Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Standing In The Way Of Someone's Ordination

I have longed to have someone in my congregation become a minister. I've encouraged, but never pushed, a parishioner to consider ministry.

It is a great life and I love it, and I occasionally meet others who seem so well suited for the ministry.

I asked Andy, when he became unemployed for the second time in a year, "Have you wondered if God is calling you to something new and different -- such as the ministry?"

"I'd be destitute," he said.

I asked Brenda, who seemed to love the church and her work on the Session.

"I don't think so," she said in a way that made me wonder if she would burst into laughter as soon as I left the room.

Charlie came to me and told me he wanted to become a minister. He went to our Session and the elders approved him to be sponsored before the Presbytery. He went to the Committee on the Preparation for Ministry of our Presbytery, and he was received as an Inquirer. He entered seminary and is on his way toward ordination.

One thing stands in his way.


I never would have imagined.

I'm not that confrontational. I like to be the good guy in life. I hate the thought of standing in the way of someone's dream.

But the more I get to know Charlie, the more I wonder if he is mentally stable. His wife is a bitter and angry woman. They seem to cause conflict wherever they go. I've caught Charlie in several small lies.

Already elders are asking if we should resind our support.

One elder who supports Charlie has said, "We have his life in our hands."

I agree -- this is serious.

Whatever we do, we have his life in our hands.

But this man shows signs of being mentally unbalanced. His wife is bitterly angry about everything in his life.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Divestment from Conflict - Investment in Peace

One of the things that excites or inflamed people about the Presbyterian Church is something called "Divestment."

Sounds so very boring.


It is a plan that was approved in 2004 for the Presbyterian Church (USA) to divest its holdings in companies profiting from Middle East conflict and war. So far, not a dime of our $8 billion dollar portfolio has actually been divested. But we have identified five companies that profit from the Mid-East conflicts -- Caterpillar Inc., Citigroup Inc., United Technologies Corp., Motorola Inc. and ITT Industries Inc. How much the church has invested in those companies has not been disclosed.

The companies do business that either assists the Israeli military or supports the infrastructure of Israel's West Bank settlements. Caterpillar, for instance, sells heavy equipment used in the demolition of Palestinian homes. Caterpillar says it has no control over how its products are used.

It seems to me that the issue of divestment has been largely misunderstood -- with many Jewish groups claiming Presbyterians are anti-Semitic and are divesting themselves of Israel.

As much controversy as this has created, I am pleased that the church is trying to avoid a bias toward Israel or Palestine -- but instead seeks a bias toward peace, which I believe was the intent of the 2004 proposal.

Friday, May 19, 2006

The Torch Has Been Passed To A New Generation.

I found this video on another blog -- Traci Marie. She just graduated from seminary and she once wrote about her relationship with one of her professors: "without dr. hunsinger, my seminary career would have been very different. he and i became friends when i ended up in his office in tears. he listened to me rant and cry about the fact that i couldn't get out of bed in the morning because the world was falling apart. wars and rumors of more wars. torture. election defeat. i told him that i thought i was going crazy because nobody seemed to care about torture."

Except for the fact that apparently she has not yet been introduced to the concept of Upper Case Letters, she gives me hope. When the Iraqi War was about to start, I marched in protest and felt so much alone. I frequently wondered what happened to the passion of those of us who grew up in the sixties. I understand now -- "the torch has been passed to a new generation."

Monday, May 15, 2006

Why Bother God With Prayer?

caliibre said in commenting on my post A PRAYER FOR MY SON, why bother? Does prayer help?

I read his blog, and he wrote a very interesting post on prayer. At one point he referred to people of prayer as "God Botherers."

I find that to be a wonderful phrase -- wonderful in the sense that I find myself considering and meditating and pondering those two words -- God Botherers.

Images flash through my mind.

Selfish prayers for new cars and comfort.

Passionate prayers for guidance.

Unselfish prayers for others.

Trivial prayers that trivialize God -- "Dear Lord, help me find my keys."

I think of God hearing our prayers, and I ponder that phrase, "God Botherer." I picture God looking like W. C. Fields responding to prayer with Field's famous comment, "Go away kid, you bother me."

Someone once said that our prayers often reduce God to be nothing more than a cosmic bellhop who is neither very bright, nor very reliable (search the Internet and see how many different people get credit for that quote).

I suspect God may be bothered by some of our prayers.

So back to caliibre and his question, "Why bother? Does prayer help?"

I believe that while God may be bothered by some prayers, He delights in others.

Does it help? I don't care. I'm not trying to give orders to God. He is not acosmic bell hop, nor is he Barbara Eden who comes rising from the Jennie's bottle saying, "Yes Master." He's the Master and He can do as He desires.

I pray not to get my way, but to move my spirit into the way of God.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Happy Mother's Day -- Maybe

My wife is sick -- which may be a good thing because a stomach virus will help keep her from thinking about Mother's Day.

Her own mother no longer remembers who she is.

Younger Son is going through grave problems -- the best way to describe it is to say "he's a teenager" and leave it at that.

