Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sunday Devotions: True Teachers

Lectionary verse:
Romans 12:7 If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach;

The faith that I have in my heart was planted by three teachers. One was a young man called Billy, who wanted to be a missionary in Africa, but he couldn’t go because his eyesight was too weak. If he had lost his thick rimmed glasses in the middle of nowhere, he would have been almost blind and helpless. So Billy decided to teach Sunday School instead and he was the most encouraging teacher of the faith I have ever known.

I also owe my faith to an old lady in her seventies who taught my class when I was older. She was very patient and kind, but above all else, she was a great story teller. She could weave Bible passages into great patterns of understanding and thrilled her students by making the scriptures come alive. She may have been a senior citizen talking to a different generation, but she faithfully conveyed to us Christ’s compassion, love, and teaching.

My third great teacher of faith was an elementary school teacher, Miss McKenzie, who ran an after-school scripture club for all the pupils. She presented the kingdom of God in a highly attractive and jovial way. She made being a Christian fun, instead of making fun of Christians. She taught me many choruses and songs that she had learned at the Billy Graham Crusade. She was a genuine Christian and her humility and humor captivated my heart.

It’s good to reflect upon the teachers of faith who made a difference in our lives. We should remember them for their commitment to expressing faith through stories, crafts, songs and prayers. Let’s never forget them and give thanks to God for each of them. And then we should pray for those among us today who have chosen to become Sunday school teachers. Encourage and empower them; respect and resource them; support and strengthen them; for they are the ones that our children, grand-children, and great-grand-children will remember as their messengers of faith and the chosen servants who planted Christianity in their hearts.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we thank You for those special people that You call to be teachers of the faith in our churches. We thank You for their commitment, for their time, and their focus on presenting the Gospel to young, impressionable people, as well as to adults who are still learning about Your ways in the midst of their lives. Bless our Sunday School teachers and study leaders. Be with them as they prepare this week’s lesson and inspire them with Your kindness, favor, and love. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.

Stushie is the writer of the daily devotional blog "Heaven's Highway."

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Chewing on the Word - Follow Me

"If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?" Matthew 16:24-26

One of the things I've noticed lately is an uptick in martyr talk, and I wonder if the people who are desiring to be martyrs for the faith, really understand what they are saying.

We talk about 'the crucified Christ,' we proclaim, like Paul, Christ crucified, but I wonder if we really understand the wretched heartache of what we proclaim at the center of the gospel. Yesterday, over coffee at my favorite out-of-the-way cafe, I wondered what would happen if we proclaimed 'executed Jesus.' 

When Jesus invites people to take up their cross and follow him, what is he really inviting them into? Is he telling us that those who seek to live and proclaim the gospel will be at such odds with the status quo that the state will want to execute us?

Martyrdom involves someone dying at the hands of another. We, as Christians, need to be careful we aren't using the talk of martyrdom to insulate ourselves from ideological critique. Someone disagreeing with you is very different than someone killing you. Maybe I'm just too much of a literalist on this one - but it does make me wonder if, in a world at war and filled with murder at home, we aren't being a little too flip when we say we are being martyred for our faith.

And still, Jesus does say, "... let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me."

Friday, August 29, 2008

How to Be a Perfect Pastor

This is an old Beliefnet Joke of the Day, and I'm sure parts of it will ring true for many of you. As the daughter of a pastor, a lot of these sure sound familiar to me!

How to Have a Perfect Pastor

A recent survey has compiled all the qualities that people expect from the perfect pastor:

Results of a computerized survey indicated that the perfect pastor preaches exactly 12 minutes.

He frequently condemns sin but never upsets anyone.

He works from 8 a.m. until midnight and is also a janitor.

He makes $60 a week, wears good clothes, buys good books, drives a good car, and gives about $80 a week to the poor.

He is 28 years of age, but he's been preaching for 30 years. He is wonderfully gentle and handsome.

He gives himself completely but never gets too close to anyone to avoid criticism.

He speaks boldly on social issues, but must never become politically involved.

He has a burning desire to work with teenagers, but he spends all his time with senior citizens.

He makes 15 daily calls to parish families, visits shut-ins and the hospitalized, spends all his time evangelizing the unchurched, and is always in his office when needed.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Book Review: The Liturgical Mystery series

As we were planning our first post for the PresbyBloggers Book Club, Justice Seeker emailed me some book titles that she gleaned from posts of members of the webring as possible club selections.

One of them really caught my eye: The Alto Wore Tweed, one of a series of Liturgical Mysteries written by Mark Schweizer. Since there wasn't any interest in including it as a book club selection, I'm going to review the Liturgical Mysteries series for you today.

Woo-hoo! I really LOVE these books!

I've read five of the six in the series so far and the only reason I haven't finished the sixth one is because there isn't a seventh one (yet) and I'm pacing myself. So far there is one about an alto, tenor, bass, soprano, mezzo, and baritone. I'm afraid once Schweizer writes a mystery about a countertenor he'll quit! Maybe he could then write about a duet, trio, quartet, quintet, etc.

Anyone who has ever sung in a church choir, served on a church staff or church committee, or just observed the foibles of church folk on a daily basis will find something to laugh about in these books, such as : the Fung Shui Altar Guild, the Puppet Moment, the Clown Eucharist, the Womyn's Conference (a parody of the Re-Imagining Conference), the Edible Last Supper featuring the Mary Magdalene Coffee bar; the Penguin at the Manger , the Blessing of the NASCAR car, or --drumroll please--The Weasel Cantata.

Sample lyrics from The Weasel Cantata (from The Baritone Wore Chiffon):

The Weasel Cantata, it's not a sonata
You cannot eat weasel, though it may taste fine
Or lizards or vermin, 'cause they commence to squirmin'
Leviticus: eleven, verse twenty nine.

There is a bona fide murder mystery in each book for mystery fans. The protagonist of the series is Hayden Konig, part-time choir director at the Episcopal church St. Barnabus, and full time police detective in a small North Carolina mountain town. He calls himself a "liturgical detective." The author is a church musician himself, and it shows. In fact he sprinkles the books with many references to his favorite sacred music CD's, sending me again and again to my ITunes to check them out.

My favorite part of the books are the song parodies. In fact, if you want to order the books you can get them from the publisher's website at a discount! I wrote a couple of posts about these books on my blog and I notice that some of them are now sold out at Just call me "Oprah".

The website also has audio files of the following inspiring songs from the books, as well as downloads of the music scores:

The Mouldy Cheese Madrigal
The Weasel Cantata
The Pirate Gloria

I recommend when you finish reading one of the books you pass it on to your favorite choir director. Then persuade him to include the Pirate Gloria or the Weasel Cantata in a future worship service. Just to see if anyone is paying attention.

