what you belief should be the guiding question for our common life. What is the question that should guide and motivate our future planning and our decisions moving forward? I wonder if we can agree on the question that should be front and center for our discernment as a Presbytery. What is the question?

With that thought in mind, I have been gathering questions from my reading. These are all important questions, but they each take us a different direction.

I highly recommend a new book by Alan Hirsch titled The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church. This book seeks to help the church move into a new future as a sent and sending people. The question that Alan Hirsch asks is this, “How did the early Christians do it? In fact they had none of the things we would ordinarily apply to solve the problems of the church, and yet they grew from 25,000 to 20 million in 200 years! So how did the early church do it?” Is that the proper question for us?

But then I thought that maybe our question needs to be more about our own spiritual lives in Christ. Maybe our guiding question needs to be the question the disciples asked Jesus, “How shall we pray?” Maybe our guiding question is a question about spirituality and prayer. I wonder if Richard J. Foster in his new book titled “Sanctuary of the Soul: Journey into Meditative Prayer” asks the proper question. Richard Foster’s question is this: “How does God speak to us? What should we expect or even hope for? Are there conditions of heart and mind that open us to God’s loving – and terrifying – voice? How can we develop an inward, prayer-filled listening?” Is that the proper question for us?

Or maybe the question is not about prayer and spirituality. Maybe the question is about the way we do things as a Presbytery. On this vein, I found a great question in a great book by Peter Block. The book is titled, Community: the Structure of Belonging. This is Peter Block’s question. Is this correct question for us? “The core question, then, is this: What is the means through which those of us who care about the whole community can create a future for ourselves that is not just an improvement, but one of a different nature from what we now have?”

This is an important question because many of us here, and many of us who will bother to attend Presbytery meetings, serve on committees and spend long evenings at session meetings are people that love this church. We have been blessed, nurtured, formed by this church. It is hard to imagine a new, a different, a future way of being the church because the way we do church now has been so meaningful in our lives. How can we create a future church that is not simply an improvement, but a church of a whole different nature? That is a good question. Is that our question?

Or I wonder if our question needs to be a bit more practical. Gil Rendle has written a new book focusing on the future of the mainline churches in America. The title of his book is, “Journey in the Wilderness: New Life for the Mainline Churches.” Should the question that Gil Rendle asks be our question? Speaking to us in these mainline churches, this is his question, “What have we learned by living in the wilderness for the last forty years that will sustain us in the future?”

I will appreciate any consideration you may have as to what is the proper question now for us as a Presbytery. Amen!

Letter to the Editor of the Christian Century

This letter is written to the Christian Century in response to their cover story in the November 15, 2011 edition, The Case Against Wall Street by Gary Dorrien.

Dear Christian Century;

Please help me know what to do. Since 2008 I have been trying to educate myself concerning our financial system, the banking industry and what exactly happened in 2008. The cover article in your Nov. 15 edition from Professor Gary Dorrien is the most helpful and clarifying introduction of our financial system that I have read. This article helped me enormously. But this article renewed in me the deepest stirrings of my soul to do something. I must change! I must respond! I must do something in my own life, as a faithful Christian, to respond! Please help me understand what my response may look like.

As much as I appreciate the Occupy Wall Street movement, and have followed their story closely, I cannot camp out in a park for a few weeks or years. I am the Executive Presbyter of a small Presbytery, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), in central PA. I have a busy professional life. I have a home, and children and many daily professional and personal expectations. Life is good for my family now. I have a great job which pays me well and is very satisfying. My wife also has a good job in our local medical center. In response to this economic crisis we have been careful about keeping our own finances in order. Both my wife and I contribute significantly to our 403b retirement savings plans. As a Presbyterian, I am a member of a solvent, well established and truly stellar benefits and pension plan. Since 2008 we refinanced our home down to 15 years with a remarkably low interest rate. Wells Fargo Bank, one of the biggest in the nation, has given us excellent service and an excellent rate on our mortgage. Because we are able to maintain a large, monthly balance including direct deposit of our paychecks we receive outstanding service from our local PNC Bank. I never pay any fees for our routine banking. In fact, with their rewards program and interest bearing accounts, I make money from our local bank. We have no credit card debt. In many ways I have benefited from our financial system because I have a good, paying job with excellent benefits and I am in clear command of my personal finances.

But I feel this nagging emptiness and yearning when I ponder these large financial questions. I feel guilty and privileged in my settled, upper middle class life style. We are getting by quite well, and we are well prepared for retirement. But having my own financial house in order seems inadequate when, in fact, I am supporting financial institutions which are allegedly acting so inappropriately. I am participating in this financial system, which seems to be doing so much harm to our social fabric. Deep down I feel a nagging guilt about my own good fortune. What should I do? How should I act as a faithful Presbyterian, as a follower of Jesus, in America today?