Older Son is now stationed in Europe. Next stop for him will be Iraq -- so we are hoping that this son, who is far from home on this Mother's Day, will stay where he is.

For Older Son, being stationed at an Air Force Base in Europe is an adventure.

He called today to wish his mom a happy Mother's Day. "We went to Amsterdam last weekend. I'll email you the pictures. Not this week, but two weeks from now, we're going to Switzerland. And not the next week, but two weeks from that week, we go to Paris. And then not the next week, but two weeks after that, we go to Italy. And then not the next week, but two weeks after that, we go -- well, we'll figure out something."

After his mother hung up and rolled over to go back to sleep, he and I talked about how likely it is that he will be Iraq soon. That part of the conversation is not what you want to be talking about on Mother's Day.

Well, a lot of other Mother's have it worse.

Today was a great day in worship, and we mention Mother's Day -- but we don't make a big deal of it here. We ask the newest mothers to stand and be recongnized. Same for the grandmothers and greatgrandmothers.

I looked around the Sanctuary --

Paul's mother is in Iraq.

Quincy's mother died just a few months ago.

Rachel lost her baby just days before she expected the birth of her first child. Her pain is so great right now.

Sally is so happy today -- her first Mother's Day as a mom.

Terry has three kids, all Marines. I don't know where the oldest is right now, but one is in Korea and the other is in Iraq. She may not even be able to receive a telephone call from any of them today.

And then there is me, the "Apostle John." I tried to think of how long Mom has been dead. I start with "Hmmm, must have been 10 years." But no. Oldest Son was born after she died. So I think, "Must be 23 years" -- but that can't be right because that is how old my son is.

It has been 25 years come July 13.

Can't be that long.

But it is.

That's almost half my lifetime. I think about that for a moment. I calculate at what point in time my mother will have been dead for half of my life. Then I wonder why I did that.

I think this is one reason I have turned toward flower gardening in recent years. I feel Mom and Dad close to me when I'm outside playing in the dirt. I stand with a hose and water, and I can see my Mom doing that. I prune the roses, and I see Dad at work doing the same. And when I head back into the house, I can almost hear Mom say, "Don't you track in that mud into the house."

Some holidays are supposed to be joyful, but they also have the power to evoke sadness.

I think that is fine.

Some things ought to be so precious to us that the loss or absence of them ought to be reason for sadness.

But within that sorrow there should be wonderful and joyous memories.

While wife is sick in bed, I think about those memories and slowly savor them like a fine wine.

A family vacation.

First day of school.

Cooking a big Thanksgiving meal.

A joke she once told me.

I'm interupted by the phone. "Is that Oldest Son calling again?"

Nope -- it's Oldest Son's girlfriend. She was calling to wish my wife a happy Mother's Day.

She's the first one of Oldest Son's girlfriends to do that.

A reminder, I suppose, that families go on.

I wonder -- just how long will it be before there might be a wedding.

My thoughts turn from recalling the past to envisioning the future, and I begin to slowly savor each speculation like a fine wine.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

The Apostle John's Top Ten List Of What To Look For At General Assembly

A lot of non-Presbyterians read this blog, so let me explain a little bit about our church. Every two years the national level of our church gathers together to do the work of the national and international ministries. We call the gathering General Assembly.

OK, that is an over simplification, but it's good enough for now.

I'm going to General Assembly -- not as a voting commissioner but to observe and report -- and hopefully interpret in a correct and understandable way. I've done this for five previous General Assemblies. This year's General Assembly meets in Birmingham Alabama in mid-June.

One of the leaders of our denomination, Cliff Kirkpatrick, gives an annual top ten list of important up-coming events of the General Assembly.

He does a good job, but I always pout my own together -- in part because my congregation and I are interested in special and unique interests.

Every Presbyterian pastor and elder should take a look at the business before the General Assembly and come up with their own top ten.

Here is mine...

1. The Election of a New Moderator for General Assembly
This happens every year, but I believe this year will be the most crucial. We have 4 who have been nominated and they are all excellent -- but my personal favorite is Joan Gray. Why Joan? First, I know her. Second, she is a peacemaker who works well amidst conflict. Our denomination is often in conflict.

2. Peace, unity, and purity of the church
Our denomination will either come through the General Assembly more divided or more united because of the report being presented by the Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church. The report seeks to lead us into “peace, unity and purity” (as our ordination vows require of ministers, deacons and elders), but many on both the very liberal and very conservative sides of our church are rejecting this report.

3. The creation of the office of Minister of Education
There are extensive changes being proposed in the Book of Order that would call for a 4th ordained office – in addition to the Minister of the Word and Sacrament, Deacon and Elder, the new office would be the Minister of Education. There is also a proposal for an office of Educating Elder.

4. Divestment -- Are we working for peace? Do we hate Israel? Yikes - what a controversy.
The General Assembly of 2004 called for the church to "initiate the process of selective, phased divestment" from corporations the PC(USA) believes are impeding peace in the Middle East by profiting from the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory and the construction of the security barrier in Israel/Palestine, which many likened to the Berlin Wall. Many Jewish leaders called the church’s action anti-semitic and there was a great deal of misinformation in the secular press about this divestment. Over 20 overtures follow up on this action, most calling for an end to this divestment.

