Last Monday I received the keys to the house and the barn on the new property at 202 East Meadow Lane Road.  There are many doors and therefore many keys, including a garage door opener.  Cornelius Abeyta, the former owner, handed them to me after another quick tour of the land’s idiosyncracies.  I told him that, as the Latah Valley Church developed, he and his wife, Marilyn, would be invited back again and again… [Acts 10:24 still offers the best interpretative framework for our relationship!]

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And now it seems as though we’re caught up in something a lot larger than starting a new congregation.  Married to the history of this ground, these applauding pines, these worn rocks and meandering creek–we own more than the keys to some office space.  Yes, there’s plenty of room for storage and we’ve already accumulated tables, chairs and assorted technological trinkets.  But the keys we possess are seemingly more than the cut metal, manufactured by the locksmith. 

In so many wordless ways, we are the keys–those called to launch Latah Valley!  

We are the ones who must see the vision before anyone else does.  We are the ones who must turn and twist and open doors into the past, the present and the future.   We are the ones who plunge, with our perfectly shaped lives,  into the dark crevices of a despairing world.   Our jagged experiences suddenly click against the mechanisms of a secret realm and there it is.  

Revealed to us is a Reign that will not fade. 

Revealed to us is the radiance of a forgotten sapling.  

Revealed is something more than the subjective, private heart of an individual, but a festive, sacrificial and creative community of children.

Revealed is the hidden treasure of a covenant household and random sediment from a story that still goes on. 

Keys!  Keys!  Keys!

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

This week I thank God for the keys–and for the capacity to bind and to loose.   

But, after years of binding,  it’s time again for loose things to lead the way. 

Beautiful

August 20, 2007

Today, in worship, I praised God for the beauty of the preacher.  That preacher happened to be my wife, Sheryl.  And I guess it may have embarrassed a few of the parishioners at Hamblen Park Pres.

Anyway, I feel the need to apologize, or perhaps to explain myself as to why that prayer is okay in the life of the church.

First, let’s review the arguments against referring to the preacher as “beautiful.” 

One, of course, is that it’s a sexist comment.  I know that I would not appreciate Sheryl or anyone describing me as a “handsome” preacher.  Leaving aside the falsity of that statement, it’s irrelevant.  God uses all kinds of people and situations to communicate truth and there is no doubt that he used the bruised and bloodied body of Jesus to relay the most ultimate truth of all.  In short, God’s Spirit does not shy away from ugliness.  In fact, through that characterization of someone’s appearance, we can glean a basic misunderstanding of what it is that we look for.

That brings me to the number two argument against my awkward remark.   Sheryl, like other female preachers in the Reformed Tradition, wears a robe when she preaches.  The robe is supposed to keep our minds from wandering.  That is to say, we’re not supposed to be thinking about what a person looks like or what kind of clothing is in or out of style.  On the contrary, the robe reminds us that the words being proclaimed point to the Word that we cling to in Christ Jesus.  Listen!  Don’t look!  Listen!

Some may argue that, by my praise for the preacher’s beauty, I drew attention away from the redemptive Word and for that I am truly sorry.

On the other hand–I spoke in the spur of the moment, from my heart.  As a husband, I do find my spouse very beautiful.  That sensual appreciation, of course, may be taken the wrong way.  And yet, the way I intend it to be interpreted is like this:  God does not despise physical things, and God does not despise romantic love.  God, of course, created such love and according to Genesis and the Song of Songs somehow lives and waits to be revealed in the yearning that we experience.

If you’re having a difficult time with what I’m saying–check out the categories of philosophical thought that Soren Kierkegaard reviews in Either/Or.  He mentions the aesthetic stage, the ethical stage and the religious stage.  The aesthetic includes the appreciation of beauty, among other things.  The ethical considers the moral imperative of how we treat one another.  And finally, we may or may not break through to the religious stage.  Kierkegaard claims at this stage we enjoy all the fruits of the aesthetic and the ethical, but that we understand those fruits from their roots.  The religious stage has nothing to do with going to church per se, but it has everything to do with surrendering to God’s irrevocable grace and call upon our lives.   So, you see, religious people have eyes for beauty even in church, even after a sermon.  The big difference is that we don’t try to control it or to manipulate that recognition to our advantage.  And that recognition, of course, does not demean the encounter with God’s Word.

Hope that helps.   

Gerald Manley Hopkins once wrote, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God,” to which I reply Amen.  And have you noticed just how that “grandeur” plays in the bright smile of my beautiful wife!!!

An In-The-Body Experience

August 14, 2007

On Sunday, some friends of ours took our family boating on Silver Lake, and there is one word to describe the experience.

The specific experience to which I refer, of course, is that of being pulled in an inner-tube–an inflated black oval of rubber, which is fastened to a Bayliner, and therefore slung over the wake of the boat at break-neck speed.   That’s the experience!  And the word that comes to mind that may at least correspond to it is none other than… EPHEMERAL.

e-phem-er-al is an adjective which means 1. lasting a short time: transitory, or 2. last or living but a day [Webster’s New Riverside University].

