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!

 

 

 

I. Church and Family-“I Belong to God”

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I’ve given my life to the church.   I also know that this wouldn’t be possible without the support and encouragement of family!  This is a first of many entries under the theme:  Family and Church!   

I thank myimg_2854 parents, Sanford and Helen Cundiff, for being parents who made sure church was part of my life.  Born in 1951, my parents introduced me to the church through baptism on April 15, 1953.  I was baptized in a small chapel by Dr. John M. Pattison at the First Presbyterian Church of Cheyenne, Wyoming.  While born in Cheyenne, our family soon moved to Denver.  I was only three or four years old.   I had an older brother, David, and a younger sister, Susan.

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It was in Aurora, Colorado where my parents introduced me to another Presbyterian Church—the First Presbyterian Church of Aurora, Colorado.   I belonged to this church until I was ordained.

 

 

When we moved to Colorado we initially lived as a family of five at the Ranger Motel on Colfax in Aurora.   My dad was busy helping to build our first Colorado home.  That motel is still located on Colfax.   I remember, in our downstairs room, the pay-television.  If I recall, we had to put a dime or quarter in a small machine on top of this television order to get thirty minutes of programming.  This was much like the machine that controlled a vibrator on the bed. 🙂

This motel was across the street and of block away from the First Presbyterian Church on Kingston Street..  As a family, we were active in this church.   I have always been a Presbyterian!   While we never really talked about it, this Presbyterian church was an anchor for our family.  With my family and this church I discovered early in my life, to borrow from some creeds, “that I belong to God”.  Church became for me, through this First Presbyterian Church of Aurora, a second home.

I attended Sunday School classes and youth fellowship.  I sang in the youth choir.  I remember, as a fifth grader, shooting a rubber band at my dad who was a Sunday school teacher.   Everybody learned that he had quite the voice when it came to showing his temper.  I may not remember the lessons taught in those Sunday school classes, but engrained in my heart was this sense that I belonged – and family church were the core of this belief.

While we moved into different houses that my dad helped to build, this First Presbyterian Church remained my church home until I was ordained in 1977.  I remember the long Saturday morning sessions in confirmation class – and learning and memorizing the Westminster Shorter Catechism—confirmed in the mid-60’s.

I was introduced to worship leadership with the Rev. CVR DeYoung.   I would read scripture and sing an occasional solo with the choir.  Oh yes, private music lessons and choir under the direction of Ken Graham were an important part of my life in belonging to the church.

Rev. DeYoung and Rev. Meanor, the Assistant pastor, were always giving me opportunities to help lead worship.  This was unusual in the 60’s in Presbyterian Churches!  Rev. DeYoung once took me to his office on a Sunday morning.  Opening the closet door he pulled out a black and blue tie.  He had me pick one.  The paisley one I was wearing wasn’t appropriate for a worship leader.    I learned many things in leading worship.  For example, I must always sit with both feet flat on the floor in front of me.  These pastoral mentors saw what my parents always knew – I was a wiggly, squirmy kid always on-the move.   They also saw some potential in my becoming a leader in the church.  They may have been wondering:  “Would I become a pastor?”

From early in life, I learned that I belonged to God.  I was greatly influenced to be open minded, if you will, a progressive thinker.  I also learned to accept others from where they were in their faith journeys.  These teachings came from both church and family.  I had people around me, family and friends and mentors, who helped me recognize a “calling” to be an ordained pastor.

Now forty years after ordination I am turning 65.  Thanks to my mom and dad for introducing me to the church through baptism.  Thanks to the church for giving me a life-long sense that I belonged to God.  In retirement, I now have time to write about this journey – and what better place to write than in this blog.  There will be more to come!

If the Answer is “Yes.”

Words to help guide and inspire us in electing the next President of the United States.

Hold to the Good

I have resisted the temptation to weigh in more than I already have on the Donald Trump phenomenon because we are saturated. Television news and the newspapers can’t keep their eyes off of him and I confess that I watch the 7:00 a.m. news because I don’t want to miss the latest outlandish thing he has said or done. I am changing my mind about writing because I heard a superb sermon yesterday by the Rev. Shannon J. Kershner, at the Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago. Shannon skillfully inverted the traditional interpretation of Jesus’ parable of the persistent widow and unresponsive judge who finally gives the widow the justice she is pleading for simply to make her stop asking and go away. Shannon said that maybe God is not the judge here. We are the judge. God is speaking through the widow, persistently urging and pleading to us for justice…

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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?

 

The Emotions of Letting Go…..

Our 35 year old daughter, wife and mother writes a monthly article for the Mount Diablo Mother’s Club blog (www.mdmcmom.org).  She brought tears to the eyes of her mother and me in writing about her son, our grandson Thomas.        

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The emotions of letting go

Thomas has been in daycare and pre-school since he was one and a half. While it has gotten easier there are still days that it tears my heart out to walk away and leave him for a few hours at a time. I know the separation is good for him – and for me – but what is he doing while I am not there? Is he eating what he is supposed to? Is he making friends? Is anyone picking on him? Is he learning enough? Does he miss me? The questions are endless. Some days there are tears, but most days there are not. It is the days where he cries and says, “Mommy don’t go” that are the hardest. However the grief for him lasts maybe five minutes, for me it lasts a bit longer. On the hard days, I usually text his daycare provider a few minutes after I leave and ask if he has calmed down. He always does. She says the tears usually stop within minutes of me leaving. On these days that drop-off was so hard it is always exactly the opposite when I go to pick him up “no mommy I want to stay, I am having fun!”

