Sunday, October 28, 2007

Literature, Damnation and the Final Death

Writing about damnation, the second death, comes easy to fallen humanity. Even our ideas about utopia when put into practice can become earthly damnation, living hells. All of earth's dictators have and still do envision for their peoples paradise and instead give them a broken tortured world. But that is for my next post.

Literature is full of pictures and concepts of a hellish after life. Of course Dante's Inferno comes to mind first. One of the most horrific pictures in literature is Dante's Lucifer stuck forever in ice at the bottom of the final circle of hell. With torment he chews forever on three traitors, one, of course, being Judas.

How cold I grew, how faint with fearfulness,
Ask me not, Reader; I shall not waste breath
Telling what words are powerless to express;

This was not life, and yet it was not death;
if thou hast wit to think how I might fare
Bereft of both, let fancy aid thy faith.

The Emperor of the sorrowful realm was there,
Out of the girding ice he stood breast-high...

If he was once as fair as now he's foul,
and dared outface his Maker in rebellion,
Well may he be the fount of all our dole.
(Canto XXXIV)

Soren Kierkegaard on the other hand writes of the person who lives in despair not acknowledging their despair, even clinging to their despair and not bringing it before God. He writes of the "millions" in all states of life:

"...eternity asks of thee and of every individual among these million millions only one question, whether thou wast in despair in a such a way that thou didst not know thou wast in despair, or in such a way that thou didst hiddenly carry this sickness in thine inward parts as thy gnawing secret, carry it under thy heart as the fruit of a sinful love, or in such a way that thou, a horror to others, didst rave in despair. And so, if thou hast lived in despair (whether for the rest thou didst win or lose), then for thee all is lost, eternity knows thee not, it never knew thee, or (even more dreadful) it knows thee as thou art known, it puts thee under arrest by thyself in despair."
(The Sickness unto Death)

Kierkegaard was a Christian existentialist, Sartre on the other hand was an atheist existentialist and his book No Exit is truly an atheist's picture of hell. I will not quote from it.

Perhaps the most biblical picture of hell is by a Christian Pastor and author, Walter Wangerin, Jr. In 1978 Wangerin wrote The Book of the Dun Cow. The inside cover of the 1979 edition states:
"Once Upon a Distant Time,
When Ultimate Evil Still lay imprisoned
in the Earth, and in their
Innocence and Might the Beasts
Were Keepers of the Gate, the
World's Greatest Battle Began ..."

But this is not his picture of hell it is rather about the glory and fallenness of humanity as seen in these creatures. But in Mourning into Dancing, a book he wrote for one of his daughters he describes both hell and redemption. I will end this posting with his picture of the unregenerate lost in the last death. But in my next posting I will write about heaven and redemption and make my final quote Wangerin's picture of the resurrection and life everlasting.

Here is his quote about eternal lostness:

"The fourth death is the only death that deserves our deepest dread. It is to be distinguished from the third. ...

Hear, then of the death those who trust in Jesus shall not die. Hear and tremble and give thanks to God.

It is the Dying Absolute. It is the sundering of every relationship for good, forever, and for all. It is more than the cutting of earthly relationships, for it is the experience of eternal, irrevocable solitude. It is perpetual exile from God. From love. It is perhaps (though I do not understand this) the death that knows it is dead. Now, finally, one knows what love is, though one is severed forever from loving and being loved. Now one knows God both in goodness and in glory, and fears him, and honors him, and would even believe in him, but cannot, for God has departed from that one eternally. This is the death of every holy alternative: what is, must be the same forever.

It is a divine and solemn irony, for God hath finally granted the sinner, now in his fourth death, what he took from God in the first: complete independence, a perfect autonomy, a singularity like unto nothing in all possibilities--except the singularity of God before he began to create. But he who has died the fourth death is not God; he could never create, and now he can accomplish nothing. He is the god of a little realm that admits one god only, his impotent self. He can only know despair. He is lost, and 'lost' is all he may say of himself forever, no attribute, no other characteristic, no past nor future, that single thing. 'I perish.' Apollumai

The utter state of solitude is the Dying Absolute. Outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Throughout the generations, its common name has been Hell."

Thursday, October 25, 2007

A Christian Review of "For The Bible Tells Me So"

This is just a small posting connected with the one I just did which included a movie posting on the Davis Community Church web site, "For The Bible Tells Me So," along with the [trailer]. I have suggested that Davis Community Church's showing and commending of this film does not help the unity and peace of our Presbytery. I found one small review from an Evangelical perspective of "For The Bible Tells Me So," at CanadianChristianity.Com. It is in the midst of several reviews all of them interesting; they are written by Peter T Chattaway. I thought this would be interesting and helpful given the use of extreme propaganda in the trailer.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

This and That Around Sacramento Presbytery

In the middle of last night we were awakened by a policeman knocking on our door. It seems some gang activity from a neighborhood next to us had, as the policeman put it, "spilled over into ours. There had been some kind of a scuffle and one policeman was hurt. They were looking for witnesses. Needless to say it was an eerie scene as six police vehicles with their lights flashing parked close to our house for several hours.

