16 October 2013

Seeking New Skin

The sloughing off of the old skin and putting on of the new is a natural part of life for a crab. 
It's similar to the cleansing I seek today which is well described by the ancient palmist. 
Nothing dramatic. Just a minor transformation. 

A minor transformation is my hope and perhaps yours as well. 
We can't make transformation happen in DC. 
We can't even make it happen in our own heart. 

But we can cry out to God for transformation. 
Shed the old skin. 
Put on new skin. 
As individuals and as a nation.

Just beyond our spectacular pride is a tiny glimpse of a way forward. 
Let's head in that direction today. 

- - -
Create in me a clean heart, O God, 
and put a new and right spirit within me.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, 
and put a new and right spirit within me. 

Do not cast me away from your presence, 
and do not take your holy spirit from me. 

Restore to me the joy of your salvation, 
and sustain in me a willing spirit. 
-Psalm 51:10-12 

Ride on the wings of the wind

Ride on the wings of the wind

Sleep in the tent of the heavens.

It's hard to hang with the God of heaven and earth.

You never know where you may get hung.

Could get hung from a cross.

Might get wrapped in light like a garment.

Such is the unpredictable life of a disciple.

You learn to take what comes.

Live into the vision. 

Learn as you grow.

That's how we roll.

Psalm 104
1 Bless the LORD, O my soul. 
O LORD my God, you are very great. 
You are clothed with honor and majesty, 
2 wrapped in light as with a garment. 
You stretch out the heavens like a tent, 
3 you set the beams of your chambers on the waters, 
you make the clouds your chariot, 
you ride on the wings of the wind, 
4 you make the winds your messengers, 
fire and flame your ministers.

18 September 2013

Gotta Serve Somebody

On my mind today is a song by Bob Dylan called "Gotta Serve Somebody." He wrote this song when he was going through his "born again Christian phase" as Rolling Stone would put it. I love the lyrics because they speak the truth. Here is one verse with the chorus:

You may be a construction worker 
working on a home
You may be living in a mansion 
or you might live in a dome
You might own guns 
and you might even own tanks
You might be somebody's landlord 
you might even own banks.
But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes  
You're gonna have to serve somebody. 
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord 
But you're gonna have to serve somebody.
We call ourselves servants of Christ. In the past at times we have been. Sometime we are in the present moment. We hope we will be in the future. Who will you serve in the next five seconds? How? That question will keep you focused and alert which was one of Jesus primary messages whenever he preached.

14 August 2013

Too Hot to Handle?

The hot as blazes summer sun these days feels like a fulfillment of Jesus' saying in Luke 12:49: "I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!" With temps above 100 several days in a row, it feels like that fire has already been kindled around here in Houston.

Jesus has a way of saying and doing the unexpected. For example, a few verses later in Luke's gospel, Jesus says: "Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three ... " -Luke 12:51-52

In some cultures today if you become a Christian you will be cast out of your family. That was also happening during the time when Luke's gospel was written. So Jesus says there will be divisions in the family due faith in Jesus and that is still true today.

"I call for a division of the house" is the terminology we use when there is a close vote on a controversial issue and we want a head count of who is "For" and who is "Against" the issue. Jesus would not be surprised by a call for a division of the house.

Conflicts even exist between family members of different Christian denominations. We hear of conflicts even within the same Christian denomination on certain hot button social issues. Such conflicts are anticipated and foreshadowed in this text.

According to Jesus, conflict is normal, natural, and to be expected in the church, in your family, even in your marriage. So let's not get stressed out over conflict. Note there is a difference between division and disconnection. Jesus says he generates division. Satan, on the other hand, generates disconnection. There is a big difference between division and disconnection. The key to a healthy church or family is how we stay connected even when we disagree.

There were three huts on an island. One of the islanders was asked by a tourist how the three huts were used. "That one is my house and that one is my church," said the islander. "So what's the third hut?" Said the islander, "That's my former church."

We have a preconceived idea of what Jesus is like and this text does not fit our perception. We think of Jesus as a mild mannered man of peace. Yet Jesus says I'm not here to give you what you expect. I'm here to give you what is hard to handle. I'm here to give you the Kingdom of God. Sometimes the Kingdom of God feels as hot as Houston in mid August. Is the Kingdom of God too hot to handle?

