The Inclusive Church

This quote from the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church, The Book of Order, jumped out of the page when I read it — found in the September 18, 2017 issue of the church publication, The Presbyterian Outlook.   Question:  Are our churches living faithful to this command for inclusion?

From The Book of Order:

A congregation shall welcome all persons who trust in God’s grace in Jesus Christ and desire to become part of the fellowship and ministry of his Church. No person shall be denied membership for any reason not related to profession of faith. The Gospel leads members to extend the fellowship of Christ to all persons. Failure to do so constitutes a rejection of Christ himself and causes a scandal to the Gospel.” (G-1.0302)

For my colleagues in ministry, I encourage you to read the entire article by Elder John Harkey, a professional in helping “organizations develop and implement inclusion and diversity strategies.”

This article, Reformed Inclusion, details the experience of an elder at the 3500 member Second Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis. Of particular interest are the intentional steps individual members of the faith community can do to “demonstrate more consciously inclusive behavior”.

Volunteer for an activity that makes you comfortably uncomfortable and creates an impact on others.

Sit someplace different in your sanctuary each Sunday for the next eight weeks.

Demonstrate active listening that shows empathy towards others who may be different than you.

Become more self-aware of the biases and assumptions that you possess, and do not let then interfere with your personal or business interactions.

When you see someone standing alone while you are in a group, invite them to join you.

If you are faced with an issue or challenge, ask three people who are different that you (generationally, culturally or in other ways) for input as you make your decisions. (Presbyterian Outlook, September 18, 2017, pg 32)

I would suggest that these simple steps of inclusion can open doors beyond the local church in the communities where we live.

A public thanks to John Harkey for his faithful work.

 

My Friend — Lottery Winner

 

Are you a lottery winner?  Yes!  I join with my friend from College, Tom Crisp.  He has given me permission to share his FB personal reflections.   I commend him in taking the time to write this insightful piece.  I’m amazed he has such a wonderful memory.   He has giving me cause to reflect on my life filled with blessings – for yes, I am a lottery winner.  Every breath I take proves this fact.  Please read and enjoy.  (a bit long but worth taking time to read it to the end) 

 

 

 

If I win a lottery……by Tom Crisp

If I win a lottery, it won’t be because I deserve it.  The knowledge that lotteries are not a prize for the deserving is probably part of what keeps me playing.  I have as good (or as lousy) a chance as anyone, saint or sinner. 

I have always figured that I won the lottery when I was born in the U.S.A. just as the post war economic boom met the baby boom. I won by being born male, white, on-time, in a hospital, to parents who would remain married. With four living grandparents, 16 aunts and uncles and eventually about 26 cousins, all of whom I got to know, some of whom I grew up with.

 

Being white I had the win of being majority, but more than that, being the status quo. Generally discovering that the person in charge was … like me. Whatever battles lay ahead, I wouldn’t have to fight that one.

 

Not everyone would agree that I won the lottery being raised Catholic, but everyone I knew at the time would say so, especially after JFK broke that barrier. I didn’t know until much later that we were a group hated in some households. (In case we forget, the KKK despised us as Papists, and the John Birch Society was pretty much aligned with that.)

 

I grew up with a library card, in a home with some books, with the World Book Encyclopedia, with some records to listen to, a piano, and a TV that delivered the westerns, the comedies, the variety shows, the late-late-shows and the news shows. Magazines that inspired my need to make art, my love of buildings, my infatuation with cars. Morning and evening newspapers delivered daily.

 

We weren’t rich and we weren’t poor, and if we had been poor an effort would have been made to see that we kids wouldn’t know it – and that we didn’t look it. And definitely that we didn’t announce it. Not that we were pretending to be MORE than we were or had, never that – although it became a game for me later, when I was just old enough to wander into a place like the Waldorf Astoria lobby and act like I belonged there, until I believed that I did.

 

When I was born we lived in a tiny and rather shabby house, but 5 years later moved into a new house my folks had built. We had the same used furniture as before, but new carpet, and slipcovers made from Grandma’s curtains, and 6 of us would share one bathroom – as in most of the houses we visited.

