Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The commonality of sin and the goodness of Jesus Christ

Picture by Jenny McHenry

Adultery, fornication and homosexual sex have a lot in common. For one thing none of them are against the law although most Christians consider them sin.
All three have always been important fodder for literature as well as movies. Here I am thinking of such stories as Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair,” Someone once wrote, I don’t remember who, that it is often the sin in human existence that holds our interest. More people read Dante’s Inferno then his Paradiso .

But I believe it is instead the drama of God seeking the sinner that gives greatness to the story. It is God’s story, the God man, grabbing us with his bloody embrace in the midst of our awfulness that takes away our breath.

In the old 1955 version of the movie, taken from the novel, The End of the Affair, Sarah, played by Deborah Kerr, is distraught because God has answered her prayer and given life back to her lover. She had promised to be good and leave her adulterous affair if God answered, now she is obligated.

She knows it is God and keeps seeking some way to disbelieve his reality. Sarah encounters a priest as she sets in church. She is lamenting her miraculous answer to prayer.

The priest tells her, “When we seek God it means we have already found him.”

Sarah counters, “But I don’t want him and what does he want with me? What can I offer him but a shabby second best!

The Priest replies, “He’s used to that.”

Sarah a bit sarcastically but with a deeper meaning says, “How sad for him,” and beyond and above her one sees a stature of Christ standing over her.

It doesn’t matter, adultery, fornication, homosexual sex, greed, hate, etc., it is sad for Jesus Christ because he carried our sin to the cross. It is sad as he intercedes for us before the Father. And it is often sad for us as we begin to walk in his new life, allowing him to put away our obsessive sin. But he gives us his goodness instead.

So there is another common trait that all sin shares. Not just sexual sin but all sin was taken care of at the cross where Jesus shed his blood.

“If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. For he was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” (1 Peter 1:17-21)

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Music, boundaries and freedom

If people are forced to live within boundaries, abide by laws, nature’s, humanity’s or God’s word, is that a loss of freedom or an aid to freedom? Could it be that that is what freedom is about?

My husband is reading an excellent book, Theology, Music and Time, by Jeremy S. Begbie, Vice Principle of Ridley Hall, Cambridge. Begbie also teaches systematic theology and is a trained musician.

I thought I would place some of the content here and let others think about it in relation to obeying the word of God and being faithful to Jesus Christ.

“Authentic personal freedom, genuine particularity and self-realization, can be exercised only in accordance with real possibilities and impossibilities. Constraints can of course threaten human freedom, as in epilepsy or solitary confinement. But what is dubious is the belief that we automatically augment freedom by reducing limitation and/or multiplying the number of possibilities open to us. For ‘if possibilities are to be meaningful for free choice, they must be well-defined by structures of limit.’1 To multiply possibilities indefinitely would in fact remove the competence of choice and thus of freedom.

Freedom, then, is not a thing or entity to be sought after, or a possession to be grasped. It qualifies arrangements of persons and things; it describes proper relationships and configurations between particularities: ‘The functions of ‘free’ are adjectival…it is not the name of our home or the description of our destiny but, at best, how we are at home and, at worst, how we may be at sea.’2 Theologically speaking, to be free is not to enjoy some supposedly unbounded contingency, it is to be at home in the world, at peace with each other and with God.”

And then the author goes on to write of improvisation and constraint using jazz …
1Oliver O'Donovan Resurrection and Moral Order: An Outline for Evangelical Ethics, Eerdmans 1986, 107.
2 Nicholas Lash, The Beginning and End of 'Religion," Cambridge,1996, 244.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A Tiger, a Lamb who is the Lion of Judah, and gay marriage

Several days ago I met a tiger. Now that surprised me because the tiger was described as a new symbol for peace with apologies to those who would prefer the dove. But now I think I understand more clearly the place of symbols in our evolving culture. Nothing is stable except the Rock of Israel. Nothing is absolute except the word of God. Nothing is graceful except the grace of Christ given to the Church because of his life, death and resurrection.

Seemingly all are aligned against the redemptive work of Christ. Rather then coming to Jesus Christ to be transformed by his grace many want to glorify their sin.

More Light Presbyterians are advertising two events in California in the push by some to keep Proposition eight from passing. Proposition 8 is the measure that would restore traditional and biblical marriage back to California. More Light Presbyterians have teamed up with California Faith for Equality as well as the Covenant Network of Presbyterians.

As I have recently
posted, California Council of Churches is one of the founders of California Faith for Equality. This means that two of the groups pushing for gay ordination which have connections with the PCUSA are also helping an organization in California which claims to represent 51 denominations and religious groups.

As I was researching the two organizations, California Council of Churches and California Church Impact, I found that they are both helped by Board Directors from both the
Northern California Interreligious Conference and the Southern California Ecumenical Council. The California Council of Churches in Sacramento is simply an office with a Director for NCIC and SCEC. The latter group is connected to the World Council of Churches and the former has evolved into an organization simply lifting up all faiths.

