Sunday, August 29, 2010

A story of God's grace

Slightly over a year ago I wrote a posting and never posted it. Now it is time. Today I sat in a hospital room with my husband who had a heart attack Thursday night and is having quadruple bypass surgery on Tuesday morning and watched him cry. Oh not sad tears, nothing to do with operations, but tears of joy. You see he was not able to be at his Sunday afternoon Bible study which he teaches at the Ione maximum youth security facility and he had just found out that the chaplain there was arranging to have four of the boys in the study talk to him on the phone.
So the story:

I have written before that my husband, whose last name is Larson, is Welsh and his name should be Roberts. The name switch is a story of grace-God’s grace.

My Father-In-Law left home in New York as a teenager. No one knows why. We only know that he spent some of his teen age years living with his uncle Willard Clute a famous botanist. But after that we only know he kicked around the United States during the Great Depression. And he got into a great deal of trouble. He was in jail several times.

Several years before becaming a Christian he and a friend robbed a post office and he went to federal prison. My husband grew up not knowing any of his father’s stories nor about his relatives in New York.

During one prison stay my Father-in-Law changed his name. Most of the rest of his story we do not know except now we do know about his family and some of their history.

But we do know that Mark Bradbury Roberts became a Christian and here the best part of the story begins. When Jack, as he is now remembered, retired one of the things he did was to go and live in Ione, California and teach refrigeration to the boys in the maximum youth security facility. As usual for him he joined the Assemblies of God Church in the area and he made friends with the young pastor Dave Skaggs.

One of Jack’s activities at the facility was to participant in an outreach where people in the community simply came on a week night and talked to the boys one on one. As Jack became more and more concerned with the lives of the boys in the youth prison he attempted to interest his pastor in their needs. Pastor Skaggs had other plans for his future, plans that would take him away from Ione. He was not interested. But Jack kept pestering him.

One day the pastor’s wife suggested that he at least go and satisfy Jack’s wishes thus ending the pestering. Today Dave Skaggs is the head Chaplain for all of California’s prisons. He is a kind and loving pastor, not only to his many wards, but to many other chaplains

And the beautiful and circular part of this story is that my husband Brad, who has been friends with Dave for many years, now goes and teaches a Bible study to the young men in the prison. There are actually three musketeers who do this; Brad and another wonderful fellow, Fred who sings in choir with Brad, as well as a dear old friend, Bill, a counselor from Davis. They all go on Sunday afternoon to Preston and teach a Bible Study.

The Lord so many times, when our hearts are open, and even sometimes when they are not, moves away the ugly stench of human willfulness and sin, and replaces it with his flourishing work. The criminal became a new person and the beginning of a long line of ministry to those trapped in both sin and prison. God’s blessings are always like that, full of grace and never-ending.

Therefore if anyone is in Christ he is a new creature, the old things passed away; behold new things have come Eph 5:17

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A coming wedding anniversary and the "Love of God."

In a week Brad and I will celebrate our 49th wedding anniversary. I am thinking back now-mulling over many memories. I was listening to a song sung by the Gaithers, “The Love of God,” and I thought of the wonderful pastor who married us, Reverend George Elrod. He was an Assembly's of God pastor who loved to teach the Bible and also to sing. The Love of God was the song he sang often, but for our wedding he sang the Lord's Prayer.

Pastor Elrod had a gift of storytelling and with relatives in Louisiana he would often tell us Cajun stories using the dialect they use. My husband also has relatives in Louisiana and as a boy he would spend the summer helping his uncle in the bait shop which included seining the river. So it was a complete circle for Pastor Elrod to marry us.

So just for memories and joy here is a different video with a bit of Billy Graham and then the song.

Monday, August 23, 2010

My thoughts on "Internal Injuries: Moral Division within the Church"

"If you board the wrong train it is no use running along the corridor in the opposite direction."
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Joseph D. Small, Director of the Office of Theology and Worship of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) has written a paper which he read at the 2010 conference of the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology. It is also a paper that many members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) are reading as they look for a path to follow through the maze of troubling issues we are now faced with since General Assembly. The paper is entitled "Internal Injuries: Moral Division within the Churches."(Internal Injuries by Joe Small) While the paper is ecumenically given it is focused on the reformed tradition and points to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

Small’s paper begins by pointing out the lack of unity in the Reformed churches but also addresses how those in the church who find themselves in the position of confronting an impaired communion might respond. Small writes, not of a shadow church, but parallel structures in the Church. He uses ideas from the last president of Czechoslovakia, Václav Havel and his 1975 essay The Power of the Powerless.” As Small puts it, this deals with the question “How does one live freely within a system that suppresses freedom?” and he uses Havel’s position on how one finds the answer, it “lies in the difference between acceding to life within the lie and determining to live within truth.” (8)

Havel’s answers are wrapped around how those who seek to live truthfully in a repressive government might live; how they should act and respond, not to a lie, but to the truth. And even the consequences of such persistence for truth are suggested. Small, however, is quick to clarify that he does not see the various mainline church governments as totalitarian.

Some of Small’s thoughts trouble me, some thoughts I like and I have several disagreements about how the orthodox should proceed. I will explain: I disagree with using a metaphor of a repressive secular state when attempting to understand how believers might behave in the midst of a denomination that has absorbed the decadence of an immoral society. I believe we need to look at how past believers have reacted, not to repressive governments, but to immoral, heretical and manipulative church governments, teachers, pastors and administrators. I will explain further in this analysis.

But first some of my other disagreements: Small, I believe, sets this paper off the wrong direction when he writes, “At the outset, the restored unity of the church was understood to be reformation’s goal.” Small clarifies this some when he writes, “John Calvin’s critique of the late medieval Catholic Church and its practices was pervasive and often harsh, yet its purpose was always reform, not separation.” Of course the goal was not separation.

Neither Luther nor Calvin would have split the church on purpose. But at the same time I do not believe that one can say their goal was unity. Their goal was reform. A reform that moved straight ahead with the five solas intact. And I believe it is with these that believers must be concerned today, sola scriptoria sola fide, sola gratia, solus Christus, soli Deo Gloria. If there is to be unity it will be around these five themes of the Reformation. Because Small starts his paper off with the understanding that unity was the goal of the Reformation the whole paper moves toward a goal of unity which overshadows its advice about faithfulness.