 

The first time I remember looking at the earliest “studio” photo of me, my mother shared two comments: it was not a baby picture (I was about four years old) because we couldn’t afford to have it done sooner. (Finally Grandma ordered it done.) Mom also said that she always was a little embarrassed by the picture because I was wearing worn out tennis shoes. (To this day I look at that photo and can’t tell.) Apparently we couldn’t afford a new pair of shoes for me right then, and after all the waiting for the photo, I guess Mom felt guilty. But they had their priorities straight, saving up for the down payment on the new house that was then just a plan.

 

I was already a repeat lottery winner. One night in the year or so before that photo I had fallen out of the car on a busy road – at dusk, a chancy time to be a small person lying in the middle of the street. Because Mom happened to be driving, and thanks to my brother yelling, “There goes Tommy!”, Dad was able to jump out of the car before it even stopped, flagging down traffic and averting what In my personal opinion would have been disaster. I spent the night in the same hospital where I was born, and possess the bill to show for it: eleven bucks, and Blue Cross paid nine of it.

 

I won again at eleven or twelve. After I contracted rheumatic fever, thanks to antibiotics and our good family doctor, I spent much less than the average time out of school with a disease that less than a century earlier was near certain death. And I escaped any permanent effects to heart and lungs.

 

I didn’t quite win on teeth. I was cavity prone. But they grew in more or less in a straight line, and l did always have dental care. A few years ago my hygienist told me I inherited very good gums. So there, cavities.

 

I won the teacher lottery, that’s for sure, and still remember the names of all my teachers, K-12, and most who came later, from Sister Irene in kindergarten to Simona Volpi, my beautiful Torinese Italian tutor of 16 years ago. I had wonderfully nice friends through all those years, even after changing schools twice in one year, and changing towns, too. Thanks to FaceBook and reunions I regularly get to touch base with some of my earliest friends – the very first children I played with.

 

I was a kid attracted to cities, but happily growing up in small towns, in an era when all summer we ran free, once the morning chores were done, and where we knew it might be reported to our parents if anyone saw us get out of line. We got out of line anyway, of course, but we were lottery winners, and we escaped alive and intact, uncorrupted by our associations.

 

Despite my intention in high school to go to college a long way from home, I ended up an hour’s drive away and ended up happy about that. Thanks to my parents’ sacrifices and some scholarship help I also ended up debt free at graduation, whereupon I began making up for the matter. (My folks did their best to get us all through school without debts – I didn’t know how lucky I was.)

 

In the middle of that, the draft lottery drew some lines and let millions of young men know who could expect to go to Vietnam, and who could likely expect not to. At number 221 I was on the “not” side; like some of my friends, and unlike others. Many waited with resignation for the yellow envelope to arrive. Many others rushed to enlist in order to give their service a measure of self-determination. A few of the young men I knew then did not come back; some others, who I would meet later, had returned not always whole.

 

I wrote that among my chance winnings was being born a male. True then and still true for those born today, around the world and in the US. This implies that females are on the losing side, which is both far too simple to be a rule and, by numbers, also true. For reasons ranging from the traditional to the pseudo-logical to the preposterous, women of all ages are systematically put on the margins. We’ve seen steady if hard-won improvement for women in the “first world,” but the numbers say it is still a plus to be male on this planet, and in many places a life (or death) sentence to be female.

 

These propositions are loaded with exceptions. Because life itself is a game of chance, and advantage occurs on a broad spectrum, not all males feel or are privileged, or blessed with choice and freedom and advantage, and not all women are or feel held back and denied justice. Poverty/wealth, illness/health, love/neglect, all can make or strip away the sense of rightfulness that comes with the birth lottery. Wealth, talent, intelligence, looks, drive, supportive adults – are all distributed unevenly. But that combination of numbers on my first ticket: American, male, 20th century, hard-working and generous parents, strong early education, opportunity, freedom of expression, good health … these were such strokes of great fortune that to think today that I have anything else “coming to me” that does not involve very hard work would be greedy to the nth.

 

My lottery has continued. I’ve been able to pursue dreams, even if I’ve fallen short. I’ve been loved and have given love. I’ve laughed, and been disappointed, and learned, and made things. Making things is the big deal for me, to write something, make a painting, design, build. I’ve seen a lot of the country, a little of the world, and had all the good books anyone could hope to read, with no one telling me I couldn’t. I’ve had the ballot in my hands for almost 50 years; when my vote was for the winner and when it was not, I’ve always believed in it and the power it gave me.

