Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Work for Justice


Dear Presbyterian Brothers and Sisters,

God sends the Church to work for justice in the world: exercising its power for the common good; dealing honestly in personal and public spheres; seeking dignity and freedom for all people; welcoming strangers in the land; promoting justice and fairness in the law; overcoming disparities between rich and poor; bearing witness against systems of violence and oppression; and redressing wrongs against individuals, groups, and peoples. God also sends the Church to seek peace: in the Church universal, within denominations, and at the congregational level; in the world, where nations and religious or ethnic groups make war against one another; and in local communities, schools, workplaces, neighborhoods, and homes. These acts of peacemaking and justice are established upon God’s gracious act of reconciliation with us in Jesus Christ, and are a way of participating in Christ’s priestly intercession or advocacy for the world (Directory for Worship W-5.0304).

          These beautiful words are copied from our new Directory for Worship which we recently approved. After the last General Assembly when I was studying and discussing this proposed new Directory for Worship, I remember appreciating these words. In discussing the proposed new Directory of Worship, I remember highlighting this glorious language about God sending the Church to do the work of justice. Isn’t it beautiful that this proclamation is part of our understanding of worship! Amen and Amen!

          In recent days, this beautiful language and this high calling to work for justice have flooded my heart and mind with a new urgency. And I wonder today, given how fragile and meek we Presbyterians have become in the public sphere, whether we can truly claim this calling. Can we work for justice? Can we exercise power for the common good? Can we bear witness against systems of violence and oppression?

          Today is the day for this witness. There have been recent, active expressions of Klu Klux Klan activity within the bounds of our Presbytery. They have gathered outside Churches to insult and intimidate Church people as they leave worship services. They smeared the windshields in church parking lots with their messages of hate. Maybe we want to duck our head, and sigh with relief, that it happened at a Church down the street, not my Church. Maybe we want to close our eyes grateful that it happened in a town on the other side of our Presbytery, not my town.

God sends the Church to work for justice in the world.

Every time that evil thoughts, and evil people and evil groups crawl out of their dark places where they typically stay hidden and make an appearance in the light of day, the Church must respond. Of course, we know this has happened in every era and in every generation. Now it is happening in ours.

Please organize a vigil, stand in the streets, invite every church and all your friends, light candles, read Scripture, sing hymns, say prayers and claim the calling to work for justice. At the vigil organized and gathered on the square in Chambersburg in front of our Central Presbyterian Church, our colleague Pastor Scott Bowerman said it well, “The darkness is not strong enough to put out even one candle.”

Now is the time for the Church to shine the light of Christ into the darkness of this world.


In the name of Jesus!

Monday, August 21, 2017

An excellent article from Tim Cargal

I copy here a very helpful theological reflection from Tim Cargal, our Assitant Stated Clerk in the General Assembly:

“In a broken and fearful world the Spirit gives us courage … to unmask idolatries in Church and culture, to hear the voices of peoples long silenced, and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace.” (“A Brief Statement of Faith,” 11.65-71)

The recent events in Charlottesville and the reactions to them have had me thinking once again about idols. There are two broad ways of thinking about idols in the Christian tradition, already clearly delineated by Paul in 1 Corinthians 8 and 10:19-21. One is that “no idol in the world really exists” because “there is no God but one” (8:4), and the other is that idols are the very real demonic powers that exercise destructive control over people’s lives (cf. 10:20). As the years go by, I find myself more and more in the second camp.

My thinking about these matters was greatly shaped during the years of my post-graduate theological training by two individuals. From reading Walter Wink’s books on the “cosmic powers of this present darkness” (see Ephesians 6:12), I learned not to demythologize the language of the demonic in the New Testament but rather to remythologize it as the animating spirits within those institutions and structures that run counter to and actively oppose God’s justice. From my studies of Pauline theology with Daniel Patte, I learned to distinguish between two frames through which people have viewed God’s response to the demonic. One is an apocalyptic view that sees God as destroying from without both the idols and those under their sway, and the other a view that sees God unmasking and thereby destroying the power of idols from within so that those under their sway are liberated rather than destroyed. There is an ethical and moral choice we must all make in deciding whether we will view the world through the apocalyptic or the liberating frame.