That leads me to the next concern I have with Small’s paper. And this is an idea that is troubling most of the mainline churches in the United States, it is the problem named schism. There are hints in Small’s paper that those who have left the PCUSA as well as others who have left other mainline denominations have committed schism. On the other hand, quoting David Yeago about the ELCA, Small does ask, “But what happens when the part that goes its on way without regard for the whole is the part that is in charge?” But the idea of schism, in this paper, is placed in tension between two poles. The people in charge having left, what Small and Yeago refer to as an “impaired communion,” and the individual churches that have actually left to align with less progressive denominations.

Yet one has to ask of the latter, is this really schism? And the idea of “regard for the whole,” has all kinds of implications. It deserves a whole paper or posting. But in Small’s paper the terms are set to lay ground for a way forward that does not involve formal separation. Instead he proposes parallel structures. As Small explains:

“The institutions of prevailing ecclesial systems must be met by parallel structural possibilities. The creation of parallel structures should not be confused with the creation of shadow institutions. In recent years, Presbyterian institutions have not served us well. Creating mirror images of those institutions in the hope that organizational/managerial approaches to Christian faith and life can be done better and more faithfully misses an opportunity to embody a new way of living the gospel. Within the church, genuinely parallel structures might include intentional networks of ministers and congregations, collaborative educational efforts, covenanted spiritual disciplines of Scripture and prayer, alternative ecumenical relations, focused mission initiatives, and more. Parallel structural possibilities might also include judicatory realignments and even the creation of non-geographic presbyteries, synods, and dioceses. But method is not the point. Whatever the shape of parallel structures, they will only be worthwhile if they live differently from current church institutions, avoiding the bourgeois values and bureaucratic procedures that too often characterize church life.”

Related to this understanding of how believers live within truth while existing in a denomination that does not hold any particular truth, Small suggests that the Presbyterian method of using debate and voting as a method of deciding theological issues (truth) is unreasonable. He hints that it is possibly unchristian. And again the idea of unity enters the picture. Using a vote of “52%-48%” on a moral issue, Small suggests that “all too often, when a majority vote determines the matter, the unity of the church is betrayed.” But is unity the issue, or is faithfulness?

So while parallel structures perhaps should and often do exist in many troubled mainline denominations is that the whole answer? In reading through the paper have we really followed the right steps and thought out the process correctly?

I will now come back to my original thought that we must, rather than thinking in terms of how citizens have resisted repressive and immoral governments, look at how believers have reacted to immoral and repressive church governments, teachers, pastors and administrators. The examples are different. One can only rarely flee a repressive government; but one can, without life threatening impunity, leave a denomination. The question has to do with faithfulness. And truthfully unity has little to do with the quandary. Following the will of Jesus Christ has to do with the whole. Some are faithful in their leaving, many are faithful in their staying and with that the picture changes. The process is not unity but faithfulness.

So with many of the suggestions given in Small’s paper about how to live in truth I would agree. For instance, “intentional networks of ministers and congregations, collaborative educational efforts, covenanted spiritual disciplines of Scripture and prayer, alternative ecumenical relations, focused mission initiatives,” are all good and in some places I believe are already in place. But what about “judicatory realignments and even the creation of non-geographic presbyteries, synods, and dioceses?” I have some very different thoughts about these alternative structures. If we have reached the place where this is necessary we have reached a different place altogether.

With them we will have reached a place where we can no longer ordain in the same way but must do it separately. We will have perhaps reached the place where the two different structures will possess two different definitions of marriage. One structure will be the Church of Jesus Christ, not perfect of course, but holding to the apostolic teaching on morality. The other structure will be apostate, allowing fornication as normal, adultery as a sometimes solution, and same gender marriage and LGBT ordination as faithful. But the theological differences will be even greater.

While some in the old structure will hold to the biblical teaching about the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the redemptive work of Jesus, the authority of Scripture, many will not. It is simply too apparent by reading the meanderings of various progressive blogs, one structure will be filled with teachings that deny biblical faith. We will have, perhaps by failure to enter into the process, including voting as well as a fellowship of prayer and proclamation, reached that time when we cannot, to paraphrase Dietrich Bonhoeffer, ride on the train because it is going the wrong direction. We will need to ride a different train.

But we have not reached that time yet. The train is still waiting in the station and we, as well, as the engineers are not sure of the direction.

Beyond this it should be noted that we have one confession in our Book of Confessions, the Theological Declaration of Barmen, that was written with the understanding that those who wrote it and adhered to it were the true church in Germany. They were seeking faithfulness not unity. That Confession is a sufficient one. It confesses Christ alone.

We are voting on another confession which at the time of its writing its authors and even the World Alliance of Reformed Churches insisted that those who confessed it were the true church in South Africa. While the Belhar Confession is not sufficient in its confession of Jesus Christ perhaps we should understand that those who truly confess Christ are the sufficient structure. Unity has to do with our proclamation, our confession of Christ. Perhaps it is time to confess Jesus Christ as redeemer and transformer, the One who saves from sin. But we are still watching the train and its direction.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Some personal pain, some public thoughts

This week I let go of someone I love. Oh I didn’t let go of the fact that she is in the hands of Christ, although she would object to that. I let go of trying to be the one to guide her footsteps away from the precipice. But this isn’t just about her. And, yes, I am terribly sad.

So here are some thoughts about needs in California and I am sure beyond our borders. It does not even need to be spoken. If young people are not Christians they will have sex before marriage. Sometimes when they are Christians it is the same. Sexually, as a people, we are broken.

In a few months we will vote on allowing marijuana to be legal in California. But in a very real sense it already is. If someone is an adult and under stress they can legally obtain marijuana. And if they are so inclined they can offer it to their teenagers. (Not legally, but no one does anything about it.) I know a family who gathers on holidays to smoke marijuana. Many of the young people involved lose all interest in anything else.

It was not always so on our street, but now, across the street from our house, is a darkly painted apartment house where in the evening it is exceedingly dark with drug selling and prostitutes. I am thinking of placing a large sign on my front tree with the words, Prostitutes and druggies, “do you know Jesus loves you and can change your life?” Perhaps I should add pimps.

