Friday, October 23, 2009

Where Will It All End?

Posted at my blog site at Presbyterian Outlook:

It's been awhile since I've dropped a line or two here at the Outlook blog site.

I'm sure some are delighted at my vacation since I'm pretty upbeat about the current state-of-affairs in the Presbyterian Church.

God's relentless love is moving us along in a deep and swift current taking us far beyond all the usual categories in which we formerly found comfort and too often took unwarranted pride.

Yes, we had the world by the tail, so to speak, but times change, and the world in which we now live is vastly different. But I'm hopeful, and more than hopeful, because I know Presbyterians - surely, not all of them; just a few actually over my 39 years of ministry, starting in West Virginia in the former West Virginia Mountain Project created by missionaries who rode into the area on mules.

I have known laity and clergy, pastors and executives, and I have witnessed a steady effort to be faithful to the large images of Scripture and the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. Have we always done it right? It's hard to say. Numbers and dollars, while so tantalizing to our eyes, is of no account to God. Sin itself abounds, but so does grace, allthemore. 

In the last 40 years, demographics and culture have changed radically, and we, and other mainline groups, nosedived on membership, and the more independent and self-confessed evangelicals grew.
Looking back over the carnage, I chuckle a bit, because their "growth" was constantly rubbed in our face, and we hung our heads in shame or anger.

For the growing churches, it became a matter of pride - their techniques and innovations, their technology and their theology, were clearly "right" and we were clearly "wrong."
But pride goeth before the fall.

And now the stats are coming in: the evangelical world is losing membership, they struggle with issues of second and third generation leadership vacuums, heresy trials abound as evangelicals try to define who they are and what they believe. Compelled by the Great Commission, thy sent thousands of their young to the mission field who come back home with a new sense of the Great Commandment and a passionate regard for justice, often at odds now with Mom and Dad.

I recently attended a luncheon at a large evangelical Presbyterian Church to hear a speaker from Internation Justice Mission.

I was shocked at what I heard, because I heard the language and thelogy and passion of justice. There was no bashing of the mainline, but only a sharp review of how the evangelical movment in this nation overlooked justice.

In my own words, the evangelical movement, bright and energetic, too often settled for the joy and power of charity and conversion, mostly ignoring the systemic issues of justice.

IJM deals with slavery (27 million in the world today), the sex trade and the theft of widow's property, and it was clear to me, they are dealing with systemic issues.

If charity and conversation are the two "c's" of faith, there is a third c, Change ... systemic change.
I was heartened by what I heard, and I believe that God's Spirit is moving mightily among a younger generation of evangelicals taking them beyond charity and conversion to changing systemic evils.

More than ever, I am grateful to be a Presbyterian - we have a fine track record on justice - our mission agencies, our missionaries - have tackled some incredibly tough issues around the world, and we've been making a huge difference.

Where it will all end, who knows. But I think mainline and evangelical Christians will find a lot to talk about, and pray about, TOGETHER, when we find common ground in the Great Commandment and the Third C.

Just a few random thoughts from a random kind of a guy!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

College of the Ozarks and Sarah Palin

Here's an email I sent to Elizabeth Andrews, head of PR for the college, after hearing that this fine school invited Sarah Palin to speak, as Ms. Andrews put it to me by phone, to address issues of morals and character.

If you concur, please send a note to Ms. Andrews:

Dear Ms. Andrews,

If you would be so kind as to forward this to your president.

As a Presbyterian Pastor who served in Tulsa for 12 years at a church long supportive of the College, and sharing with Sam and Helen Walton at numerous luncheons in the Tulsa area, I have admired deeply the character of the school and its unique commitment to providing a quality education for students who might otherwise be unable to attend college because of financial constraints.

Yet, I was shocked when I read of the decision to have Sarah Palin as a college guest to address matters of character and morals.

There are dozens and dozens of ably qualified speakers from all sorts of religious and political persuasions who might address such matters with skill and experience, but to suggest that Ms. Palin is qualified is a matter for Saturday Night Live.

That she's a lightening rod for the far right-wing is undeniable, but as a speaker on these matters? Hardly.

I'm disappointed in the decision to invite Ms. Palin, though I'm sure there are monied interests behind this, and knowing the tough role of a college President these days, I'm sure there are some interesting guns being held to your head on this one.

I sympathize with your position, and I suspect you'd have rather chosen any number of other far-better qualified people.

Wishing you the best ... and to honor the heart of the founder of the school, you might well invite a missionary, a pastor or a professor of ethics to address matters of morals and character ... I would suggest historian Diana Butler Bass as an able and knowledgeable speaker for the college, or the Rev. Dr. Michael Lindvall, pastor of Brick Presbyterian Church, New York City, a most excellent preacher and a teller of stories.

Blessings on your work and that of the college.

The Rev. Dr. Thomas P. Eggebeen, Interim Pastor
Covenant Presbyterian Church
Los Angeles, CA

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Spurious Emails???

Dear Genesis,

From time-to-time, I receive forwarded emails decrying the efforts of some to eliminate “god” from our national story.

Over the years, I’ve read a dozen of similar notes, long before email was available – remember those days?

Now, with the internet, these stories, slightly updated, flow fast and furious, but, in fact, are false.

Recently, a note about the World War 2 Memorial in Washington, D.C., and the alleged misquoting of Roosevelt’s speech before Congress after Pearl Harbor.

Maybe you’ve seen the note.

If the author of the note were Pinocchio, the nose would be a mile long, and sadly, a lot of decent people unthinkingly forward these notes to their friends and family members, furthering the lie.

If you’d like to check this one out, click HERE to visit Snopes.