And remember that next Thursday is PresbyBloggers Book Club day. We'll be discussing The Shack, a best-selling book which has drawn both praise and criticism. Join us!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Jesus Was a Contra... ... Dancer

It is Wednesday and time once again for a snapshot of Presbys having fun!

Idlewild Presbyterian Church in Memphis is a center for folk dancing in Memphis. They are all about it.

First the
Memphis Contra Dancers are at the church the 1st, 3rd, and 5th Fridays.

Music by the Reel McCoy!

Then on the 2nd and 4th Fridays...

The Memphis Scottish Country Dancers kick it up.

So we have your Fridays covered.

On the second and fourth Thursday you will want to join the Memphis Cajun and Zydeco Dancers.

The dances come from the distinctive, French-descended culture of the Louisiana bayou country. They are enjoyable couple dances in their own right, and are also a great introduction to travel in the Cajun areas of Louisiana. French-descended culture of the Louisiana.

The church even has its own group, "The Cottonwood Cloggers" who dance at local events.

  • What if you don't know how to dance or
  • what if your bashful or
  • what if you don't have a flouncy skirt?
Lighten up! It's for everyone!

Dances are taught and experienced dancers help
newcomers. No costumes are needed.
Come as singles, couples, or groups.
It is nice but not necessary to bring a partner.

This is cool on a number of levels.
  1. The church allows the community to use its facilities
  2. Anyone can join in to dance or just watch.
  3. Super outreach and...
  4. ITS FUN!

Contra Jesus approves Idlewild for this week's Dancin' Jesus Award!

Here is Jesus trying to teach the crowd a few steps.

John Shuck is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton Tennessee and he blogs at Shuck and Jive. Contact him with your joyful news at this E-mail.

Between "Dejected" and "Empowered"

I work in the corporate office of a Catholic health care system. Though the Catholic church and I have disagreements in certain areas (and that does challenge me at work), I do really enjoy working for the nuns. One of the perks of working for these particular sisters is the "Daily Reflection" that shows up in everyone's email inbox. I usually just glance over them and go about my work, but one from this week really got me thinking:

This Moment Is as Perfect as It Can Be
Gospel people don't need to hang on to anything. For them, the ego is out of the way. They'll make a difference in the world precisely because they don't need to. They don't need to be first, they don't need to be important, they don't need to be number one. They don't need to be rich, secure, popular, so they can do what God has told them to do. They can be obedient, God can move through them with power. That's why spirituality is always about letting go.
We all occasionally see how incapable we are. I was reminded of this on a muggy July afternoon, sitting at a stoplight in downtown Cincinnati. It seemed interminable. After a few moments, I became mad at everybody around me: the car in front of me, the car behind me, the car on each side of me. I began thinking vicious, unkind things about all kinds of people whom I hadn't seen in months.
Some other part of me asked a question: "Where is this coming from? Richard, you're a spiritual teacher and you're supposed to be wise and you're supposed to be free, but you are so unfree and you are to trapped in yourself that can't even accept a little red light."
The Lord gave me a little mantra that I've used ever since: "This moment is as perfect as it can be." I've had to repeat it many times (and most times not wanting to). This moment is as perfect as it can be. Everything is right here, right now. And if I can't rejoice now, I can't know you at all. Is my joy based on circumstances, or is my joy based on something within that no one can take from me or give to me?
from Letting Go: A Spirituality of Subtraction

As I read it, I kept finding myself bouncing between thinking "how pitiful to just accept this moment for what it is and not want to make everything better" and "wow, that's a weight off my shoulders."

I realized that the dejected feeling and pity came from a misreading of the words. I kept reading: "this moment couldn't possibly have been any better," or "this moment is as perfect as it can be... and it certainly isn't perfect... so we can't hope for any better."

I don't believe I'm the only person who experiences this kind of misunderstanding when we try to talk about acceptance. There's a big part of me that believes "acceptance" is often a bad word. It means "giving up" rather than "acknowledging, agreeing, and building upon."

It took me a while to figure out that, for me, the weight I felt lifted off my shoulders was guilt. Guilt for not being perfect... or at least better. Guilt for wanting more than what I really need. Guilt for not always doing everything I can to be the best "child of God" that I can be. Pressure that I constantly put on myself and use to set myself up for failure.

It came to me as I read this that knowing "this moment is as perfect as it can be" is empowering, not depressing. It tells us that we don't need ropes of guilt tying us down or holding us back from trying to do and be what God asks.

[For any fantasy geeks out there who are fans of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series -- I feel a bit like Nynaeve and her experiences with trying to get through her block against being able to use the One Power without being angry. Part of the ability (for women) to use the One Power is to give in to the One Power, to accept what it means and what it is. This feels similar to me.]

Monday, August 25, 2008


As you may have noticed, the contributors here at PC(USA) Blog represent a variety of different viewpoints. Some of us feel very passionately, and that's certainly represented in our posts.

But it's worth noting that our opinions are ours alone, and not necessarily representative of the denomination as a whole, or even of our individual congregations.

I hope that we can all participate here with respect for one another. I believe in big tent Presbyterianism. I believe that we can disagree with one another without disrespecting each other.

And I think this blog is a great place to have part of that conversation.

I'm excited to be a part of it!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sunday Devotions: Key Keeper

Matthew 16:19 “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."

I’m forever losing my keys, especially when I’m in a hurry to go anywhere. You’ll see me scrambling about each morning, going around the house, searching for my keys to get to work. I’ve usually left beside my home computer, but that’s upstairs in the house, so I look everywhere downstairs first.

I go through the same act when I leave the office to go home. My keys are not where I thought I left them last. I check under books, papers, and magazines. I look in the drawers and next to my office computer. That’s when it hits me; my keys are still in the lock of my office door!

I’m glad that Jesus gave Peter the keys of the kingdom and not to someone like me. Peter’s dedication and devotion to Christ would not allow him to lose the authority of the church that Christ was establishing there and then. Some people think that the birthday of the church begins at Pentecost, but I think it started here, when Jesus transferred some of His authority to let Peter and the rest of the apostles ‘bind or let loose’ things on earth, which really means to permit or prohibit words and deeds that we say or do as human beings. It’s not so much that these things are the keys to our salvation, but they are the basic elements in holding the worldwide church together.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, help us to understand that the keys of the kingdom are an important part of our lives. Grant us the gift of discernment to know what is permissible among us and what is prohibitive. Where we go wrong and walk outside the bounds of Your kingdom, forgive us and redirect us back on to Your path which leads us to heaven. In Your Holy Name, we humbly pray. Amen.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Chewing on the Word - One Body

In Romans 12:1-8, Paul talks about 'we who are many, are one body in Christ,' each person with different gifts and functions, but all part of the one body of Christ.

I find the body metaphor extremely helpful when I look at the congregation I serve, the denomination I'm a part of, and the relationship between all churches.