 

I was young and gay in an era when that meant steady change and progress, and I was lucky enough never to hate myself for it. I was also gay in the age of a plague. I won the HIV lottery, whether because I was lucky in birth again, and have something that defies it, or because I was in some way more moderate, or because I was, actually, just plain lucky, and I’ve felt the unreasonable responsibility to live well for those who died young. Because I lost on the other side of that ticket: friends and acquaintances gone too soon, quite knocked down in the prime of life, and in the beginning under a cloud of mystery and suspicion, and no recourse to fight it.

 

“Winning” isn’t all rewards. In any field of play, it carries the burden of “what next?” (Losing has that factor, too, but we know the difference of the meaning in each situation.) And though I believe that life is hugely influenced by habit (much more than by luck), winning is accompanied by loss. Anyone who has loved and lost – which is, face it, everyone – can tell you that. Winning has responsibilities, if you’re made of anything but selfishness. It also provides opportunities, whether to share the money-wealth outright, or to share your intangible wealth: exchanging knowledge, creating opportunities, bringing joy, saving or sparing lives, inspiring the dispirited. Share spendable riches but also share the wealth of skill, experience, time, listening. These things are nothing less than “affirmative action”, or as otherwise named, the Beatitudes.

 

The humorist Fran Liebowitz told David Letterman, “I don’t consider the lottery gambling: when you gamble there’s a chance you might win.” By that wise measure, gambling includes investing in or starting a business, writing or producing a play, making a new product, expressing a new thought, sticking your neck out for somebody, putting your time into someone else’s growth. You are quite likely to lose those gambles. But when you win, it is extra rewarding, because it is so much more than chance. There’s minor satisfaction in betting and winning on a sure thing. Bet and win on a long shot if you want to know elation.

 

So, though no doubt some “deserving” people win the lottery, it’s not BECAUSE they deserve it. God isn’t handing out the winning numbers as a reward any more than He is handing out hurricanes or diseases or football losses as punishment. In fact, if only truly deserving people won the lottery, the rest of us would never play, and the jackpots would be modest indeed. We KNOW we don’t have to be deserving. It is the ultimate egalitarian roll of dice, on the billions-to-one scale of solar systems.

 

As in life, whether you “deserve” to win is probably something you demonstrate afterwards. Few of us have been prepared to live in a “worthy” manner if landed on by extreme, sudden wealth. We imagine we could handle it – I for one have better answers for “what would you do if you won millions?” than I do for the more likely question, “what do you plan to do since you won’t be winning millions?” It would be a tremendous challenge, but I think the only way not to be ruined by a super prize would be to give a whole lot of it away very fast, then keep giving more away slowly, always with the steadfast conviction that you didn’t deserve it in the first place.

 

Knowing that, what I’d try to do, just as I hope to do with my lifetime lottery winnings, which are so intangible that no one can take them away, is not deserve it, but serve it. So there’s the plan, whatever the bankroll I’m working with. ~ Tom Crisp NY NY 8/24/17

 

 

PREACH IT PASTOR — RACISM / NATIONALISM

A preacher without a pulpit, I am compelled to share a ‘Facebook Public post‘ from a colleague, The Reverend Susan Sytsma Bratt.   Preach it!  Teach it!

With all the ugly hatred, racism and nationalism emerging from this weekends Charlottesville crimes and a Trump Administration that panders to this abhorrent behavior, this is my way of using this blog as a pulpit. I also thank Dan Saperstein, Presbytery if Lake Huron Executive,  for pointing me in the direction of this post.

These words from Rev. Bratt:

There is much to say in the wake of the last 24 hours where more hatred has taken root and sprouted up publicly in Charlottsville.

Tonight, I turn back to Scripture and the Belhar Confession as I prepare to lead worship tomorrow.

To be a member of any Christian church is to be an active witness to Christ’s reconciliation in the world. It’s not just for Sunday morning, but has a place in our daily lives. It shapes how we vote, when we march and use our power to protest, and how we seek to know and love our neighbor.

Faith isn’t private, but public. Not individual, but communal.

The Belhar Confession was written by the church to work to overturn the systemic evil and sin of apartheid and institutionalized racism in South Africa.