02 May 2013

Harvest by Neil Young / selected lyrics

Aside from the citrus like sound of this album with its orange and brown tones, broad and full, accentuated with the tart and twang of a whining electric guitar and the sparkling and sparse acoustic guitar served cold with bright harmonica blue notes, there are the stupendously wonderful lyrics that meander and welcome and tease in this classic rock album from the early 1970s that sounds best when listened to as a complete album rather than as individual tracts.

Here are some of my favorite lyrics from this album. I'm listing them by song instead of line by line.

a. Think I'll pack it in. Buy a pickup. Take it down to LA. Find a place to call my own and try to fix up. Start a brand new day. See the lonely boy out on the weekend trying to make it pay. Can't relate to joy. He tries to speak ... and ... can't begin to say.

b. Did you wake you up to tell you THAT it was only a change in plan?  As the days fly past will we lose our grasp or fuse it in the sun? Dream up. Dream up. Let me fill your cup ... with the promise of a man.

c. My life is changing in so many ways. I don't know who to trust anymore. There's a shadow running through my days like a beggar going from door to door. To give a love you've gotta live a love. To live a love you gotta be part of. A maid. A man needs a maid. When will I see you again?

d. It's these expressions I never give that keep me searching for a heart of gold ... and I'm gettin' old. I've been to Hollywood. I've been to Redwood. I crossed the ocean for a heart of gold. I've been in my mind. It's such a fine line. That keeps me searching for a heart of gold. An' I'm gettin' old.

e. Slippin' and a slidin' and playin' dominoes. Leftin' and a rightin' it's not a crime you know. You've gotta tell your story boy before it's time to go. Are you ready for the country? Because it's time to go.I was talkin' to the preacher said God was on my side. Then I ran into the hangman. He said it's time to die. You gotta' tell your story, boy, you know the reason why.

f. Old man look at my life. I'm a lot like you were. Old man look at my life. I'm a lot like you were. I've been first and last. Love lost such a cost. Give me things that won't get lost. Like a coin that won't get tossed rollin' home to you. Lullabies look in your eyes. Run around the same old town. Doesn't mean that much to me to mean that much to you. I''ve been first and last. Look at how the time goes past. But I'm all alone at last. Rolling home to you.

g. Look around it. Have you found it? Walking down the avenue. See what it brings. Could be good things in the air for you. In the mountains, in the cities, you can see the dream. Look around you. Has it found you? It is what it seems? There's a world you're living in. No one else has your part. All God's children in the wind. Take it in and blow hard.

h. Alabama, you've got a weight on your shoulders that's breaking you back. Your Cadillac has got a wheel in the ditch and a wheel on the track. Alabama, you've got the rest of the union to help you along. What going wrong?

i. I caught you knocking at my cellar door. I love ya baby can I have some more? Oooh the damage done. I hit the city and I lost my band. I watched the needle take another man. Gone. Gone. The damage done. I sing this song because I loved the man. I know some of you don't understand. Milk blood to keep from running out. I've seen the needle and damage done, a little part of it in everyone, but every junkie's like a setting sun.

j. Words. Words. Between the lines of age.

Which is your favorite? Or perhaps yours is not listed here and you may write it down in the comments below.

And here, for your listening pleasure, is said album, at least until such lanky link may be removed.

10 April 2013

Epistle for April 10, 2013

St. John's Presbyterian Church Logo
Our mission is to glorify God by making disciples and meeting human needs.
Healing Happens Here!

Red Cross in Building 2 Entrance
- - -
Curtis Brisch
Don Bunnell
Kay Greer
James Schneider 

- - -
April 14, 2013

Rev. Linda Herron
"A Blinding Vision"
Acts 9:1-20 

Mindi Stanley

Sue Benn
Bob & Mary Hughes
Joyce Carson
Rebecca Armador
and Family 

- - -

Johnny Dyson
Austin Gorby
Esther Bender
Jenny Glover
Phil Westmoreland 

 - - -

Rebecca Amador on the death of her beloved aunt.

Mary Herlitz on the birth of her second grandchild, Glenda Isabella Herlitz.