Californians think they are broken because of money woes. And of course we are hurting in that area in so many ways. But our brokenness is much, much deeper than that. We are all broken and in need of the care of our Creator. We are in need of the work of grace, the gift that Jesus gave by his death on the cross. We are in need of revival, a turning away from sin, and a turning to Christ. Outside of Him there is nothing. With him there is joy in the midst of pain.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Phyllis Tickle: the Age of the Spirit?

In the twelfth century, Joachim of Fiore, abbot of a monastery in a remote area, San Giovanni da Fiore, wrote his apocalyptic visions of the future which included three religious ages. That is, an age of the Father, an age of the Son and an age of the Spirit. Fiore tied his ideas to the monastic life and saw the age of the Spirit as the age of two perfect monastic houses who would battle against the anti-Christ.. (Picture by Stephen Larson)

Some post-modern thinkers, writers and even pastors in the United States also think in terms of an age of the Spirit. Several times Phyllis Tickle, author of The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why has referred to both Joachim of Fiore and a coming age of the Spirit.

In her book in a footnote to page 162 on the possible changes coming to Christianity, Tickle writes:

“As many readers may know medieval mystics like Joachim of Fiore would regard that development [changes in Christianity which include a rewrite of theology] as nothing less than prophetic fulfillment, inasmuch as they believed history was to be divided up into bi-millennial units. For them, from the beginning to the birth of Christ was the two thousand years of primary emphasis on God the Father. From the coming of Christ to 2000 was to be the two thousand years of primary emphasis on God the Son. From 2000 CE to 4000 CE would be the two thousand years of the primacy in worship and in human affairs of God the Spirit.” (165 n8)

In a recent paper on Patheos Tickle writes: The Age of the Spirit has come, just as many of the mystics had promised it would. Authority will rest not only in scripture, as Luther and Protestantism had argued, but also in the intentions of the Spirit as they are revealed to, and discerned by, the devout in prayer and in congress with one another. It is a shift of historic proportions.”

I first want to correct Tickle’s understanding about Joachim and other mystics’ views of an age of the Spirit. But then I want to explain the problems that exist when Christians lift up such an age. (And it is nothing new within Christianity)

Joachim saw three states of time that overlapped each other. The first began with Adam and lasted until the time of Christ. For Joachim this was the time of the Father and those who married. The second state began with Josiah and lasted into the time of Christ and past. This was the time of clerics. The third stage, the Holy Spirit, is the time of the monastic orders and started with Saint Benedict. The time of the Father is the Old Testament, the time of Christ the New Testament. But, the time of the Spirit is unclear –it is now but it is also future. Joachim’s position on this is argued about by Scholars.[1]

There were others who followed Joachim; some were considered orthodox by the church of their time others were not. Some of the more heretical appeared in the thirteenth century. They were called the Amaurians. Norman Cohn in his fascinating book, The Pursuit of the Millennium writes of them:

“Like Joachim the Amaurians saw history as divided into three ages, corresponding to the three Persons of the Trinity; but unlike him, they believed that each age had its appropriate Incarnation. From the beginning of the world until the birth of Christ the Father had acted alone; and he had been incarnated in Abraham … The age since the Nativity had been the Age of the Son. But now there was the beginning the Age of the Holy Spirit, which would last to the end of the world. That age was to be marked by the last great Incarnation. It was the turn of the Spirit to take on flesh and the Amaurians were the first men in which it had done so-the first ‘Spirituals’, as they called themselves.” (155)[2]

And here is one of the clearest problems with an idea of an age of the Spirit. In such thinking the Holy Spirit is so easily untied from his position as the one who turns our attention to Jesus Christ. Jesus, in John, states that the Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin because they do not believe in him (Jesus. ) He convicts the world of righteousness because Jesus is with the Father. The Holy Spirit convicts the world of judgment because the ruler of the world (Satan) has been judged. And this is the work that Jesus did on the cross. (Col 2:15)

In Tickle’s thinking the community of believers will now find authority within their interconnectedness’ as the Holy Spirit guides. She speaks of the “intentions of the Spirit” and lays that beside the Holy Scriptures. But it is through the illumination of the Scriptures by the Holy Spirit to the heart of the believer, and always centered on the Lord of the Church that both believer and Church are guided.

The 19th century Romantic Movement was also a time when the Holy Spirit was lifted above Christ in emphasis. It was another age, like ours, that turned in interest to monasticism, cathedrals (but broken ancient ones), candles and gothic themes. It began with mystery and nature and ended in despair with the works of Nietzsche and the art of Francisco Goya.

H.G. Schenk in The Mind of the European Romantics, also writes of this problem of emphasizing the Holy Spirit over Christ. He explores the theology of Friedrich Schleiermacher, a romantic and the father of liberal theology. Using Karl Barth’s critique of Schleiermacher, he writes, “Adoration of the Holy Ghost, at the expense of the other Persons of the Trinity, emotionalism and finally, pantheism are, as it were, natural allies.” (116) And this is the direction many in the emergent movement, Tickle’s main subject, are headed. Moving away from the authority of Scripture and the Lordship of Christ places believers in a very dangerous position.

If we hear the voice of the Spirit but do not hear of Jesus Christ and his redeeming, transforming life and death-it is not the Holy Spirit we are hearing. If we tend to listen for the Spirit but fail to obey the word of God, the Bible, we are listening for the wrong spirit. It is eternally the time of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

[1] Trans. Intro. Bernard McGinn, Apocalyptic Spirituality: Treatises and Letters of Lactanntius, Adso of Montier-En-Der, Joachim of Fiore, the Spiritual Franciscans, Savonarola, (New York Paulist Press 1979) 102.

[2] When I first began ministering to families and Christians who had friends and children involved in cults and new religions, I encountered a whole ‘Christian’ radio station whose various pastors from all over the United States were teaching a similar doctrine.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The ACSWP:their summary of GA actions on the Middle East: is it true?

I had little time to spend in committee 14, the committee dealing with the Presbyterian Middle East Study Report. Instead I was in the Theological Issues committee as an Advocate for Sacramento’s overture. But I hurried to visit committee 14 because I was concerned about the faulty Middle East Study Report.

