CAN A PROGRESSIVE ALSO BE AN EVANGELICAL?

What part of me and my identity as a Christian is evangelical?   And Progressive? The Greek verb Jesus uses is evangel from which the word evangelism is derived.    I am called to preach the good news as an evangelical.  I am also called to be an advocate for that which I preach.  More than words, I am called to live the gospel.  As a Presbyterian (reformed) Church pastor, I believe the gospel motivates our living what we believe.  This makes me a progressive.  Can a progressive also be an evangelical?

While I see myself as a progressive evangelical, I can in no way align myself with all evangelicals….especially the conservative right.

DIGGING DEEPER:  I have invested over forty years preaching the “good news” of the Gospel.   I continue to believe God’s ancient, unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ—words of scripture that speak to and live in the lives of people with hearts open to hear what ancient scriptures say.  I search for what Christ says to me within the context I now live!  As an ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church, I continue to open my mind and heart to what inspired words of scripture can teach me.

As a preacher and pastor, I have always believed myself to be a quiet progressive—if that is possible.  Maybe it’s more accurate to call myself an introvert progressive.  I like the image used by a colleague—couch progressive.  Perhaps I am a covert, couch progressive who tries not to wear ‘progressive’ as a badge?   As a couch, covert progressive I try not letting my personal views interfere with my being an effective minister.

Scripture has long informed who I am and what I preach grounded in this text:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me

to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives

and recovery of sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free.  Luke 4:18  (also Isaiah 61)

Doesn’t this sound progressive?  And Evangelical?  While I rarely (if ever) use this term “evangelical” to identify myself as a Christian, I have found myself aligned with much of what I believe true evangelicals represent.  Back to the question:  Can a progressive also be an evangelical?  

Jim Wallis, founder and editor of Sojourners (www.sojo.net) has this to say:

What it means to be ‘evangelical’ is changing — it’s reverting back to its original meaning.

The new evangelical statement attempts to clarify who evangelicals are and how they should be defined: not as a people beholden to any political party, but as a people who proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ that always seeks to lift up those on the margins of society — not deport them, or scam them, or attack their professionalism because of their ethnicity or gender. These evangelicals are Americans of African and European descent, Latino/a, Asian American, and Native American. They are women and men, as well as younger and older evangelical Christians from a wide range of denominational and political backgrounds.  (www.Sojo.net, March 6, 2016, ‘Evangelicals:’  You Keep using that Word.)

WHAT I BELIEVE:

Now for these thoughts in an attempt to answer the question:  Can a progressive also be an evangelical?    Yes, if one lives his or her life grounded / centered in the love of God.   God is more than words or ideas found in the pages of ancient scripture.  Love binds us together and builds us up. Love lives in and between us relationally and in our experiences.  We learn about this love of God through many people, past and present, including a famous man believed by Christians to be Lord and Savior—Jesus  Christ.  I  believe Christ lives in and between us sharing with us the love of God that binds us together and builds us up.  More at another time on this subject of the ‘living Christ’.

This is why I created this blog.   God lives in and between us.  Love exists in and between us.  Love connects us.  Love builds us up.  WE ARE BOUND AND NURTURED IN GOD’S LOVE!

The scripture that teaches us this concept informs who I am as an evangelical and progressive:

Hear O Israel…. ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’  …. ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no other commandment greater than these.  Mark 12:29ff

We cannot separate what we know of God from how we live with God!

It is from my perspective,  perhaps as both an evangelical progressive, that I can preach the good news to the poor;  proclaiming release to captives living in a broken world and recovery of sight/vision to those who are blinded by brokenness and sin.

Yes, I believe I can be both an evangelical and progressive — if I work at both!  If I let God’s love speak and live through me.

Does this make sense?

 

TOOLS IN ADDRESSING CONFLICT

This past few weeks I have learned or heard about some minor conflicts between neighbors in the community where I live.  It has become way too easy to voice grievances using Social Media Networks.  Others have been more formal in writing their complaints.  While not a desired result, personal feelings have been hurt.

While this has only happened with a small number of people in the community where I live, I have decided to take a few minutes to write on the topic of “Addressing Conflict”.   Some basic, common sense guidelines:

1.  Direct Communication!  Two-way dialogue with those whom we disagree is the first and most desired first step in resolving conflicts.  This is preferably done face-to-face.       

 2.  Be sensitive to the reality that there will differing opinions when it comes to issues and conflicts.  The more diverse the community, more likely opinions will exist.

