Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Kentucky Wrestles With Religious Dates in Classrooms - Christianity Today Magazine

Kentucky Wrestles With Religious Dates in Classrooms - Christianity Today Magazine:
by Michael Jennings, Religion News Service

Kentucky's state school board has apparently resolved a spat over historical date references in social studies classes, but not before the state's governor, facing an uphill re-election bid, seized on the issue.
Earlier this year, staff at the Kentucky Department of Education proposed substituting C.E. (Common Era) for A.D. and B.C.E. (Before the Common Era) for B.C. in draft curriculum guidelines for high school and middle school social studies classes.

In April, the statewide education board restored A.D. and B.C. to the guidelines, but only after including both systems — B.C./B.C.E. and A.D./C.E. The school board is expected to take final action in June on the voluntary guidelines, which spell out key concepts students are expected to master in all grades and subjects. ...
This seems like a reasonable solution to the problem. It exposes students to the fact that different cultures look at dates in different ways, yet acknowledges the equally significant fact that there is one standard dating system worldwide, and it is historically based on an event that occurred about 2000 years ago.

Look at the cornerstone of a synagogue, mosque, and a church, and you will see three different dating systems, each based on different historical points in time. To pretend that these cultural distinctions don't exist is to allow ideology to trump reality. Kentucky seems to have chosen well here.

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Tuesday, May 30, 2006

GA 217 Background from PC(USA) News Service

[May 30, 2006 Added new link]
[June 1, 2006 Added new link]

Here are the first three (of several more, I hope) installments of General Assembly background information written by Jerry Van Marter. When more are issued I will add them to the list and bump this posting to the top of the list.

May 22 -- General Assembly backgrounder: Theological Task Force

May 23 -- General Assembly backgrounder: Ordination standards

May 24 -- General Assembly backgrounder: the Mission Work Plan

May 30 -- General Assembly backgrounder: Abortion

June 1 -- General Assembly backgrounder: Middle East peace and divestment

PC(USA) - Presbyterian Disaster Assistance - Indonesia Earthquake - May 30, 2006

PC(USA) - Presbyterian Disaster Assistance - Indonesia Earthquake - May 30, 2006:
Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is following the situation in Indonesia following powerful earthquake in the country's Central Java province on May 27, 2006. In the few hours since the quake hit, the death toll has risen into the thousands. Presbyterian Mission Co-Workers Bernie and Farsijana Adeney-Risakotta living in Yogyakarta are okay.
Here is an update of what Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is doing in response to the earthwuake on Indonesia over the past weekend. If you navigate to the page linked above, there are opportunities for giving listed.

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Monday, May 29, 2006

Memorial Day, 2006

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved,
And mercy more than life!
America! America!
May God thy gold refine,
Till all success be nobleness,
And every gain divine.

-- Katharine Lee Bates, 1904
Today we remember and honor those who lost their lives in military service to our country.

We pray for a day when such sacrifices are vindicated by the end of warfare between nations and factions.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Gruntled Center: A Standard is a Standard Even If Exceptions Are Allowed

Gruntled Center: A Standard is a Standard Even If Exceptions Are Allowed:
"...The main mechanism [of resolving conflicts] is to trust each presbytery to ordain well. That ordination is for the whole church. However, if a minister wants to "labor within the bounds" of another presbytery, he or she must be examined and approved by that new presbytery. The second presbytery can't change an ordination granted by the first one, but it can say, "you may be ordained for the whole church, but you can't work in this corner of the church." This is a long-established tradition of the Presbyterian Church in this country, going back to the first synod in 1729. ..."
Beau Weston, who has written before on Presbyterian conflicts, posted this today. It serves a a timely reminder that adoption of the TFPUP report by the 217th General Assembly will not change things as drastically as some would have us believe.

The Task Force report is by no means a slam dunk. Its recommendation that no overtures relating to the removal of G-6.0106b be passed by this year's General Assembly was met with over 20 overtures that urged just that. All but one of these overtures come from presbyteries with a history of strong opposition to G-6.0106b.

I suspect that peace and unity will be difficult to achieve with both ends of the spectrum urging the rejection of some or all of the recommendations of the Task Force on the Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Presbyterian Church.

But, with God's help, the prayers of the people, and commissioners willing to heed the urgings of the Holy Spirit, things can work out.

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Saturday, May 27, 2006

Book Review: The Presbyterian Handbook

The Presbyterian Handbook
Geneva Press (2006)
List Price: $14.95 $10.17 (as of May 27, 2006)

There was a box of these hip-pocket-sized books at the May 16 meeting of the Presbytery of Missouri Union. I was intrigued, and at $10 a copy I didn't have to think too long about it.

This short volume is written for "...Presbyterian youth, adults, students, families, and all those interested in learning about much of what encompasses life in the church."

Along with such practical suggestions as "How to Stay Alert in Church" (if all else fails, pinch yourself), "What to Bring to a Church Potluck by Region" (tofu is big on the West Coast), and "How to Avoid Getting Burned at the Stake" (one suggestion is to avoid public heresy), there are serious sections on Church and Presbyterian history, including what it is that defines us as Reformed Christians and Presbyterians and those much-maligned and often-misunderstood beliefs about predestination. Here, according to this book, is what predestination is NOT (page 117):
  • Fatalism. "It makes no difference what I do if I'm not predestined by God for salvation."
  • Determinism. "I have no real choices to make in life and no freedom because my life has been predestined."
  • An excuse to live it up. "Since I don't know if I am among the elect, I might as well just do what I want and enjoy myself in life."
  • An excuse to coast along. "I'm a member of the church, so I must be 'elect'. I can coast along in life doing as I please, since my salvation is assured."
  • An excuse not to spread the gospel. "If God has already determined who will be saved, there is no need to preach the Gospel."
It goes on to describe what predestination IS, and how to explain it to your friends. There is a prominent disclaimer in this section that "it may take multiple readings -- and time -- to understand this concept."