Another reason I hurried was because I knew my friend Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, was there. Although he has been a friend for a long time I had never met him in person. I arrived just in time to listen to the debate before the committee voted to remove the infamous 72 page appendix “A plea for Justice: A Historical Analysis” from the report. And I did meet the Rabbi. Two happy events.

There were many other changes made to the report. A great deal of the changes came about because of a friend, a commissioner, who worked tirelessly to help the committee reshape the controversial document into one that although it would not totally satisfy anyone would nonetheless be acceptable to almost everyone. The commissioner poured hours into the 172 page report to guide the committee in their reshaping. I saw her suggestions when past Moderator Susan Andrews handed them to me and then loaned me her glasses, since in my hurry I had forgotten mine.

So when I read the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy’s summary of the report in their on-line subscription newsletter, Salt & Light, I was stunned.

So what does the author of the summary say about the Presbyterian Middle East Study Report?

“The Middle East Report was approved virtually unchanged, with two appendices removed,[1] despite massive and frequently personal pressure from persons seeking to defend virtually all Israeli policies from moral criticism. The Report’s strongest recommendation, that U.S. aid to Israel’s very conservative government be stopped as long as the settlements are not stopped, showed widespread understanding that the two-state solution is virtually impossible and the Christian population virtually gone, primarily due to Israel’s 47 year military occupation. Divestment was put off further into the future, but had not been recommended by either the Middle East Study Committee or the Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI).”

The summary is a lie. And to help the lie along, the author does not link to the study and its changes as he/she did on other issues in this summary. Here is the link to the study with the changes, Breaking Down the Walls.

When first opening this document the reader immediately finds a change: the insertion of the words, “the reaffirmation of Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign nation within secure and internationally recognized borders in accordance with United Nations resolutions,” into the report.

And as I stated above, one of the appendices that was removed was the 72 page document “A plea for Justice: A Historical Analysis” that was a one-sided account of the history of the Palestinians and Israelis in the Middle East. That was the document which stated that the Jewish immigrants “took the land of Palestine from a majority of its inhabitants at gunpoint.” It also suggested that the Jewish immigrants from Europe were not true descendants of the ancient Israelites and the history did not uphold the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state.

The committee changed the wording “endorses” the Kairos Document to “commends for study.” It changed the words “the possible withholding of military aid as a means of bringing Israel to" compliance with international law and peacemaking efforts to “making U.S. aid to Israel contingent upon Israel’s” compliance with international law and peacemaking efforts.

Committee 14 changed the Presbyterian Middle East Study committees’ efforts to continue on overseeing the General Assembly’s mandates for Middle East peace, and instead requires that there be a committee made up of seven new members chosen by the past moderator and the new moderator. One but no more than two of the original group will be a part of the new committee. There are many other changes; one only need read through the document in order to see them.

In the final paragraph of the ACSWP’s summary the author brings the Belhar Confession and the Middle East Peace issues together. The author writes:

“Let us hope that the church-wide discussion of the Belhar confession does seek to apply it to other matters of concern, and not simply to Israel/Palestine.”

My first thought was this is crazy. Belhar was supposed to be about racism not the Middle East. But then I realized I was thinking from my own objective viewpoint; the author of the summary sees Israel as the most racist nation in the world today. He/she is concerned because the term apartheid was not applied to Israel by the General Assembly. So when the author looks at Belhar he sees it addressed to Israel.

So many statements in this summary by the ACSWP and their advisor Chris Iosso are distorted. They have simply ignored the actual work of Committee 14 and provided their readers with their own decisions about the Middle East. They are also ignoring the members of their own denomination who sent commissioners to the General Assembly. Since the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy is a Presbyterian organization under the General Assembly Mission Council hopefully they will be asked to correct their erroneous newsletter.

[1] . It is ironic that in the above statement by the ACSWP the two dropped appendices are referred to as simply two appendices while in their “
Human Rights Update 2010 Recommendation,” they ask the General Assembly to answer the request to "identify Violations of the Civil Rights of Christians, Jews, and Muslims in the United States and Other Areas of the World" with one of them, A Plea for Justice: A Historical Analysis. For more information see “A Plea for Justice: A Historical Analysis:” false beginnings, twisted thoughts- part 1

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The ACSWP on our tolerant youth and Belhar: yes it's about sex!

The Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy and their adviser Chris Iosso has published their latest Salt & Light. It is their Post General Assembly issue. The paper is a free on line subscription and a friend sent me his on-line copy. I have now subscribed. There are several items that need to be addressed including the Middle East.[1] But the subject I want to address in this posting concerns the Belhar Confession. The author writes:

“And adding the Belhar Confession to the Book of Confessions was strongly supported and will now also go to the presbyteries. (One overture opposing Belhar [the Sacramento Overture] cited its possible application to GLBT issues, where categories or limited definitions of people can be used to exclude, as racial categories did during apartheid). The issue in the presbyteries will then be partly generational: does the church want to oppose the current generation’s increasing tolerance?”

So now supposedly the debate about Belhar turns on age versus youth because supposedly youth are more tolerant then older people. And supposedly, in the Church, the ordination of gays and lesbians as well as same gender marriage has to do with competing levels of tolerance rather than Scripture or the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Everywhere one turns in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) there is a drive to pass Belhar for the sake of, not differing ethnic groups, but for the purpose of turning the Book of Confessions into an avenue that allows, even blesses, sin. Belhar was never intended as a document to use in that manner but it will be used that way in the PCUSA.

I seem to be constantly turning to Bonhoeffer as a way of pointing out truth but on both youth and sexual ethics Bonhoeffer has some important corrections to make to the ACSWP’s newsletter. I have written before about the confession he wrote for the Confessing Church of Nazi Germany in his book Ethics. That was a book he wrote in the midst of horrors.