The leader of NCIC, Rev. Phil Lawson, stated in 1998, when receiving an award from the NCC, "Religions are only about 10,000 years old, but spirituality, religious feelings, go back three or four hundred thousand years. ... We need to include a role for the spiritual movement that is not religiously confined—that goes beyond Baptists and Buddhists."

So what does one do with this maze of organizations, many with Church in their name, all bent on destroying the biblical view of marriage, most with a poor understanding of true Christianity. The Director of SCEC, Rev. Albert Cohen, has suggested that the tiger is a more forceful symbol for what he wants to accomplish through his organization.

There is another symbol, a symbol that is a reality with deep roots in Judaism and Christianity. And that is the sacrificial lamb who is the Lion of Judah. The One who died on the cross for our sins is also the One who is Lord. And in the midst of uncertainty and fear he is also the Rock of Israel. Whatever, happens after November the 4th, Jesus Christ is still Lord, and his Church will still understand marriage as God first designed it, between a man and a woman.

This is God's call for faithfulness.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

California Church Impact with California Council of Churches and gay marriage

Can it really be true that 51 denominations and religious communities in California are represented by an organization whose present focus is the legalization of gay marriage?

On October the sixteenth I wrote about
California Church Impact and their voter recommendations that advise a no vote on proposition 8. Proposition 8 is the measure which would once again restore marriage, in California, to the traditional moral understanding that marriage is always between a man and a woman. I was deploring the fact that Sacramento Presbytery has a link to that organization.

But California Impact is simply a part of another organization whose leaders are pushing hard to keep gay marriage legal in California. That organization is the
California Council of Churches.

The California Council of Churches shares a
web site and office with California Church Impact.

On the web site of the CCC, they state that along with CCI, they “operate a Sacramento-based public policy office representing 51 different denominations and judicatories with over 1.5 million members from the mainstream Protestant and Orthodox Christian communities as well as allies from other faith traditions.”

CCC advocating for the gay community along side CCI, offers a “Marriage Equality Study Guide,” for churches as well as links to other articles advocating for gay marriage and even a celebration piece entitled “California Council of Churches and Church IMPACT Celebrate Supreme Court Marriage Equality Ruling.” They are also one of the founding members of California Faith for Equality.

Churches and Christian organizations alike need to ask the question, “how can it be that the CCC and the CCI represent so many Christians who uphold the authority of the Bible?”

For instance what would the Reformed Church in America, the Greek Orthodox Church, or the African Methodist Episcopal Church say about finding themselves listed on the CCC’s web site as some of the Churches CCC represents?

While Executive Director, Rev. Dr. Rick Schlosser, and Director of Public Policy, Elizabeth Sholes, may feel that gay marriage is the right policy for the California public they hardly have the right to imply that all of the Churches they supposedly represent agree.

In another posting I will look at the theology the California Council of Churches and the California Church Impact, as represented by its leaders, are using for their policies.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Church Impact: why is Sacramento Presbytery linking to it for mission and outreach?

This is outrageous. On my Sacramento Presbytery web site, under Missions/Outreach, under Justice, is a link to California Church Impact with a Ballot Recommendations pdf file. For proposition 8, the measure that would restore marriage to its traditional place, marriage between a woman and a man, there is this recommendation:

“Proposition 8. Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry. Initiative Constitutional Amendment.

IMPACT Recommendation: OPPOSE.
Marriage throughout history has undergone massive transformations. While contemporary churches and religious institutions may still be wrestling with the religious issues around marriage equality, we can still support secular civil rights. No church is or should be forced to sanctify any union it does not approve. IMPACT strongly supports the full inclusion of all adults in the right to marry. This moral commitment to equality is consistent with the findings of the California State Supreme Court. The only threat to conventional marriage comes from within a marital union – divorce, infidelity, disloyalty – not from without. Committed, fully-equal relationships between consenting adults strengthen our society. They do not undermine it.”

While just reading other information on that site makes it seem like a very important aspect of mission, the promotion of gay marriage eliminates my desire to uphold this particular agency. If this is where mission and outreach are pointing in my Presbytery I want nothing to do with it.

To simply say that "No Church is or should be forced to sanctify any union it does not approve" does not mean it won't turn out that way. How does linking to Church Impact aid the unity in our Presbytery?


Molly Simone and parents

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A special blessing

I often experience events that I was not expecting; events that in my forties I never even thought about. The reason is both my Father and Mother died in their early fifties when I was in my early twenties. They barely knew their grandchildren and never knew a great grandchild. So I find it a special blessing, a gift from God, to announce the birth of my first great grandchild.

On Saturday, October 11, Molly Simone was born to Melissa and Spencer. She is a beautiful tiny baby. (Pictures will come)

I once wrote a poem for my grandchildren but it will serve for my new great granddaughter as well:


You come, a bright tossed bag of gifts.
You are strawberry tinted and willowy,
You are jumping, jerking, whirling, spouting,
with flat stretched out hands.
You drop like pearls,
children from children,
diamonds from gold,
precious treasure from gathered wealth.