Much of the book is in the form of lists -- ten Bible heroes, sixty essential Bible passages, the five wierdest laws, and so forth.

The list of ten Bible villains contains the usual suspects -- Satan, Judas, Jezebel -- but also includes God's People with this explanation:
"They whine, they sin, they turn their backs on God over and over again. When given freedom, they blow it. When preached repentance by God's prophets, they stone them. When offered a Savior, we kill him. In the end, it must be admitted, God's people -- us! -- don't really shine. Only by God's grace and the gift of faith in Jesus Christ do we have hope." -- page 136
And then there are the five grossest stories.... On second thought, let's not go there. Teenage boys will love it, though. And they will turn to their Bibles.

Overall I found this book to be engaging, informative, witty, and serious. It could be used well in confirmation classes, but I suspect that many adults would find things in The Presbyterian Handbook that they didn't already know. It is well worth reading.

Friday, May 26, 2006

The Tiger in the Academy - Christianity Today Magazine

The Tiger in the Academy - Christianity Today Magazine:

By Tim Stafford

Tonight, three of the largest Christian fellowships at the University of California, Berkeley, have arrived at First Presbyterian for a joint meeting. Hundreds of students, dressed in running shoes, jeans, and sweatshirts, spill into the sanctuary. A band warms up while students slap hands and hug. InterVarsity Christian Fellowship has invited Campus Crusade for Christ and Asian American Christian Fellowship to hear a special speaker.

Excitement like this would characterize a large Christian gathering at Berkeley during any era. One fact, however, would certainly startle earlier generations. About 98 percent of this gathering is Asian American.

At Berkeley, California's premier public university, "evangelical Christian" and "Asian American" are almost interchangeable descriptions. Three trends come together. One is California's demographics: It is 11 percent Asian compared to 4 percent for the nation as a whole. Two is academic prestige: As the oldest and most selective campus of the University of California, Berkeley has an undergraduate population that is 42 percent Asian. (As a general rule, the more selective the school, the higher the percentage of Asian students.) Three is a national fact: Asian students are more likely to show Christian commitment than other ethnic groups, including whites. ...
Here is a fairly long and quite interesting article about Asian-American Christians in higher education. The above excerpt gives a bit of the flavor of this article, which goes on to discuss the factors that characterize this group, not the least of which are the family relationships that are so important in many Asian cultures ("Honor your father and mother" in tension with "I need to do what's right for me").

This also provides us a subtle reminder that European-American Christians are not the center of world-wide Christianity, which is difficult for those of us who style ourselves as "mainline" to accept.

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Thursday, May 25, 2006

PC(USA) - News Service - General Assembly backgrounder: the Mission Work Plan

PC(USA) - News Service - General Assembly backgrounder: the Mission Work Plan:
by Jerry L. VanMarter

“This Mission Work Plan completely changes the way the General Assembly Council does its work,” said GAC Executive Director John Detterick. “It moves us away from looking at our mission administratively and toward looking at our mission directionally — from the minutiae to the big picture.”

GAC member John Bolt of Charleston, WV, who worked on the plan, says two themes characterize the new plan: an emphasis on partnership and strengthening congregations.
PNS has been issuing a series of "backgrounder" reports on what the upcoming 217th General Assembly will be dealing with. This one deals with the new Mission Work Plan, and summarizes the main points.

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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

What the Teaching Can Teach Us - Christianity Today Magazine

What the Teaching Can Teach Us - Christianity Today Magazine:
by William Varner

The telephone call came just after we had finished our evening meal at the Knight's Palace Hotel in the Old City of Jerusalem in May 2005. The message instructed me to come now to the library of the Greek Orthodox patriarch if I wanted to see the manuscript. I changed my clothes quickly and scurried through the labyrinthine lanes of the Old City. After entering the Greek Orthodox monastery, I made my way to the library. Soon, the librarian delivered what I had waited years to see—a 950-year-old, 200-page manuscript containing, along with a dozen other early writings, a little work only 10 pages long. Its name is the Didache (the "Teaching," pronounced "didakhay"), short for The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles. While no one believes that any of the twelve apostles wrote it, scholars agree that the work is a faithful transmission of the apostles' teaching, intended primarily for the training of Gentile believers.
It is useful to remember that not all the apocryphal writings were rejected from the canon because of false doctrine. The Didache is among the writings that were not held to be canonical, yet it provides a glimpse of what was going through the minds of late first century Christians. Other such writings include The Shepherd of Hermas and the Epistles of Clement, which were held in fairly high repute by the early Church leaders, but were not made a part of the canon. These writings were generally included under the "Apostolic Fathers", and dated from the first and second centuries. Their theology was similar to that which is reflected in the canonical books of the New Testament.

This story in Christianity Today summarizes a few of the teachings, among which is a passage on baptism which lists immersion or pouring among the methods. From the short quote provided, it does not resolve the question whether infants ought to be baptised.