The opening lines say this:

“We believe that Christ’s work of reconciliation is made manifest in the church as the community of believers who have been reconciled with God and with one another (Eph. 2:11-22); that unity is, therefore, both a gift and an obligation for the church of Jesus Christ; that through the working of God’s Spirit it is a binding force, yet simultaneously a reality which must be earnestly pursued and sought: one which the people of God must continually be built up to attain (Eph. 4:1-16);
that this unity must become visible so that the world may believe that separation, enmity and hatred between people and groups is sin which Christ has already conquered, and accordingly that anything which threatens this unity may have no place in the church and must be resisted (John 17:20-23);”

Full text is worth reading and studying. Presbyterians, this is our newest Confession.

Here:
CONFESSION OF BELHAR
1. We believe in the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who gathers, protects and cares for the church through Word and Spirit. This, God has done since the beginning of the world and will do to the end.

2. We believe in one holy, universal Christian church, the communion of saints called from the entire human family.

We believe

• that Christ’s work of reconciliation is made manifest in the church as the community of believers who have been reconciled with God and with one another (Eph. 2:11-22);

• that unity is, therefore, both a gift and an obligation for the church of Jesus Christ; that through the working of God’s Spirit it is a binding force, yet simultaneously a reality which must be earnestly pursued and sought: one which the people of God must continually be built up to attain (Eph. 4:1-16);

• that this unity must become visible so that the world may believe that separation, enmity and hatred between people and groups is sin which Christ has already conquered, and accordingly that anything which threatens this unity may have no place in the church and must be resisted (John 17:20-23);

• that this unity of the people of God must be manifested and be active in a variety of ways: in that we love one another; that we experience, practice and pursue community with one another; that we are obligated to give ourselves willingly and joyfully to be of benefit and blessing to one another; that we share one faith, have one calling, are of one soul and one mind; have one God and Father, are filled with one Spirit, are baptized with one baptism, eat of one bread and drink of one cup, confess one name, are obedient to one Lord, work for one cause, and share one hope; together come to know the height and the breadth and the depth of the love of Christ; together are built up to the stature of Christ, to the new humanity; together know and bear one another’s burdens, thereby fulfilling the law of Christ that we need one another and upbuild one another, admonishing and comforting one another; that we suffer with one another for the sake of righteousness; pray together; together serve God in this world; and together fight against all which may threaten or hinder this unity (Phil. 2:1-5; 1 Cor. 12:4-31; John 13:1-17; 1 Cor. 1:10-13; Eph. 4:1-6; Eph. 3:14-20; 1 Cor. 10:16-17; 1 Cor. 11:17-34; Gal. 6:2; 2 Cor. 1:3-4);

• that this unity can be established only in freedom and not under constraint; that the variety of spiritual gifts, opportunities, backgrounds, convictions, as well as the various languages and cultures, are by virtue of the reconciliation in Christ, opportunities for mutual service and enrichment within the one visible people of God (Rom. 12:3-8; 1 Cor. 12:1-11; Eph. 4:7-13; Gal. 3:27-28; James 2:1-13);

• that true faith in Jesus Christ is the only condition for membership of this church.
Therefore, we reject any doctrine

• which absolutizes either natural diversity or the sinful separation of people in such a way that this absolutization hinders or breaks the visible and active unity of the church, or even leads to the establishment of a separate church formation;

• which professes that this spiritual unity is truly being maintained in the bond of peace while believers of the same confession are in effect alienated from one another for the sake of diversity and in despair of reconciliation;

• which denies that a refusal earnestly to pursue this visible unity as a priceless gift is sin;

• which explicitly or implicitly maintains that descent or any other human or social factor should be a consideration in determining membership of the church.

3. We believe

• that God has entrusted the church with the message of reconciliation in and through Jesus Christ, that the church is called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, that the church is called blessed because it is a peacemaker, that the church is witness both by word and by deed to the new heaven and the new earth in which righteousness dwells (2 Cor. 5:17-21; Matt. 5:13-16; Matt. 5:9; 2 Peter 3:13; Rev. 21-22).

• that God’s lifegiving Word and Spirit has conquered the powers of sin and death, and therefore also of irreconciliation and hatred, bitterness and enmity, that God’s lifegiving Word and Spirit will enable the church to live in a new obedience which can open new possibilities of life for society and the world (Eph. 4:17–6:23, Rom. 6; Col. 1:9-14; Col. 2:13-19; Col. 3:1–4:6);

• that the credibility of this message is seriously affected and its beneficial work obstructed when it is proclaimed in a land which professes to be Christian, but in which the enforced separation of people on a racial basis promotes and perpetuates alienation, hatred and enmity;

• that any teaching which attempts to legitimate such forced separation by appeal to the gospel, and is not prepared to venture on the road of obedience and reconciliation, but rather, out of prejudice, fear, selfishness and unbelief, denies in advance the reconciling power of the gospel, must be considered ideology and false doctrine.