It seems too easy these days to pass judgment upon those 'cells of the body' we don't like, disagree with, think are too old and 'frozen,' are convinced do not have the truth, etc. (And isn't it amazing that 'we' are always in the correct, non-offending group when we pass judgment.) In Christ, all persons and communities of faith have gifts to share for the good and vitality of the larger body. How we share those gifts is our answer to Jesus' question: "Who do you say that I am?"

Maybe it's time for us to have a 'changing of the mind,' (metanoia=repent) so that we can learn to appreciate the organic diversity within the body of Christ–the whole body. What gifts do Presbyterians bring to the body of Christ? As Christians in the Reformed tradition, our reliance upon Scripture, faith, and grace; our commitment to the priesthood of all believers; our appreciation for the faithfulness of God manifested through covenants; our deliberate willingness to reform our ways; a commitment to bear witness to the good news of Jesus; and a polity that protects against the selfish desires of both the tyrant and the mob are but some of the gifts we bring to the body of Christ.

What gifts do you bring for the common good of the one body in Christ?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Welcome to Nuni De Community

I love “church.” I love walking with folks as we struggle to live in to the call on our lives. I love wrestling with difficult questions. I love a good sermon. I love beautiful theology. I love communities that reach beyond themselves.

There are many things I love about the “church.” To say I love them is on par with a fluid passion that penetrates obsession with ease and rests comfortably close to apathy in many moments.

I am tired of carbonite churches with their BS liturgy and overly produced worship music. I believe there is room for them in the Kingdom. I just am tired of the happy meals many churches are serving us.

We get the sampling of tatters in the greeter at the door. The warm, silver haired man with the honest eyes reaching for your hand as you enter the door. It is the flock of seniors that hover over you that freaks me out.

We are offered a seat but not a position at the table. We are relegated to the toy in the box. We are there to be counted and displayed. We are never to fully involve ourselves in the community and challenge the paradigm in which mission, evangelism, or education is done. Tradition is the rock to which we stand.

I am tired and weary. I want so much to be a part of a community of saints that are vulnerable, honest, and seeking transformation. Perhaps I am a bit rustic in my want. Perhaps not, I just know that I am not alone in my quest.

I have had many conversations over the past few years with strangers in pubs, on planes, and in the lunch room of a rural central Oklahoma McDonalds. A common theme in this conversation has been the lack of honesty in the worshiping community or a place to be part of and have their voice heard.

I am a recent graduate from Austin Seminary. I am filled with ideas and a passion to be the “church” to those God sends me. I sometimes make myself laugh as I really get a whiff of the smoke I blow. I am an idealist with very little reality.

In seminary every paper I turned in said, “Beautiful ideas. I love what you are speaking of. Your paper lacks structure and is not very cohesive and is not very clear.” I dream and dream big.

This has lead me to dream of the “church” I would love to be a part of. I spent the last year in seminary shaping it from all possible ways. Almost every paper in that time was in some way related to my idea of a “church.”

I gave this idea a name, Nuni De Community. I set up a website. I set up a twitter account. I dreamed of it most of the time. I spilled this dream on to 50 plus pages for my final paper in seminary when the paper required only 15 pages. I was filled with excitement and adventure as I created this vision.

I imagined the who, what, and why’s. Then I got married and moved to Louisville. I chased many leads to serve this community in ministry. Then I got to hang out with Philip. He mans the Church Growth and Development Office in Louisville. He is also my wife’s boss. He loved my ideas. He encouraged me. I spoke to anyone that would listen. I email BRC. I called this EP and that. I enlisted the minds of my Presbymergent family. Then I thought…why not.

So here I am. I am ten days from cracking the wine bottle on a worshiping community. I have a vision and hope. I have no budget. I have a few folks committed to be in community. We have no idea what this will look like or if it will be anything.

I am seeking to plant a worshiping community with no money and am hoping that it will inspire others to just go out and gather as a community and invite others into that sacred space for fellowship and wrestle along side each other in the difficult questions with honesty, intimacy, and integrity.

Our mission statement:

We are a worshiping community in Old Louisville seeking to be the Body of Christ to our neighbors. We wrestle with today’s church and its inability to transform the lives of those that find themselves on its shores. We seek new ways to be an incarnation body to the world. We desire to be free of the chains of differences and celebrate diversity, in all of its beauty. We answer the call on our lives in service to our communities as we endeavor to be the church and cease doing church.

We gather to create a safe place for all to explore faith, grace, love, and compassion.

We are not a “church” founded in bricks and mortar. We are a worshiping community founded in the principles of Gods unbiased love and never ending grace.

We are not just Presbyterian, Lutheran, Methodist, or Catholic…or even Christian. We are seeking to be Christ-like, sans all the religious pomp and circumstance. We subscribe to a belief in God as witnessed in Jesus the Christ. We are inclusive and open to all. All are welcome...come.

I will document the growth of this community and our journey to be a worshiping community in Old Louisville that seeks to be the Body of Christ to our neighbors as we wrestle with the crap we bring to the Table here on this site every fourth Friday.

If you are in Louisville we meet at the Old Louisville Coffeehouse on the NE corner of Forth & Hill Monday night from 7-9pm beginning September 01, 2008. All are welcome to Nuni De Community.

Read and Learn -- Adult Study Groups

The third Thursday of every month will be dedicated to Adult Study Groups. This will be a time to review study group materials, talk about things that work, mention some things that haven't worked, compare resources, etc. If it has to do with Adult Study Groups and Presbyterian Churches -- this is its spot.

Over the last couple of years Quotidian Grace and I have both reviewed Bible in 90 Days as implemented in our respective churches. More recently Teri at Clever Title Goes Here has been leading a B90 group. I have also reviewed a number of small group materials used by groups of which I have been a member. Quotidian Grace has done the same. So in that respect, this is a continuation of the old; but let's see if we can't make this a more valuable resource for all of us involved in one way or another with Adult Ed.

  • Have you used anything lately that you really liked;
  • Have you used anything lately that you really didn't like (be nice, now, remember that Decently and in Order thing);
  • Are you looking for anything in particular (ok, so we are all looking for small group materials that will convert any group of 12 adults into fully committed disciples ready to step out and change the world in 15 weeks or less -- aim a little lower);
  • Has your church created materials you are really proud of and would like to post (consider us free advertising);
  • Now for the best part -- any great ideas or materials for small group leader training (preferably something that causes fabulous volunteers to emerge from the woodwork)?
Post suggestions, comments, and ideas below.

We will be back next month. In the meantime don't forget Book Club begins this month with The Shack.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Blast in Maryland

Found some fun Presbys in Maryland. The Elkton Presbyterian Church in Elkton, MD is fairly ordinary, typical Presbyterian church. Yup, that is what we are looking for on Presbyterian Bloggers.

Their youth group is into the spirit of things. Their slogan is "Committed to fun, Committed to Jesus."

Check this guy.

They have their own
webpage with links to music, a calendar, photos, and a chat page.