Those who are interested can obtain a translation of the Didache (among other texts) in a book title The Apostolic Fathers in English (Baker, 2006) by Michael W. Holmes.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

PC(USA) - News Service - Linda Bryant Valentine elected to head GAC

PC(USA) - News Service - Linda Bryant Valentine elected to head GAC:
by Jerry L. Van Marter

CHICAGO — A lifelong Presbyterian and corporate lawyer has been tapped as the next executive director of the General Assembly Council (GAC), the national mission program arm of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

By a vote of 41-13 with one abstention, the council elected Linda Bryant Valentine at a special meeting here May 23. If confirmed by the upcoming 217th General Assembly in Birmingham, AL, Valentine will succeed retiring executive director John Detterick on July 1.
Linda Valentine has a challenging job ahead of her, and I hope it goes well for her. The article, among other things, highlighted her involvement with a micro finance network that made over 1 million loans last year in 28 countries. These small loans give hope to many.

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Monday, May 22, 2006

Georgia to Teach Bible - Christianity Today Magazine

Georgia to Teach Bible - Christianity Today Magazine:
Democrats and Republicans disagreed about what to use as a textbook.
by James Jewell in Atlanta | posted 05/19/2006 09:30 a.m.

Georgia recently became the first state to call for elective public high-school courses about the Bible. The new bill, passed overwhelmingly in late March and signed by Gov. Sonny Perdue in April, allows for the state school board to develop a curriculum by February 2007.

State Sen. Doug Stoner, a Democrat, said, "Students need to know the Bible to understand Western civilization and Western literature."

Democrats had proposed using The Bible and Its Influence as the course's textbook. But Republicans—who control both houses of the Georgia legislature—required that the Bible itself be used. Local school districts, teachers, and even students will decide what version of the Bible to use as a textbook.
It really isn't a matter of great controversy that Biblical literacy is a great adjunct to understanding history, literature, and the United States form of government. The question is how will the Bible be taught and how will this be carried out without the government "endorsing" a particular religion.

This is a year evenly divisible by two -- that means U.S. Congressional elections, and for most states, statewide and local elections. This may account for the fact that Georgia Democrats and Republicans are promoting their two options in an exclusive sort of way. At least it isn't a year evenly divisible by four. ...

The textbook in question being proposed by the Democrats was written to stay within the bounds set by the U.S. Constitution, and at the same time teach how the Bible influenced many spheres of human endeavors. Many Evangelical Christians support this book, and are more than happy to see it used in such a way. But the Republicans have a valid point, too -- the Bible itself should be part of the currcular material.

If teachers and students use the textbook by itself, then they might learn only what the textbook has to say about the Bible. If the Bible is the sole text, then they are deprived of important perspectives on how Biblical themes influenced authors, poets, and politicians.

Why not use both? Use the textbook, but allow students to bring their own Bibles to class. Have some Bibles on hand for those who don't have one at home. Don't worry about versions. The important thing is to encourage students to go to the source when given the opportunity. And I imagine there will be plenty of opportunities in such a course to refer to the Bible itself.

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Saturday, May 20, 2006

PC(USA) - News Service - Bequest will fund jeopardized mission co-worker positions

PC(USA) - News Service - Bequest will fund jeopardized mission co-worker positions:
Woman's unrestricted gift saves 15 missionaries' jobs
by Jerry L. Van Marter

LOUISVILLE — A large unrestricted bequest from a Presbyterian woman will be used to maintain the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)'s overseas missionary force at its current level, General Assembly Council (GAC) Executive Director John Detterick said today (May 19).

The bequest comes on the heels of a May 1 GAC downsizing and restructuring that reduced the PC(USA)'s full-time missionary staff from 275 to 235 and threatened to shrink it further. The 40 positions were eliminated by attrition without pulling any missionaries from the field.

When it adopted the May 1 reorganization in late April, the GAC announced that the missionary force would have to be further reduced by at least 15 persons unless additional funding was found.

No further comment is necessary, except to urge you to read the full article.

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Thursday, May 18, 2006

PC(USA) - News Service - Survey: Protestant pastors, laity differ on spending priorities

PC(USA) - News Service - Survey: Protestant pastors, laity differ on spending priorities:
by Preetom Bhattacharya
Religion News Service

WASHINGTON — A survey of Protestant ministers and churchgoers shows significant differences in the ways the groups would spend an unexpected surge in income in their churches.

The top priority for ministers was to improve church facilities. About half as many laypeople agreed, but they would also want to retire church debt and help the needy....

Ron Sellers, president of Ellison Research, said the differing priorities were a reflection of perspective, with “the typical layperson (having) very little idea of what it takes to run a ministry, and ministers sometimes (losing) sight of what’s important to people in the congregation.”...
It's interesting that there is this wide a gulf between ministers and congregation members. In the Presbyterian Panel surveys, which are generally broken down between members, elders, pastors, and specialized clergy, the big difference is generally between the two minister categories.

But one important lesson is that our perspectives are perhaps a little narrower than they should be. The one that affects me the most is the difference in viewpoint between the Finance and Mission committees.

Is this all bad? I don't think so. This kind of tension between viewpoints is healthy, and leads to responsible stewardship and effective mission (as long as both sides are willing to be flexible).

There are other tensions that are not so healthy -- ones that do not lead to strengthing the Body -- ones that are NOT characterized by Christian love and forbearance on either side. These are issues where nothng less than total victory of one side or the other is acceptible (to the winners, at least). Yet the PC(USA) seems to spend an inordinate amount of time, energy and resources dealing with issues that are not resolvable. (And before you jump to conclusions, there is more than one issue that can be described in this way...)

We are a diverse denomination, but there is far more that unites us than divides us. Let's spend more time on our unity.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Is The "Disconnect" Narrowing?

For a number of years the word "disconnect" has been used to describe the relationship with the people in Louisville and the people in the congregations. A common complaint has been "Louisville just doesn't get it!"