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The Epistle
April 10, 2013
Pastor Jon
Pastor Jon

Dear mission minded people, 

As you may notice, this version of the Epistle looks a bit better than previous ones. I appreciate the work Pam has done in finding and setting up this new look for The Epistle.  It provides a better look and feel and gives us a space to share more stories about what God is doing in our midst. On the left side of this email each week we will feature prayer concerns and the worship leaders for the upcoming Sunday. Below my article each week we will feature a few upcoming events. It is likely to evolve over time so let Pam or me know what you think about the upgraded version of The Epistle.

The Session is pleased to announce that the plans for the Single Parent Family Ministry are now on display in the office building during the week and will be in the narthex on Sunday mornings. These four duplexes will be a magnificent addition to this neighborhood. The people whose lives will be changed will not be limited to the women and children who occupy the homes and complete the state of the art program therein. Our lives also will be changed by our ministry to these wonderful people. In our Session meeting last Wednesday we started to talk about how we need to prepare ourselves for this new ministry and agreed that at this point we need to be in prayer to spiritually prepare ourselves for the ways in which the Holy Spirit may want to get us ready to be in ministry in this exciting new way. Last Friday our partners in this ministry received final permits to begin construction on the four duplexes and the tentative date for construction to begin is in late June. 

In the meantime, on Mother's Day, May 12, after worship, we will celebrate the start of this new ministry with a Groundblessing ceremony on the site. Then on May 16 at 10 am we will have the official Groundbreaking ceremony on our campus with our partners including New Covenant Presbytery, Presbyterian Children's Homes and Services, architectural firm MASA studios, HomeAide Houston, and the Greater Houston Builders Association. May the Lord continue to guide this new ministry that will contribute so much to this community and this city over the years and decades to come. Truly we continue to fulfill our mission of glorifying God by meeting human needs.

Your giving glory to God pastor,

Vacation Bible School 
VBS 2012
Photo from VBS 2012

July 21 - 25, 2013
5:45 Lite Supper
6 - 8 pm  Program for all ages
Inquirer's Class
Inquirers Class April 2013
Pastor Jon will teach a Sunday afternoon Inquirer's Class as an orientation for those who are new to the church on Sunday, April 21 from 4-7 pm in the Session Room with a light dinner provided. Those who come may then join the church on Sunday, April 28, during worship.

Michael Bisase: Walking All Night!

Support Michael Bisase, and his team The Boot Scootin Boobies, as they walk to raise funds for the fight against Cancer. 


Support Michael through his online page. Visit  www.relayforlife.org, scroll down the page and put in Michael's or the teams name in The Support a Participant box.


The Relay for life is:

  •  Organized, overnight community fundraising walk
  •  Teams of people camp out around a track
  •  Members of each team take turns walking around the track
  •  Food, games and activities provide entertainment and build camaraderie
  •  Family-friendly environment for the entire community

St. John's Presbyterian Church

5020 West Bellfort Houston, Texas 77035 / Phone  713-723-6262

Discover .... Examine .... Learn

Admit One Explorer
St. John's Book Group
April 18 @ 7:30 pm in the Session Room
Begin discussion of a new book, How God Became King
This email was sent to jonburnham.emanna@blogger.com by office.sjpc@gmail.com |  
St. John's Presbyterian Church | 5020 West Bellfort | Houston | TX | 77035

30 March 2013

Woman, Here Is Your Son

Our time of death causes a certain clarity of vision. What once seemed important to us in the prime of our health and life no longer matters. No one ever said on their deathbed, "I wish I'd spent more time at the office." What some people do say on their deathbed is more likely to be, "I wish I had spent more time with my family."

Jesus may been thinking something along those lines as he drew his last breaths from the cross. Notice how he doesn't say, "I wish I'd spent more time with my disciples. I wish I'd spent more time healing the sick. I wish I'd spent more time feeding the hungry." No. Instead, Jesus' thoughts turn to his mother and he says to her, "Woman, here is your son …"

Jesus offers his mother John, the beloved disciple, to be her son. Maybe he thought John could the son to his mother that he could never be. Maybe Jesus thought his mother would need the continued support of a son to look out for her after he was gone. We don't know what was the thinking behind Jesus statement, "Woman, here is your son …" We do know the emotion behind his statement and that was a feeling of love.