Therefore, we reject any doctrine

• which, in such a situation, sanctions in the name of the gospel or of the will of God the forced separation of people on the grounds of race and color and thereby in advance obstructs and weakens the ministry and experience of reconciliation in Christ.

4. We believe

• that God has revealed himself as the one who wishes to bring about justice and true peace among people;

• that God, in a world full of injustice and enmity, is in a special way the God of the destitute, the poor and the wronged;

• that God calls the church to follow him in this, for God brings justice to the oppressed and gives bread to the hungry;

• that God frees the prisoner and restores sight to the blind;

• that God supports the downtrodden, protects the stranger, helps orphans and widows and blocks the path of the ungodly;

• that for God pure and undefiled religion is to visit the orphans and the widows in their suffering;

• that God wishes to teach the church to do what is good and to seek the right (Deut. 32:4; Luke 2:14; John 14:27; Eph. 2:14; Isa. 1:16-17; James 1:27; James 5:1-6; Luke 1:46-55; Luke 6:20-26; Luke 7:22; Luke 16:19-31; Ps. 146; Luke 4:16-19; Rom. 6:13-18; Amos 5);

• that the church must therefore stand by people in any form of suffering and need, which implies, among other things, that the church must witness against and strive against any form of injustice, so that justice may roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream;

• that the church as the possession of God must stand where the Lord stands, namely against injustice and with the wronged; that in following Christ the church must witness against all the powerful and privileged who selfishly seek their own interests and thus control and harm others.
Therefore, we reject any ideology

• which would legitimate forms of injustice and any doctrine which is unwilling to resist such an ideology in the name of the gospel.

5. We believe that, in obedience to Jesus Christ, its only head, the church is called to confess and to do all these things, even though the authorities and human laws might forbid them and punishment and suffering be the consequence (Eph. 4:15-16; Acts 5:29-33; 1 Peter 2:18-25; 1 Peter 3:15-18).

Jesus is Lord.

To the one and only God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be the honor and the glory for ever and ever.

Note: This is a translation of the original Afrikaans text of the confession as it was adopted by the synod of the Dutch Reformed Mission Church in South Africa in 1986. In 1994 the Dutch Reformed Mission Church and the Dutch Reformed Church in Africa united to form the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa (URCSA). This inclusive language text was prepared by the Office of Theology and Worship, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

 

Remember Your Baptism

Now retired, I am going through some new experiences as a pastor who served congregations dating back to the 70’s.    That’s a long time ago!   In particular, I remember and continue to miss the congregation I served the beginning of my ministry, the First Presbyterian Church of Davenport, Iowa.  This is the church where our daughter Emily was baptized (April 12, 1981).   I will always remember this day.  Standing as a parent I was asked by the pastor the name of my child.  I answered with confidence – “Susan”!  Everyone started laughing.  I couldn’t understand why everyone would laugh at such a sacred time.  The pastor leaned in and asked: “Isn’t your daughter’s name Emily?”  An Associate Pastor in that church, I’m glad I was standing with my daughter as a dad instead of pastor performing the baptism.  “Susan” is our daughter’s middle name.   I have no idea why my brain told me give the wrong name.  I now wonder what kind of holy-mistakes my nerves would have caused me to make if I was actually doing the baptism of my own daughter?  I will always remember this baptism!

Another church I that will always be close to my heart – the Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church in Saginaw, MI.   I served this church as pastor from 1985 until my retirement in 2013.  Through Facebook, I recently experienced the birthday of a member of this congregation who just turned 30.  I will call him BJ.  In looking at all the people wishing him a “Happy Birthday”, I realized with a smile on my face that this church continues to be BJ’s “family’.  All the congregations I have been blessed to serve through the years of ministry are members of this family.  And this is the truth:  I remember your baptism!

Honestly?  I remember BJ’s baptism because one of the cherished files I keep is a written log of all the baptisms I have performed throughout my ministry.  I often find myself looking at this log of baptisms.  I don’t remember the actual day this young man, as an infant, was sprinkled with sacred water with the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit”.   I don’t remember what he was wearing or what I was preaching.   I do, however, know he was baptized the same day another baby was baptized.  I remember the parents of these children who continue to be active members of Christ’s family.  By the way, BJ was baptized on September 20, 1987.  He is still an active member of he Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church.