On the sexual issues plaguing Germany’s society and church he wrote:

"The Church confesses that she has found no word of advice and assistance in the face of the dissolution of all order in the relation between the sexes. She has found no strong and effective answer to the contempt for chastity and to the proclamation of sexual libertinism. All she has achieved has been an occasional expression of moral indignation.[2] She has thus rendered herself guilty of the loss of the purity and soundness of youth. She has failed to proclaim with sufficient emphasis that our bodies belong to the Body of Christ." (114-15)

On youth Bonhoeffer wrote:

The Church confesses herself guilty of the collapse of parental authority. She offered no resistance to contempt for age and idolization of youth, for she was afraid of losing youth, and with it the future. As though her future belonged to youth. She has not dared to proclaim divine authority and dignity of parenthood in the face of the revolution of youth, and in a very earthly way she has tried ‘to keep up with the young.’ She has thus rendered herself guilty of the breakup of countless families, the betrayal of fathers by their children, the self-deification of youth, and the abandonment of youth to the apostasy from Christ.” (114)

There is not much more on these two subjects one can say about our post-modern Presbyterian denomination than the confession that Bonhoeffer offered the Church of the Nazi era. Do we as members want to encourage a tolerance among youth that is anti-Christian? Are we so afraid of losing them that we will allow them to apostatize from Christ? Even if we lose, even, as Barth once said, even if we are “thinned down till it be a tiny group and go into the catacombs,” we need to keep teaching and proclaiming to them and to ourselves the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the authority of his word.

[1] I will write on the Middle East in another posting, but it should be noted that the Newsletter makes a connection between Belhar and the Middle East.
[2] The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A), in her higher offices, at this moment is failing to offer even an expression of moral indignation.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Highway of Holiness

“Encourage the exhausted, and strengthen the feeble. Say to those with anxious hearts ‘Take courage, fear not. Behold your God will come with vengeance; the recompense of God will come, but he will save you. Then the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped. Then the lame will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will shout for joy. For the waters will break forth in the wilderness and streams in the Arabah. The scorched land will become a pool and the thirsty ground springs of living water; in the haunt of jackals, its resting place, grass becomes reeds and rushes.

A highway will be there, a roadway, and it will be called the Highway of Holiness. The unclean will not travel on it. But it will be for him who walks that way, and fools will not wander on it. No lion will be there, nor will any vicious beast go upon it; there will not be found there. But the redeemed of the Lord will walk there, and the ransomed of the Lord will return and come to Zion with everlasting joy upon their heads. They will find gladness and joy. And sorrow and sighing will flee away.” (Isaiah 35: 3-10)

These verses should actually be in hymn form, they are in my NAS. They are full of promise but in some aspects might seem discouraging. I say that because the verses say that nothing unclean can be on this Highway. But remember it is the redeemed that are there. They are also referred to as the ransomed. This is a picture of the Church; those that the Lord Jesus Christ has redeemed.

J. Alec Motyer writes in the Tyndale commentary on Isaiah:

"The Lord never reduces his standards to match the weaknesses of his people; he raises his people to the height of his standards. How this will happen Isaiah does not say; he simply leaves us to assume that such meeting of the requirements of the law is achieved for the Lord’s people by his work of salvation (4f) and redemption (9d, 10a), for the redeemed of the Lord walk there! …Those disqualified from walking the Way of Holiness are therefore self-disqualified through failure to use the means of grace available to them."

These verses truly speak to the renewal of the Church. They also speak about God's love and protection of his people. He is the Redeemer and Sanctifier.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The desire for the Inner Ring

I watched this video of our past Moderator, Bruce Reyes-Chow giving a speech in San Francisco, after the repeal of proposition 8. It is on the More Light Web site. I also read the speech to make sure I actually heard correctly that he had stated that those who take the Bible literally are screaming “hatred, oppression and injustice." (read below)

I then went to Reyes-Chows web site where he had posted
an explanation of why he was speaking at the rally, I pleaded with him, as did others, to apologize to those he had insulted. And then when he put a poll up asking if he had gone too far in his speech I pleaded again several times. (I didn't vote-love and concern are not something to vote on.)

This was Bruce’s answer to me.

" … in reply to
Viola Larson...
Viola - I am afraid we are going to have to agree to disagree on this one. We sit so far apart on some understandings of faith that in all honesty, i do not have the energy to engage with you about these things. I have watched you and others try to hammer out some really tough issues on your blog and you are far more dogged that I when it comes to this engagement. For this I admire you greatly. I am sure there will be a blog post coming - where you will no doubt get a far different set of polling numbers- but I will say this, even though we differ greatly on content, delivery and assessments . . . I trust that even in these brief and rather impersonal interactions, somehow you are part of God's unfolding plans for my life. I trust God and will believe no other about people who are faithfully engaging the world through a lens of our triune God. That's the best I can do for you in particular right now. - Peace, Bruce"

This has been unfolding in my mind and heart over the last two days. C. S. Lewis speaks of the Inner Ring and how the desire to be a member of an Inner Ring, be it large or small, is bad. He writes:

Of all the passions the passion for the Inner Ring is most skillful in making a man who is not yet a very bad man do very bad things.”

One can understand people standing up for their convictions and speaking out. But when we come to that place where we are so intent on others hearing us and including us into their midst, into their activity, applauding us, that we spew ugly language at those who uphold the Bible something has gone amiss in our activism.

The Inner Ring is growing. The leadership among those who want ordination and marriage for gays and lesbians is beginning to overflow. Leaders of all kinds are pressing for this, including the clergy. But if the ugly language aimed at Bible believing Christians grows, and it is growing, some will need to make a choice. This has happened over and over in Christianity. It is not new. The choice is between hurting brothers and sisters with ugliness and insult or maintaining unity with the universal church that has existed in the heart of our Lord before the beginning of time.

Some will grow in beauty as they allow God to shape them in the crucible of our times. Some will struggle to maintain the kind of love God calls us all into.

May God’s mercy be upon all of us.

Bruce's speech:

“I also know that many of my people have influenced this particular journey in non-positive ways. I stand before you also confessing for the Christian church for too many times in our words and actions have created pain and violence. I stand before you confessing for those who have proclaimed a message of Biblical literalism and cultural narrow-mindedness that has oppressed rather than liberated. I stand before you at this time to confess for far too many of us well meaning straight allies who have not spoken out for justice that we need to step out now more than ever [applause]. This is a time of great celebration. This is a time when Christian around the world who will continue to push for justice must come out and stand, stand long and advocate the message of God to those Biblical literalists who have poisoned our understanding of marriage, sexuality and love. We will no long stand and allow the message of hope, compassion, justice and love to be drowned out by the screams of hatred, oppression and injustice [applause]. We will no long stand and see our friends, our family, our congregations members and strangers be denied the same civil rights that so many of us have been granted for a life time. There is a time that we must each embrace our call to speak out, act out of our place of privilege, risk our power, our authority, our comfort and assure that justice, compassion and love prevail. This is such a time. This is now. Thank you and God bless.”