 3.  As neighbors, we need to listen and hear what others are saying—especially those with whom we may disagree.   Use of hateful or demeaning rhetoric will never be helpful in resolving conflicts.  

 4.  As leaders in the community, we need to be open to the possibility of adapting or changing ones viewpoint or opinion.  We must also be open to apologizing when it is discovered we have been wrong.     

 5.  We need to be open to the idea of ‘agreeing to disagree’ in avoiding the escalation of a conflict.  

There is a wonderful document published by the Presbyterian Church Mission Agency titled, “Seeking to be Faithful Together”.  Persons who wish to explore the subject of managing disagreements may wish to look at this link.  This PDF document is free.

http://www.presbyterianmission.org/resource/seeking-be-faithful-guidelines-presbyterians-times/

When it comes to living in harmony in a community—whether it be a neighborhood or church or some other type of business or organization, a typical goal is the uplifting of people and their relationships with others.  To this end, I hope this blog will help in underscoring the need to resolve conflicts in applying the “Golden Rule”:   “Do unto others as you would have them to unto you!” Luke 6: 31  NIV (New International Version)   “Face-to-face” conversation is the best tool we have in resolving conflict.

The Magical World of Retirement

Jack Stotts, former President of Austin Theological Seminary, said upon his retirement:

“My initial conclusion about retirement is that it is a magical world.  Now each month checks appear magically in our bank account, courtesy of wire transfers.  The economic threat has been tamed, at least for now.  In this magical time of retirement, the burden of “dressing up” for work every day is whisked away.  I can select my own uniform.  Now I can ask, “What do I want to do?” rather than, “What do I have to do for the seminary today?  The boundaries of my little world, small though it was, have collapsed.  The terrain has shifted.  I am free to erect different boundaries, to rearrange the landscape of my life.  And that is just the problem.  For in retirement I not only can but must reorder my life.  In that sense the magical world of retirement is also threatening.”

The question I continue to ask myself is how to reorder my life now that my wife and I have made the decision to move almost 3000 miles to California.   Within a new Presbytery in a location where there are few Presbyterian churches (Redwoods Presbytery), how will I live out my “Call” as a Teaching Elder / Minister of Word and Sacrament?

Three things I affirm with conviction in approaching this challenge of reordering my life as a pastor:

I will never stop serving God.

Jesus never retires.

The church, the living and vibrant body of Christ, doesn’t retire!

Returning to Jack Stotts for some insights in living in this world of retirement, this is an insightful article on retirement found at this link:

http://media.sabda.org/alkitab-2/Religion-Online.org%20Books/Stotts%2c%20Jack%20L-Aging%20Well-%20Theological%20Reflections%20on%20the%20Ca.pdf

Jack Stotts says,

 “Retirement is not a condition of our self-hood; it is a context for our selfhood.  We must adapt, even as we have adapted to new contexts when we have moved from one physical location to another.  The late Dr. Joseph Haroutunian, professor of theology at McCormick Theological Seminary and later at the University of Chicago, dropped this pearl in class one day:  ‘Our bodies precede our spirits and our spirits must catch up with our bodies,’  referring to those who move geographically from one place to another.  We find ourselves having to grow into a new culture as well as into a new house. Those of us who have moved many times can agree that it takes our emotions and our spirits longer to feel at home than it does n our bodies.”

Traveling over 3000 miles to a new home in California near where our daughter lives, my first task “called to ministry” will be to move and adjust to living in a new context and culture closer to members of our family.  I have also done some initial networking by emailing Presbytery officers where I will be living to establish some new contacts/relationships.  Nancy and I will be look for a new church home.  As this journey continues, I hope to keep up with pulling together some of my thoughts for this blog.  These are first steps, ‘baby steps’ as I travel into this magical world of retirement.

 

Saturday Morning Office Hours?

I woke up this Saturday morning grateful to God for “retirement”.  In these moments in casually planning my day, I contemplated a history of Saturday’s past when active in ministry.

As a teenager in the 60’s, I recall going to my church home in Aurora, Colorado, on Saturday mornings–mostly for a required confirmation class.  I also had voice lessons with the choir director.  Church was a place go hang out on Saturday mornings!

When asked to be a worship leader, we always had practice sessions with the pastor on Saturday mornings.  As a teenager, I recall, the church was always open on Saturday mornings.  The casually dressed pastors, two of them, were always around.  There was activity and laughter up and down the halls–almost like Sunday mornings except less formal!

