Thursday, December 9, 2010

Living in Two Worlds: Hope and Despair

Written for the Presbyterian Outlook blog ...


I find myself in two worlds: hope and despair.

I think the two are related, in a symbiotic way.

I get the uneasy feeling that hope needs despair in order to be hope, in any authentic way. Hope is a part of the faith I have in Christ, a faith that confronts the "realities" of the day, without flinching, yet rises above them to claim the providence of God, God-at-work, in all things. Without despair in things as they are, hope for things as they will be seems shallow and self-serving.

Which then makes despair an integral part of my spiritual layout. Not that I'm happy about that, but I'm in good company.

I think the Prophets are people of despair and hope, and sometimes the oscillation is severe (read Isaiah). Jesus speaks of his "troubled" heart (John 12:27), as well, and then speaks of "my joy" (John 15:11). I can't have one without the other, if I understand anything about the ways of God in my life.

Paul says that hope has a lot "invisibility" to it - things unseen (Romans 8:25), and then reminds us that it's the Holy Spirit that prays within us, for us and with us, when we can't see, with "sighs too deep for words."

I live in both worlds, and maybe you do, too.

I think Matthew lives in both as he pens the opening chapters of his gospel. He begins with an affirmation of faith in God's ordering of history (Chapter 1), then moves the reader into some of the dark materials of our world (Chapter 2) and then blends it all together in Chapters 3 and 4.

The Gospels help me with despair - not to move me out of it, but to bear it, as a cross, in the name of Jesus, and bear it with hope in the providence of God.

If despair takes hold, and I live only in Chapter 2, what with the conniving of Herod and his bloodlust for anyone who threatens his throne, my spirit grows heavy.

Yet, if I try to live only in hope, with sweet nostrums piled high all about me, my spirit objects, for what right do I have to escape from sorrow and sadness when millions of human beings are condemned to mean and miserable lives, for want of justice and peace?

To follow Christ is to spend time in both realms - in the darkness of Herod's world and in the brightness of a Magi's star.

To live with Jesus shedding tears on the brow of the hill overlooking Jerusalem and with his incredible forgiveness and reinstatement of Peter after the resurrection.

I live in both worlds - maybe you do, too.

Tom Eggebeen, Interim Pastor
Covenant Presbyterian Church
Los Angeles, CA

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Following the Script

The more conservative the congregation to which someone belongs, the more likely I hear in their conversation "the script."

This is rarely the case for Presbyterians, whatever their persuasion, though I find this happening with a bit more frequency as fundagelicalism takes root in our congregations - what with easy praise music and the four-point therapy message, with appropriate screen images, and the need to always be "victorious."

As if, before anything else can transpire in the conversation, sort of like clearing the throat, a certain number of "god-honoring," or "Christ-witnessing" statements must be said, and said in such a way as to impress upon the hearer the "victory" of the gospel.

We all use our scripts, I suppose, in order to establish, both in the mind of the speaker and the listener, the lay of the land. I suspect folks are really trying to convince themselves, more than anything else, because life is scary and life is hard and life is confusing - realities to which various forms of fundagelicalism cannot and will not admit.

I don't like scripted language, because it's not real, even when the person is speaking of "their personal relationship with Jesus" or whatever else they may be trying to impress upon me.

Perhaps, since I'm a pastor, there's some urgency in the speaker's mind to be sure that I know they're saved and bound for glory.

Or, because I'm a Presbyterian pastor, some urgency to witness to the unsaved, which seems to be the status to which I'm assigned in conservative or fundamentalist circles.

In some respects, I think, the issue of "scripted christian-speak" falls under the category addressed by James when he writes, "Above all, do not swear - by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your "yes" be yes, and your "no" be no, or you will be condemned."

Christians who try too hard are not likely to succeed in their witness, though God is merciful, and can use most anything to further the cause of the gospel.

But James, I think, hits the nail on the head with scripted language - don't use it. When we talk, let's talk authentically.

If we're afraid, then we're afraid ... if we're confused or uncertain, then so be it ... if we don't know how to say something, then be quiet. None of this is an affront to the Father who loves us and to the Christ in whom we have life, nor to the Holy Spirit who gives us words, and sometimes gives us silence, as well.

More than anything, I try to help such folks get beyond the script so they actually say what's on their mind and heart.

In the course of the conversation, I usually find them relaxing and being more at ease, because that's what honesty is all about ... when our "yes" is a yes and our "no" is a no.

To God be the glory.

Tom Eggebeen, Interim Pastor, Covenant Presbyterian Church, Los Angeles. 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary

Dear Friends,

Just finished reading the latest "Fuller: Theology, News and Notes" and was taken aback by a brief excerpt from Michael Novak's lecture (p.35).

If this quote represents the sum and substance of Novak's work, then I must raise a serious question about the purpose of the De Pree Center for Leadership - leadership of what? The people of God, the faithful in Christ, or the capitalist machine that is clearly revealing the fruits of a lot of bad decisions and flawed logic.

The few remarks printed struck me as nothing more than the same old nonsense we've heard from the Wall Street Journal and such, and to suggest that a "moral case" for capitalism can be made is stunning in its hubris - what with 40 million Americans without health insurance and millions more under-insured, and millions out-or-work, victims of the largest transfer of wealth in history - from the pockets of the many to the hands of the few, with millions of good and decent jobs sent overseas so that the giants of capitalism might improve their bottom line and continue in their media effort to manipulate the American people into believing that all is well, because all is well with the top 2 percent of this nation, who continue to whine, by the way, all the more, about the hardships of taxation and wondering how they'll pay for their next Bentley.

Novak is billed as scholar, yet gives no evidence of any scholarly sensibilities about China. I was stunned at the arrogance of his comments, offering a sadly simplistic analysis of China's development and "it's bet" as he puts. Goodness, it seems to me that we've bet the house and grandmother, too, and we're not faring very well at all; we've lost the house, and grandma has no health insurance. Some bet!

Fortunately,this bizarre lecture-description was bracketed by excerpts on "Walk Humbly with Your God" by Clayton J. Schmit and "Life-Giving Spirit" by Luke Timothy Johnson. How ironic that humility and Spirit would bracket such a bunch of big-money humbug.

Anyway, just thought I'd offer my two-cents' worth.

God's Peace.

Tom Eggebeen, Interim Pastor
Covenant Presbyterian Church
Los Angeles, CA

Merciful God, I pray thee to grant me, if it please thee, ardor to desire thee, diligence to seek thee, wisdom to know thee and skill to speak to the glory of thy name. Amen (Thomas Aquinas)