And to actually read all the monument inscriptions, click HERE.

As you will see, the email notice is patently false.

As Christians, we have a duty to know the truth, for Jesus is The Truth. We cannot and must not play loose with such things.

And as Paul Tillich noted in his famous “Protestant Principle,” we put a question mark over everything until we have tested it and found it either wanting or true.

It’s terribly important that we not be gullible. Remember – test everything you receive in email, especially “angry notes” that decry the decline of the nation, or some such nonsense.

And if you’re not sure, check with me. I’ve been working on these things for years.

And, please, if you’re not sure of something, trash it; don’t send it on to family members and friends.


Monday, October 12, 2009

Why Does She Call My Spiritual Pain Political?

For the Women Who Work in the LAX Hotel Corridor

©Thomas P. Eggebeen – June, 2009

Why does she call my spiritual pain political?

When I can’t work, because my back is bad, and I’m afraid to go to the emergency
Room, because I have no money … and my son needs a new pair of sneakers for
School … and
I pray to Jesus … and
I cry myself to sleep … and
I scream in silence … because I don’t want
My children to lose their
Childish hope for a better life.

Why does she call my spiritual pain political?

When she lives on top of the hill,
In a big house, with fancy things,
And drives a big SUV, all black and sassy.
And can call a man to fix her pool
Without batting an eye.
And see a doctor and get the bills paid.

Why does she call my spiritual pain political?

She prays, she says – about what?
What does she fuss and fret about?
Maybe I should call her up and tell her,
“That’s not very spiritual – that’s political,
You and your world of so many big things.
Getting what you want, when I can’t
Get enough of what I need.”

Maybe I should call her up.

She calls me up in the hotel – “Bring me lunch,
Make my bed,
Clean the bathroom,
Make me comfy.”

I think that’s political, don’t you?
That the world should be arranged for her comfort.
Her income.
Her taxes.
Her medical benefits.
Her church and her home.
And that big fancy black SUV.
Burns more gas in a week than I
Use in a month.

What does she pray about?
I wonder if I should call her up and ask.

I wonder if she knows just how
Political her life is.
All dressed up in her religion.
Which is never political, of course.
Because it’s all about Jesus and faith, and the
Bible and getting saved and
Going to heaven.

But what about my Jesus, my faith, my tears, my hopes, my fears, my pain?
Because my back hurts from hefting 18 beds every day for
Fifteen years -
And my super tells me that I’ll lose my job if I
Miss one more day of work …
Well, that’s political, isn’t it?

Some union folks were by the other day …
And I was afraid.
My super told me, “Don’t talk to them.”
So I didn’t.
But I prayed.

Is it political to pray:
For a safe place to work …
Some benefits along the way …
That the wealthy who try not think about it might
Think about it …

What does she pray about?

I know she prays.
She prays for her children; I do too.
She prays for her man; so do I.
She prays for her health; me, too, all the time.
She prays for world peace; I pray that late-night gunfire would stop.
She thanks God for a dinner table filled with goodies – I pray for enough money for hot dogs and cereal.
She prays for her safe voyage on a big ship – I pray that I’ll have enough money for next week’s rent.

She calls my spiritual pain political.


In honor of La Mikia Castillo – a tireless worker for justice.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Conservative Church Decline?

40 years ago, Americans began leaving mainline churches, either to go nowhere, or to affiliate with a newer version of the big box church. But the newer version is now experiencing high levels of chaos, heresy trials and uncertainty, as large numbers of children reared in conservative churches are raising hard questions (especially about homophobia), and many of them are opting out. Some are finding new life in mainline churches with their focus on justice. Others are experimenting with house churches and "emergent" kinds of communities. Everything is up in the air, but one thing is clear: we're shifting from an age of belief (creeds and dogmas) to an age of experience and service. The revealing studies done by Willow Creek a few years back and the Barna Institute document this. The pride of the conservative churches is coming back to haunt them, as is did with the mainline churches 40 years ago. Pride goeth before the fall; it always does. Thanks be to God!

Death Penalty?

Historically, the State has the right to take a miscreant's life - this is supported in legal and religious studies, but the question that dogs the story is our flawed ability to determine absolute guilt, and all the related stories of the innocent being executed. Along with these sad stories, the simple reality: the death penalty is no deterrent. Historically, societies that regularly kill lawbreakers are themselves likely to become increasingly violent. Death in the air is breathed by everyone. For me, in view of these pieces, I oppose the death penalty.

Written in response to a Facebook query ...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

I Thank God

A Confession of Faith written for October 11, 2009 worship:

I thank God for Jesus Christ.
Because Christ has taken care of heaven for me,
So that I might turn my attention to this world,
And be about my Father’s business.

I love God for the sake of Jesus Christ.
Because the love of Christ has reworked my life.
In Christ, God be praised, I am no longer my own.
But belong to God:
Body and soul,
In life and in death,
Now and forever more.

I serve God, because I can do no other.
Now that I know something of God because of Christ,
Any other claim upon my loyalties is just plain silly,
And a waste of good time and energy.

I belong to God, because God made me.
This is who I am, and I can’t change it.
Nor do I want to change it.
Though there are times when I resent the claims of God,
And wish God would leave me alone.

I am grateful to God, because God understands me.
God knows my foolish thoughts and the awful depth of my self-centeredness.
Yet God’s understanding is God’s unconditional love.
A love that will not let me go.
A love that compels me to reach higher, go further and stand taller.
A love that opens my eyes to the suffering of the world.
To nudge my hand to reach out,
And guide my feet to step out.

I am all of this and so much more.
Because of God!
God in Christ.
And Christ in me.

Amen and Amen!