Monday, August 9, 2010

A Review of Ecumenical Babel:Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness

From a Presbyterian Perspective -a Review of:

Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church’s Social Witness

By Jordan J. Ballor

Christian’s Library Press 139 p.

Several months ago I began reading a new biography about Dietrich Bonhoeffer.[1] At the same time I read, researched and did some minor posting on the newly formed World Communion of Reformed Churches and their Accra Confession.[2]The two subjects, Bonhoeffer and WCRC’s Accra Confession, merged in my mind producing several questions. Bonhoeffer was active in the ecumenical movement of his day and suffered through some spiritual/political adversities produced by their faulty conceptions of the Church. So a major question, for me, was how would Bonhoeffer react to today’s Ecumenical movement? What would he have to say to the movement today?

When Jordan J. Ballor of
Action Institute offered me his book, Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church’s Social Witness, with a chance to review it, he handed me a gift of clarity. Ballor looks at the three largest ecumenical organizations through the eyes of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), one of the leaders and martyrs of the Confessing Church of Nazi Germany, Paul Ramsey (1913-1988), a professor who taught “religion and ethics at Princeton University,” and Ernest W. Lefever (1919-1987), also an ethicist and theologian who according to Ballor “founded the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EEPC) in 1989.” The three organizations are the World Council of Churches (WCC), the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and, the already mentioned, World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC).

Ballor shapes his analysis around documents important to each organization. For the LWF he looks at “A Call to Participate in Transforming Economic Globalization.” This paper came out of the 2003 LWF Assembly. For the WCC, Ballor considers the “Report of the Public Issues Committees.” The report was, according to Ballor, adopted at the “Ninth General Assembly in 2006.” But of greatest interest to me and hopefully other members of the Presbyterian Church (USA) is Ballor’s analysis of the WCRC and their Accra Confession. I write this because we have just voted to encourage our Presbyterian Seminaries and congregations to study the Accra Confession.[3]

Each of the scholars Ballor uses as he looks at the three organizations and their documents bring questions to the issues. Ballor quotes Bonhoeffer:

“Is the ecumenical movement, in its visible representation, a church? Or, to put it the other way round: Has the real ecumenicity of the church as witnessed in the New Testament found visible and appropriate expression in the ecumenical organization?” (6-7)[4]

Of Ramsey, Ballor writes, “In Ramsey’s analysis, the ecumenical movement has largely abandoned the proper work of the institutional church and engaged in a program of political and social activism. Where Bonhoeffer had asked whether it was the authority of the church ‘with which the ecumenical movement speaks and acts,” Ramsey asks whether or not the ecumenical movement ‘speaks for the church.’”[5]

Ballor explains that Ramsey felt the ecumenical movement of his day was speaking about political and social issues from a secular/cultural position and yet attempting to speak with the authority of the Church. He quotes Ramsey:

“The Church becomes a secular ‘sect’ in its ecumenical ethics set over against the world as it is, instead of becoming truly a Christian sect concerned to nurture a distinctive ethos set over against an acculturated Christianity or against a culture that is no longer Christendom.”[6] (12)
Lefever worked within the ecumenical movement and, as Ballor points out, wrote two books critical of the movement. He was concerned with the ecumenical movement’s “embrace” of liberation theology and because of it their “Marxist interpretation of history and strategy for change.”[7] Lefever’s questions are, “For whom does the WCC speak? Does it speak and act for the member churches? Or, does it speak and act only for itself? To whom does the Council speak? Does it speak only to the individual Christians, or also to governments and to the world?”

Directing his attention to the movement’s documents that are mainly focused on economics slanted toward a Marxist point of view, Ballor explores the answers to the above questions. But here I will turn to Ballor’s chapter on the WCRC and the Accra Confession.

Ballor gives the history of the development of the Confession. He lists all of the concerns carried in the body of the confession, such as the “increasing concentration of wealth in the hands of few” and “the pursuit of ‘resource-driven wars.’” He also quotes the Confession’s sole candidate for perpetrator of economic and ecological disasters. Ballor writes, “Tracing the origins of these troubling realities, the Accra Confession identifies these effects as ‘directly related to the development of neoliberal economic globalization.’”

After carefully quoting the definitions that the writers of Accra use in defining “neoliberal economic globalization,” Ballor then turns to what could be called the theological section of the Confession. He explains and quotes its contradictory message that it is not a classical confession and yet its text insists that it be treated as one. Ballor writes:

“Even though the Accra Confession cannot be understood as ‘a classical doctrinal confession,’ it does identify itself as addressing a situation in which the confession either for or against Christ and his church must be made. Thus, the Accra Confession reflects a status confessionis, a situation in which such a confession is called for, as ‘the integrity of our faith is at stake if we remain silent or refuse to act in the face of the current system of neoliberal economic globalization’ (art. 16).” (58)

Ballor’s analysis of Accra includes answers to the three scholars’ questions. Bonhoeffer’s question about speaking with the authority of a church is answered by the confession with affirmation, and yet something is amiss. As Ballor states:

“…the Accra Confession does not merely call for ‘active response’ but also explicitly draws lines of orthodoxy and orthopraxis between those who affirm the specific positions articulated by the confession and those who do not.” (60) Yet it is the positions the authors of the confession take that still leave the question about authority unsettled.

And here Ballor turns to Ramsey who would undoubtedly point out that authority is missing because the position taken in the Confession evolves from a one-sided economic ideology and not from the Church’s need to, “nurture a distinctive ethos set over against an acculturated Christianity or against a culture that is no longer Christendom.” In addition Ballor applies Ramsey’s views that a political/ethical pronouncement by the ecumenical movement must be based on broad principles that do not override the right of debate within the Church. (64)To take an ideological economic position and make it determinative of one’s faithfulness is the misuse of authority.