Jesus mother had stood with him through thick and thin. She carried him in her womb while she and Joseph searched Bethlehem for a place to spend the night and were told there was no room in the inn. She was with him in the manger when the angels sang and wise men brought gifts from afar. She carried him in her arms in the flight to Egypt to escpape Herod's harms. She searched for him and found him in the temple when he was nearly a teenager. She got him to perform his first miracle of turning water into wine at a wedding. She stood underneath his cross now and heard his words to her as he died, "Women, here is your son …" Jesus loved his mother and his mother loved him too. No wonder she was on his mind and in heart as he was dying.

It is worth noting that the beloved disciple responded in obedience to Jesus' request. We read in the gospel, "Then he said to the disciple, "Here is your mother." And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home." When Jesus puts someone on our heart to care for we respond in obedience. We support them. We pray for them. We contact them. We care for them.

On this Good Friday, as we contemplate Jesus on the cross, let us consider the certainty of our own death. When the moment of transition comes for us, our hearts and our minds will most likely be upon our mother, our spouse, our child. Let us hold them in our hearts today even as Jesus held his mother in heart on the cross.

- -  -
Good Friday Sermon 2013
John 19:26b-27_29
"Woman, here is your son …"
12:55 pm at Salem Lutheran Church

05 March 2013

"Love Thy Neighbor" Wasn't Optional

Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat
Once there was a gentile who came before Shammai, and said to him: Convert me on the condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot. Shammai pushed him aside with the measuring stick he was holding. The same fellow came before Hillel, and Hillel converted him, saying: That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary, go and learn it.

Matthew 22:36-40 (New International Version) 
36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Unitarian Universalists and Presbyterians are not, historically, natural friends. Universalism – the theological claim that all are redeemed by grace, and no one is condemned to eternal punishment by a loving God – arose in part as an opposing response to the strict doctrines of predestination and selective salvation that were the hallmarks of the Calvinism out of which Presbyterians evolved. But I have many wonderful colleagues and friends who are Presbyterian. And I am proud to stand firmly on the side of St. John’s Presbyterian Churchand Presbyterian Children’s Homes and Services (PCHAS) as they continue to fight to open a housing development that will serve single mothers and their children.

Jesus knew a basic truth about human society. Wherever you have Empire, you have hierarchies of vulnerability in the population. Not everyone is afforded equal status, power, or even dignity. And while this is the usual way of Empire, this is emphatically not the way of God, as it is presented in the Jewish and Christian traditions. Jesus repeatedly not only teaches that one must provide for the marginalized of society, he demonstrates it with his actions – healing the unclean, cavorting with women, welcoming children, offering compassion and care to stranger and enemy.

In our society, too, there are hierarchies of vulnerability. Not everyone in our culture is afforded equal status, power or even dignity in spite of all of our rhetoric of equality. These vulnerabilities are sorted out by virtue of gender, age, race, class, ethnicity, sexual orientation, family status, religion and other markers of identity.  When they combine, vulnerability increases. A poor woman is more vulnerable than one in the middle class. A poor, unmarried woman moreso. A poor, unmarried woman with children is even more vulnerable, and her children along with her.  Life is precarious from that position, where one is stretched so thin as to be fraying financially, emotionally, physically, sometimes spiritually, and there are small beings dependent upon you for everything they need.  These are precisely the people both Judaism and Christianity commands us to help.

Around the Meyerland neighborhood which is protesting the building of this facility, there are signs posted. Love Your Neighborhood, they say.  Opponents of the project, which would help lift single mothers out of their struggle by providing shelter, training and resources, claim that the multi-family housing unit could adversely affect property values in the deed-restricted neighborhood. Despite the fact that this claim, a common one whenever multi-unit housing is proposed in a predominantly single-family housing neighborhood, isempirically untrue, it persists as their protest.

Love your neighborhood?

There is no neighborhood without neighbors. A neighborhood is not a collection of houses, boxes of potential cash to be jealously guarded, gated and made into fortresses. A neighborhood is a community of human lives and stories, of shared experiences and connection. A neighborhood is not private property, it is a commonwealth where people make a home, raise new generations, unwrap the gifts of a lifetime. Neighborhoods are vibrant, life-filled communities precisely because we do not choose our neighbors. Instead, they are places where we are called to practice the hard, messy work of being in community with those who are different from us; whose voices and stories and songs sound different from ours; whose food and pleasures and dreams taste different from ours.  Neighborhoods are places where we all should know welcome and support. Not exile and isolation.