We live between a very well-to-do neighborhood and a poorer one, perhaps the best place for a Christian to exist as far as economics go? But the spill over happens often.

This got me to thinking this afternoon as I walked into the other neighborhood in order to mail some letters. (That is my favorite post office; people know how to stand around and visit with each other while waiting their turn.) I thought about how, for a Christian, the world is all mixed together, and God puts us where he puts us for a reason. Even in church, light sits beside darkness. And the two important things to remember is that Jesus Christ is the light and His light will overcome the darkness.

That got me to thinking about our Presbytery and all the big and small things going on here. Some things full of light others full of darkness.

I was reading Fair Oaks web site. They are one of the two big churches that just recently voted to leave the PCUSA. One of their pastors, Chris Alford, wrote about the Reformation and Luther and equates it with what is happening now, here, at this time. Some of what he writes in "Messy Reformation" is:

"Actual history, of course, is a bit messier. In stark contrast to the blazing speed that Luther’s theses were posted and distributed, the response of the Roman Catholic Church was painfully slow. First, the local cardinal had Luther’s document examined for heresy, then sent it along to the Pope who, in turn, took three years to respond. Papal theologians and envoys were sent to confront the problem while the Pope himself dismissed Luther as “a drunken German who, when [he’s] sober, will change his mind.” After negotiations and warnings (Luther responded by burning a papal edict) the “drunken German” was excommunicated by the church in early 1521."

Alford goes on to write: "There is a lot we can learn from Luther’s example, but here's perhaps the most helpful piece for our church in these days: Standing for biblical truth will require some patience and time. It won’t all be over with a single act."

At my Church Fremont Presbyterian Church we are having the usual Kirkin’ o’ th’ Tartan Sunday, October 28, 2007. And our Pastor Don Baird has been preaching on the creeds. He, of course, will preach on the Scots Confession on Kirkin O' th' Tartan Sunday. And there will be lots of shortbread and of course bag-pipes.

Recently at my daughter's church, Peace Presbyterian Church, we had a panel discussion about various problems in the PCUSA and our own Presbytery. Of course one of the big discussions is always why are people leaving. The Moderator, several Pastors and Elders, including myself, participated and it was all very amiable. But I am troubled that many will not acknowledge the real problems. And speaking of the real problems:

Davis Community Church on their Web site is advertising a movie at their Church for Nov. 14. The movie is entitled "For the Bible Tells Me So." They are linked to a trailer on U-Tube at [trailer] This is pure propaganda. Scary propaganda since it uses people without explaining who they are. It also uses insinuation since for instance it places Billy Graham preaching from the Bible right after a Nazi leader making a hate speech during the Nazi era. Anyway, I would suggest that others listen to the trailer and then explain to some in our Presbytery why two of our Evangelical Churches are leaving. And why the rest of us shudder

Jesus Christ, the light in our messy world is calling us to faithfuless in the midst of gross darkness. "And Jesus cried out and said,'He who believes in me, does not believe in me but in him who sent me. He who sees me sees the One who sent me. I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me will not remain in darkness." (John 12: 44-46)

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Week's Wrap Up

The picture is my Dad forty years ago after fishing in the Delta around Stockton California. The other two people are my older sister Janice and her husband Ron. I posted this for Bill Crawford, Bayou Christian, who isn't blogging anymore but still has his blog open for information on the problems in the PCUSA. I'm hoping that if we keep some fish stories going he won't completely disappear.

My Mom and Dad loved fishing. I still remember waking up on the farm as a small girl to the smell of fish frying. Either my Dad or Mom or both would get up early and go down to the creek on our farm and catch breakfast. Usually it was catfish, so I still have a fondness for fried catfish.

Mom and Dad always wanted to retire to the Ozarks and spend the end of their lives fishing. As I have explained earlier they never made it that far. My Mother died the year before this picture was taken. My Father would die about a year after it was taken, so it is a special picture of mine.

My Dad had been a cowboy, a dairyman, a farmer and a truck driver. He always had a gun, not with him but in the house. What can you expect from someone who had been a cowboy and read Zane Grey Westerns. Anyway he always tried to get my sisters and me to keep a gun in the house; we always said no!

One day, not very long after the above picture was taken, my Dad was trying to do something with his gun; I don't remember what, but he shot himself in the foot. About a week later he went fishing with a cast on his foot, which would have been okay, but someone else in the river got in a bad spot and my Dad dove in after him forgetting that he had something heavy on his foot. Needless to say someone else had to rescue two people that day. So Bayou don't go fishing with anything heavy on your foot.

