Monthly Archives: December 2008

Jesus was born to save all Creation.   We even sing about this on Christmas Eve – just look at all the nature imagery in “Joy to the World” – but it doesn’t makes sense for most of us.  Why (especially if we assume that salvation is only about getting into heaven) would the earth need a savior?  The reason is that we easily forget that sin and its effects extend beyond humanity.  From what does creation need to be saved? Answer: the effects of human sin.

Holy GroundIt’s the week after Christmas and I’ve been reading a lot about creation-care or environmental stewardship in preparation for the class that Eileen and I will be teaching at Hampton Presbyterian Church.  I’ve found some good resources and some bad ones.  The most enjoyable so far has been Holy Ground: A Gathering of Voices on Caring for Creation.  My favorite essay in it so far is by Patriarch Bartholomew of the Orthodox Church.  In it he writes, “The Ecumenical Patriarchate believes that the burning issue of the environment must be addressed at its root.  And the root of this problem is the root of so many other problems: humanity” (p.33).  It is our own human greed and selfishness that has led to the destruction of the earth.  He then goes on to quote St. Maximus the Confessor from the seventh century, “we should wage war not against the natural world, which has been created by God, but against those movements and energies of the essential powers within each of us that are disordered and unnatural and hostile to the natural world” (p. 37).

Later in Holy Ground, Brian McLaren makes the same point: “Air, soil, and water show ugly symptoms of our own inner pollution; they suffer because of the greed, arrogance, lust, ignorance and hate that pollute our hearts and cultures” (p.168).  Also consider the story Ken Wilson tells in his book Jesus Brand Spirituality of an environmental scientist who told him, “The main threats to the environment are not biodiversity loss, pollution, and climate change, as I thought once.  They are selfishness and greed and pride.” (p. 59)

Eileen and I will be talking about practical tips for living eco-friendly lives in each class we teach, but I’m increasingly becoming convinced that not only is creation-care a spiritual discipline, but spiritual disciplines are also a means of caring for creation.  What if Sabbath, simplicity, and fasting were the starting points of a Christian ethic of caring for the earth?

I wrote this poem six years ago, thinking back to an event that happened in high school. I was driving through the desert between Grand Junction and Delta (CO), listening to music that was singing about “Immanuel”. Then it hit me: God is with us. Here and now. God is with us. And thus the poem.  Merry Christmas!


On the last day of Advent

How inexplicable is the joy that rushes over me,
bursting from all corners of my being, seeing
a twilight illuminated at last by bright sun
over the snow-dusted desert plateau,
shining brilliantly through a red stained glass ball,
which hangs on a pine tree next to this highway.

I’ve never felt so not completely alone.

Strings and choirs sing praises of this
magical mystical above all mysterious moment
when and where I felt and feel the majesty of
Incarnation fully realized for seemingly the first time,
in this torn tattered tainted heart of mine.

Never before have I been brought to tears
by the sheer joy that comes with comfort of agape.
Never again will we be separated by my hard-hearted
reluctance to step from shadows, for at last I know
the meaning of Immanuel.

And tonight, though the sun silently sets
on this solitary tree in the desert,
we will light the wreath’s fifth candle,
white wax and flame like the desert’s snow,
and celebrate the peace of advent.

Three nights ago, while at work at 61C Cafe, I stumbled across a beautiful testimony to hope.  While straightening up the shelves where people leave fliers and advertisements and picking up old newspapers, I found a copy of the Squirrel Hill Magazine with a hand-written message on it in blue ink.  This is what it read: 

I’m so thankful for this life.  I was blessed with such a great life. I hate how often I find myself whining incessantly, yearning for something different.  I love where I am in life and who I’m with and what my purpose is.  I wish I would have come to this realization earlier so I would have shared it with more people.  Suicide should never be an option and I’m disgusted that I ever thought it could be my escape.  I love life. I LOVE LIFE! I love life, and I love you!  Thank you.  Thank you God for blessing me with life.

How amazing is this?!  First of all, praise God that this person found the joy in life in that moment  to want to stay alive.  It reminds me of the Kate Hurley song “Tree Branch”.  In the song, she describes the depression she feels when looking at a blooming tree and realizing that it doesn’t move her as it once did.  Then she sings “I’ll tie a rope and make a swing, and I’ll fly high and wide.  I’ll laugh and throw my head back, and choose to be alive.”  Whether s/he knows it or not, I believe this note about choosing to be alive , left on a random magazine cover, is a testimony to new life in Christ.  

Second of all, notice how anonymous the message is:  There’s no reference to anyone by name, place, or even gender.  As Eileen pointed out, it’s a bit like PostSecret, a random confession, written in a medium accessible to strangers, but (perhaps) not in a way that’s accessible to a person’s most intimate relationships.  Perhaps this person felt the need to express that joy, but how much richer would it have been if expressed into community?  Who will celebrate with this person?  Who will confirm that it is God who loves and sustains them?

I just finished watching the Modcast, the webcast which Bruce Reyes-Chow did today in conversation with Beau Weston about the “Rebuilding the Presbyterian Establishment” paper.  (See previous posts here and here.)   I was grateful that Bruce and Beau took the time to discuss this, and excited to see the voices of so many friends in the forum.  I’m thankful that Beau wrote the paper and see where he’s coming from, but still think the paper is incomplete.  If the church is called to give itself for the sake of mission, it needs people with missionary mindsets leading the denomination.  Tall-steeple pastors may have the organizational strengths necessary to run the bureaucracy of our denomination, but the missing piece in the paper is the missional vision. 