I know this will never end. He will start elementary school and I will worry about him adjusting to the academic world and making friends. Middle school where I will worry about bullying and if he is listening to his teachers or just talking with his friends instead. High School where I will worry about his preparation for college or whatever life after high school will bring. College where I will have empty-nest sorrows and miss him terribly. When he gets his first job, I will worry if he is paying his bills on time? Is he impressing his boss?  Is he happy? I think it is in our nature as parents to worry and to have trouble letting our babies move on to each stage of their life with the fear that we might be left behind.

When the emotions start to get the best of me I just try and remind myself that I am raising a caring, independent and smart boy. He will always be my baby – through every up and down, even after he is long over the phase of telling me how much he loves me and hugging and kissing me with wild abandon. Part of being a parent is learning the balance between letting go and ensuring that our children know that we will love and support them no matter what.

So if you are facing the first days of daycare or school just know that it is normal to feel emotional. It is normal to go and sit in your car in cry. Heck, it is even okay to cry as you turn to walk away. They will be fine. They will still love us. They will thrive. 

 

Pastoral Rant in thinking about Trump, God, and the future….

This upcoming election has taken me into a dark place.  This upcoming Presidential election has taken me into a dark wilderness.  Where is the Promised Land?    Donald Trump has taken me, spiritually, into this dark space.   I fear for our nation.  I fear for our children and grandchildren!  I fear that the ways of the world we have enjoyed may come to an end!   Or can faith in an almighty power – GOD – help us recapture a path through this wilderness?  Can faith in the living Christ help us walk a path that leads us through trying times?

 I.  LIFE IN THE WILDERNESS—WITHOUT GOD

Donald Trump in his campaign to become President is projecting hatred and fear into the lives of people from coast to coast.  With all the struggles of the world surrounding us, Trump is giving uimple answers without serious solutions.   He is saying he is the “parent” who will make America great again!    How?  We don’ know.   I don’t hear the slightest hint that Trump knows what he’s doing.  In my opinions, he doesn’t have any credible leaders surrounding him.  We hear more deceitful lies than anything else.  And there are his taxes!  Trump won’t let anybody see his tax returns.  What is he hiding?

Tony Schwartz, the ghost writer of “The Art of the Deal” says:

 “Trump has the ability to convince himself that whatever he is saying at any given moment is true, or sort of true.” 

I need to hear Trump answer questions without dancing around avoiding serious answers.   I want to hear the truth.   I want to hear serious answers to questions about how our next President will lead us for the next four years!

I wonder what America will look like if Trump becomes President.  I sense our nation will become divided, once again, by race and religion and class.  People around the globe will no longer trust us.  Who knows what will happen with Donald Trump’s index finger just a few inches away from that button that can destroy the globe?   How are our global partners to relate with a nation that reaches a point of no longer caring for the globe?  Is this great experiment called “America” failing?  Are we losing our constitutional anchor?  If Trump is elected, what will happen to the ideals of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”?

Some have suggested that Donald Trump is on the road to becoming another Hitler.  I share this fear that Trump will become a Hitler-like global leader—and he may not even recognize this is the road he is leading us down.  Another topic for debate!

Donald Trump is fueling fires of hatred and fear.   People of many different walks of life are listening to this negative rhetoric.  Trump has created a ‘Cult’ with millions drinking from the cup of hatred, violence and division.  From the wilderness, I wonder if Donald Trump is leading us toward another civil war?

II.  FAITH IN GOD LEADING US THROUGH THE WILDERNESS

From a spiritual dark place, I now search for ways to think about this election knowing God is always with us.  What hope emerges from faith?  Scripture?  God?  Christ?  With my training as a Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian tradition with over forty years of experience, what do I/we as women and men  who believe in God need to teach?  Preach?  Where is God’s love and hope?  What are some of the biblical themes that can help us work with all this broken world throws our way?  With the help of some colleagues, several themes come to mind.   I acknowledge this is a rather short list of just a few of the positive things that emerge from scripture that can help women and men of faith live through these troubling times.

Preaching / Teaching Ideas:

1.  Let’s teach and preach advocacy for non-violence in managing conflicts.  Perhaps we also need to become non-violent “activists”, like Christ,  if we are to find our way through  darkness and wilderness periods In life? 

2. Let’s teach and preach “truth to power”.  I for one will re-read some of what Walter Wink has to say on this subject.  Where is the divine presence of Yahweh or Allah or God in our world?

 3.  Let’s recapture what it means to preach, without fear, the gospel of God’s love for all people of all walks of life—even those we may feel are our enemies.

I also lift up one of my favorite texts:  Philippians 4:6-7

“Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hears and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Each and every day, I commit myself to affirm God’s presence as a source of light in times when darkness consumes me.   On those days I fear this American Experiment is going to fail, I need to look to God for hope for God’s Will to prevail.  God (or whoever we believe is our divine foundation) is always going to travel with us leading us toward those things we believe God promises all people…..love and peace and hope and life and liberty and joy and freedom  —  and happiness!

Ending this rant I come back to an ancient, confessional question and my personal answer:  What is the Chief End of Humankind?   My chief end is to give glory to God and to find ways to enjoy God (and life God has given me) forever!

 

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.