This is a quote Jim Berkley, of the The Berkley Blog, sent me. He thought it was a good quote for Christian bloggers. So do I.
"A dog barks when his master is attacked. I would be a coward if I saw that God's truth is attacked and yet would remain silent. ... "John Calvin (1509-1564)

And this is a verse for all the Christian bloggers who were insulted and called names the last couple of weeks, for instance, "mud:"

"To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it." (Rev 2:17a)

And last, but not least, Dave Moody, put this as a comment after one of my postings. It touched me enough and still does that I have no words to say after reading it:

"A prayer by St. Nikolai Velimirovic, a Serbian Orthodox bishop of the last century, who opposed Nazism and was eventually taken to Dachau. In this prayer he no doubt has in mind personal enemies, rather than national ones; the prayer is not intended as a guide for political and military decisions.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and
do not curse them.
Enemies have driven me into Your embrace more
than friends have. Friends have bound me to
earth, enemies have loosed me from earth and
have demolished all my aspirations in the world.
Enemies have made me a stranger in worldly
realms and an extraneous inhabitant of the
world. Just as a hunted animal finds safer shelter
than an unhunted animal does, so have I,
persecuted by enemies, found the safest
sanctuary, having ensconced myself beneath Your
tabernacle, where neither friends nor enemies
can slay my soul. Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even
I bless them and do not curse them.
They, rather than I, have confessed my sins
before the world.
They have punished me, whenever I have
hesitated to punish myself
They have tormented me, whenever I have tried
to flee torments.
They have scolded me, whenever I have flattered
They have spat upon me, whenever I have filled
myself with arrogance.
Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and
do not curse them.
Whenever I have made myself wise, they have
called me foolish.
Whenever I have made myself mighty, they have
mocked me as though I were a dwarf.
Whenever I have wanted to lead people, they
have shoved me into the background.
Whenever I have rushed to enrich myself, they
have prevented me with an iron hand.
Whenever I thought that I would sleep peacefully,
they have wakened me from sleep.
Whenever I have tried to build a home for a long
and tranquil life, they have demolished it and
driven me out.
Truly, enemies have cut me loose from the world
and have stretched out my hands to the hem of
Your garment.
Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and
do not curse them.
Bless them and multiply them; multiply them and
make them even more bitterly against me:
so that my fleeing to You may have no return;
so that all hope in men may be scattered like
so that absolute serenity may begin to reign in my
so that my heart may become the grave of my
two evil twins: arrogance and anger;
so that I might amass all my treasure in heaven;
ah, so that I may for once be freed from self-
deception, which has entangled me in the
dreadful web of illusory life.
Enemies have taught me to know what hardly
anyone knows, that a person has no enemies in
the world except himself.
One hates his enemies only when he fails to
realize that they are not enemies, but cruel
It is truly difficult for me to say who has done me
more good and who has done me more evil in the
world: friends or enemies.
Therefore bless, O Lord, both my friends and my
A slave curses enemies, for he does not
understand. But a son blesses them, for he
For a son knows that his enemies cannot touch his
life. Therefore he freely steps among them and
prays to God for them.
Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and
do not curse them.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Good News From Afar

An e-mail came from my friends who are missionaries, but not Presbyterian, in South East Asia the same day that Michael Kruse posted Our Presbyterian Witness in Asia, on his web site which was about the new web site of Linda Valentine, Executive Director of the GAC. She is traveling to Asia to visit the various Presbyterian missionaries there. Her web site is Our Presbyterian Witness: A Faith Journal from my Journey.

This got me to thinking how much I would like to post the e-mails from my friends on my blog. Now I have their permission. However, because of some of the places they travel and because of the wonderful Christians they minister to, who live in suffering places, I cannot post their names. But this will give others a chance to read the wonderful stories they send and to pray for another part of the Church. So following is the first of what I hope will be interesting messages from friends far away.

"We wanted to thank you for praying for the new constitution and upcoming elections in Thailand. When you see other messes in other countries, we sure do appreciate prayers as motivated by our Father.

I was wanting to relate a story to you about Buddhist religion seeking to be declared the state religion of Thailand in the new constitution. Many were praying and it turned out that the Queen of Thailand was staying in Chiangmai when one of her project leaders, who was a Christian went to be with the Lord. So she graciously attended the funeral service at the First Church here in town. One of the songs in that service is a lovely song asking God to protect, prosper and Bless the Thai nation. After the meeting, the Queen was heard to comment that the Christians really love the Thai nation. A couple of days later she wrote a front page article for her birthday and asked that Buddhism not be declared the state religion in the new constitution because she did not want to see religion associated with politics in that way. Two days after that the major lobbying/action group pushing for this took itself out of business. Three days after that the constitutional referendum, without the religion clause, passed with about 60% approval. God does answer prayer.