At the Presbyterian Global Fellowship conference in Long Beach last August, Charles Wiley commented to me that PGF is the only example in recent history of tall-steeple pastors taking leadership in the PC(USA).  He’s right.  But they’re tall-steeple pastors who are starting to think more like missionaries.  Functionally, a leader should not just maintain structures or enable processes to run smoothly.  A leader should be able to cast vision, and in the case of any church, that vision has to be about making disciples.  In our context, that means the “tall-steeple” style pastors whom the paper suggests should lead the denomination need to be capable of thinking beyond maintenance towards growing the Kingdom of God.  Add that to the paper and then I think some of its ideas have serious potential.

Again, thanks Bruce and Beau for putting that together!

After an exciting weekend retreat of reflection on the vision for The Upper Room, we’re back in Pittsburgh, and getting ready for the next prayer-service.  The theme this time is “O Come O Come Emmanuel” and we’re going to include some Advent-themed prayer stations at this one.   The service is at 2:00pm this Saturday, December 13th, at  Waverly Presbyterian Church  on the corner of Forbes and BraddockAll are invited, so feel free to come.  You can also check out the event page on Facebook for more info.

Eileen and I are movie stars . . . at least of the Christian education promotional video variety.  In January we’re going to be teaching a class on faith and the environment up at Hampton Presbyterian Church.  My friend Brian Wallace, an associate pastor there, made a video of us to promote the class.  Watch it here.

The outline for the class goes as follows:

January 4th:  Genesis 2 and God’s Charge to us to Care for Creation

January 11th: The Psalms: The Beauty of Creation Inspires us to Praise God

January 18th:  Resurrection, Easter, and the Environment

January 25th: The End of the World: “Ball of Fire” or “New Heaven and New Earth”? 

Each week I’ll open the class by presenting a lesson which explains biblically and theologically why we’re called to care for the environment, then Eileen will provide practical tips on how to live an environmentally- friendly life.  I can’t wait!

I just finished reading The Tangible Kingdom, by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay.  I loved this book because it reminded me why I wanted to be a church-planter.  Hugh (who wrote most of the book) and Matt are two of the leaders of Adullam, a community in Denver.  From the very beginning, the book exudes a love for being with the people Halter calls “Sojourners” – the un-churched, de-churched, spiritually-seeking, spiritually-not-seeking, or anyone else who hasn’t already fallen in love with and decided to follow Jesus.  That love for Sojourners is contagious.

Halter identifies two processes in the missionary life: “living out” and “inviting in”.  Chapters 14 through 21 each talk about the practices of living out a missionary life, of which “leaving, living among, listening to, and loving with no strings attached” (p. 124) are practices for “living out”.  I identified most with this portion of the book because that’s where I see God most clearly at work in my life right now: living out my calling as a barista.  Three or four times per week I head up to 61C and spend the evening serving coffee.  In the process I get to have conversations with people I never would have met otherwise.   I talk with coworkers about whatever comes up (which, joyfully for me, turns toward theology whenever I work with Jamie or Dana).  Customers talk to us as though to bartenders, sharing stories from their lives and welcoming us into their worlds.  And (fitting for the title of the book) this is where I feel like I am most tangibly engaged in ministry – far from anything that resembles a typical church service.  

And this is what’s starting to happen:   One of our regulars goes by “The Colonel”.  He’s a retired military man and lawyer with a dirty sense of humor who comes in every evening for 16 ounces of coffee in a 20oz cup.  I never quite know what to do with him.  Sometimes we chat about golf, the weather, his friends, his life.  Other times I have to stand between him and my female coworkers so that he doesn’t pester them with lewd comments.  He was surprised to learn that I was a pastor, but quickly told me ministry was a holy duty that I should be revered.  Now he calls me “Reverend” when he comes in and then tells me dirty jokes while I get his coffee. 

Two nights ago, the Colonel asked me where my church held its worship services.  I told him it’s a house-church right now, but that we were working towards gathering in a larger worship space sometime next year.  He asked a few more questions, before finally saying “Well, I’d like to come sometime, Reverend.” 

This was a milestone.  But now it begs the question, how do we at “The Upper Room” handle the “inviting in” portion of living out the missionary calling?  Halter and Smay talk about the importance of sharing food, friends, and life, and The Upper Room does this.  But the natural context for sharing food, friends, and life for the Colonel is 61C.   How would the Colonel feel joining us for one of the Sunday evening house-church worship gatherings we’re talking about beginning in a few weeks?  Or wouldn’t it be better to invite him to a meal sometime?  What are the next steps on this journey?

I don’t have answers to any of these questions yet, but I’m excited to be at a place where they’re coming up.  My guess is that the retreat we’re taking next weekend will help us as a community think through some of them.  Either way, I rejoice right now to be where we’re at on this journey.  Pray for wisdom for us, and pray that the Spirit will keep blowing through Pittsburgh, making the Kingdom more and more tangible here everyday.