Ballor goes on to write of several ways that the Accra Confession is not truly a confession. He uses Bonhoeffer’s thoughts that a confession must be a living confession, which means it must confess ‘for its Lord and against his enemies.’ (63) He also turns to Bonhoeffer’s insistence that to be authentic a confession must be true. Using a critique of the Accra Confession by a South African economist, Stan Du Plessis, Ballor shows how Accra ‘falters’ with its most basic facts concerning the cause of the world’s economic problems.[8] A Confession must include a confession of sin, which Accra does, but as Ballor puts it even this causes disunity. And that is because the sin confessed is tied to an economic viewpoint that many Christians cannot, and will not confess as sin. (66)

Finally an important point that Ballor speaks to is how the movement evolves along side an evolving liberation theology. He does this in the context of writing about the Marxist’s economic outlook of the ecumenical movement. Ballor writes:

“More recently, however, the ecumenical movement has left a simple economism behind. It has followed the trajectory of liberation theology itself, which first emphasized a basically economistic or materialistic anthropology but in subsequent development has articulated all manner of liberation theologies, including environmental, ethnic, sexual, and gender revolutions.” (66)

Ballor goes on to show how this allows Accra to connect “economic injustice” with “ecological destruction.” However, In the PCUSA, many insisting on the use of this document, will pull all of the above issues into the wording of the Accra Confession.

Ballor’s last chapter offers ways the ecumenical movement could be reformed. He focuses on a biblical and personal reform that centers in the life of the Church. He also focuses on the wealth that God gives to be used by his people. He asks that peripheral issues be left open for debate. Ballor writes:

“Economic and political opinions should not be turned into articles of faith. Indeed there must be room for bad economic and political opinions in our confession. There are limits, of course, and these primarily arise when some alien influence or idea, a worldly ideology, takes the place of biblical confession and becomes an all compassing world-and -life view, a would be competitor of Christianity.” (119)

While, Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church’s Social Witness, is a small book, it is dense, filled with clear thinking, biblical and confessional concern and a multitude of resources. Ballor has provided members of the mainline Churches with valuable material. Members of the PCUSA, who long for an ecumenical movement that speaks as a Church to and with its members, rather then in an authoritative manner for its members, will find a possible way forward in this book. The orthodox members of mainline churches who long for an ecumenical movement that confesses for Christ and against his enemies will also find relief in this book.

[1] Bonhoeffer, Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas.
[2] See,
How many confessions is the PC (U.S.A.)'s 219th General Assembly voting on? & The World Communion of Reformed Churches: A new religious organization with worldly intentions?
[3] See item 08-08 on
pc-biz. This whole item should be carefully read by all concerned Presbyterian Church (USA) members.
[4] Ballor’s note, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “The Confessing Church and the Ecumenical Movement” found in Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Witness to Jesus Christ, 330.
[5] Ballor’s reference for this thought is, Paul Ramsey, Who Speaks for the Church? A Critique of the 1966 Geneva Conference on Church and Society (Nashville: Abingdon Press 1967).
[6] Quote from, Ibid, 55.
[7] Ballor is quoting here from: Ernest W. Lefever, Amsterdam to Nairobi: The World Council of Churches and the Third World (Washington, D.C.: Ethics and Public Policy Center, 1979).
[8] The paper is, Stan Du Plessis, “How can you be a Christian and an economist? The Meaning of the Accra Declaration for today,” Stellenbosch Economic Working Papers (February 2010), 1-14.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Standing for Jesus

Several days ago I posted Rev. Hector Reynoso: standing for the faith and connected to the article by Hector that has been published at the Layman. That is, Commentary: A minister’s report on the 219th GA.

At the time I pointed you to a video on the PCUSA General Assembly site of Hector giving his testimony against changing the ordination standards during plenary. I did not know that Robert Austell of Lighthouse/searchlight Church had downloaded it to YouTube. (Thank you) so below is both Pastor James Lee and Pastor Hector Reynoso standing for Jesus.

A thought: rather then write a comment about this or that, if you agree with Hector that you will stand for Jesus and against the changing of our ordination standards why not say so.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Shai Linne-Hip Hop-and the gospel of Jesus Christ

I have borrowed from Pastor Thabiti Anyabwile at Pure Church. This is wonderful. Be sure and read the words.

I am sorry blogger is cutting off the artist but you can listen anyway.

Triune Praise written by shai linne

Verse 1
Praise God the Father, the Immortal Creator
For Your glory you made us, You’re the Sovereign Orchestrator
All that You decree will most surely come to happen
You’re awesome as can be and Your glory none can fathom
Nothing could ever stain You, the heavens can’t contain You
We thank You for sending Your Son to explain You
Otherwise we would have remained in the dark
but You sent Your Holy Spirit to spark a change in our hearts
According to Your eternal purpose and will
You determined to reveal Yourself to those who deserve to be killed
Those of us whom You foreknew adore You
We praise You that You predestined us to be conformed to
The image of Your Son who’s the radiance of Your glory
When I meditate on it, the weightiness of it floors me
So Father, we’ll praise you over and over again
Because You sent Your only Son to atone for our sins

Glory to the Father, Glory to the Son,
Glory to The Spirit- Three and Yet One
One in Your essence, Three in Your Person
The same in Your nature, distinct in Your working
Oh my soul- behold the wonder of the Trinity
Blessed be the Trinity, Oh, what a mystery!
I’ll stand amazed for the rest of my days
Pouring out my heart in Triune praise

Verse 2
Praise God the Son, Second Person of the Trinity
You’re distinct from the Father, yet you share in His divinity
Fulfilling an eternal covenant- You came through
To planet earth to save who? All the Father gave You
You became a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief
For the glory of Your Father You extinguished the beef
That stood between us at the cross- the Father’s anger released
The Shepherd slain for the sheep, the situation is deep
I can’t find the right language to speak, in fact it’s making me weep-
Just the thought of You saving this creep
You’re risen from the dead, I still can’t get this in my head,
How the Judge could leave the bench and go to prison instead
Lord Jesus, you’re amazing, Your bleeding is what saved men
It’s the reason why we’re praising, can’t wait to see Your face
In the meantime, please help us to see You as colossal
And by the Spirit live lives worthy of the gospel

Verse 3
Praise God the Holy Spirit, 3rd person of the Trinity
Distinct from Father and Son, yet share in Their divinity
Holy Spirit we praise You, You don’t like the spotlight
You’d rather point away from yourself and give props to Christ
But yet because You’re God, You deserve veneration
And You’re the One responsible for our regeneration
You apply the finished work of Christ to all the elect
Your call is effectual- You haven’t lost one yet
You comfort us when sin, Satan and the world got us bothered
And it’s only by You that we cry out “Abba Father”
You’re the Spirit of adoption, the Spirit of Truth,
You graciously provide Your people with the gifts and the fruit
You help us kill sin and dis-attach us from our idols
If it wasn’t for You, we’d never understand the Bible
Because You wrote it- For our life it will surely suffice
Amazingly, You do it all for the glory of Christ!