Please keep praying as elections are scheduled before the new year. They maybe moved a little bit datewise which is okay but just this last week the coup leader resigned as Armed Forces Chief and now has been appointed deputy Prime Minister. Interestingly the Thai economy has not suffered much yet from all this. In fact the US dollar has dropped more than 20% against the Thai baht in the last two years.

Since I was scheduled to be in .... at this time, we wanted to say that the unrest and discontent is usually just below the surface in the population at all times. (much worse atrocities than you have seen on TV happen everyday in all the borderlands of ....) But the population seldom flares up like this as they know they are very unlikely to effect this government even with armed insurrection. The civil war that has raged 60 years now resulting in the 120,000 refugees and up to 300,000 internally displaced people has been a rear guard guerilla war of attrition for forty of those years. Only the prayers and cries of God's people will bring the changes that are needed.

This year is the first year that regular refugees have been allowed to leave the camps along the Thai Burma border. WE hear that 2-3,000 of these 10,000 have this year immigrated to Tennessee. That is most interesting, since three of the Pastors of the churches I spent last week with in the Hills three hours south of here have been invited by a partnering Baptist church to come for three weeks to Tennessee. I am not sure that the church is yet aware of this immigration but it would be amazing to have Pastors that are really moving ahead and experiencing 100% growth this year being able to minister to ethnic Karen refugees just getting started in a strange land as newly arrived refugees and aliens.

The district that I was in last week has had a strong move to God in the last seven years. The Worship and Prayer aspects have risen dramatically. The church there is growing up to the point that today more than 30 percent of the 60,000 people in the district are Born again Christians. There is no other place in Thailand that has that kind of statistic. The general population of Thailand is still looking for the first 1 percent to be evangelical Christians.
The only other places in SE Asia that I know have a similar percentage are in two provinces in tribal Burma and three provinces in tribal NE India.

You know the thing that impressed me the most was not the big new church buildings (one that can seat (on the floor) 1500 people) but it was the pastor and cell group leaders that are beating paths in the rainy season to small villages with brand new small Christian groups gathering. This is a real movement happening and it has been primarily among the Pwo Karen which have been the resistant ones in the last 180 years.

So we are much encouraged and it is always wonderful to bring a good report from afar."

Sunday, October 14, 2007

A Cryptic Poem Because They Left Today

Someone recently wrote, “Earth would be better off without Revelation.” But it all seems to fit. Its metaphors are beautiful. Its promises complete.

Because this is the day they left.

You who read the Left Behind books,
This is how it really feels.
They are leaving today,
the soft, but steady strong ones,
the faithful and nurturing ones,
they who nurtured new pastors,
and stood before the Presbytery
and pleaded for His righteousness.

Not a secret rapture, but,
this is how it feels
this is what left behind means.
Facing the anti-Jesus, the ones
who give gifts and celebrate
and say “It will be a day just like all others when schismatics …
finally exit the denomination in a self-righteous huff.”

You who read the Left Behind books.
and believe them, more than the holy text,
Look, there are three gathered, two in another place
and four around the altar in prayer,
and still a multitude singing praise,
with the Lamb in the midst.
Look! The red winged dragon is slinking out the back door,
his hat on crooked.

He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. (Rev. 3:5-6)

All quotes except Scripture are taken from “Shuck and Jive” at Friday Fivin' With My GalPals, and letters to the Editor on the Presbyterian Layman, “The PCUSA is moving ahead” by John Shuck.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Three Prayer Poems with Hope


Maybe He is taking
a clean white brush
and scrubbing me all over
down to a thin peeled
core--with only the truth
left around me.

I seem to keep
falling in the scrapings

Does anyone have a wash
cloth for my feet!

A Female Tiger:

Like a female tiger crawling in the tall unsteady grass,
hunting, malevolent, wanting to snarl and bite,
failing that peace I shudder down in some murky foreign soil.
It is not home.
But deep within,
all around, over and below is the strength of Judah,
gentle Lamb,
the forgiving place in God,
home of homes.

Insult is the lightening across my sky,
but weak gods threw it, their fingers shaking.
They will not last; they were canceled in the darkness
as his cross drew blood.
High King of Heaven the Anglo-Saxons called him.
He will not bruise or bend the tall unsteady grass,
but thunder home words that only a beast like I can hear.

A Spider's Prayer:

I am a spider, falling softly to the ground
On a thin unsteady string,
and when it breaks I cannot spin it back again.
Catch me oh my God and understand

I am a luna moth, all green and beautiful, but torn,
walking when I really long to fly.
Keep me yours my God,
and cushion me within your hand.

I am a creature running wounded from a fall,
within a land all full of swamp and sea,
without retreat or bridges to the sky.
Gather me my Lord and set me where you stand.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Rosa and Other Children of Mexico: A Story and A Poem

Rosa was an orphan left alone in the hills of Baja...
When my children were small we traveled to Baja California to an orphanage. The story of how the orphanage began is full of both God's tender care and human evil.