After having had the opportunity to listen to Rick Ufford-Chase (moderator, 216th GA) earlier in the week and representatives of GAC, presbytery and synod at yesterday's meeting of the Presbytery of Missouri Union, I believe that the folks in Louisville and the members of GAC are starting to "get it".

Several positive impressions:
  • The existing "silos" are being eliminated in favor of a structure built around the eight mission objectives GAC adopted earlier this year. Previously, there were four divisions: Congregational, National, and Worldwide Ministries Divisions as well as a Mission Support Division. There were turf struggles, and I suspect some duplication of efforts. These four divisions are being eliminated in favor of a flatter organization.
  • The GAC is going from 72 to 39 voting members over the next few years (as terms expire), and they will shift focus from adminstering program to providing vision for the PC(USA). The members will also not be separated into particular areas, with little awareness of what the other areas are doing and thinking.
  • There is a recognition that our denomination needs renewal, and that renewal in incapable of being initiated from above. It must occur first at the local levels. When congregations are strengthened, then the whole denomination is strengthened. GAC seems to see their role as enabling the more local entities to be the Church.
Mixed news:
  • Overall giving, adjusted for inflation, is up about 4 %, while the flow of funds from the congregations upstream is down by a significantly greater percent. Mission is being done at greater levels; the change is that mission dollars are not all flowing through PC(USA) channels.
Ongoing concerns:
  • 75 employees lost their jobs with most of them coming into work May 1 and learning that they would not be returning Tuesday. The generous severance packages help, but this was a major blow to all concerned. Whatever opinions I have over individual terminations (and yes, I do have a few opinions), I choose not to second-guess GAC on this. I really do not have the knowledge to make an informed assessment. I do feel that Christian compassion and prayer is in order here.
  • There is still a bit of a mixed message being put out. GAC has made it clear that evangelism and witness to Jesus Christ in the world is a major part of the PC(USA) mission, but we are on the verge of losing 55 overseas mission workers. Joining Hearts and Hands has as one of its goals the funding of mission personnel, but its performance has been disappointing. People are confused as to where we are headed with this.
I think that is enough for now. I feel that things are moving in the right direction as far as our understanding of our mission is concerned. I hope that the changes taking place in Louisville and the GAC will result in more focus on doing what God calls us to do.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

A Fine Day at Presbytery

Here are two photos from today's Missouri Union Presbytery meeting. Mike Kruse (GAC, Kruse Kronicle) was there, along with John Williams (Synod of Mid America Executive) and John Detterick (GAC Executive Director, via phone link) were there and spoke effectively on the recent GAC budget, mission plan, and layoffs.

Two bloggers meet at Presbytery -- A dangerous combination...

Mike chats with two presbyters after the GAC presentation

I'll post more later; I need to eat and head to Session for another two hours of doing it decently and in order.


One of the great joys in serving on my congregation's Candidate Care Committee is participating in the processes of helping members clarify their calls from God. One of our inquirers was examined for candidacy at Presbytery, and is now a candidate. He will be doing an internship over the summer in the Dominican Republic and a pastoral internship this coming academic year. He will also complete his final year at Princeton.

I gave a report to Session on the Presbytery meeting and especially the changes taking place in our denomination. Tomorrow I will try and summarize my impressions.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Presbyterian Outlook: Downtown Disintegration

Downtown Disintegration:
Presbyterian Outlook -- free registration required to read the full article
"...Who’s to blame for the downward spiral in Louisville?

Well, as pink-slipped General Assembly staff members begin their search for new jobs, and as remaining staff try to regroup and reorganize their work, they all can find plenty of culprits to blame. Fund-withholding churches have starved the budget. Exaggerated reporting from a hostile press has incited such withholding. Missteps by a handful of national staff have thrown red meat to the reporters. GA commissioners have adopted provocative policies. Localists in the pews have adopted the ecclesiology of congregationalism in place of Presbyterian connectionalism. And self-absorption, the spirit of our age, has lured churches into cultural captivity...."
Jack Haberer gives his assessment of the current budget problems with the PC(USA) and provides some ideas for how to reverse what he calls a "downward spiral". Haberer is blunt, but has ideas worth considering.

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Sunday Lunch With the Moderator

A group of Mission Committee members from my congregation went across town to have lunch with our counterparts at the other Presbyterian Church. The Moderator of General Assembly, Rick Ufford-Chase was there and we were privileged to hear him speak. He made some brief remarks and then opened things up for questions and dialog.

Ufford-Chase is a personable, articulate and effective advocate for Mission, and his comments were devoid of "sugar-coating". It was a breath of fresh air, if not particularly comforting. Our denomination has a tough row to hoe and we are going to do it with fewer personnel and a smaller budget.

Since the attendees were mostly members of the two congregations' Mission Committees, the "hot button" issues that most people associate with the PC(USA) were not even raised. Instead mission issues dominated the discussion. That, too, was a breath of fresh air.