Check these pics of their service trip for Project Rake, a project that provides free home repair. Project Rake stands for Random Acts of Kindness Everywhere.

They mix it up pretty well. They took a trip to see the
Baltimore Blast,

We went to the Baltimore Blast! (that's soccer) Christian night and we had a Blast! First we watched the soccer game after we got lost in Baltimore, (Blast won) and then we saw the Christian groups Todd Agnew and Stellar Kart in concert. We didn't get back at the church until 12:30 am but we all loved it.

had a Spaghetti Dinner Fundraiser.
This years Spaghetti Dinner's theme was western. We all got our cowboy hats and lassos out for this fun fund raiser. Money that was raised will go towards our summer mission trips.

And sometimes they just hang out...

And they put their announcements on video!

Give it up for the Elkton Presbyterian Youth, this week's recipient of the Dancing Jesus Award!

John Shuck is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton Tennessee and he blogs at
Shuck and Jive. Contact him with your joyful news at this E-mail.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


Every community seems to have personally important Topics -- that's capital-T Topics versus lowercase-t topics. My church community has the Schedule and the Portrait and the Carpet -- well, I think anyone whose ever built anything has the Carpet. My work community has things like Project Managers and Deliverables and Dates.

I've also found the use of opposite case to denote significance a very interesting and powerful one.

I went through a time where God for me was god. I still have a number of friends who talk about god, and it's amazing how you can hear the lowercase-g in their tone.

Personally, I like proper case words. Maybe I'm an over-user of them. Here are some of my favorite:
  • Love
  • Faith
  • Peace
  • Joy
  • Truth
  • Hope
  • Mercy

To be clear, those are all my own proper case words. To me, like the proper case words in my church and work community, they're mean to imply the significance of the ideas to a particular group. The imply a personal understanding, but not necessarily the only valid understanding.

For example: Love. Though we all experience love, we all experience it in very personal ways. My wife and I experienced the love of our families and faith community during our 12 week old daughter's open heart surgery. That was Love. It was shared between us and within those communities. Anyone from outside that experience can say "yes, that's love," but it's only Love for us.

That small use of my left pinky on the shift key adds paragraphs and chapter of unspoken, shared history and significance. To anyone doubting the value of their 7th great English class: Punctuation is power!

To paraphrase:
A panda walks into a bar, 0rders a bamboo sandwich and scarfs it down. When he's done, he stands up, pulls out a pistol, fires one shot into the ceiling, and heads calmly for the door. The bartender shouts at him, "Hey, you. What was that all about!?" The panda replies, "I'm a panda. It's what I do." "Huh?" says the bartender looking confused. "Here," says the panda bear tossing a book on the bar as the door shuts behind him. The bartender picks up the book and opens to a marked page:

"Panda: large black and white bear-like animal; native to China; eats, shoots & leaves."

Monday, August 18, 2008

Warm Monday Welcome

Welcome to this week's newest members of the PCUSA web ring!

1) Dressed for Dancing: a pilgrim exploring the intersections of faith and life. I’m Kerri Peterson-Davis serving a PCUSA congregation in NE Ohio with my spouse Jeff. The viewpoints here are mine so don’t blame Jeff, the wonderful congregation I serve, the PCUSA or my favorite childhood dog, Sammy.

2) The Abecedarian Disciple: Thoughts from a Novice Christian. Occasionally, I have been referred to as an "expert" in various topics (such as Christian theology, biblical studies, and faith development). But I'm not sure I can claim such a title. As I see it, no one ever reaches full mastery of discipleship, or comprehends the full scope of religious matters. Speaking from personal experience, although I have been a Christian all my life, the longer I walk this mortal plane, the more dimension I discover to faith. . . especially my own. And the more I discover, the more I realize I don't know. As such, I have begun to describe myself as a "novice" Christian, or as an "abecedarian disciple." The word "abecedarian" is defined by "Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary" in this manner: "Pertaining to, or formed by, the letters of the alphabet; alphabetic; hence, rudimentary." But "abecedarian" also describes a person who is a novice learning the rudiments of some subject. This is how I view myself, as a novice learning the rudiments of faithfulness. Another, lesser known, definition of "abecedarian" is a psalm, hymn or other composition in which distinct portions or verses commence with successive letters of the alphabet. Psalm 119 in Hebrew is a good example. To play with this additional definition, I like to believe that my novitiate Christianity is more than a series of lessons for me. Perhaps one day I can look back on my life and see the rudimentary discoveries have come together as a hymn of praise to God.

These blogs also join the new blogroll (Members of Our Community - In Development) which can be found at the bottom of the right-hand sidebar. Please check the new blogroll for your site, and if you don't see yourself listed, please click the link to apply to join the ring! The new blogroll will be moving up and replacing the older list soon.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Sunday Devotion: Guitar Man

One of today's lectionary texts is Psalm 33

Psalm 33:2 Praise the LORD with the harp; make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.

Since I was a teenager, I've always enjoyed playing the guitar. I started it when my sister gave up her guitar because she wanted to play the cornet. I took her books and taught myself, which is why I have my own individual style. I wish I had learned to read music along with it, but in those days, I was just content to strum along, making up my own tunes, rhythms and chords.

When I became a Christian, I started to write songs and was given the opportunity to play them on Wednesday nights at the 428 Gospel Club in Glasgow, Scotland. I've still got some copies of the original songs, but when I look back at some of them, I cringe because the lyrics are hokey, the rhythms irregular, and the rhymes are terrible. I guess I was naive and didn't know any better.

It makes me wonder how David got started in the song business. His first audiences were the sheep of his father's flocks, so I guess it didn't matter what his early songs were like. But I am glad he persevered and, that as he grew in faith, his songs became richer and deeper in thought, expression, and love of God. Perhaps one bright day, in the Elysian Fields of Heaven, he'll put on a concert and we'll get to hear the original language, melodies and rhythms of the psalms. That will be something worth waiting in line for, even if it takes forever.

Prayer: Lord God, we thank You for creating music and song, praise and psalms. We thank You for David's expressions of faith, which help us in times of trouble, fear, worry, and weakness. Enable us to express our faith in words of love, prayers of peace, and songs of thanksgiving. In Jesus' Name, we pray. Amen.

Stushie is the writer of the daily devotional blog "Heaven's Highway."

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Chewing on the Word - Ignored

Matthew 15:23 is an interesting bit of Scripture: "But (Jesus) did not answer her at all."

Ummm.... excuse me Mr. Barth, (and every child in Sunday school), what is the essence of the good news?

"Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so..."

Jesus loves me and ignores me when my daughter is tormented by a demon. Some will quickly jump to the glorious exclamation at the end of Matthew 15:21-28: "Woman, great is your faith!" and explain that Jesus' ignorance was just a test to see if the woman was truly faithful. 