I once traveled to the orphanage with the lady who was the founder and she told me the story. The lady lives in North Hollywood and her husband was a fireman. She read in the newspaper of an old theatre in Baja and felt the Lord telling her that she should go and find it. So soon with her husband and another couple, she set off on a quest.
They had all kinds of problems including getting lost and running out of gas, but finally they found the theatre. There was an American women living there and she and her son were supposedly taking care of some orphaned children. I write supposedly because in reality that was not what they were doing.
The lady from North Hollywood along with her church, started helping this woman and the children, finally bringing the children to a church camp in the United States.

And then, because the children were with adults at the camp who could speak Spanish, the terrible truth emerged. The American woman who with her son was supposedly taking care of the children, was selling the little girls to the army camp close by.

The Lady telling me this story, said she foolishly went back to Baja and told off the woman and then left intending to come back and take care of the problem. But when she came back the woman had loaded all of the children in the back of her pickup and dropped them off one at a time in the hills of Baja.

They never found all the children. But they did find some of them including Rosa; she was living in a chicken coop. I could never tell this story without breaking down in tears. So I wrote a poem for Rosa and all of the other children. Before I post it I should say that in that place of darkness the Lord provided a home for many children with many caretakers. The last I heard about Rosa she was working for the telephone company and finally married and had her own family.

Some will find this a strange poem, but I was taking a class in Mexican History at the time so that I could better understand the people I visited with in Mexico.

Rosa and Other Children of Mexico.

Winds of the mountains blowing,
Like whispers through the caverns of your eyes.
Drained like the waters of Baja,
the genes of Montezuma are flowing away.
Cortez descending the pyramids of hell
has carried your vision below.
Encircled by a Madonna,
surrounded by Huitzilopoti,
while carried with anger by myriads of patriots,
you stand now deserted in the wasteland of man.

Better a chicken coop than altars of stone?
The feeding tables of gods all lacquered
with blood and the human condition,
unknown terror of children replacing
unknown terror of children.

Returning no more to containers of refuge,
valleys of darkness, or mountains of fear,
you gather about the hole of the asp,
waiting for the peace of the wolf and the cow.
Quetzalcoatl will come,
and the Kingdom of God, which is His, the lamb's;
but, it is given to you, the children.
(Poet News Sacramento's Literary Review February, 1990)

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Blogs, Web Sites and Family

I planned on adding more blogs and web sites to my blog, but I tried to put them under several categories and couldn't figure out how. Since there may not be a way to do that I thought I would list them on the side anyway and then write a couple of posts explaining them.

So the first post will be about my family's blogs and web sites:

Speaking of this World belongs to my daughter Jenny McHenry. She has some wonderful posts on nature and the environment, great pictures too! She and Derek, her husband are the parents of six of my grandchildren. They attend Peace Presbyterian Church in Elk Grove, California.

Libellus Stellatus belongs to one of my Granddaughters. She is the oldest daughter of Jenny and Derek. Melissa is married to Spencer. She is an artist and writer and he is an actor; they were married in the summer of 2006. Here is a wonderful post she wrote about Jesus Christ . If you explore her blog you can find some of her art work. Such as this one. Melissa writes that she created this picture, with some anger, after reading about starving people.

You can also find some great pictures of Spencer swimming from Alcatraz to San Fransisco: The Previous Weekend In Photos The picture below is Melissa with her friend Kelly. They were modeling their wedding dresses for me in my living room.

Another family blog is a nephew's. Wesley's two blogs are Mary Worth and Me and Wanders In the Mary Worth one he uses pictures from the comic strip to express himself! I think I may hear about this.!

One of my sisters, Mary Kion, who is both an artist and a writer has several web sites. She is very interested in Western history including the history of trains. One of her web sites is dedicated to our Grandmother, Viola Butler Trotter. You can reach it here: Women Of The West. Mary also writes for Suite 101. You can find her profile there and the many stories she writes. One of her featured stories is about Johnny Cash and my father. Here is a picture of both my father and my mother: As you can see from the top of the picture it was taken in Bethany Missouri.

I also have a web site besides this blog. My web site is Naming the Grace. I write a lot on feminism and Wicca. I also have written quite a lot on various racists groups. One article I haven't listed anywhere else is: "Conversations On the Immense Journey: A Fictional Conversation on Evolution, Mysticism, Pantheism and God." I wrote this conversation between several mystics, including St John of the Cross and Loren Eiseley, (whom I really don't consider a mystic), for a class on Christian Mysticism. The teacher was into Teilhard de Chardin and she asked us to use him and Eiseley's article along with two other mystics. Since she also considered C.S. Lewis a mystic, I, of course, also used Lewis. I have changed the story a bit from the original one I wrote for class.