On a serious note, when I was off at college, I learned that my dad would often drop by the church office on Saturday mornings.   For some reason, the pastor shared this with me following his funeral in 1973.  This was something my pastor felt I should know.  What were they talking about?

Dad was a quiet man who didn’t talk much about church.  Yet here was drinking coffee with the pastor on Saturday mornings.  I wonder if he would have had a place to go to talk about things, anything, if these pastor’s were not present in the church on Saturday mornings.  I wonder?

I wonder if I would have been called to be a minister without access to the church on Saturdays?

Many years later, after ordination my ordination in 1977, I accepted my first call to serve in a large church in Davenport, Iowa.  There were three ministers and a full-time director of music on the staff.  I learned some important things in these first years of ministry.   It was always an expectation in that particular church that clergy be ‘on-the-job’ on Saturday mornings.  We always had a staff meeting to talk through the Sunday morning worship services.  Lots of details concerning Sunday worship were discussed.

As an Associate Pastor responsible for Christian Education programming, Saturday mornings were vested in working with youth and church school teachers.  I would do some last minute checks to make sure everything was ready for Sunday classes.  The organist was busy rehearsing on the organ.  The senior pastor was working on the sermon or perhaps, preparing for the next wedding or funeral.  As a large church, we had a large program with lots of details to be juggled at all age levels.   Worth mentioning, there were a host of church members cleaning and polishing in getting this sacred space, the church, ready for Sunday worship.

As years passed as a solo pastor in Evanston, Illinois and then Saginaw, Michigan, I found myself relaxing on Saturdays.  While I would often be at the church doing a variety of things, it was not publicized that the church was open.   In reflecting on this:  MY LOSS!

Because my wife worked a typical Monday through Friday job, we found Saturdays were sacred time to be with each other as a couple doing ‘family-type’ things.  As a pastor, there were always last minute calls that had to be made.  Weddings and funerals were always part of the mix in working and doing ministry on Saturdays.  Instead of holding regular office hours, I would meet with congregants by appointment—mostly in their homes.  In recent years of ministry, to be honest, Saturdays were considered a day when the church was closed.

I wonder about the experience of others?  How many of my clergy colleagues maintain office hours on Saturday mornings?  I wonder if I would have become a pastor had I not had some Saturday morning opportunities to mingle with the sacred.

I wonder?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writing a Book

I have thought it would be fun to write about some of the extraordinary experiences all pastors encounter from time to time.  What were the most unusual weddings and funerals?   What were my biggest ‘slips of tongue’ in the pulpit?   What ridiculous things have I found myself doing?  For those who read this blog, what are some of your unusual experiences?

Just a few examples of some of my unusual experiences:

— As a young pastor, I once accidentally served the wine before the bread during communion.  Nobody in the congregation said anything because they thought I was trying to make some kind of point.  In admitting my mistake, we all had a good laugh.  I was also embarrassed beyond belief!

— At a rural cemetery, being handed a shovel to help in digging a hole for the interment of ashes.  I later learned this would not be an unusual request for those who regularly inter ashes.

— The time the pall-bearers dropped the casket….and my involvement in helping to ‘straighten out the body’ in the casket after family members departed.  Nothing funny about this.

— At a wedding, dealing with a drunk groom and groomsmen….

— A host of fun experiences in working with staff, custodians, organists and choirs  (The trust walk with a secretary at a conference)

— The funeral of a non-member when gang paraphernalia was placed in the casket to honor the deceased (a gang member)  – including a switch blade and a can of beer.

I would also like to write about some serious topics.

One example the list of things I learned early in my of ministry in how NOT TO DO MINISTRY!  I have seen and experienced colleagues who have done some pretty stupid things….

On the other hand, I have also been blessed with many wonderful mentors who helped mold me into what I would become as a pastor.  This would be a long list of mentors with hundreds of pages of great experiences

There is a lot to be said about my numerous health issues through the years.  I am a good example of how not to take care of myself….and I am not prepared to write on this subject.

After 28 years of serving the Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church in Saginaw, I made the decision to write about this experience.  I have finally turned some of this experience into a book.  This book was written mostly for myself.  I also thought a few friends, family and colleagues might be interested in hearing what about these experiences.

The book available at Amazon.com:

Come and See What God has Done – Before, Then and Beyond

By Thomas Cundiff

I didn’t write this book to make money.

Now that this book has been published, I am contemplating:  What’s Next?

And back to the question I ask those who read this blog:  What are some of your unusual experiences?