I remember a conversation with a pastor just after the book Prayer of Jabez came out. 'Every day since I became aware that my son was an alcoholic, I've prayed for God to cure him. All God does is ignore me.'

It is difficult to reconcile a profound need, especially for a child, with God's ignorance.

But maybe this story isn't really about a mother's request for her daughter. Maybe this is a story about how the unclean outsiders are hungry for what is freely offered to the insiders, but ignored by them and even a scrap of God's love and attention is enough to make all things right for those who are truly hungry (and willing to be tenacious). 

The list of needs for God's attention continues to grow. This week I learned a good friend has cancer, a young man with a wife and three young children. I have prayed daily for his cure. I will continue to pray. Like a relentless dog sitting under the table, I will continue to pray and wait for a scrap to be thrown his way. My faith is not great; I'm just hungry.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Warning: Irreverence Ahead

Since we're still looking for an experienced pastor and an elder to lead discussions/Q&A on occasional Fridays (hint hint!) I thought I'd post some Friday humor this week.

Many of you are probably familiar with The Onion, America's Finest News Source. The Onion is a satirical publication, entirely fictional, frequently hilarious, occasionally offensive, and always over-the-top.

But did you know that there's a similar publication for Christians? A Good Source for Christian News is just such a place.

Feeling cynical? The website is always good for a laugh.

This week's headlines include:
Third Day, Superchick involved in most polite band feud ever
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Third Day and Superchick have become involved in what appears to be the first Christian band feud.
It began when CCM magazine ran comments by Third Day frontman Mac Powell who said he "expected more" from Superchick’s latest release.
"I’m just saying that as a band we’re praying that they will reach their full musical potential in Christ," Powell was quoted as saying. "Don’t get me wrong, their music is great. But we wonder if it could be just a little bit better."

While you're visiting the site, be sure to take the EQ (How Evangelical Are You?) quiz. (It turns out that I'm "Backslidden" this week. I wonder if that has anything to do with the Sunday School class I'm preparing.)

In conclusion, are you familiar with the comedy duo God's Pottery? If not, you should be! Their performance in the "Yo Mama" competition on Last Comic Standing earlier this summer was . . . inspired. "Your mother is so pretty. . . " There was no way for the other the guy to compete against that!

(Since I linked to that video clip, I have to register my disapproval of the "short bus" visual joke NBC thinks is so hilarious.)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Leadership Summit 2008

I am not a fan of all things Willow Creek. I've never been there, don't think I ever want to -- not my style. However, last year I went to a satellite site for their Leadership Summit. It was worth going to. This year I was thinking about going when I saw that Gary Haugen was speaking -- I signed up. (If you've never heard Gary Haugen speak, here is a link; he preached March 2, 2008.)

This year's Summit was better than last year's. The speakers this year were: Bill Hybels, Gary Haugen, Bill George, Wendy Kopp, John Burke, Efrem Smith, Craig Groeschel, Chuck Colson, Catherine Rohr, and Brad Anderson. Most of those names you probably don't recognize. Some are from business, some are from churches, some are from the non-profit world. They are all dedicated Christians whose faith is central to what they do.

This year the three who really stood out to me were Gary Haugen, Wendy Kopp, and Catherine Rohr. All three of them have founded faith based non-profits that are genuinely changing the world. Gary Haugen is the founder of the International Justice Mission. My favorite line of his is that, the great thing about injustice is that God's against it. His Mission frees slaves, stops sex trafficking, and represents the victims of police brutality and illegal and unjust property seizures. He believes that you cannot read the Bible and not join God in a fight against injustice -- and he's convincing.

Wendy Kopp founded Teach for America -- at the age of 23. Her goal is to change educational inequality in this country. She thinks that regardless of where a child is born, he should have the same access to the same quality education as any other child. If anyone can do it, Wendy can.

Catherine Rohr founded the Prison Entrepreneurship Program in a prison in South Texas. Her goal is to teach inmates the skills, not just to be employed, but to employ themselves. It is one thing to say that inmates need job skills when they are released from prison. It is another to find employers ready to hire them. Again, Catherine is finding ways to change her part of the world.

Each one of these three talked about how they do what they do. Haugen is very upfront that he and his team start things that they know their skills and their talents aren't enough to finish. He describes his job in one of his books as saying:
"Father, we cannot solve this," and hearing him say, "Do what you know best to do, and watch me with the rest." In the end it means taking that risky bargain and seeing God do more than I could have hoped or imagined.
Of course, he isn't talking about a building project or a Sunday School class. He is talking about taking on violent people accustomed to breaking the law and getting away with it -- and knowing that becoming the next victim of their violence is always a possibility.

Likewise, Catherine Rohr talked about praying the "Bring it on" prayer. Each morning she wakes up and prays that God will, "Bring it on." I heard her say that, and I mentally recoiled. Is she nuts? I asked myself. Does she have any idea where that could get her? I think that the answer to that question might be inside a prison teaching inmates the skills they need to build lives. She was very matter of fact about going to the office, getting her instructions from God and carrying them out in obedience.

You know, I say that I do those things. I say that I have given all of my life to God. I say that I accept whatever God throws my way, although I admit that I struggle with obedience. I say that I don't just practice law -- I seek justice, I live my calling. Listening to those three made me realize what a farce it is when I say those things. I have seen the face of faith, obedience and trust -- and it ain't mine; but with God's help, I'm working on it.


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Elvis and Elton at Erin!

Our own Stushie (John Stuart), who has kept this blog going, sent me a joyful note about his congregation, Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville. The Erin Youth Players did a production of Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Check the slideshow! Here is what John said about it:
Our director had the cast in disco era/ punk rock costumes...Jacob looked like Elton John. Our "Joseph" was also African American. We're very proud of the diversity of the cast.

This must be the scene of digging the pit for Joseph.

Let's see how smart y'all are. Here some pics from the performance. You guess what part of the Bible story the scene features:

Picture #1:
OK, there is Elton John (Jacob) with Joseph...

Picture #2:
And Elvis. Let me guess, Elvis is Pharaoh?

Picture #3:
This is one colorful performance. Are these the hungry Hebrew children?

Picture #4:
They are cute. But I am stumped. It would probably help if I knew the play.

Picture #5: OK, I don't remember any cowboys or cowgirls in the Bible. This must be the Scholar's Version.

So, name the scene! Post your guesses below!
Thanks, Stushie! Looks like those Presbys had a great time! This was really well done and I like the slideshow on the webpage!

You have a fun church, so Erin Presbyterian of Knoxville gets this week's Dancin' Jesus Award!

Havin' fun near your corral? Send me an e-mail and tell me about it!

John Shuck is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton Tennessee and he blogs at
Shuck and Jive. Contact him with your joyful news at this E-mail.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

This I Believe

I'm struggling with my next post on my personal faith experiences. It will have something to do with what it means and doesn't mean to my faith that I'm a pointy-haired-boss.