I am adding this late. Melissa's sister, Liz is a fantastic poet, with a lot of angst! But liveliness too. Her blog, which she hasn't written on for a while, is You Don't Even Know. Here is the picture off of it which is one of my favorite pictures. She is also a wonderful artist.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

An Apology and Letters

In one of my three articles on Presbyterians and Marxism, Presbyterians Dancing With Karl Marx! Part 2 , I made a very bad, but un-intended mistake, concerning Sherry Flyr and a statement attributed to her. For that reason I am apologizing. I am posting here a letter I sent to Ms. Ann Ferguson, Presbyterian Women Program Coordinator, asking her several questions. Her reply to me, in which she pointed out the error I had made. And finally the apology I wrote to Sherry Flyr.

My Letter to Ms. Ann Ferguson:

Ms Ann Ferguson
Program Coordinator,
Presbyterian Women,

Dear Ann,

I am not sure you will remember who I am. I write for Voices of Orthodox Women and well over a year ago spoke with you on the phone about being a part of NNCPW’s leadership conference which included older women. I did attend and found the meetings generally comfortable and helpful.

I am writing you today because of a series of articles I have posted on my new blog, The series is entitled “Presbyterians Dancing with Karl Marx,” and goes well beyond matters connected to Presbyterian Women. However, this series did raise some questions related to Presbyterian Women. Since I will write a smaller and hopefully less complicated article for VOW, I do have some questions.

There are three main areas where I have mentioned PW in my articles. The first, under “Affiliations,” your site states, “Presbyterian Women works in partnership with various secular and faith-based organizations on issues of faith and social justice.”

The group Agricultural Missions is one of those affiliations. This particular group supports many rural groups. However they seem to be focusing on several groups which are either rooted in or have strong ties to Marxist groups including the World Social Forum and the United States Social Forum.

Additionally they state that they are supported by, among other religious and service groups, the Presbyterian Church USA, with PW listed along side Presbyterian Hunger Project. I searched your budget and giving projects and found no record of such giving. Can you point out where that is listed and the amount given?

The second concern is Ms Sherry Flyr who is both a board member of Agricultural Missions and Vice Moderator of Missions Relationships for Presbyterian Women. Is Ms Flyr's relationship with PW and Agricultural Missions a conflict of interest?

Here are a couple of examples that raise some concern about Ms Flyr serving these two organizations in a leadership capacity. Ms Flyr was one of the representatives AMI sent to the United States Social Forum to present seminars. As I have shown in my articles, this USSF is a decidedly far left Socialist group. The organization, World Social Forum, and its offshoot USSF does not promote PW’s goals, “to support the mission of the church worldwide,” or “to work for justice and peace.” That is, justice and peace are not attributes of Marxism, and surely neither is the mission of the Church.

In one other instance Ms Flyr is seemingly out of step with the mission of the Church. When describing the various workshops presented at the United States Social Forum she in her description of capitalism described that economic viewpoint as “Homophobic Patriarchical Violent Capitalism.”

This may be Ms Flyr’s own personal viewpoint; however, she holds a position on the National Coordinating Team of Presbyterian Women. In order “to build an inclusive caring community of women that strengthens the Presbyterian Church (USA) …,” I think it would be wise not to alienate the National Leadership of PW from women in the Pew who believe capitalism is certainly not perfect, but is a solid economic system.

In the same manner, in a Church which upholds the biblical standard of marriage between a woman and man, Ms Flyr’s use of the word “homophobic” as a descriptive word is alienating.

The final concern is with the promotion of the Brazilian Landless Workers Group (MST). As you undoubtedly know, the Editors of Horizons in their March/April 2006 edition featured three articles on MST. As you will see, from my articles, the first article, “Promised Land: The Landless Rural Worker’s Movement (MST) and Democracy in Brazil,” written by Miguel Carter, was taken from a much larger article in which Carter was defending MST from its critics who believe it to be a Marxists organization. The Editor’s of Horizons seemingly chose not to tell their readers of this conflict. Can you explain the reason for that decision?

I am inserting the three postings I have written so that you will be better able to understand some of the questions I have asked.

Presbyterians Dancing With Karl Marx! Part 1 .Presbyterians Dancing With Karl Marx! Part 2 .Presbyterians Dancing with Karl Marx Part 3 .

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter and answer the questions I am asking.

Sincerely in Christ,
Viola Larson
Board of Directors,
Voices of Orthodox Women

Ms. Ann Ferguson's letter to me:

Ms.Viola Larson
Board of Directors, Voices of Orthodox Women
October 4, 2007

Dear Viola,

I have pasted below your letter to me to ensure that those copied on this response have your complete communication. If any of this email communication appears on your weblog or on Voices of Orthodox Women's website, I expect to see the entire communication and not excerpts from it.