Here are some of the things Rick Ufford-Chase covered (to the best of my recollection) in his remarks and answers to questions:
  • One of the many factors in the dwindling dollars flowing to Louisville is the lack of trust that congregations place in GA, but neither has GA trusted the lower judicatories and congregations to do their job properly. Trust is a two-way street.
  • Giving overall is up, but less of it is sent upstream. Mission is being done; just not necessarily at the denomination level.
  • 20 years ago 80% of funds at GAC's disposal were undesignated; today only 15% are undesignated. These designations are honored, but it complicates the budget process.
  • There is not only a disconnect between what congregation members believe, and what people in Louisville believe, but there is also a disconnect beween what we say and what we do -- one example is our emphasis on witness to Jesus Christ, and the cutting of 55 mission worker positions, which is happening at the same time that "Joining Hearts and Hands" is attempting to fund additional mission workers.
  • GAC is looking at mission in terms of (1) what NEEDS to be carried out at the denominational level; (2) what is enhanced by denominational involvment; and (3) what is best done at the lower levels.
I was pleased to hear our moderator's strong advocacy for mission, both locally and worldwide, and I hope the PC(USA) can get behind mission as effectively as Rick.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

A Very Presbyterian Week

Mission Committee was Tuesday, and Christian Education was Thursday. Immediately prior to CE was a special Session meeting to examine one of our members who is applying to make the transition from inquirer to candidate. We endorsed his application with great pleasure.

Saturday, in my capacity as Candidate Care Committee chair in my local congregation, I accompanied our inquirer to the Presbytery's Committee on Preparation for the Ministry for his annual consultation. The CPM also acted on his application for candidacy. After a challenging discussion with the committee, he will be recommended for candidacy at the upcoming meeting of the Missouri Union Presbytery.

Today, following church, the Mission Committee will drive across town to the other Presbyterian church, and have lunch with the moderator of General Assembly, Rick Ufford-Chase. I imagine a topic of discussion will be the recent actions by GAC to streamline the organization in Louisville, as well as how GAC is organized. I hope to hear a clarification of where we are going with respect to local and worldwide evangelism. The first of the Great Ends of the Church as well as the first of the eight mission objectives that GAC adopted earlier this year show a clear committment to the witness to Jesus Christ in the world, yet the numbers of overseas mission personnel is being cut by 55 people, leaving about 400 total field workers. At first glance, this seems like a pretty mixed message.

Tuesday, I will be spending the day at Presbytery as the comissioner from our congregation. Mike Kruse of the Kruse Kronicle will be there in his capacity as a member of GAC to help enlighten us about the recent happenings in the PC(USA). I look forward to seeing him and hearing him speak. I'll be there when our inquirer presents his statement of faith to Presbytery and is examined for candidacy.

After Presbytery we will all drive back to Columbia, and have a hour or so before Session meeting, ending a very long day.

Friday, May 12, 2006

That's a relief....

I found this little quiz, and decided to take it. I guess I'm not a heretic after all. But why are people still piling dry branches around my feet?

You scored as Chalcedon compliant. You are Chalcedon compliant. Congratulations, you're not a heretic. You believe that Jesus is truly God and truly man and like us in every respect, apart from sin. Officially approved in 451.

Chalcedon compliant




























Are you a heretic?
created with

Thursday, May 11, 2006

KRT Wire: Graphic novels drawing the young to faith

KRT Wire: Graphic novels drawing the young to faith:
The Orlando Sentinel

For more than 2,500 years, Jews have been telling their faith's sacred stories, in written words on parchment and the page, and through the oral tradition of rabbinical debate.

Now they're trying something new: a graphic novel.

The Jewish Publication Society, a venerable group that is the closest thing to an official press for all the religion's denominations, is turning to a very modern way to reach young Jews. "Megillat Esther" is a graphic novel - an extended, black-and-white comic book - based on the holiday of Purim, and probably rated PG-13 for a few borderline racy drawings.

"We all understood that it was a way to reach a much younger generation," says Ellen Frankel, CEO and editor in chief of this Philadelphia-based publisher. "Even though it is a stretch for JPS, it is right on point because it's Bible commentary."

This Jewish foray into the world of graphic novels is just the latest example of believers creating alternative forms of religious messages in print. Christian artists have been drawing on the divine for more than 50 years - one of the most notable being Jack Chick, who in the 1960s began using pocket-size comic books to illustrate Gospel tracts. Modern graphic novels, including those in a style that emulate Japanese comics called manga, have become underground hits with young Christians during the past decade. Popular titles include "Testament," "Creature Tech" and "Marked," and a new series, called "Serenity."
I still have a hard time with the phrase "graphical novel". When someone tells me a novel is "graphic" I think of something else...

My son devours these, and I have to concede that they took him from a below-standard reader to one who is well ahead of his age in reading comprehension, vocabulary, and articulateness. He has branched out into the more traditional books, but when we go to Barnes and Noble, I still know where to find him -- plopped down right in front of the comic books -- excuse me -- graphical novels.

It sounds like this genre has developed far beyond the Jack Chick tracts, which I remember with a bit of disdain. What I have seen recently has been fairly meaty and if that is what it takes to get youth to enjoy learning the faith, then I am fully in accord not only with the goals, but the methods to achieve them. Besides, I have no room to talk. I read Classics Illustrated when I was in junior high and high school.

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Wednesday, May 10, 2006 - Royals Sweep - MLB - Recap:
"KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -This is about as balanced as an offense can be.

Every Kansas City Royals starter had one RBI except Kerry Robinson , and he had two in a 10-8 victory over the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday that gave the suddenly revitalized Royals a three-game sweep and a burst of confidence.

Aaron Guiel hit a tiebreaking home run in the eighth inning, and Angel Berroa added a home run of his own for the Royals, who have won five of seven after a 5-20 start...."
Not bad for a team that even die-hard Royals fans had been ready to count out.

Now that they know they can play ball, will they continue?

