Weaving Hope Out of Tragedy

It was sad to hear today of the fire at the Whaley Historical home in Flint[1].  This type of tragedy hits close to home when you know people who are involved.  Samantha (Sam) Engle is the Executive Director and an active member of the church where I worship—the Second Presbyterian Church in Saginaw.

Family and friends are all thankful that, while ‘Sam’ was in this historic home when the fire alarm sounded, she was not hurt.  Thanks God!

Now my thoughts turn to the unimaginable work it will take to restore and rebuild this beautiful home.

http://www.mlive.com/news/flint/index.ssf/2015/11/whaley_historic_house_museum_o.html

As these restoration efforts begin, I share this prayer from the Book of Common Worship (PCUSA Pastoral Edition).  Please hold the directors and staff from the Whaley House in your thoughts and our prayers.

“God of compassion, you watch our ways, and weave out of terrible happenings wonders of goodness and grace.  Surround those who have been shaken by tragedy and hold them in faith.  Though they are lost in grief, may they find and be comforted;  through Jesus Christ who was dead, but lives and rules this world with you.   Amen.”

 

[1] http://www.mlive.com/news/flint/index.ssf/2015/11/whaley_historic_house_museum_o.html

 

 

I Wonder…..HOW DO WE CURB ALL THE VIOLENCE?

In hearing about another school shooting in Roseburg Oregon (October 1, 2015), I feel compelled to write down some thoughts. In not putting NRA friends on the defensive, I wonder: How do we curb all the violence?

I agree with the President that this issue of violence and mass shootings needs to be discussed by the candidates for President.   My question for the candidates: What would you do as President do to curb all this gun violence? BE SPECIFIC!

  1. The Constitution (second amendment) gives the right for all citizens to “bare arms”. At the same time, I wonder if the National Rifle Association, with all of it’s resources (lobbyists and financial resources) could take a more proactive stance in helping to address this national crisis?   Specifically, what could NRA do with all of its resources to help limit access of weapons to those who are mentally unstable?
  2. I admit that this is a stretch in my thinking! I am fully aware that pain medications (opiates) have been killing people who over use or abuse them. Those of us on pain meds are now experiencing a government that places major restrictions on those of us who need these meds. I am getting used to these restrictions. I am wondering if there shouldn’t be some intervention or limited access to some of ammunition used in certain guns?
  3. We have a congress that likes to spend millions of dollars holding hearings on a host issues they feel are important the safety and well-being of Americans. When are we going to hold our congress accountable in doing some work to help curb all this violence—especially when it comes to helping with the mental illness issues that seems to exist behind all this violence?

Finally, I have been careful to blame guns or gun ownership for all the violence. At the same time, guns are used with the most deadly of school shootings. We need to lift our prayers for the victims of these shootings. We also need to “hit the pavement” in finding ways to address this violence.

One Year Anniversary of Death of Michael Brown

While there has been a small amount of progress since the hateful shooting of an 18 year old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9th of 2014, it is frustrating for me to hear almost every night on the news about another shooting.  Have we become desensitized to all this violence? There seems to be one major common denominator when it comes to all the violence: MENTAL ILLNESS.

While guns are often the tools-of-choice for unstable persons acting out against others, the focus of time and energy and advocacy needs to be in diagnosing and treating mental illness. And yes, this is a medical and societal crisis!   So on this anniversary of the death of Michael Brown, let’s search for ways to be advocates in helping this nation improve conditions for the mentally ill.   And yes, anything we can do to keep guns out of the hands of mentally ill persons would a great help in curbing all the violence.

Stewards of Global Change–Earth Day 2015

“The earth is the LORD’S, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.”  Psalm 24: 1

The President in his weekly broadcast tells the world, on the eve of Earth Day, “we only have this one world”.   The concerts on the Washington Mall with a quarter million people in attendance project the same message:  THIS IS THE ONLY WORLD ENTRUSTED OUR CARE!    For those of us in the church:  What are our plans as stewards of “everything in the world and all who live in it”?