I do remember our conversation about your desire to be part of the NNPCW leadership conference held in conjunction with the 2006 Churchwide Gathering of Presbyterian Women. I'm glad you were able to be a part of the intergenerational event and found it comfortable and helpful.

In your letter, you raise three areas of concern. My response to each concern follows.

Presbyterian Women’s (PW) Support of Agricultural Missions, Inc. (AMI)
Agricultural Missions, Inc. is an ecumenical organization supported by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Presbyterian Women supports the mission of the PC(USA) and participates in those ecumenical bodies with which the PC(USA) relates. You do not find a budgeted item for AMI in the PW triennial budget because no funds are allocated to its support nor has it received either a Birthday or Thank Offering grant. To date, the only PW-based monetary contribution to AMI has been a portion of the 2006 Churchwide Gathering offering. Interpretation for the offering was provided prior to and during the Gathering. Gathering participants contributed as they felt called to give.

AMI Board Participation
AMI invited Presbyterian Women to send a representative to serve a board term. The Churchwide Coordinating Team assigned Ms. Sherry Flyr, vice moderator for mission relationships, to the task as part of her duties and is fully aware of her role there. There is no conflict of interest.

Magazine Editorial Decisions
The editors asked Miguel Carter, an expert in the landless movement in Brazil, to provide an article about the movement. The article he provided was accepted.

My Concern
Viola, you mention that you intend to write a short article for Voices of Orthodox Women (VOW). I have copied Ms. Sylvia Dooling with VOW. Though our opinions may differ at times, I have come to know Sylvia as a woman concerned about the veracity of the facts in VOW’s publications. In reading the series of blog postings to which you referred me, and your September 26, 2007, email letter to me, I find that both your blog and your letter contain serious factual errors. It concerns me that you would make public allegations about someone without verifying your statements. Out of respect for ethical journalism, I strongly encourage you to check your sources and verify your statements before submitting the article for publication by VOW.

In your September 26 communication that you find copied below in its entirety, you attribute to Ms. Sherry Flyr statements made by others, not by her. The Agricultural Missions newsletter article about the U.S. Social Forum from which you draw your information was written by Stephen Bartett. In the article, he lists Sherry Flyr as a member of a panel in a workshop during the U.S. Social Forum entitled "Migration and Racism in the Domincan Republic." Sherry’s contribution to the workshop was to read the definitions of the terms "race," "prejudice," "social power" and "racism" that are used in PC(USA) antiracism training.

You question the phrase "Homophobic Patriarchical Violent Capitalism." That phrase appears in the writer of the article's listing of plenary sessions during the U.S. Social Forum. The words are not Sherry’s.

In my experience, I have found that agreeing on definitions for emotion-packed words like racism and racist, or Marxism and Marxist opens the way for dialogue. Describing the verbal and nonverbal behaviors generally associated with a particular concept avoids hurtful labeling that may lead others to draw inappropriate conclusions. These descriptors allow civil and respectful discussion of highly charged topics.

In service to Christ,

Ann Ferguson
Presbyterian Women Program Coordinator
100 Witherspoon St.
Louisville, KY 40202

My Apology to Sherry Flyr:

Ms. Sherry Flyr
Vice Moderator for Missions Relationships
Presbyterian Women

Dear Ms. Flyr,

I wish to apologize for giving out unintended false information about you in the article I wrote, “Presbyterians Dancing with Karl Marx.” I mistook this sentence, “Yours truly, Sherry Flyr, and Luckner Millien of the Farm Worker Association of Florida were the panelists to get the ball rolling:…,” to mean that the “yours truly” was you and so I attributed the following quote to you: “At the US Social Forum there were major plenaries on Katrina, the War, Gender and the struggle against Homophobic Patriarchical Violent Capitalism, Immigration Rights, Worker Justice and Indigenous Peoples and their Prophetic Struggles and Cosmovision.” I certainly should have written and asked you if you had actually written those words. I will change that part of my article.

I agree with Ms. Ann Ferguson that this was a factual error and I need to remedy it. I will post this apology on my blog. Please do forgive me.

Viola Larson

Cc Ms. Ann Ferguson
The Rev. Dr. Rhashell Hunter
Dr. Susan Jackson-Dowd
Ms. Sylvia Dooling

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Christian Reading

I received the Presbyterian Women's little catalog, "Best Books for Presbyterian Women," this week. There are some good books offered. For instance N.T. Wright's series, "For Everyone" is very good and easy reading. And although I haven' read it I Want To Live These Days With You: A Year of Daily Devotions, taken from the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, should be very devotional without being sentimental.

But such books as Jack Rogers' Jesus, the Bible and Homosexuality, and Douglas F. Ottati's Theology for Liberal Presbyterians and Other Endangered Species, were offered without counter arguments. These are books for some Presbyterian women without alternative books for other Presbyterian woman.