In the meantime, I want to share a link to This I Believe - one of my favorite movements from the past couple of years. It's a reprisal of a movement from the 1950's, but this is my incarnation. Listening to them on NPR and reading through them as part of our Sunday School class has been inspiring, thought provoking, sometimes angering. Though the essays themselves aren't all focussed around faith, of course, the movement and experience touches on an important part of my faith.

As an introvert, I sometimes struggle with developing relationships with others. It seems to me that this is an important part of what God asks of us, though. Peace, love, joy, hope... all depend on the development of relationships with other people. I think that as we get closer to one another, we also get closer to God. Some day, I'll write a "This I Believe" essay. It'll include that message.

Monday, August 11, 2008

More New Members!

Welcome to our newest member blog, Mr. Locke's Classroom written by Neal Locke! In his own words: My name is Neal Locke, and I’m a former inner-city high school English teacher, currently working for my church as director of music and youth ministries. Starting this summer, I’ll be moving with my wife (Amy), my three-year-old son (Grady), and my newborn daughter (Abby) to New Jersey, where I’ll start work on a Masters of Divinity and a Masters in Education, both at Princeton Theological Seminary.

And today's Member blog highlight is . . . our new GA Moderator, Bruce Reyes-Chow's, personal blog, FAITH.

Here are some provocative thoughts from his post “Emergent” Worship . . . Whatever That Means:

This is a printing of an article that was just published by the Association on Presbyterian Church Educators (APCE) in their Quarterly resource, The Advocate. This is a mish-mash of many other thoughts I have spouted here before, but there you have it!

I am always a little wary of writing anything to do with the “emergent” or “postmodern” church because I usually find there is not enough space to lay a sufficient foundation to address questions around their meanings and implications for the church. I also find difficulty in separating aspects of an emergent church experience into areas such as community, worship, administration, evangelism, etc., so if you notice that some of my observations and suggestions can be applied across church structural lines, BINGO! With all of this said, I still use these terms because one by-product of thinking about worldview shifts in culture and church is the inevitable realization that the church in a “postmodern” context IS different than most churches today and deserves at least an attempt at its interpretation within the larger church context.

What is “postmodernity?” // My working definition is a hodge-podge of thoughts from Len Sweet, Brian McClaren and many others, much smarter than myself. “Postmodernity is a paradoxical worldview that flows from a modernist worldview and is characterized by a shift in culture that moves from being scientific, analytical, institutional, and mechanical to one driven by the mystical, experiential, relational, and organic.”

What is “emergent?” // The “emergent” or “emerging” church is simply the manifestation/s of postmodernity in the church. See . . . simple isn’t it ;-)

What is my context? // I will be the first to admit that the context in which I serve, Mission Bay Community Church, is unique and not like many other PC(USA) congregations. With a full embracing of online social networking as essential to community, ambiguity as a reality to be navigated and an approach to church that reeks of cynicism if not outright irreverence, I fully understand that I am in a unique situation. Our folks do not need to have the existence of a postmodern worldview proven to them, they expect it to be manifested at all times in the church.

Again, while there are many ways to talk about postmodernity in the church, one element that I believe is essential when thinking about worship is this, the emergent church is not about methodology and the “How To’s” of DOing church, but is more about the posture of worship and the approach to BEing church. An emergent worship experience is not just about the “tactics” of burning candles, sitting on couches and wearing jeans, but about the foundational worldview that may create a natural inclination towards and an appreciation for those elements. An emergent worship experience can just as easily exist within a traditionally high-church context; it is just that at this point in the life of the church, my guess is that most churches of this ilk are grounded in a distinctly modern worldview. With this in mind, I offer a few essential “approaches” to BEing an emergent worship experience rather than a “toolbox” for DOing an emergent worship service.

Consistently be real // Nothing is more non-emergent than the multiplicities of compartmentalizing that happen in worship. From the pastor who gets up and puts on his/her “Preacher Voice” to a congregation that looks or sounds NOTHING like their website or yellow pages ad, consistency of self at all levels of church structure and personal interaction is vital.

Boldly Embrace the Grey // While most churches today try to explain away or figure out how to conquer chaos and ambiguity, an emergent worship experience embraces life in the midst of ambiguity as an wonderful opportunity to seek God’s guidance and live out one’s faith. No longer should we strive towards a life in opposition to ambiguity, but a peace of heart and mind informed by and in the midst of it.

Truly Appreciate the Other // It is one thing to have an outward image of diversity and tolerance of others, but without true cultural competency, this inauthentic diversity amounts to not much more than tokenism and window dressing. An emergent worship experience does not have diversity for diversity’s sake, nor does it simply tolerate differences in culture, class, theology, politics, lifestyle, etc. An emergent service will be able to show true appreciation for the diversity in it’s midst, an appreciation that does not always mean approval, but an affirmation that others’ journeys and context are just as valid to be part of the grander walk of faith.

Humbly Claim A Truth // Every church must claim some kind of “truth.” How that “truth” is held and perceived is at the core of any emergent worship experience. While claiming a little “t” truth – in our case a belief in the redeeming power of the life, death and resurrection of Christ – an emergent church never claims the big “T” Truth that renders all other’s perspectives false. An emergent worship experience exists in this seemingly unsettled place holding dear to the belief that it is in the humble sharing and exchange of multiple takes on truth that each one’s understandings of Truth is made more clear, meaningful and whole.

So there you have it, a few tasty tidbits for you to digest in thinking about and engaging in the whole emergent and postmodern discourse. I hope that there has been something that maybe helpful for your and your communities journey.

by Bruce Reyes-Chow

Check out our whole webring here!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sunday Devotions: Beijing Boycott

The Olympic Games in China are about to begin, but I cannot watch any of them. China is still persecuting and imprisoning Christians, even in the city of Beijing itself.

Podcast version here

1 Corinthians 9:24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.

The time has come for the Olympic Games to begin and it will soon seem as though the whole world is standing still. Athletes from many nations will be traveling to Beijing to compete in the Games. They will proudly carry their nations’ flags at the opening ceremonies and do their utmost to win medals for their countries. All of them will pursue the Olympic motto of “Faster, Higher, and Stronger” to attain their personal bests, so that they can go home, proud of their attempts and achievements.

As much as I have loved to watch the Olympic Games in the past, this year I cannot bring myself to do it. As a teenager, I loved participating in athletic events and was even a member of the High School sprint team. Throughout the years, I have been enthralled by the speed, skills, and success of modern athletes. This year, however, I cannot enjoy any of their performances.

My heart is heavy because the Olympics are being held in a nation that still arrests Christians and puts pastors in jail. As recent as Sunday May 25, Chinese police authorities in Beijing raided the Beijing Gospel church and disrupted worship. The pastor was arrested and interrogated; he was eventually released but is still under surveillance.