BJ and all those baptized on the chancel steps of the Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church and churches around the globe are members of the huge family named “Christian”.  This 30 year old man, BJ,  is now a police officer.  I am sure proud of him and all of his accomplishments!  I thank God for the opportunity to watch him grow as an active member and officer in the church I once served.

And my point?  REMEMBER YOUR BAPTISM!   Remember who it is who pronounced faith in Jesus Christ prior to your being sprinkled with sacred water–your parents.  Remember who continues to hold you and protect you–God.

This Holy Week, remember who lived and died and rose from death to be our Lord and our Savior.

 

I’m glad I’ve gotten back to writing in this blog.

Birthday-December 7, 2016

I just turned 65.  Medicare is in place.  Now on a fixed income, Social Security and Pension checks will be arriving.  It has always been hard to imagine this day.  With a host of health issues, I have learned to live life one-day/week/month at a time.   Blessings abound with my anchor and beloved wife, Nancy. 

emily-and-tommy-073015In 2010 I was blessed to officiate the wedding of daughter Emily to a wonderful young man Ken.   A true miracle baby and blessing to us all was the birth of grandson Kenneth Thomas in January of 2013.  We will never forget the rough time both baby and mother had in bringing this young miracle baby into the world.  Tommy will be four in January.   

Moving to Rio Vista California  six months ago was a momentous occasion.    WE found a beautiful home in a 55+ community called TRILOGY.  While leaving our home of Saginaw after thirty years, getting close to our California family was the right thing to do. 

011Professionally, part of me regrets not making it a full 30 years as pastor of the Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church.   Going on disability after almost 40 years of ministry was the right thing to do.  

 

My heart will be with the church I most recently served, the Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church, as they celebrate 150 years of ministry and service in the year of our Lord 2017.  I wonder if any celebrations are being planned!  Under the leadership of a new pastor, Jim Williams, I know this church will be faithful to the end in serving God with energy, imagination and love.   

I now focus on living life to the fullest with our California family.   Grandson Tommy gave me some special birthday hugs this past weekend.  Christmas, with my sister Susan coming to be with us, will be a special holiday—the first chance she has had to meet her great-nephew Tommy. 

All in all, life is good.  Thanks for all the birthday greetings.  My heart-felt prayers are with all who have a chance to read this.   

Thanksgiving Vows 2016

007As a Christian and an ordained officer of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), I affirm the sacred vow affirming:  “Jesus is my Lord and my savior.”  Through over half a century of life on this earth, I continue to grow in accepting all that this affirmation means.

 

American FlagNext to placing my life in the arms of God……I affirm as an American and citizen of these United States this sacred vow, the fundamental principle found in the Declaration of Independence:   “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men (and women) are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” 

 

II. Church and Family-“Christ in My Life”

At this junction, I want to share some of my thoughts about my early faith development.  I didn’t have a ZAP-BANG conversion or experience when I suddenly believed in Jesus Christ.   I learned of Christ over time.  My affirmation in affirming Christ was more a process in building up to a point of being able to say “I believe”.   I continued and continue to struggle with what it means to believe in Jesus Christ.  What I recall are a variety of experiences throughout my teenage years that brought me God and belief that Jesus was, for me, the living Christ.  Feeling the presence of God and learning of Jesus from scripture, in the context of the church, brought me into this relationship with what I describe now as the “living, vibrant presence of Jesus Christ.”

The Sermon on the Mount found in ancient New Testament scripture, was the basis, from what I recall, in accepting Christ in my life.   I recall a Sunday worship service, fidgety as usual, thumbing through the Bible looking for a text I had remembered the preacher use in a previous service.  Thumbing brought the Bible, I found the text I was looking for, Matthew 7:7:

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.  NIV

It was at a later time, perhaps that same day, I found myself sitting in my bedroom looking, once again, for this verse.  Hoping to remember it, I went looking for it once again.  I liked what this scripture said about God opening doors.   I suppose I was carrying with me some questions looking for some doors to open in revealing what God would have me do in searching for some answers in my life.
Active in the church youth group, we had regular camps and retreats.   My parents were always open to my attending these church-related events—they kept me out of trouble.   Living in the Denver area, many of these retreats were in the mountains.  One of my favorite activities during some of these retreats was worship when we were asked to go off by ourselves for a few minutes of private prayer and mediation.  There would often be scripture or a question we were asked to contemplate.  We would then come back to discuss our thoughts in a larger group.