Friday, August 6, 2010

Answering a question about a theocratic state

After I posted Our sad day... and linked it on my Facebook status an interesting discussion occurred between myself and a nephew. This is a nephew that I highly regard because of what he has made of himself and because of how he has overcome adversity with great grace. Nonetheless we strongly disagree on several subjects. Homosexuality is one of them. And the argument has boiled down to a question.

“Aunt Viola, you certainly aren't suggesting that the United States should become a theocratic state, are you? If you are basing the justification to eliminate rights on a verse in which Paul is using a metaphor to encourage a healthy relationship between two people then you really are walking on thin ice.”

I was using Ephesians and Paul’s equation of marriage with the image of Christ’s care for his bride, the Church. I was trying to explain why Christians care so much about this issue and the biblical definition of marriage. But the question led my thinking in a more political direction.

No, I am not advocating for a theocratic state. Given that we are all sinful by nature, I do believe that democracy is the best form of government. However, as I thought about this I think that morality is very deeply tied to democracy and conversely democracy to morality. I think it must be that way or democracy will not survive. And we have a very good example in the twentieth century of a democracy that turned in on its self and died. Many people do not realize that Hitler did not throw out the government of Germany by rebellion but was instead voted into office.

Morality has served the United States well. It helped us as a nation overcome slavery and segregation. It secured the rights of women and led the charge against the use of child labor. But think about this. What if the United States was made up of only those who thought that slavery was acceptable or at least people who didn’t care about the issues of slavery?

So, to go further what if a democracy started out well, changing over time as moral issues were addressed but then suddenly the society became decadent. Suppose everyone, or most everyone in that society either became a murderer by intent or by not really caring. Then the right to all life would be at stake and democracy would die as it did, for that very reason, in Nazi Germany.

Or to address the present: What if most of society is obsessed with all forms of sexuality including deviant forms or else they simply don’t care about sexual morality one way or the other. After one particular group demands their rights others will follow. Remember this is a moral issue- so the rights demanded will be a demand for new forms of morality most of which are not moral in the traditional sense of morality. So democracy will become disconnected from morality and lose its importance.

And many will lose, when democracy is lost. Oh not just Christians and Jews or even atheists, but those who wish to live a homosexual lifestyle will lose. They did in Germany.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Our sad day...

May God place mercy and protection around his Church-“Judge strikes down ban on same-sex marriage” (In California)

(08-04) 14:34 PDT SAN FRANCISCO -- A federal judge today struck down Proposition 8, the voter-passed November 2008 initiative that defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

“But now I come to you [the Father] and these things I speak in the world so that they [those whom the Father gave to Jesus] may have my joy made full in themselves. I have given them your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world. I do not ask you to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify myself that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.” (John 17: 13-19)

Rev. Hector Reynoso: standing for the faith

The Layman has posted an excellent report from the Rev. Hector Reynoso who was a commissioner at General Assembly and also ran for Vice Moderator alongside the Rev. Julia Leeth who came in second among six candidates for Moderator. The report is also linked at CHURCHandWORLD.

Hector[1] writes about his experience at General Assembly, which includes his feelings of intimidation because of those wearing the rainbow scarves and his stand on ordination standards and how he was treated afterwards. His experience was not unique. Many had to fight for the paddles (the signal that you have a motion, question or want to speak to an issue)that are supposed to be given by unbiased attendants.

Here are several paragraphs from his report.

“In standing for vice-moderator it was clear and evident where I stood and what my convictions were. This soon put me at odds with hundreds of people, many who identified themselves by wearing a multicolor scarf, like a rainbow. People wearing these scarves were in all committees, as commissioners, moderators, advisory delegates, YAADS and observers.

In my conversation with several of the commissioners I had met, I learned that many felt intimidated by the abundant presence of all those wearing a scarf. I mention this because I felt intimidated as well, but soon found out that I was not alone. The scarf, I soon found out, meant that they were supporters of all the overtures that supported the ordination, marriage and full inclusion of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) community. It soon became evident that this group was the majority, not only in numbers but also the “theological majority.”

I am posting this here so that you can be introduced to one of the Presbyterian heroes of the faith during this particular GA. Hector would of course not call himself that, but most of us know what he put on the line, by taking the stand he took.

If you click on the link below, you will be able to listen to his defense of the faith. [1] I am using Hector’s first name on purpose. He is a good friend.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

My busy family be continued

This is my daughter Penny’s little web shop fifthofanickel on Etsy. She crochets all of these sweet toys.


My two great granddaughters, Luna and Molly, are still wonderful and another grand child is on his/her way. Here are some pictures.

Luna is hugging the world in Sunday School. Molly is on her first camping trip.

One of my grandsons, Penny's son, Sheldon', quizzing group went to the internationals in Canada and won the eighth position. If you don’t know what quizzing is - Its learning various books of the Bible by heart and then being on a team that jumps fast to finish quotations started during the match. This time Sheldon, in the back in blue with glasses, memorized all of 1st and 2nd Corinthians.

Here is another Grandson, Ethan, who graduated this year and is going to California Maritime Academy

And then there is Lexi , in the blue dress, who graduated from the sixth grade:

And Ana, her sister, who passed her finals and is free, free, free!

=And then there is Ethan's mom, Molly's grandma, and Melissa's Mom, Jennifer, who received her BA (summa cum laude) in Geography this Spring. She will go on to Davis in a year.

-Melissa is the mother of Molly and just recently had an art piece accepted for the art auction on Sacramento's PBS. She also won first place in sculpture for the same event. I am not sure what that one looks like but here is another.

=I am having trouble placing items where they should go but you can figure them out: )