A Multitude of Blessings: A Christian Approach to Religious Diversity by Cynthia Campbell, which pushes pluralism, is listed under "Support the Mission of the Church Worldwide ."

Reading through this list I thought of a lot of books I would like to recommend to women and men in the Presbyterian Church USA. So here is the first "Naming His Grace," list of books.

PW's list begins with, "Nurture Faith through Prayer and Bible Study," and I will begin there also. And I will begin with Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Sylvia Dooling, President of Voices of Orthodox Women recommended this book to me.

  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Christmas Sermons. Editor, Edwin Robertson, Grand Rapids: Zondervan 2005.

This book gleams with devotional care in the midst of crisis. The sermons are placed in a sequence according to the years and the events happening in Bonhoeffer's life. There is also historical and theological value here because any time an orthodox believer addresses an issue in the midst of a crisis the reader often will experience deep clarity on issues.

For instance, on the coming of Christ, you have this passage written sometime between 1938-40. It was a time when the confessing seminary had been closed by the Nazis and sermons were written down and passed around. Bonhoeffer wrote of the fearfulness of those who rejected Christ at his coming and then he wrote:

"They [The congregation of Christ's people], know he comes to redeem them. They are like miners who have been trapped in the depths of the mine, who have suffered long, shut up in the dark, who hear the knocking and the breaking down of the walls coming closer. Is it the final caving-in of the mine or is the rescuer coming? 'lift up your heads because your redemption is drawing near.' For Christians this world is like a fetter, it is too narrow for them. 'Dearest Lord Jesus, why do you wait so long? Come, Lord! Here on earth, I am so frightened.' The earth, its suffering and temptation makes us anxious, but Christ makes us glad, he brings redemption."(133)

  • High King of Heaven: Aspects of Early English Spirituality. Benedicta Ward. Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications 1999.

There are a lot of Celtic Spirituality books being published. Some of them promote an alternative spirituality. This one is a bit dated but good for two reasons. It deals with history which clarifies the issues, but it is also devotional in that it lifts up the true aspects of early English Spirituality.

Ward writing in the chapter "Anglo-Saxon Prayer," looks at some of the writings of Alcuin (735-804) on the psalter. Her quote:

"In the psalter to the end of your life you have material for reading, scrutinizing and teaching; in it you find the prophets, the evangelists, the apostles and all the divine books spiritually and intellectually treated and described and the first and second coming of the Lord in prophecy. You will find both the incarnation and the passion, resurrection and ascension of the Lord and all the power of divine words in the psalms if you peruse them with the intent of the mind and you will come by the grace of God to the marrow of intellectual understanding."

  • Ecstasy and Intimacy: When the Holy Spirit Meets the Human Spirit. Edith M. Humphrey. Forward by Eugene H. Peterson. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing 2006.

This is a trustworthy book on spirituality in the midst of other books which confuse the human spirit and human experience with the Holy Spirit and God's revelation.

My next listing moves away from the PW's list. I want to recomend a book that deals in an orthodox manner with Reformed Faith.

  • Encountering God: Christian Faith in Turbulent Times. Andrew Purves and Charles Partee. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press 2000.

Andrew Purves and Charles Partee are both professors at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, as is Dr. Humphrey above. One of the joys of this book is that both Dr. Purves and Dr. Partee each share their experence of the Lord.

Then they go on to write about issues of faith such as "The Lordship of Christ," and "The Fatherhood of God."

Under "A Mid-Course Reflection," they write:

"The ferocious fights over doctrine that mark so much of the church's history were conducted not for the sake of a rigid orthodoxy, but for the sake of the needful discipline of true faith for the people of God. All doctrinal theology is eventually and inevitably pastoral theology. We are called, then, to doctrinal and theological commitments. Dangerous shoals reside on both sides of the ark of salvation. Conservatives, who ship out under colors of confessionalism, can easily sail into unlovely legalism. Liberals, who steam along with a passion for justice and ethics, may quickly veer off into antinomianism." (61)

Some of the books listed in the PW's catalog are on justice and economic issues. And they do not offer any alternatives pointing away from the extreme liberal viewpoint. I will offer a couple of alternatives.

I have not read the book yet, I have a pile of tomes ahead of the book, but Michael Kruse of Kruse Kronicle recommended this so I could hopefully understand economics a little better.

  • Bulls, Bears & Golden Calves: Applying Christian Ethics in Economics. John E. Stapleford. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.

Also I will recommend a very ancient book by a church father, St. John Chrysostom.

  • On Wealth and Poverty, St John Chrysostom.

For two good lists of books and even movies go to my web site, Naming The Grace at Books and Movies I Recommend, and to VOW's at VOW's List of Recommended Reading.