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PC(USA) - News Service - Vatican and WCC to pursue common code of conduct on religious conversion

PC(USA) - News Service - Vatican and WCC to pursue common code of conduct on religious conversion:
by Juan Michel
WCC News and Information

"GENEVA — The Vatican and the World Council of Churches (WCC) are launching a three-year joint study project aimed at developing a shared code of conduct on the controversial issue of religious conversion.
The code will distinguish between witness and proselytism, making respect for freedom of thought, conscience and the religion of others a primary concern in any encounter between people of different faiths...."
This is a thorny set of issues, and one that needs to be treated with sensitivity. I am glad that a distinction is being drawn beteen witnessing and proselytism. I reserve judgement on the overall effect until I see where the line for proselytism is drawn. I have seen it drawn in such a way as to include witnessing, by many within the Church who feel that evangelism is an outmoded way of engaging the world.

The first of the Great Ends is "The Proclamation of the Gospel for the Salvation of Humankind", and that pretty much sums up where the PC(USA) stands on the topic. The 2007-2008 Mission Work Plan recently announced by GAC leads off with local and global evangelism as the first of eight objectives for the PC(USA).

How do we carry out the Great Commission and our Great Ends in a world where conversion is often a fast track to persecution or martyrdom? How do we engage people of other faiths in a way that shows love and respect?

These are good questions, and I am glad to see them asked, and look forward to some constructive answers.

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PC(USA) - News Service - PDA unveils $14 million response plan for ‘05 hurricanes

PC(USA) - News Service - PDA unveils $14 million response plan for ‘05 hurricanes:
by Evan Silverstein

"LOUISVILLE — Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) has announced a seven-year $14.4 million budget for funding ongoing relief efforts in the aftermath of last year’s devastating Gulf Coast hurricanes.

The “long-term strategic allocation” will guide the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s response to the disasters in Mississippi and Louisiana through atleast 2013, according to Susan Ryan, PDA’s coordinator...."
A record $23 million was donated for hurricane relief in the aftermath of Katrina and Rita, but only $4.5 million has been expended to date. This has caused some controversy, and PDA explains that this is an ongoing effort that will probably extend through 2013, and that this was a deliberate strategy to ensure that funds are available for rebuilding as memories (and donations) fade. PDA assures us that funds donated for 2005 hurricane relief will be expended only for that year's efforts.

This brings up an issue that one minister of my acquaintance feels is a weakness in the system. If you designate money for "Hurricane Katrina", then that is where it must go. If you designate for "Hurricane Relief" then it can be used as needed for any hurricane relief effort (but not tsunami or earthquake relief). If you designate it for "Presbyterian Disaster Assistance" then it can be used as needed whenever and wherever disasters occur.

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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

PC(USA) - News Service - Christianity grows rapidly in Nepal, despite ban on conversions

PC(USA) - News Service - Christianity grows rapidly in Nepal, despite ban on conversions:
by Anto Akkara
Ecumenical News International

"KATMANDU — When Chuda Bastakoti became a Christian 12 years ago, the people in his remote village used to taunt him, shouting “Christian” as an insult.

“But that has changed now. People do not look at me any longer with disdain when I go home,” said Bastakoti from the Gorkha district of southwestern Nepal, who works as a high school teacher in Katmandu. The 32-year-old teacher spoke to Ecumenical News International after a church service at a flat in Katmandu.

He said he married Kopila, a Hindu woman, four years ago after informing her family that he was a Christian convert. “They had no problem,” said Bastakoti. Within a year of their marriage, Kopila also became a Christian. In fact, Bastakoti said, entire villages especially in remote areas like his have embraced Christianity.

Pastor Simon Gurung, president of the Valley Christian Council, told ENI, “The number of Christians here is increasing steadily.” Gurung heads the Immanuel Baptist church in the Katmandu Valley and said the number of conversions started rising rapidly after Nepal adopted a new constitution in 1990 which introduced multi-party democracy...."
This PNS release is a good example of how the Mission of Jesus Christ is playing out in a part of the world where to be a Christian is not easy -- especially if you are a convert.

These people have experienced Jesus in a way that few Americans can relate to.

It warms my heart to know that the Presbyterian Church (USA) is involved in "Proclaiming the Gospel for the Salvation of Humankind" in this part of the world.

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Monday, May 08, 2006

China Accepts Pope's Choice of Bishop - Los Angeles Times

China Accepts Pope's Choice of Bishop - Los Angeles Times:
(Los Angeles Times, free registration required)
"VATICAN CITY — China will appoint a Catholic bishop approved by the Vatican today, just days after Pope Benedict XVI condemned the unilateral ordination of two bishops by Beijing, a Catholic news agency reported...."
It strikes me as odd that an offically atheistic government would feel the need to appoint or approve bishops.

Still, this may be a way to move forward from the recent controversy over the consecration of bishops in China.

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Sunday, May 07, 2006

Once to every Man and Nation

One of my favorite hymns did not make the cut for The Presbyterian Hymnal (1990):
Once to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, some great decision, offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever, ’twixt that darkness and that light.

Then to side with truth is noble, when we share her wretched crust,
Ere her cause bring fame and profit, and ’tis prosperous to be just;
Then it is the brave man chooses while the coward stands aside,
Till the multitude make virtue of the faith they had denied.

By the light of burning martyrs, Christ, Thy bleeding feet we track,
Toiling up new Calv’ries ever with the cross that turns not back;
New occasions teach new duties, time makes ancient good uncouth,
They must upward still and onward, who would keep abreast of truth.

Though the cause of evil prosper, yet the truth alone is strong;
Though her portion be the scaffold, and upon the throne be wrong;
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above His own.

This appears in its entirety in the Worshipbook (1972), but the The Hymnal (1933) only had the first, third and fourth verses as shown above. The Hymnbook (1955) had verses one, two, and four.

