Thursday, February 25, 2016

Report to the Presbytery of Carlisle February 2016

Bridging the Great Divide: Israel and Palestine

As citizens of the world who seek peace, as American Christians and as Presbyterians it is vital that we continue to pray for and seek to understand the difficult and multifaceted concerns of the Middle East. Our beautiful Psalm 122 encourages us to “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem “. Our meeting of the General Assembly in June 2016 will, once again, consider important recommendations concerning our church’s response to these concerns.

At the meeting of our Presbytery this Tuesday, February 23, the Rev. Dr. Bill Harter distributed an important, new resource concerning the Middle East and our Presbyterian response. The resource is provided by the organization Presbyterians for Middle East Peace and is titled, Two States for Two Peoples.  This resource is available electronically at their website,

For me, it is vital that we make every effort, when we ponder these profoundly difficult issues, to seek balance and a multiplicity of perspectives and viewpoints. Thus I also suggest that we ponder the work and the perspective of the PC(USA) Israel Palestine Mission Network. Their website is viewed at An important resource is available there: the study document Zionism Unsettled: A Congregational Study Guide was written by the Mission Network for our congregations.

As Christians today it is also important to consider a viewpoint from Christians in the Middle East. An important document is Kairos Palestine: A Moment of Truth, available electronically at, which was written by a group of Palestinian Christians. This has been an influential statement which has provoked wide discussion and strong responses across the spectrum.  There is now a Wikipedia page on Kairos Palestine which includes a brief description of some of the volatile debate and divisions around this document in the North American Churches.

For American Presbyterians, a helpful theological resource is Walter Brueggemann’s Chosen? In this short book, which includes study questions for church groups, Brueggemann brings his expertise as an Old Testament scholar into dialogue with these contentious issues today.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
   ‘May they prosper who love you.
Peace be within your walls,
   and security within your towers.’
For the sake of my relatives and friends
   I will say, ‘Peace be within you.’
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
   I will seek your good.   -
Psalm 122: 6-9.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Book Review: Diana Butler Bass, Grounded, 2015

Book Review: Diana Butler Bass, Grounded: Finding God in the World: A Spiritual Revolution. 2015.

I have been a fan and an avid student of Diana Butler Bass since the days when her popular book, Christianity for the Rest of Us traveled through my church circles with enthusiastic popularity. But now she has left me behind. I do not know for sure where she went. But she left the church. I am church! My abiding spiritual life, blessed by a deep and personal relationship with Jesus Christ, is fully alive in and through the institutional church. I am committed to fighting for the vitality, the effectiveness and the vibrant future of the institutional church. The church embodies my spiritual life. But now, in my reading of her new book Grounded, Diana Butler Bass has abandoned me and the institutional church. She has moved, as a result of her “third conversion”, to some strange place that is, I guess, more aligned with Karen Armstrong’s Charter of Compassion than it is with my stodgy Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

She writes in her Conclusion this paragraph that for me lacks the nuance and sophistication that I found in her works. I find this to be a remarkably simplistic summary of things:

“The old God, the one believed in, preached and celebrated, and served in conventional religious institutions, is fading from view. And a new God, one of intimate longing and infinite love, experienced and proclaimed by seers and prophets through the ages, has risen just over the horizon. It is a new spiritual day.”

I read here her dismissal of the “conventional religious institutions” like the one I am committed to and serve in. This Great Emergence we are living through is certainly NOT going to happen like this. Our Reformation will not be an instantaneous on-off switch from an old God to a new God. There will be fits and starts, there will death and life, there will be success and failure, there will be new and old all mixed up together, and there are institutions doing fresh, creative, bold new things. Good bye, Diana Butler Bass. I am sorry you have abandoned our team, and walked out of our conventional institutions to live into some ethereal “earthy spirituality.” As for me and mine: We are church!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Book Review: Ta-Nehisi Coates Between The World and Me

Ta-Nehisi Coates
Between the World and Me.(2015)

This is an important book, beautifully, poetically and elegantly written. I have white skin. But I did not feel attacked reading this book. I have white skin; I am confused by the "Black Lives Matter" movement. My response, in my own mind, seems to be, "Well, of course!" But that does not feel like an appropriate, public response. I am broken-hearted by the list of official, law enforcement violence against black people. I try to understand this issue of racism which is tearing at the fabric of our society, but I cannot. I have no access, no glimpse, no opportunity to experience the intimate reality of being a black person in America today. (I do not even know if the jargon of "white" and "black" people is still appropriate and correct?)

This book gives me that glimpse. For that I am grateful. I can glimpse, through this book, a bit of how a perceptive black writer views inner-city gangs, broken schools, the Civil Rights Movement of old, police violence. This book is written as an open letter to the author's teenage son. We share the role as the father of a teenage boy; although in vastly different worlds. I feel his love for his son, as I am filled with love for mine.

This comment, from the book, shook me: "But race is the child of racism, not the father."

This challenge, from the book, motivates me: "And I still urge you to struggle. Struggle for the memory of your ancestors. Struggle for wisdom. Struggle for the warmth of The Mecca. Struggle for your grandmother and grandfather, for your name."

I struggle. I pray.