This happens every week, all over China. When the Olympic Committee chose Beijing as the site for the 2008 Games, they were assured that China would clean up its Human Rights and stop religious persecution. They never kept that promise, and so I will not be watching the Games. Instead, I will take time to pray for a young woman called Li Ying. She was arrested for producing and distributing a Christian newsletter in 2001, when China was awarded the Games. She is still in prison and will not be released until 2016.

As the world’s athletes run toward the finishing tape to secure their gold, silver, and bronze medals, be aware that just a few miles away from the sporting events, Christians are being harassed, persecuted, and imprisoned. They are running the real race that matters and their prize is a crown in Christ’s Kingdom. The Olympics are a world-wide, short-lived delusion. Winning souls for Christ and running for His Team are the eternal goals that we should be accomplishing. China may imprison Christians for years, but Christ keeps the persecuted free for all of eternity.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we get so caught up with the world’s dreams that we sometimes forget the vision You have for the entire earth. Afflict our hearts and minds so that we will remember those poor souls that are languishing in prison in Beijing and throughout China just for believing in You. Shame us into remembering the cost of being Christians and help us to pray for those who are imprisoned just for praying, preaching, and practicing their Christianity. In Your Holy Name, we humbly pray. Amen.

Stushie is the writer of the daily devotional blog Heaven's Highway

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Chewing on the Word - Terrified

This is a word I've been chewing on for quite some time: terrified. Ever since 'the war on terror,' I've been hyper-sensitive to any vulgar uses of this truly biblical word.

How many times throughout Scripture, do the people of God become terrified, never fully understanding that it is, in fact, God at work in their midst?

In the Gospel of Matthew (14:22-33) the disciples in the boat saw someone walking toward them and they 'were terrified.' Jesus, the incarnation of God's love for the whole world, is walking toward those who left everything to follow him, and they don't recognize him, (and, of course, he is walking ON the water–something no one committed to things decent and in order would expect) and they are terrified. Without belittling the truly traumatic in life, how many times are we terrified simply because God is drawing near in ways we don't expect.

I love Jesus response, "take heart, it is I; do not be afraid." Again and again and again, the heavenly message, whether through Jesus in this passage, or the angel Gabriel to the young woman Mary, is simply "do not be afraid." Yet, when I stop and chew on that, I realize it is never simple. The pre-existing condition is fear. That which keeps me 'in the boat,' unable to recognize or to respond in faith, is fear.

However, Jesus keeps coming, keeps calling out, keeps saving those who risk stepping 'out of the boat' when the wind is blowing against them, and eventually rides with them in peace.

Has the church, for too long, tamed the unexpected terror of Jesus drawing near and saving us? Maybe Annie Dillard had it right; crash helmets and life-preservers anyone?

Photo by 2-Dog-Farm from

Friday, August 08, 2008

Whose Mission?

Today, Talitha from Madame Future Moderator has written a thought-provoking post about mission. I hope it sparks some interesting discussion!

Whose Mission?

I can't help my geekiness, I have to start this post in Latin.
Mission, though a common noun nowadays, came from a verb, mittere, to send. We may have missions and do missions and even live in missions, but once upon a time when the western world still spoke Latin, people knew that the word was verbal. That you couldn't have a mission unless someone was sending someone – that there is no mission without a sender and sendee.
(of course, we knew that. God's the sender and we're the sent)

How, then, did we end up with short term mission trips? Wherein we choose an exotic, impoverished destination and go minister there for as long or as short a time as we care to?

We have a good concept of the basic structure of mission. God sends someone and they go – just like Jesus told us.
But I think in many cases we are holding on to a fragile eggshell of what mission could be. What we have is the "going" part, made more accessible by our friends in the airline industry. Where did the "come back a week later with a lot of photos" come from? Why did we go, anyway? What did we do there? Who sent us?

I'll be the first to admit I sent myself on mission trips. Less than a month after I graduated from college, I sent myself to Uganda to serve orphans. I stayed there, with my sister, for five months and then returned and served the American side of the same organization for the remainder of the year. I did it because I was in an open minded, questioning, vocationally unsure point of my life, but also because I knew there would be great benefits for me. I went looking for an escape from the shallowness of American life, and I'll even admit that my sister and I wrote a really melodramatic song about how crucial it was to get away from the empty glitter of America.
I went with personal goals. I knew, somehow, that God would be able to touch me through this work. I was seeking a more raw, direct way of living life, hitting my boundaries, opening up and learning to "really live." I still think that these kinds of benefits are an important goal of mission -- the "conversion of the missionary" as Anthony J. Gittins has written. Isn't this why we send our teenagers out on mission trips? We are hoping that they will be touched and inspired.

However, within the structure of our mission work, the hard question has been asked -- do we do anything more than seek our own spiritual experiences? Are we doing any earthly good at all? If we're doing more harm than good, we must wonder whether God is doing the sending, or if we are taking mission (the noun) into our own hands.
The Washington Post has asked it.
Catapult Magazine has asked it, and asked it well.
In Uganda, I have seen and worked with some groups who rode the fine line between volunteer service and spiritual tourism... or maybe I was just bitter because they had so much more energy than I, a jaded three-monther, could muster up.
In committee 8 at GA218, Hunter Farrell mentioned a slightly embarrassing episode wherein short-term-mission-trippers came from different PC(USA) churches and over the span of the summer, painted and re-painted the same church in Guatemala. Such sloppiness with regards to the task at hand indicates that the participants may have been doing a little more navel-gazing or sightseeing than they were binding up the broken-hearted and proclaiming the year of the Lord's favor.

I wonder if we haven't been working only with the empty eggshell of mission (the noun - the going places - the openhearted adventure)...
Have we lost sight of the one who moves mission, who sends us, and in whose mission we are mere vessels?

i mean, maybe not... maybe the problems are exceptions, and really we just need to use our God-given common sense... but that lets us off the hook. If we look at the church as a wonderful group with just a few ignorant people in it who perpetuate cheap foolishnesses, we ignore the fact that these studies and articles cover trends and not isolated cases. Somehow we may all be complicit in sloppy, self-serving patterns of mission.
I wonder what we need. Confession, perhaps... perhaps the Invitation to Expanding Partnership in God's Mission can show us our goals, and we can confess whenever we fall short.

Call to Confession:
people of God, we serve a great God who calls us to great things. Let us not be ashamed to turn from our mistakes, knowing that God is calling us, pushing us, and sending us forth to serve in ever-better ways. Let us pray!

Written by Talitha from Madame Future Moderator.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Thursday Presbybloggers Book Club

Welcome to the Presbyterian Bloggers Book Club hosted by Quotidian Grace and Justice Seeker! On the first Thursday of each month we plan to discuss a different book of interest to members of the blog ring. In order to give those who are interested in participating time to read the book in advance, we will post a schedule of the books chosen for the club.