But where did it come from and why was it written? James Russell Lowell (1819-1891) was a son of a Unitarian minister in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He was an abolitionist, and one of many Americans who opposed the Mexican War. The annexation of Texas, adding a new and large slave-holding state, inspired Lowell to write the following:
(James Russell Lowell, 1844)
From The Complete Poetical Works of James Russell Lowell

When a deed is done for Freedom, through the broad earth's aching breast
Runs a thrill of joy prophetic, trembling on from east to west,
And the slave, where'er he cowers, feels the soul within him climb
To the awful verge of manhood, as the energy sublime
Of a century bursts full-blossomed on the thorny stem of Time.

Through the walls of hut and palace shoots the instantaneous throe,
When the travail of the Ages wrings earth's systems to and fro;
At the birth of each new Era, with a recognizing start,
Nation wildly looks at nation, standing with mute lips apart,
And glad Truth's yet mightier man-child leaps beneath the Future's heart.

So the Evil's triumph sendeth, with a terror and a chill,
Under continent to continent, the sense of coming ill,
And the slave, where'er he cowers, feels his sympathies with God
In hot tear-drops ebbing earthward, to be drunk up by the sod,
Till a corpse crawls round unburied, delving in the nobler clod.

For mankind are one in spirit, and an instinct bears along,
Round the earth's electric circle, the swift flash of right or wrong;
Whether conscious or unconscious, yet Humanity's vast frame
Through its ocean-sundered fibres feels the gush of joy or shame;--
In the gain or loss of one race all the rest have equal claim.

Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of Truth with Falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, God's new Messiah, offering each the bloom or blight,
Parts the goats upon the left hand, and the sheep upon the right,
And the choice goes by forever 'twixt that darkness and that light.

Hast thou chosen, O my people, on whose party thou shalt stand,
Ere the Doom from its worn sandals shakes the dust against our land?
Though the cause of Evil prosper, yet 'tis Truth alone is strong,
And, albeit she wander outcast now, I see around her throng
Troops of beautiful, tall angels, to enshield her from all wrong.

Backward look across the ages and the beacon-moments see,
That, like peaks of some sunk continent, jut through Oblivion's sea;
Not an ear in court or market for the low foreboding cry
Of those Crises, God's stern winnowers, from whose feet earth's chaff must fly;
Never shows the choice momentous till the judgment hath passed by.

Careless seems the great Avenger; history's pages but record
One death-grapple in the darkness 'twixt old systems and the Word;
Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne,--
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.

We see dimly in the Present what is small and what is great.
Slow of faith how weak an arm may turn the iron helm of fate,
But the soul is still oracular; amid the market's din.
List the ominous stern whisper from the Delphic cave within,--
'They enslave their children's children who make compromise with sin.'

Slavery, the earth-born Cyclops, fellest of the giant brood,
Sons of brutish Force and Darkness, who have drenched the earth with blood,
Famished in his self-made desert, blinded by our purer day,
Gropes in yet unblasted regions for his miserable prey;--
Shall we guide his gory fingers where our helpless children play?

Then to side with Truth is noble when we share her wretched crust,
Ere her cause bring fame and profit, and 'tis prosperous to be just;
Then it is the brave man chooses, while the coward stands aside,
Doubting in his abject spirit, till his Lord is crucified,
And the multitude make virtue of the faith they had denied.

Count me o'er earth's chosen heroes,--they were souls that stood alone,
While the men they agonized for hurled the contumelious stone,
Stood serene, and down the future saw the golden beam incline
To the side of perfect justice, mastered by their faith divine,
By one man's plain truth to manhood and to God's supreme design.

By the light of burning heretics Christ's bleeding feet I track,
Toiling up new Calvaries ever with the cross that turns not back,
And these mounts of anguish number how each generation learned
One new word of that grand Credo which in prophet-hearts hath burned
Since the first man stood God-conquered with his face to heaven upturned.

For Humanity sweeps onward: where to-day the martyr stands,
On the morrow crouches Judas with the silver in his hands;
Far in front the cross stands ready and the crackling fagots burn,
While the hooting mob of yesterday in silent awe return
To glean up the scattered ashes into History's golden urn.

'Tis as easy to be heroes as to sit the idle slaves
Of a legendary virtue carved upon our fathers' graves,
Worshippers of light ancestral make the present light a crime;--
Was the Mayflower launched by cowards, steered by men behind their time?
Turn those tracks toward Past or Future that make Plymouth Rock sublime?

They were men of present valor, stalwart old iconoclasts,
Unconvinced by axe or gibbet that all virtue was the Past's;
But we make their truth our falsehood, thinking that hath made us free.
Hoarding it in mouldy parchments, while our tender spirits flee
The rude grasp of that great Impulse which drove them across the sea.

They have rights who dare maintain them; we are traitors to our sires,
Smothering in their holy ashes Freedom's new-lit altar-fires;
Shall we make their creed our jailer? Shall we, in our haste to slay,
From the tombs of the old prophets steal the funeral lamps away
To light up the martyr-fagots round the prophets of to-day?

New occasions teach new duties; Time makes ancient good uncouth;
They must upward still, and onward, who would keep abreast of Truth;
Lo, before us gleam her camp-fires! we ourselves must Pilgrims be,
Launch our Mayflower, and steer boldly through the desperate winter sea,
Nor attempt the Future's portal with the Past's blood-rusted key.

