Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Latest and the Timeless

An Inkling
Have you heard the latest?  Probably not.  Because the flow of information and news is so fast now that the latest has a shelf life of about ten minutes.
It is well to be informed.  But even if we could keep up with the latest, what would we have?  Not much.  The vast majority of it is rightly forgotten in a few minutes.  Marketers of the latest have successfully led us to expect that we simply must know what’s happening everywhere, and that we must know it now.  Really?
And maybe you’re smart enough to bring that off.  But given my own very limited brain power and time resources, I have decided that I won’t even try to keep up with the latest, but will avail myself of news summaries every day or two.  And as I wean off, maybe I’ll be able to move to every week or two.  That will be somewhere closer to the neighborhood of sanity.
Then to give a bit of perspective on the latest, I’m going to give more time and brain power to the timeless, and particularly to the words of Jesus:
  • Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
  • Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
  • Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
  • I am the vine, you are the branches.  Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.

Somehow those seem more worthy of thought than the latest tweets on who wore what to the Academy Awards, or the latest polls on who is winning the sequester debate.  Who is better informed – the one who knows the latest or the one who ponders the timeless?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Finding the Needle

An Inkling
Last fall, in preparation for the grand finale worship service of St. Giles’ 75th anniversary, I wanted to find out how they ordered worship in 1937, when our church began, and to shape our service that way.  So I went to the seminary library in search of examples. 
When I inquired at the desk, their eyes grew wide, and they sent me to the Reference Librarian, Paula Skreslet, saying, “she’ll know.”  And sure enough, she did!  She led me back into the voluminous archives, went to just the right section, and in a moment had an order of worship from St. Giles’ first year – just what I needed.
Any of the librarians could have shown me how to find something via a computer search of catalogued books, articles, etc.  But Paula was the one who knew where to find an uncatalogued needle in a whole row of haystacks!  What a gift – to be able to find the right knowledge at the right moment from a vast archive!  This was a woman who had lingered long in that treasure store of resources, and who, thus, knew her way around.
I was reminded of that this week when I was praying through Jesus’ Kingdom parables, and came to this one:  “He said, ‘Then you see how every student well-trained in God’s kingdom is like the owner of a general store who can put his hands on anything you need, old or new, exactly when you need it.’” (Mt. 13:52 in The Message.)
In a world where the haystacks of information are growing exponentially, one of the joys of Kingdom living is that it comes with the promise of timely wisdom from the vast treasures of God’s truth.  The Spirit himself gradually shows us how to find our way around the central store of that truth, the scripture.  And like with Paula, as we linger in its midst and learn to love it, the Spirit forms in us a knack for finding the right word at the right time, making God’s ancient truth newly relevant in our lives.  Even Google can’t do that!
Thanks Paula!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

When the Walk of Faith Feels Slippery

An Inkling
Six area congregations started on this path together, seeking to depart from the PCUSA for a new denomination.  Given the way our Presbyterian Constitution works, with Presbytery having oversight of congregations and final say on our property, it’s felt like a vulnerable place to be.  So it has been a blessing to have some partners to walk with on this slippery part of the path.  We’ve prayed with and for each other, and have sought to steady each other as we’ve walked.
Now there is news in the paper this morning that New Hanover Church, one of the six, was told on Sunday that their Session is being replaced, and that the property will be for the minority portion of the congregation that wants to stay in the PCUSA.  You can read the news account yourself at: Times Dispatch report.
I have my own opinions about who was right and wrong, wise and foolish in this.  But there is much I don’t know, and I’m sure no one knows the whole story, not even the New Hanover or Presbytery leaders.  So judgments, and certainly condemnations, are best left to the One who does know the full story.  Gratefully, quotes in the paper show both sides speaking with a good measure of grace about each other.
This has all put me to pondering on this slippery part of our path of faith.  How is it that our earnest efforts to follow the Lord put us on parting paths at points?  There are many human explanations.  But somehow the Lord superintends all of this.  Indeed, Jesus said that his coming would bring division.  See Luke 12:49-53.  The sadness of all such parting must be tempered by our trust in the One whose ways (and grace!) are beyond our own, and will finally bring us together.
All along St. Giles folks have asked me whether we would lose our property, and I’ve told them, “No, I don’t think so.”  Our straw poll meeting three weeks ago lends credence to that supposition (278 yes, 8 no, and 7 abstentions).  But after sixteen months in this process, we are just now getting to talk with Presbytery about such things, and we’ll have to see.  New Hanover Church has reminded us that we’re in a vulnerable place, which as far as I can tell from scripture, is not a bad place to be when you’re trying to follow Jesus.  The Beatitudes come to mind.  If, in his providence, we, too, lose our physical place, we can trust that his blessings will hold.
Scripture is clear:  God will be glorified.  We’d all like to think that he would be glorified because of us and not in spite of us.  But clearly it is always some of both – which only adds to his glory.
Pray for those at New Hanover Church – both those departing and those remaining.  Pray for the Presbytery, and for the Administrative Commission working with St. Giles.  They have a hard task.  And pray for your Elders.  They feel a great weight of responsibility as we try to follow Jesus on this slippery part of the path.  Those are all prayers that you can know the Lord will answer in ways wiser than we know to ask!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A Big Step Backwards

An Inkling
Many of us have been helped along the way at some point by a “12 step group.”  The 12 steps originated with Alcoholics Anonymous, but their helpfulness for recovery in general has led many groups to adapt them, from Narcotics Anonymous to sex abuse victims groups. 
Just as the 12 steps can be a tool to guide us, so their antitheses can be a jolt to awaken us to our destructive patterns of behavior.  These negative 12 steps are borrowed from Steps, a magazine for 12 step groups.  Enjoy a laugh with the “12 Steps to Total Insanity”:
1.  We admitted we were powerless over nothing.  We could manage our lives perfectly and we could manage those of anyone else that would allow it.
2.  Came to believe that there was no power greater than our­selves, and the rest of the world was insane.
3.  Made a decision to have our loved ones and friends turn their wills and their lives over to our care.
4.  Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of everyone we knew.
5.  Admitted to the whole world at large the exact nature of their wrongs.
6.  Were entirely ready to make others straighten up and do right.
7.  Demanded others either “shape up or ship out.”
8.  Made a list of anyone who had ever harmed us and became willing to go to any lengths to get even with them all.
9.  Got direct revenge on such people whenever possible except when to do so would cost us our own lives, or at the very least, a jail sentence.
10.  Continued to take inventory of others, and when they were wrong promptly and repeatedly told them about it.
11.  Sought through nagging to improve our relations with others as we couldn’t understand them at all, asking only that they knuckle under and do things our way.
12.  Having had a complete physical, emotional and spiritual breakdown as a result of these steps, we tried to blame it on others and to get sympathy and pity in all our affairs.
As they say:  one step forward....
And 12 steps backward!