Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Fire in Our Apartment Building

The sharp, ear-piecing scream of the fire alarm.

Check it out ... someone hollering, someone else going to help ... faint smell of smoke.

"Call the fire department."

"Are you kidding? Fight your own fire. I'm not paying taxes for your junk!"

But here come the fire trucks anyway.

All Communists, I'm sure ... in their RED trucks.

Talk about socialism - they take our money, and buy those big RED trucks, and throw around all that equipment, stop traffic and make a lot of noise.

Where's the entrepreneurial spirit?

Aren't we all on our own?

I mean, those public service employees - who do they think they are? On the public dole, you bet! And then they get to retire early, and draw on that big fat pension, paid by guys like me, who work hard for their money, who earn it the old fashioned way.

Next time there's a fire, I'll do it myself.

Doggone right.

No more of this socialist Communist pinko red crap. No siree ...

Wonder what Rush would have to say about all these RED trucks dashing around town? And you know what, some of them are yellow, and that's the truth! For sure.

All Reds are Yellow, aren't they?

Makes sense to me.

Whoo, what's that?

A fire alarm? In my place.

Someone call the Fire Department. Quick!


P.S. There really was a small fire yesterday 2.22.11) in our apartment building, and, yes, the fire trucks arrived within 3 or 4 minutes - at least five or six units, including an aerial truck. In no time at all, the dryer-vent fire was out. A few scary moments for everyone - thank God for the village. It takes a village to raise a child, and a village to keep us safe.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Reading Joshua

Winners write history, and the Bible reflects that. Joshua is deeply nationalistic ... it's part of Israel's "history," but, then, so are the prophets and Ruth and Jonah and Esther. Because America is a large and powerful nation, and lots of Christians enjoy the privilege of such power (as have Christians in other western nations - Britain, Germany, Belgium, France), many have tended to read Joshua as the last word on power and might. It helps to remember that the name of Jesus is the Greek equivalent of Joshua; it is not by accident that the Son of God appears as a second Joshua, not with swords and trumpets, and tumblings walls,but with grace, mercy and peace for all, and a temple curtain torn asunder. As well, like Saul/Paul on the Damascus Road - a version of Israel's first king, but this time, a man of intellect and faith who was sent to the Gentiles with a message of hope and inclusion.

When the Southern Kingdom fell, God got out of the land business - it was too costly - in human lives and to the character of God - and ultimately it failed. Though the folks of Judah returned under Xerxes, there would never again be a nation/state comparable to that of Saul/David/Solomon. When the temple was destroyed, the connection to land was further severed.

Just because "it's in the Bible" is never a reason to go with something. It deserves our thought and a willingness to wrestle with it. There are a multiplicity of themes, greater and lesser ... in the end, we have to choose as we weigh the relative weight of ideas. The far greater weight is on a God of great compassion who truly loves the entire world. Our "holy" book wrestles with this, just like we do. Do we really want a God who loves the whole world? A God who is not a respecter of persons?

Monday, February 7, 2011

A Letter to John Ortberg

The Rev. John Ortberg
Menlo Park Presbyterian Church
Menlo Park, CA

Dear John,

With delight and gratitude, I followed your career at Willow Creek, and with attendance at many a conference, I was encouraged and blessed by your ministry and preaching, and how I enjoyed your careful exposition of Scripture, especially with your focus upon the Old Testament, the “Bible” of our LORD and Savior.

When you left Willow to become a Presbyterian, I gave thanks to God and prayed for you and the Menlo Park Church, for I am a Presbyterian pastor, and have been so since my ordination in January of 1970, First Presbyterian Church, Holland, Michigan. I emailed you a welcome note at the time of your transfer, and you were kind enough to reply.

As a pastor, I promoted your books and CDs, and used your material to guide some of my own preaching and teaching.

Last week, I saw “The Letter to the PCUSA,” and noted you as a signatory.

I felt as if I had been stabbed in the heart and betrayed.

I know many of the pastors on that letter, and I know the truth of that letter, and that’s what disturbs me so deeply.

Whatever pretensions there might be about the centrality of Jesus Christ with high doctrines of revelation, claims of orthodoxy, notions of mission for the glory of God and being Reformed, the root is politics and money and property and pride, buttressed by powerful interests on one singular issue: the ordination of gays and lesbians, and, in California, marriage rights. Fueled by the political far-right, the ordination of LGBT persons has become the line-in-the-sand.

That’s the defining element of “A Letter to the PCUSA,” because, otherwise, there is no reason to write such a letter proposing the essential dismantling of the PCUSA, the church of my ordination, and the church that welcomed you to Menlo Park.

Presbyterian pastors and their congregations have always enjoyed great liberties to conduct ministry and mission and congregational life as they see fit.

There is no reason for “The Letter;” no reason at all, other than pride, and the issues mentioned above: money, property and politics and a decision to leave a fellowship wherein LGBT ordination may someday occur without a fracas.

Carry on your work at Menlo, and let Menlo carry on its ministry, or at least be honest enough to tell the world that the ordination of LGBT people is so distasteful to you that you cannot for a moment tolerate being in a fellowship where their ordination might someday be possible. There is no need to hide behind highfalutin theological notions of the church’s purity.

In reality, the conservatives behind “the letter,” have been hungering and thirsting for a way out and the means to retain their property at the same time. What with gracious dismissal policies emerging, which I gladly support, many a large congregation, rich like the temple-keepers in Jerusalem, now can see a way to realize their dreams. Dreams emerging as far back as C67 and the “Angela Davis Defense Fund.”

Let’s face it, money and property are always the critical factors in the larger churches, and these days, politics, too. That’s the truth of this letter you’ve signed, and I fear it’s the truth of many a ministry represented by its signatories, a gathering of the “boys club.”

By now, you are no longer reading this letter, but if you are, I ask you to reflect upon your Willow journey, your effort to deepen that congregation biblically and historically, and, further, I ask you to retract your signature, because, in truth, “The Letter” is filled with flawed historical analysis and spiritually demeaning theological pretense.

Please, don’t succumb to the notion that the framers of “the letter” have the high moral ground on Scripture and tradition. The biblical work has been successfully done with regard to LGBT persons and their ordination, as the work was done in earlier periods of time with regard to persons of color, who were considered, both by the church and the US Constitution, to be less human than the white race, and the work done on the ordination of women.

Though, in both cases, there are those who yet question these developments, and who would be glad to return us to the days of segregation and racial discrimination and relegate women to the pew and teaching Sunday School. Willow’s own work on the place of women in the church ought to be a paradigm for you and the ordination of LGBT persons.

By now, you are weary of this letter, and I’m weary of writing it.

I fear that the signatories of “the letter” will walk into a dark corner, shared by the likes of Orthodox Presbyterians, Bible Presbyterians, Presbyterian Church in America and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church – fractured and fractious bodies, driven by a certain “Presbyterian madness” – the so-called “purity” of the church, with all love being truly lost. “The letter” is a formula for disaster, but like the powerful of Jerusalem, blinded by their unreasonable “trust in God,” the cry of Jeremiah goes unheeded, as Jerusalem, with its tainted sense of purity, speeds headlong into ruin.

With sadness and resolute determination to do everything I can to illumine the flaws of “The Letter to the PCUSA,” I am,

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

CC: To all the world.

I'm really glad to be here. It's a miracle, ya' know, that any of us are.