Ironically, the aftermath of the Mexican War and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo resulted in California joining the Union as a free state. The Mexican War was also where many future generals from North and South would learn lessons that would be put to use 15 years or so later, when the Civil War would tear this country apart far more effectively than the Mexican War did.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

What C. S. Lewis Sounded Like - Christianity Today Magazine

What C. S. Lewis Sounded Like - Christianity Today Magazine:
"During WWII, the BBC used twelve-inch metal disks coated with acetate for recordings. But because metal was in short supply, those disks were primarily reserved for field recording, so only one of Lewis's WWII talks was preserved. That talk, Beyond Personality: The New Men, was broadcast on March 21, 1944. A recording of it (along with a recording of an introduction to Lewis's book, The Great Divorce), are available on the BBC's website...."
These broadcasts, which were collated into Mere Christianity, were quite popular during World War II.

Listening to Beyond Personality: The New Men as it was actually read by C. S. Lewis was quite an experience, 62 years after its broadcast and 43 years following his death.

These audio clips require RealPlayer, which may be obtained through a link on the BBC website.

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Thursday, May 04, 2006 Royals fan auctions 25 years of devotion for $278.47 - MLB - Had enough: Royals fan sells loyalty on eBay - Wednesday May 3, 2006 10:44PM:
"KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- The Kansas City Royals lost yet again Tuesday, a 4-1 setback in Detroit. With the worst record in the majors, who could fault a fan for taking a nose dive from the bandwagon -- much less selling his allegiance?

Chad Carroll auctioned off 25 years of loyalty to the Royals on eBay on Tuesday, along with jerseys, hats, baseballs and other memorabilia.

And in a spate of irony, faithfulness to a club with one of the smallest payrolls in Major League Baseball sold for a paltry $278.47...."

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Statistical Illusion - Christianity Today Magazine

Statistical Illusion - Christianity Today Magazine:
"Did you go to church this week? That's the question that Gallup pollsters have been asking Americans for more than 75 years. And each year since 1939, about 40 percent of those polled have said yes. (The actual question: "Did you yourself happen to attend church or synagogue in the last seven days?")

That doesn't mean that, on any given Sunday, 118 million Americans (40 percent of the population) will actually be in church. According to sociologists who study religion, the actual number of people in church each week in the United States is significantly lower than the Gallup Poll indicates. Just how low is a matter of some debate...."
I am not a statistician, so any comments I make could be totally naive.

Kirk Hadaway and Penny Marler, researchers for the Episcopal Church and Samford University respectively, reasoned that if you knew the number of churches in the United States, and also knew the average attendance at each church, then you could compute the number of Americans in church on any given Sunday.

Their figures indicate 20.4 % -- half the Gallup figure of 40%.

Even such a statistically-challenged person as me can see that this does not fall within a simple sampling error.

A quick answer might be that people don't answer the pollster accurately, even though their anonymity is preserved. I'm not sure that one needs to assume dishonesty. As Frank Newport, Editor-in-Chief of the Gallup Poll points out, "I would say that we are right in saying that 4 out of every 10 Americans represent themselves as being regular churchgoers, but that does not mean that they are in church 52 weeks a year."

The researchers quoted in this article seem to agree that the Gallup figures, consistent as they seem to be, are high. At least one person interviewed, though, feels that the Hadaway and Marler figures are too low. Most of the others agree that the figure is somewhere between 30% and 40%.

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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Additional Info on the PC(USA) budget cuts

Here are two additional links, from the "left" and "right" of the PC(USA):
The table printed below is from the Layman article:
Budget Year Mission budget (millions) Declines
from 2001
from 2001
2001 $144
2002 $132 8.4% 2,451,969
2003 $130 9.8% 2,405,311
2004 $127 12.0% 2,362,116
2005 $116 19.6% 2,297,116*
2006 $116 19.6% 2,212,116*
2007 $97 32.5% Pct. decline from 2001
2008 $96 33.4% 11.3%
*Include declines projectedby the Office of the General Assembly

These figures do not paint a rosy picture for a denomination that has lost 11.3% of its members over the past 5 years, but at the same time seen its budget cut by a percentage three times the loss in members.

John Detterick, the Executive Director of GAC points out that per capita giving to local congregations is rising, and that money is being spent on mission. He sees this as a hopeful sign, and acknowledges that institution trust is something that will have to be rebuilt.

The large-scale reorganization of the Congregational, National, and Worldwide Ministry Divisions seem, on first glance, like a draconian move, but on reflection it probably won't affect how local congregations worship, fellowship, and serve God.

What disturbs me more is the loss, through attrition and possible layoffs, of 55 missionaries -- dropping the remainder to about 250. The first of the Great Ends of the Church is "The Proclamation of the Gospel for the Salvation of Humankind", and these Great Ends comprise the Mission Statement for GAC, according to Mike Kruse's informative analysis of the GAC's budget cuts for 2007 and 2008.

The purpose of the PC(USA) in Louisville, as I see it, is to enable presbyteries and local congregations to be the Church -- even down to the level of two or three gathering together -- or even one person following God's call.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Big Changes in Louisville

Here are several links, without comment for now, regarding the changes related to the $9.15 million budget cuts first announced two days ago:

I will read these, as well as any other perspectives that people offer (at this time, the official news is less than an hour old).

Groups Plan Rally on Mall To Protest Darfur Violence

Groups Plan Rally on Mall To Protest Darfur Violence:
"An unusually broad coalition of 164 humanitarian and religious groups, including Amnesty International and the National Association of Evangelicals, is planning a huge rally Sunday on the Mall to call for intervention to end the violence in Sudan's Darfur region...."
The problems in Darfur cry out for action, and it seems that the UN and its member nations need some nudging to get them off their collective backsides and doing something effective.

When such disparate groups set aside their historic mistrust of each other and unite around a common purpose, things may begin to happen.

The people of Darfur really can't wait.

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