Remember filmstrips?  It was back in the 70’s I shared with a youth group a filmstrip produced by the Presbyterian Church.  If I recall correctly, the title of this filmstrip was “The Big Blue Marble”.   In my memory as a pastor, this was one of my first attempts to sensitize those around me in the church to become stewards of the world around us.  Stewardship isn’t just about our use of time and talents and money in building up the church.   In specific ways, we are called be activists for this beautiful globe God has entrusted our care.  So my question:  Are we ready to re-commit as advocates in caring for the earth?

I write this blog because I am frustrated.  It is spring and everything is slowly turning green.  I am looking out my study window watching a handful of neighbors working on their lawns.   I am also well aware that many in our world are limited when it comes to a basic resource:  water.  This has become a clear issue for me in watching my 2 year old grandson living in California playing in one inch of water in his little pool.  It’s a given that water cannot be wasted!  He is learning how to dive into a pool of plastic balls instead of a pool of water.  It’s also a mandate that those living in California cut back water usage by 25%.   What have we done (or not done) in caring for thus beautiful earth?

I am also frustrated because this issue of climate change has become a political grenade…being tossed back and forth waiting for the next natural disaster to strike.  With the issue of global warming in the political arena, there can be no winners.  There will always be a “right” and “left” in assessing blame for this crisis.   Is there a place for the church in reconciling some of the differences we find between the “right” and the “left” on the political spectrum?

And then we have the issue of what we teach in our schools?  Who’s at fault for this deterioration of our world’s natural resources?   Are we going to depend on FOX NEWS or MSNBC for our information?   What are we going to hear from our pulpits about this issue?  What twists and turns are we going to hear these next 18 months as the our nation electes a new President?  I have lot’s of questions!

I see very little that is positive emerging from the political arena when it comes to protecting this “Big Blue Marble” for future generations – our children and grandchildren to enjoy.  I am frustrated because the depressing fact remains:  The “Big Blue Marble” is fast drying up and turning brown!   But this doesn’t have to happen!  I still believe there is power to be found within the church — faith communities drawing upon our spiritual resourcefulness in attacking this issue of climate change in caring for this earth.

It is a good thing that the church is recognized earth day on many of their liturgical calendars.  I know this is the case in the Presbyterian Church.  This is the weekend many in the church will be promoting positive change in the use of natural resources—those things we can be doing as stewards of this beautiful earth.

I ran into a good article by Rebecca Barnes titled “Caring for God’s Creation” that talks of a certification process for churches pledging to care for the earth.  This pledge emerging from the 1990 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church says,

God calls us  to cherish, protect and restore the earth, and it focuses on four areas: worship, education, facilities and outreach. It encourages environmental education and public policy that supports environmental protection.  It emphasizes stewardship so that God’s holy creation will be sustainable for all life and future generations.[1]

It’s time to shift conversations about climate change and care for our world away from the politicians and back into the church.  It’s time to look at the care for our world as an issue of stewardship in demonstrating that “people of faith” know the problem and how to solve it….in caring for the holy ground God has entrusted our care.

Some of the eleven suggestions (paraphrased) from the Barnes article for “Earth Care Congregations”:[2]

  1. Celebrate Earth Day in worship
  2. Vacation Bible School programming
  3. Home energy audits
  4. Purchase of fair traded products
  5. Insulation blankets on water heaters and pipes
  6. Thermal shades on windows
  7. Automatic controls an faucets
  8. Recycling
  9. Reusable supplies
  10. Purchases from local vendors
  11. Stewardship of resources with local plantings

I hope and pray that God will enter our hearts as we gazed upon this beautiful world of blessings God has entrusted our care.  I hope and pray that we all find ways to take one or two steps forward in making this a better world in which to live.

May God bless us in these efforts….

 

Two Presbyterian Church Resources:

www.pcusa.org/earth-care-congregations

www.pcusa.org/environment

 

[1] Rebecca Barnes, Presbyterians Today, Vol 105, Issue 2, March 2015, pg. 30)

[2]   Ibid.