In the religiously liberal tradition, we understand that the Truth about the world, the Divine, human nature–it’s all continually unfolding.  New discoveries bring new wisdom. New people bring new depth and insight. Any human being that crosses our path, be them sage or child, grandparent or stranger, powerful or dwelling humbly among the least of these–any human life and story can profoundly enrich and affect our own or the world’s. New neighbors bring new truth. We are all harbingers of transformation, all bearers of truth, all teachers of love.

The mitzvah is clear. We are not only to love the neighbor that looks and talks like us. Not only the neighbor that votes and worships like us. We are not to love only the neighbor whose car is as nice as ours, or whose family is put together like ours is. We are simply to Love our Neighbor.

To those who oppose the project, I would invite you to consider deeply what lies beneath your loud and resounding No. Can you recall a time when you were welcomed by strangers? When you were shunned by them? Consider that while being open and welcoming to the stranger and the poor can feel vulnerable,without vulnerability there is also no joy, and there can be no freedom. Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost put it well in their book The Faith of Leap: “There is an exact equilibrium. The more security and guarantees we want against things, the less free we are. Tyrants are not to be feared today, but our own frantic need of security is. Freedom inevitably means insecurity and responsibility.”

To those in Meyerland who would welcome these women into their community: Don’t let the angry and overly loud voices of fear shout you down. Stand firm and resolved, arms wide open to receive the stranger. Raise your voices publicly in love and compassion, and know that you do not stand alone. And when your new neighbors do arrive, welcome them warmly and bring them a casserole. Bring one to the neighbor that opposed it, too – there is no neighborhood without neighbors, and God knows we people need one another

By Rev. Ellen Copper-David
Via Chron.com Blog

03 March 2013

Sermon audio: The Paul Problem

I have always been jealous of people who have a dramatic conversion story. Some people, like the apostle Paul, have a clear "before and after" testimony of how Jesus Christ has made a difference in their lives. The apostle Paul, known as Saul in this story, did not start out as a fan of Jesus. He thought Jesus and his followers were heretics that needed to be run out of town. But after Jesus appeared to Paul, everything changed. When Ananias put his hands on Paul’s eyes, a whole new world opened for Paul. Suddenly, Paul saw grace. He saw freedom. He saw forgiveness. He saw a whole world of people who needed the gospel. The soul yearns for many types of nourishment as we hunger and thirst for God. Today’s focus is on the hunger and thirst for grace. In the Lenten season, we return to God, not simply to get recentered and refocused, but to acknowledge our desperate desire for the health and wholeness we find in Christ. The thirst for grace propels us forward, satisfying us like nothing else can. Surely, this is the bread of heaven, the manna that feeds the spirit, the living water that quenches the soul. Come to the waters of grace. Receive the wine of salvation and the milk of God’s teachings, offered without money or price. Come and eat the goodness of Christ’s grace, God’s steadfast love, and the Spirit’s abundant acceptance.

02 March 2013

In Remembrance of Rev. John Shute

Rev John Schute died  from a blood clot last Thursday , on February 28. John served as pastor of St. John’s Presbyterian Church from 1994 to 2001. His wife,  Janice, is in our prayers. Funeral arrangements have been made for nnext Thursday, March 7, at noon at Holy Trinity Presbyterian Church in San Antonio.A s is customary when a former pastor dies, we will place a brick in the columbarium with his name on it. This is the columbarium Rev. Schute helped create.

Rev. Schute and his wife attended St. John’s  56th anniversary celebration last year. There he encouraged the congregation to move forward with the single parent family ministry even in the face of opposition from some in the community. He reminded us of when St. John’s was planning to build a columbarium and the fuss that was raised by some Meyeland residents. The church went forward anyway and the result is a beautiful columbarium on our church property. No one in the community is even aware of its existence now and it has no effect on their lives or their property values.

So it is with the single parent family ministry. Last week an angry resident in the community sent a letter of complaint to members of the congregation. Such complaints may continue until we have finished building the beautiful duplexes on our property along West Bellfort Avenue. After they are complete and the ministry has been going for a few years, don’t be surprised if some of the loudest complainers in the neighborhood start bringing home made cookies to the residents or even inviting them over to swim in their swimming pools. That is how God works in people’s lives and brings healing to a community.