Our first selection is The Shack by William P. Young. This self-published book has been a surprise best-seller and drawn both praise and criticism for the author’s depiction of the Trinity. Eugene Peterson compared it favorably to John Bunyan’s classic allegory Pilgrim’s Progress. What is your reaction to it? Join us on September 4 for what we hope will be a lively discussion.

We want your thoughts on the next book club selections. Here is a list of suggestions that we have put together. We’ve tried to include a wide variety of books that have been recommended by Presbybloggers. Please let us know in the comments which you would like to see on the schedule and also give us your suggestions. If you would be willing to host a book club discussion, please leave word in the comments and give us your contact email so we can follow up.

QG and Justice Seeker suggest:

The Alto Wore Tweed by Mark Schweizer. Justice Seeker was intrigued with Presbyblogger Avdat's mention of this book on his blog: “This is the first in a series of light-hearted mysteries that are a very funny look at the life of the church and its people. The protagonist is a police chief who also serves as music director for the local Episcopalian congregation...The licks it gets in on Re-imagining style liturgical innovations are deadly and hysterical.”

Take This Bread by Sara Miles. This is a memoir of conversion told by a woman who was formerly an atheist. Sara Miles came to faith when she wandered into a small Episcopal church in her San Francisco neighborhood and took communion. Afterwards she established a food pantry in that church and then a network of food pantries all over the city. This book is well written and inspiring. Here’s a link to QG’s review.

The Other Six Days: Vocation, Work and Ministry in Biblical Perspective by R. Paul Stevens. About a year and a half ago Kruse Kronicle spent a tremendous amount of time and thought in lengthy posts about this book, chapter by chapter. Justice Seeker doesn't think that his posts got the attention that they deserved, and can't imagine any concept more critical to the Christian faith than how we live out our call to radically different lives while living what are in many respects perfectly normal lives. We’re suggesting that we read this book, taking advantage of the work done at Kruse Kronicle, and spend some time discussing what vocation, work and ministry really mean in the lives we live.

The Testament of Gideon Mack by James Robertson. From QG’s review of this novel: “Gideon Mack, is a Church of Scotland pastor who doesn't believe in God. His "testament" recounts his troubled life and ultimate encounter with the Devil, who rescued him from what should have been a fatal accident... Robertson is a superb writer. He explores the difference between faith and belief, salvation and redemption, and revelation and madness in this compelling tale.”

Contemplative Youth Ministry: Practicing the Presence of Jesus by Mark Yaconelli. According to Church Geek, “ This book was recommended to me by another 'solo pastor' working in a small church, and it does not disappoint. I really like Yaconelli's approach to youth ministry, especially his consideration that much of what we do with youth is designed to manage our anxiety about them. In contrast, the author outlines an approach to youth ministry that values kids for who they are. . . reminding us that they have things to teach us. You don't have to work with youth to get something out of this book. Much of what is written transcends youth ministry and outlines a great approach not only to pastoral ministry but to living the Christian life.”

So, Fellow PresbyBloggers--what say YOU? Would you like to discuss any of these books or would you like to suggest alternatives? Give us your thoughts in the comments.

Bookishly yours,
Quotidian Grace and Justice Seeker

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Youth Video Challenge

It is Wednesday and time for Joyful News On Ministry!

A flood of folks have sent me links about their congregations! Well, a stream. OK. Not exactly. A trickle. Fine then, I haven't received any yet. But I have been checking the web for Presbyterians having fun. I found this site, the Youth Video Challenge. These three groups were the finalists selected by YADs at General Assembly:
The Presbyterian Foundation will establish a $25,000 endowment fund to support youth ministries at these three churches. Great job! You should check all fifteen videos that made it to GA. Here is the news story about it.

Here are some Presbyterians having fun at the 2007 Triennium:

By the way, applications are being taken now for the design team for the 2010 Triennium.

Sure, it is easy for me to post things from the national level. But I bet your congregation (or presbytery) is doing some good stuff. So send me an e-mail with a pic, story, and/or video of what is happening near your mountain, forest, neighborhood, ocean, desert, or fruited plain. Shoot, just send me a link to your church's webpage and I'll find something!

We'll get Jesus dancin' yet:

John Shuck is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton, Tennessee and he blogs at
Shuck and Jive. Contact him with your joyful news at this E-mail.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

My Personal Mission

For my post on personal faith experiences today I'll be kicking off a conversation about mission and service. Please reply with your own stories on this topic, or send related topic ideas by clicking the "send your ideas" link the sidebar...

Just as background: I'm the son of two UCC missionaries in Turkey - Dad was a teacher there for 11 years and Mom was a nurse there for 9. We've always been "church" people, and that meant a lot in my small childhood church with an average Sunday attendance of 30 to 50. Needless to say, there's always been an emphasis in my life on giving of one's self.

In college, my wife and I were members of Alpha Phi Omega, an international "service fraternity." We helped with Special Olympics, tutored city-kids, cuddled and read to babies born adicted to drugs, and built houses with Habitat, among other volunteer services. The organization has a basis in Christianity, but doesn't have an official religious association.

Shortly after college, my fiancee and I spent some time looking seriously for a church home. While it is true that we landed at First Pres of Kirkwood because the 11am service was late enough to ensure we had time for in-line hockey and showers before the service, it's also true that we were very attracted to the wide variety of mission and service opportunities at the church. Even before becoming members of the church, we particpated in a spiritual gifts inventory to help us identify where our gifts and talents might lie. This was a great way to help us identify how we could provide a service to the church and contribute to its mission elsewhere. My big mistake was to check the "I'm interested" box next to everything that I was interested in "learning more about"... not necessarily volunteering for!! Although I haven't done as much as said I was interested in "learning more about," over the past 8 years, I've gone on work camps with senior high students and relief after hurricane Katrina, volunteered with a local shelter program, participated in committees, and served as an elder.

At a business meeting a couple of years ago, I sat with a woman who told me about a mission trip she and her husband had planned to Costa Rica. They'd spend most of their time site seeing, but everywhere they went, they planned on handing out bumper-sticker sized flyers that said "JESUS" on one side, and the Lord's Prayer in Spanish on the other side. She was so excited to be able to save so many souls that way. This kind of mission, I struggle with.

In college, we focussed a lot of attention on giving of our time and talents rather than our money -- we didn't have much. As I moved into the professional world, money started to become a part of the giving -- donating supplies, paying for gas, etc. Having "evangelism" called out as one of my spiritual gifts surprised the introvert in me, but I've certainly begun to see the value of sharing your beliefs with others. As an elder in a church with some fairly wealthy members, I've seen how monetary gifts can also be a form of mission. I wonder where else I'm not yet recognizing mission in action?

In lieu of our "Ask the Experienced Pastor" feature this Friday, we'll be continuing our focus on mission with a discussion about the caveats and dangers in the way we currently organize our mission trips. Please join guest blogger Talitha for an interesting discussion!