You are passive and quiet and bright and righteous,
son of your father, child of your mother.
You are darkened and winsome,
dancing on dreams of differences.
You are tiny and your voice sings like a bird.
You are moving beyond my carefulness
to kingdoms I will not see,
planting stones to glimmer in the light
to the borders of Paradise.

You are running, playing,
all in order - the beauty of quietness,
the psalms of peace, a peasant girl with trains.
You are active and busy with moving, arranging,
rearranging and changing the world; you cry, forging your way.

You reach with wonder into the past,
a knight in a castle,
with cowboy boots to steady the armor.

You are silent, a smile, of memory, you fade into my lost world.
He will bring you home again erasing our tears.

We are waiting
and here with arms outstretched.
You are gifts, children of children,
diamonds from gold,
precious treasure from gathered wealth
and I am here
with arms
out stretched.

You can also find this poem on my web site Naming The Grace along with a few pictures of my grandchildren although they are old pictures. The top right hand picture with the long haired strawberry blond being baptized with her siblings and the bottom picture of the little girl in a white hat making a mess with paint with her sister is the mother of Molly Simone.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

What does God in creation mean biblically?

I began this writing more than a year ago and have now retrieved it as I am preparing to help teach a class on ethics. Tomorrow I am helping by explaining panentheism, so I did a quick finish of this and will post it. My thought is to show the difference between the Christian Theist’s view of God’s transcendence & immanence and the Panentheist’s view of God . (Picture by Jenny McHenry)

Andrew Purves and Charles Partee in their article, “A Name is Not a Metaphor: A Response to ‘The Trinity: God’s Love Overflowing,” in Theology Matters (Mar/Apr 2006), write an intriguing comment:

The Report [The Trinity: God’s Love Overflowing] concludes our language can only point to a mystery the language cannot itself connect with; at worst, God really remains hidden, speechless, and unknown. If God is really mute concerning himself and his name, then we can invent God in our own image, or in the image of the relevant ideology to which we feel drawn. We have here the smiling face of Friedrich Schleiermacher behind which is the looming dark shadow of Immanuel Kant.

Immanuel Kant believed that we cannot know the ontological being of God, that is we cannot know how God is in himself, we can only experience God. In my view, he is dark and looming because, bowing to the twin ideologies of Deism and Enlightenment reason, Kant cuts humanity off from divine revelation.

Just as all philosophy is considered a footnote to Plato, so most of modern and post-modern philosophy and religion could be called a footnote to Kant’s many “antinomies.” That is Kant created, as John W. Cooper, puts it, “unresolved oppositions.” These include, “a chasm between God and the world.”1

A great deal of modern panentheism has developed from the theology or philosophy of those attempting to solve the problems connected to Kant’s antinomies. It is not Kant or his problems of opposition, I am particularly interested in, but panentheism and the difference between that and the Christian & biblical understanding of the immanence of God. To put it into a question, how is the God who is both transcendent and immanent different from the panentheistic God?

I raise this question for several reasons. I note on several blogs that the difference between God’s immanence and panentheism is often blurred by both writers and those who comment on their blogs. For that reason there is a lot of confusion surrounding many issues.

I also want to address this question because I find many progressive theologians and their followers are, seemingly, promoting a different God than the biblical God. And some people who follow in their footsteps become confused believing that the idea that God is in creation, and creation is in God is the same as panentheism. There is a difference.

The biblical understanding of God is that he is transcendent (other than creation) and his immanence (his relationship with creation) is based in his transcendence. That is, as a transcendent God, who is sufficient within his trinitarian being, he chose to create out of nothing. His being did not necessitate him creating so his creating activity is from grace, as is his redemption of earth’s fallen humanity.

Panentheists generally understand creation to be a part of God. Creation is a part of God but, unlike pantheism, God is more than creation. Panentheism posits a God who must create because creation or creating is a necessary part of who God is. In that case to say that God is in humanity and humanity is in God takes on a completely different meaning than Paul’s words to the Athenians, “for in Him we live and move and exist” (Acts 17:28a).

This is a reversal of Christian theism. In this scenario God’s transcendence comes from his immanence. That is, differences in God are shaped by his interaction with creation.

In the first understanding of God, Christian theism, God reaches out in grace to what is other than himself. In the second understanding of God, Panentheism, God can only give and take out of his insufficiency.

The biblical understanding of the Trinity, the Incarnation and God’s redemptive grace are more clearly and cogently seen in Christian theism than in panentheism. A sufficient God can choose to freely give, can take on humanity and bring human sin to the cross. Beyond this, a God unshaped by humanity, yet, loving, good and eternal is not only sufficient within himself but is our sufficiency as we turn our lives over to Jesus Christ.

1 John W. Cooper, “Panentheism: The Other God of the Philosophers: From Plato to the Present, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic 2006), 91.