5. Haiti
General Assembly is full of things that some are passionate about, while others could not care less about. This is one such issue. Many will pay little attention to an overture being presented by the Presbytery of Tropical Florida, but our congregation has a vibrant interest in Haiti. We have regular mission trips to Haiti and several of our members are Haitian. The overture calls on the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to “express to the president and the Congress of the United States of America the church’s concern for the people of Haiti, to request the president and the Congress to address the political and social situation in Haiti with the resources available to our nation, to provide for welcome and relief for Haitian refugees, and to cease the current practice of immediate deportation of those who are attempting to escape the horror that exists in that troubled country.”

6. A New Provision for Immigrant Ministers.
Because of our congregation’s interest in immigrant ministry, we know from first hand experience some of the unique difficulties this ministry presents. Here in Tropical Florida we are always working with immigrant ministries, and a little bit of permissive elbow room would help. One of the overtures for a change in the Book of Order makes such transitions easier. The overture would amend G-11.0404 by adding a new section G-11.0404g: “In the case of immigrant ministries, presbyteries shall have broad latitude to recognize the ordination of ministers coming from developing countries with different practices of ordination and to recognize the ‘good standing’ of such ministers when it is attested to by members of their own communion or by members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The presbytery may, by three-fourths vote of those present, enroll such a minister as a member of the presbytery."

7. Financial and organizational concerns
The growing financial crisis at all levels of the church will be addressed with proposed budget reductions and new structures to carry out the work of the church at the General Assembly level.

8. What to do with G-6.0106b
What the heck is a G-whatever? It is a reference to a part of our church's rule book -- the Book of Order, which says deacons, elders and ministers have to be faithful in marriage or celebate in singleness. It is viewed as a restriction against ordaining active and self-proclaiming homosexuals. A substantial number of overtures are calling for the removal of this constitutional provision.

9. Building Relationships With Two Other Presbyterian Denominations
For the first time, the General Assembly of our Presbyterian Church (USA) will be meeting concurrently with assemblies of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church and the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America. There is no move toward organic union with these two smaller groups, but we often work well together in mission and publications or resources. While the business meetings will be held separately, there will be many worship and fellowship events held in common.

10. Anniversaries of Women in Ministry
This year is the 75th anniversary of the ordination of women as elders and the 50th anniversary of the ordination of women as ministers of the Word and Sacrament. This will be a significant focus at the assembly.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Remembering The Magic Of My Toys

I read something in someone else's blog.

She wrote, "I wish I had known the last time I was going to play as a child in the bathtub w/my ship and the little people. I used to have such a good time!! I wish I knew the last time I was going to play in the sandbox my dad made for me too. I used to LOVE playing in there. It was red, and had a cover, and was under a tree to give us some shade. I wish I knew the last time I was going to ride my childhood bike with the banana seat, and the girlie basket w/flowers. Just one are too big." I remember the day my toy soldiers turned to plastic.

They used to have a magic about them.

They weren't moveable. You couldn't dress them in different clothing. G.I.Joe's came out while I was a child, but most of the toys were simple. They were small plastic figures of men.
They came in several races. Not white or black, but green -- or whatever color their uniform came in.

Americans were green.

Japanese were beige.

Germans were light green, I think.

Russians were blue.

They were all World War II soldiers, which was great because everyone's Dad fought or did something in World War II. They were the living heroes of my youth and I always loved hearing their stories.

I would line up the soldiers and prepare them for battle. A crumpled piece of paper -- perhaps some old homework -- became a giant bolder. A baseball cap became a mountain. If I played outside, blades of grass were trees.

There were men who looked through binoculars, all sharing the exact same pose.

There were bazooka men, all kneeling in the exact same fashion.

There were men on the ground, aiming a rifle, in the exact same manner.

But they were somehow different. Each had a personality. Each represented somebody who was alive and struggling to keep the world safe.

It would take time to set up the battlefield, then the guns would fire.

Bullets could only travel on my finger tips.

A man would fire when I touched the end of his rifle, and in slow motion, my finger would move across the battlefield to find a victim, who would fall. Although he'd been lifeless before, he somehow became truly lifeless now.

The Americans would always win.

I packed my toy soldiers away when we moved to Georgia. I was in the 7th grade and that was the year I discovered an alternate universe called reality. David and I bought our fist Playboy magazine, and I've been in love with Dee Dee Lind ever since. He and I decided it was time for us to start dating, and since we didn't want to date each other, we double dated taking Mary and Kay to the movies to see "To Sir, With Love." I tried my first cigarette. I drank a few sips of Vodka.

Somehow in that move to Georgia, childhood was never unpacked.

I found my toy soldiers when we moved to South Carolina a year later. I took them out and set them up in a great, final battle.

When my father walked in, he knew he'd embarrassed me. He assured me that it was all right for an 8th grader to play with toys and quickly left me alone with my toys.

But it was too late.

The magic was gone.

They weren't men. They were pieces of plastic, nothing more.