Let there be no equivocation: racism, sexism, (neo-)fascism, and all other “isms” that dehumanize others who have all been created in God’s “image, according to [God’s] likeness” (Genesis 1:26-27) are demonic oppositions to God’s desire for creation, and those who parade with their flags in defense of their monuments are under the power of these idols. There can be no choice for those awakened by the Holy Spirit as to whether they will oppose these idolatrous ideologies. But we do have a choice as to whether that opposition will take apocalyptic or liberating forms. To dehumanize those under the sway of the idols only perpetuates the idols’ continuing sway over us. “If I build up again the very things that I once tore down, then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor” (so Galatians 2:18).

In “hear[ing] the voices of those long silenced” we can begin to unmask the idols and break their control over us. May “the Spirit give us courage” to “unmask idolatries in Church and culture” by naming the demonic without dehumanizing those still under its power until all “others [work] for justice, freedom, and peace.” 


Reverend Timothy B. Cargal, Ph.D.
Assistant Stated Clerk

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Big Questions: Part 1

Institutional Church versus Emerging Church

            I am a fan of the books of Phyllis Tickle, especially The Great Emergence and Emergence Christianity. (Phyllis Tickle died in 2015 but her publisher is maintaining her website at PhyllisTickle.com and there is also a nice Wikipedia about her.) These books discuss the idea of a new, emerging Christianity. My Big Question: What is the relationship between this emerging Christianity and our institutional Church?

            When I heard her speak at our 2010 General Assembly, Tickle discussed this point. She argued, (in part, I expect, because she was speaking to a large room of Presbyterians) the Presbyterian Church was especially poised to adopt and adapt to some the sweeping changes which emerging Christianity was introducing.

So my big question: What is the relationship between emerging Christianity and our institutional Church? Are these strands and styles of Christianity on completely separate tracks never to touch? Will the new emerging Christianity grow up into expressions and forms completely separate from our institutional Church? As an institutional church person, this answer is not adequate. I believe there are enough people in the institutional Church, like me and those younger than me, who are paying attention to emergent themes that we will bring these themes and ideas and directions into our institutions. On the other hand, I understand the institutional Church enough to know that we are not, by and large, nimble, flexible and quickly creative. Given the sheer weight of institutional inertia our institutions will not suddenly become emergent Christian communities. Thus I believe we will have, for a long time, a sometimes gentle and a sometimes clashing interaction between our institutional Church and emergent Christianity.

These interactions will inspire a host of auxiliary questions. If the institutional Church will adopt some of the important and meaningful practices of emergent Christianity, what are they? And, conversely, what practices and wisdom from the long heritage of the institutional Church will emergent Christianity need as is flourishes?



Another related, big question is how long will it take for emergent Christianity to fully emerge? We can do a little bit of fun math on this question. Let us use Tickle’s thesis that our emerging Christianity today is a reformation in the Church as significant as the great Protestant Reformation. We can date the Protestant Reformation as starting in 1517 (500 years ago this year) with Martin Luther’s 95 thesis nailing in Wittenberg. The first generation of the Protestant Reformation we can roughly count from 1517 to the death of John Calvin in 1564 which is 47 years, from the death Calvin to the writing of the Westminster Confession of Faith in 1646 is another 82 years, and from 1646 to the first meeting of the Presbyterian General Assembly in America in 1789 is another 143 years. This is very artificial but we may date the Protestant Reformation from Luther’s 95 to the advent of the Presbyterian General Assembly in America, a total of 272 years. Similarly we can date the birth of emergent Christianity in the year 1960, generally the year when our institutional Churches started our unceasing decline. Using the Protestant Reformation as our model we may guess that emergent Christianity will also take 272 to fully emerge. Thus the emerging Christian faith which was birthed in 1960 will be fully grown and mature in the year of our Lord 2232!

Big Questions in the PC(USA)


Big Questions:

We had a wonderful conversation at our Presbytery’s Education Committee last week about, what we called, the “Big Questions” in the Church today. These are questions that are best described as discussion starters. These are long term, conceptual, future-oriented questions for which there are not now clear answers. These questions generally emerge in conversations about the massive, transformative changes we are living through in church and society. At our Committee meeting we pondered places and formats in which we might discuss such Big Questions. We are not sure exactly how to ask, and nurture discussion around these questions. But the conversation we had interested me. So I started a list of Big Questions for myself. I hope to write about them now again here in this blog space. Of course, I hope you will join the conversation. 