One recollection was a warm day, fresh air, with the sun coming up over a grand mountain.  Pine trees covered the hillside.  Majestic mountains could be seen all around.  There was a small stream separating me from this majestic view on the other side.  I found myself trying to imagine what it was like for Jesus to stand on this mountain preaching to the crowds – a sermon on a mount:

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you

This leads to part of the story I’ve never shared before — questions I would ask over and over again:

Who am I?

What am I going to do after graduation?

Do I leave home?

What does God have planned for me?

Will I fall in love and find the girl I will marry?

There was some pressure from my mother to live at home and attend a local college.   This was one reason why I made the decision to find a college away from home.  My mother, a teacher herself, wanted me to be a teacher.

I had in the back of my mind being a music teacher.  I liked to sing.  I played the baritone.  I even took a class one summer on “Music Theory” – one of the most valuable classes I ever had during High School!

I also had in the back of my mind the idea of becoming a minister.  I was clueless as to how this could be done.  College was going to have to come first!

What I new for sure was the fact that I had loving, forward thinking parents who would help me with whatever I wanted to do.  I never felt the need to worry about money – that was my parent’s job!  I also knew, somehow, that God was going to be part of whatever decision I made!  Perhaps a bit naive, but I thought everyone carried God with them in making important decisions!

I had some close friends with me on this spiritual journey.  Casey and Darrel and Doug – we were best friends and “partners in crime”.   There are some things we did as teens that probably shouldn’t be mentioned in this journal.

Casey and I went to the same church.  As a group of friends, Casey and Darrel and Doug and I did lots of things together.  We played handball and tennis.  We would see movies together.  We enjoyed going camping.  It was on these camping trips we would explore our closet beliefs and what we would do with our lives.  All of my friends, seeing how active I was in the church, affirmed my thinking that ministry might be the right thing for me.

How close were these friends, my peers, my earliest spiritual advisors?  Later in life, December of 1976 or six years after we graduated from High School, these good friends would all make the trip to Pittsburgh for my wedding.   As I write this, Nancy and I will be celebrating our 40th Wedding Anniversary.  Our daughter Emily just turned 36!  J

Rather than get ahead of myself with my writing, I want to back up and describe a particular retreat when I was in high school. While on this retreat I again found myself on the side of a hill preaching to the trees.  Sound goofy?  I could imagine my friends laughing at me…..but when I told them what I as doing, they took me seriously.  I was discovering, with the affirmation of good friends, that I had a voice and heart for preaching.  I started to think I could be a pretty good minister.

Two things came to the forefront in my thinking.  Ministry, for me, would need to be grounded in relationships and experiences.   I can see now that I was beginning to develop my own theological  approach in becoming a “process theologian” – God’s love is known through the processes that evolve and grow with us as we live through various stages in life.

I don’t remember the day or time.  I do, however, remember that I was attending a “Young Life Camp”.  It was a cold winter day.   There were dozens of youth from churches around Denver gathered in a lodge listening to a guest speaker.  We were sitting on the floor with pastors from our various churches sitting or standing around the edges of the room.

While I don’t remember the specific theme that day, I know that this speaker was going to ask us to consider, privately, dedicate our lives (give our lives) to Christ.  The powerful moment came to me:

This speaker asked us to bow our heads in prayer.

We were instructed to keep our eyes shut.

We were also asked to raise our hands if we were ready to give our lives to Christ.

I raised my hand.

Later that day my pastor, I think it was Dr. Blackstock, came to me and said he noticed I raised my hand.  I had a brief conversation with him about my contemplating ministry as a possible career.  He told me I should plan a visit with the senior pastor, Rev. DeYoung, about my feelings.  He also totally floored me in sharing:

“You were the only one to raise his hand

when asked to give /  dedicate your life to Christ!” 

Whew!  I was the only one!  This powerful experience would remain with me the rest of my life.  I never saw this as a “thunder-bolt experience” with flashes of God’s spirit swirling around me.  It was a quiet experience – me and God – and a decision – a decision to continue exploring what it would mean to give my life to God.  My life would never be the same!