Ephemeral, to me, does not capture the fun and the joy we had on the water.  But it does convey the glimpse we had of eternity as inertia took over.  Our bodies on that tube were like small insects that I’ve flicked off the picnic table.  We careen and carom and collide until our vertebrae vibrate with the primordial swale of the Universe.  My science teacher in eighth grade happens to be right afterall:  a body that is set in motion will remain in motion until…until…until disturbed by an external force.  Yes, I finally get it.  My physicality, my corporeal form, is inseparable from me.  I assume by standards of western civilization that the person inside my body is the real me, that the body is just a shell, a mortal coil, a throw-away box.  No way. 

On that inner-tube, I realized again that the dualistic separation of body and spirit is a fraud (perhaps perpetuated by Plato and Aristotle over 2,300 years ago).  Anyway, jostled and whirled around, my body and my mind coalesced around a cold bottle of Coors Lite.  Ahhh…  Drying in the sun, I leaned against the cushion of my chair in the bow of the boat and watched.  I watched my children and my friends’ children bounce on the propeller-made waves, and yes, I sank deeply into the fleeting moment.  Ephemeral.  That’s the only word for it (in retrospect).    Our bodies–including all our plans and dreams–ricochet off some kind of transparent and thick glass.  The collisions are powerful.  We feel our lives cut into the beauty of the world and then rebound into the air.  The spray of a baptism is delicious in the mouth and even up the nose…

One day, undoubtably, we’ll have to let go and release the grip on the rubber.  One day, we’ll sink down for good.  One day, the moment of sheer connection with Creation and Community will indeed last.  But Sunday on Lake Silver, with friends, did come to an end.  I have the aches and bruises to prove it.   Next experience please.

    

Used To Live Here

August 6, 2007

I used to live in Spokane, Washington.

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From June of 1988 until September of 1991, I lived in the neighborhood known as the South Hill, a small sector of this northwestern city that had been originally founded around the fur trade.  As I said, I used to live here–on 29th street for a year and then on Congress street.  A brief synopsis of my dwelling stints is as follows:

From January 15, 1964 through June of 1983, I lived in Glenolden, Pennsylvania.  The address of my home was and remains 18 North Scott Avenue, and for many years I assumed that street designation had something to do with me:  Scott!  

Then, as my parents re-located to Oxford, PA, I moved with them during my college years (attending Pennsylvania State University).  Oxford is situated near the intersection of three states:  Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland.  There were many peaks and valleys where my Mom and Dad built their home and I loved swimming in the pond on Mr. Cashell’s property.

Then, after graduating Penn State, I drove my Monte Carlo up the I-95 corridor to Princeton, New Jersey.  There I attended seminary, met my wife, Sheryl, and studied with Diogenes Allen and Jim Loder.  I lived in Princeton from June of 1985 (taking a summer course in intensive Greek with Bart Ehrman) through late May of 1988.

Then off to Spokane, where we served as pastors with Dave Peterson, Ray Smith and Doug Clegg at the First Presbyterian Church. 

Then, in September, 1991, Ada, Ohio beckoned–the realm of Ohio Northern University.  There Sheryl and I saw our children, Ian and Philip, come into the world.   I worked at the First Presbyterian Church of Ada, Ohio and deeply relished the time of preaching and teaching.   Stand-out relationships include those with Jeff and Deb Oestriech, Dale and Claudia Madison, Judy Leonard, Jim Ulrey and many others…

From Ohio (where we lived near Sheryl’s parents, Horton and Judy) we traveled to Limerick, Pennsylvania.  Limerick is a northwest suburb of Philadelphia, in Montgomery County.  It is the site of a nuclear power plant with an impeccable record of safety and security.  In Limerick, Sheryl and I served as Co-Pastors of Crossroads Presbyterian Church, a New Church Development of the Presbytery of Philadelphia.    Limerick is adjacent to Collegeville, home of Ursinus College and a region through which runs the Perkiomen Creek.  When I was twelve years old, I caught my first bass in the Perkiomen Creek.   But in January of 1996, when we heaved our belongings to Limerick, the creek had been frozen over for many months and the steam, escaping from the chimneys of the power plant frightened our movers.  We lived in a housing development in Limerick, known as Heather Glen, from that frigid month until early November of 2006.

Then, against all better judgment, we ventured back, back, back, across the country, to Spokane.   We arrived back in town a week before the celebration of Thanksgiving. 

Amen.    As I’ve said, we used to live here.   And now, obviously, we live here again.   Living here is a good thing.  Spokane and the surrounding environs comprise our mission field.  God has called us to live here.   And so, amazingly here we live and here we are USED by the Spirit of Christ Jesus.