JIM WALLIS BLOG ON ISIS

Jim Wallis’ Blog, God’s Politics, is a must read in understanding why so many young people, some from the United States, are drawn to the ‘dangerous theology” in describing the war with ISIS. This article points to all the miss information being fed to us by Bill O’Reilly and Fox News slamming Obama (no surprise) in defining this conflict with ISSIS as a “Holy War”.

Bill O’Reilly, Fox News’ top-rated political pundit and talk show host has devoted a great deal of attention to ISIS atrocities and what he believes the Western response should be. Unfortunately, while O’Reilly rightly condemns ISIS as evil, he frames the conflict as a “holy war” that ISIS is waging against the West, Christians, and anyone else who does not share ISIS’ extreme views. O’Reilly defined his “talking points” as “Judeo/Christian philosophy versus the Jihad.” According to O’Reilly, “this is now a so-called holy war between radical jihadists and everybody else including peaceful Muslims … The holy war is here. And unfortunately it seems the President of United States will be the last one to acknowledge it.” While it’s a common Fox practice to turn everything into a partisan issue against President Obama, O’Reilly is also spreading a very dangerous theology.

I found Wallis’ five points helpful especially when it comes to our call to take responsibility in helping young people understand why it’s so dangerous for young people who are getting swallowed up with the “cult like” propaganda being fed them.

This is the link to the Wallis Blog:

http://sojo.net/blogs/2015/02/26/5-things-know-about-isis-and-theology-evil

FILLED WITH HOPE, I AM WAITING

In this sacred Advent season of waiting and hoping I encountered an editorial written by John Wimberly (The Presbyterian Outlook, 12/22/14, pg 5) addressing a concern I have had for years.  My basic question:  Why don’t we give some of our churches more time before closing them?   John Wimberly says in his editorial:

The congregation I served for 30 years was almost closed and the building sold back in the 1970’s.  Thank God the congregation convinced the presbytery to give them more time for God to work through their ministry.  Today, Western Church is a vital, urban ministry where people worship God joyfully, children are educated and the homeless have been fed, clothed and given social services for more than 30 years…..thanks be to God that the majority of presbyters were in no rush to judgment.  They decided to wait with God for something to happen as Western Church.

I thank God for the urban church I served for 28 years, the Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church in Saginaw, Michigan.  I am glad the church has an intentional transitional pastor, Rev. Jim Williams, working with this church and presbytery in helping this congregation determine their future.  I pray that the Presbytery of Lake Huron give this church time and resources to help them determine what God has planned next for them.

And thinking about church buildings, the church spends too much time worrying about real estate.  Let’s invest more time thinking about what we could do to maintain a Presbyterian witness in some of these buildings we decide to close.  I can name three former Presbyterian churches in Saginaw with buildings no longer under the Presbyterian umbrella that continue doing ministry in various neighborhoods (Grace, Washington Avenue and Wadsworth Avenue).

Buildings and dealing with church real estate is perhaps the one big obstacle in making the decision to close a church.  As John Wimberly continues to say:

When I see our judicatories selling off property (make that: congregations), I am profoundly troubled.  Unable to envision a successful ministry in the old Central Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC, our presbytery sold the buildings in the early 1980’s to a coalition of community groups.  Today, the buildings house a thriving community center and a non-denominational church in one of D.C.’s most vibrant neighborhoods.  Others had and implemented a vision we lacked.

Again, I would hope that presbyters would consider holding onto these properties and ministries.  It is absolutely true that once a building is sold or torn down the opportunity for a Presbyterian ministry in that location probably ends forever.

It is my hope and prayer that some of the resources the Presbyterian Church invests in helping to form new congregations could be invested keeping some of our small struggling urban (and rural) church doors open.

I am waiting and hoping to see more of our urban (and small rural) churches find ways to keep their doors open.

The WILDERNESS Road to GAZA

Thoughtful article by Raafat L. Zaki published this past week prior to Israel’s ground  invasion of Gaza.  Let’s keep the dialogue open in discussing this conflict between Israel and Palestinians who live in Gaza.   Raafat is the Executive, Synod of the Covenant.  This article contains excellent links that contribute to this discussion.

http://origin.library.constantcontact.com/download/get/file/1101990260408-370/The+WILDERNESS+Road+to+GAZA+.pdf