Monday, May 8, 2017

The growing ministry of our Krislund Camp and Conference Center


The Golden Warbler

With support and encouragement from our friends at Penn State University, our Krislund Camp has received a significant grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service for the habitat development of the Golden Warbler. Over thirty acres of forest land at Krislund will be set aside and specifically protected to encourage the habitat development for this gorgeous, song bird. This is yet another piece in the continuing growth of our Krislund Camp!


Image result for Golden Warbler

Thursday, May 4, 2017

A study tour of Palestine and Israel, April 2018


Mosaic of Peace April 29 to May 12, 2018

In 2016, I participated on the Mosaic of Peace study tour sponsored by our Presbyterian Peacemaking Program. This was a beautiful, transformative, experience for me in two ways.On one hand, visiting and experiencing the places of Jesus was a deep and abiding joy. This study tour visits all the great places in the life of Jesus. This experience will deepen your spiritual life and truly make the Gospel stories come alive. On the other hand, this study tour also immersed us in the trauma and pain of the Middle East from the perspective of the Christian Church. There are still Christians in Palestine who are our brothers and sisters in Christ. We need to support them and know their story.

I hope to participate on the Mosaic of Peace study tour again in 2018. I hope to be a small group leader for a group from our Presbytery on the tour. Please consider join using. The details of this study tour are now available at http://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/peacemaking/mosaic/.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Learning to be the Church


A letter from Tracey King-Ortega, Regional Liaison for Central America, based in Nicaragua

The mission newsletter linked here is the fulfillment of a dream of mine and a lot of work on behalf of many, many Presbyterians. Please read Tracey's beautiful report here:

http://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/missionconnections/letter/learning-to-be-the-church/


Our Presbytery works very close with Tracey who serves as the regional liaison for Central America with our Presbyterian World Mission. With Tracey's leadership and abundant support from the Honduras Mission Network including our presbytery, we have begun a comprehensive program in theological education in support of our Presbyterian brothers and sisters in Honduras. This program has been a long time in coming, and I am abundantly grateful that this is now happening. We need your financial support to sustain this vital ministry. Please give generously.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Reformation 500


The 500th Anniversary of Martin Luther's famous 95.

Our Presbytery of Carlisle will celebrate a special, Presbytery-wide worship service in commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation. Hosted by our Market Square Presbyterian Church our service will be on Sunday, October 29 at 4:00. Mark the date! Please join us!

Do you know about the Protestant Reformation or would you like to learn more? A flurry of new books have been released in honor of this anniversary:

Martin E. Marty. October 31, 1517: Martin Luther and the Day that Changed the World.

Lyndal Roper. Martin Luther: Renegade or Prophet.

Alec Ryrie. Protestants: The Faith That Made the Modern World.




Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Theological Education in Honduras



Our exciting partnership in Honduras.

Many members of the Presbytery of Carlisle have supported and participated in the housing ministry we have created in partnership with the Presbyterian Church in Honduras. Our mission team going to Honduras next month will be contributing to the twelfth new family home as part of this ministry. This is truly a partnership between our Presbytery, leaders in the Presbyterian Church in Honduras and the families that receive the new homes.

But this ministry is only one aspect of a larger and growing partnership between USA Presbyterians and Honduran Presbyterians. We have also recently initiated a robust program of theological education into this relationship. Our World Mission Co-worker Karla Koll, who serves with the Latin American Biblical University in Costa Rica, has written about this new aspect of our ongoing mission partnership.

The link to Karla's recent World Mission enews article about this work is here:

http://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/missionconnections/letter/new-beginning-honduras/.

We expect soon to offer a mission trip to Honduras which will participate in this theological study with our Honduran brothers and sisters. For those who may be more interested in Bible study and theological reflection than mixing mortar and carrying concrete blocks, please consider joining us in this important work.


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Theological Conversations


Theological Conversations
"The First 500 Years" by Jerry Andrews

https://www.presbyterianmission.org/wp-content/uploads/TheologicalConversation_First500yrs.pdf

As part of a series of papers sponsored by the General Assembly Mission Agency, Jerry Andrews offers us a beautiful reflection on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. What is the gift that our PC(USA) brings to our cherished Reformed project? Andrews' answer: "This is the gift of the PC(USA) to the next 500 years - a church that thinks through, teaches, and tests the Faith expressed in distinctly Reformed terms, appropriated by conversing with those who first thought through the Faith be being the first interpreters of Scripture."

Let us be a Church in conversation "with the testimony of the ancients."