In the meantime, we honor the ministry and the memory of Rev. John Schute, and will continue his legacy of moving forward with significant new projects even in the face of opposition from a small but vocal part of the community. Although they don’t talk so loud, many residents of Meyerland and even political leaders including the mayor’s office supports our single parent family ministry. They know that when churches step up to provide services for people in need that means the city doesn’t have to bear that expense. That is why we say, “Healing Happens Here.” We are taking action to meet human needs. We don’t sit back and rely on the government for such help.

We are serious about our mission at St. John’s. Our mission is to glorify God by making disciples and meeting human needs. That is what Rev. John Schute knew and that is how he led the congregation. His particular area of emphasis was on prison ministry. He was an example to us all of faithful discipleship and following Christ even in the face of opposition. He knew that perseverance is the evidence of commitment to Christ. May the Lord be with the Schute family and with our church family as we mourn his death.

Jon B.

27 February 2013

Don't forget joy and laughter in discipleship! | Fresh Expressions

Watch Lucy Moore discuss discipleship in Messy Church.

Hundreds of Messy Churches have been formed in the UK, and across the world, since the first one launched in Cowplain, Hampshire, nine years ago. Lucy says the question is increasingly being asked, 'Now what? Is Messy Church really making disciples?'
She comments,
This is a really interesting and difficult question to answer.
Messy Church congregations are starting from a different place than many who would normally be coming into some sort of discipleship process, comprising a different set of people with a different set of expectations and perhaps prejudices.
So what we've found really helpful is to think about discipleship as a process or a journey. Instead of simply asking if people have become disciples or Christians in Messy Church, we prefer to ask, 'Are they becoming disciples; are they becoming Christians?' The answer is, 'Yes, hugely,' but they are just starting from a long way back in many cases.
The result is that Messy Church is currently reassessing what discipleship involves in the way of learning.
It's not just cerebral learning, intellectual learning,
adds Lucy,
but it's also valuing the non-formal learning and the social learning which are hugely powerful in Messy Church and a crucial part of discipleship - whole life discipleship, not just head discipleship.
This is a long haul and it's why Messy Churches are there as church, not as events. They're there month by month by month over a period of years, carrying people through on their Christian journey and accepting that this is a very gradual process for them.
The challenge for those leading a Messy Church is to offer as many chances to encounter God as possible in the limited time span available.
I wouldn't want to undervalue what goes on through joy and fun and play in Messy Churches. I think that's actually very deep in many ways but it is probably undervalued when it comes to discipleship. We (the church) tend to value the quiet, solemn, mysterious, things and undervalue the joy and laughter and re-creation that goes on.
Lucy says Messy Church has considered devising a discipleship course but the feeling at the moment is,
Not yet. If ever. If we start prescribing what discipleship should be rather than allowing people to think it through for themselves, to allow each church to discover a way that's right for those people, those families, those teams; I think we could be missing out on something exciting that God's got on offer for us. So maybe the time will come for a course, I don't think it's yet.
Paul Moore's book, Making Disciples in Messy Church – Growing faith in an all-age community, is published in March. Lucy comments,
I hope it will help people to think through the principles of it all rather than giving them ready made answers and I think that could be the catalyst that could send us off in exciting new directions as each church attempts - and fails and succeeds - with its own Messy Church. It will make progress but there will be a lot of failures along the way because this is new, this is pioneering stuff and it's not been done before. How do you grow atheists into disciples in this context as families, all ages, together? As far as I know it's not been done in quite that way before so it will be exciting to see what God's got up his sleeve for us in the next few years!

22 February 2013

100 Things to Watch in 2013

Bubbles Bursting in US Christianity

Life inside a bubble can feel complete, even dynamic, as the bubble’s surface shimmers and yet retains form.

But watch this video of a bubble bursting in slow motion: http://mashable.com/2013/02/21/bubble-burst-slow-motion/.

When the surface is breached, the bubble collapses immediately, in one case shattering into a liquid spray faster than a metal object can fall through where it used to be. What looked like a permanent structure is, in fact, uncertain, short-lived and quickly lost.

We saw a ”tech bubble” burst 13 years ago. What had seemed durable and laden with value turned out to be vapor. The “housing bubble” came next. Some think another “tech bubble” is about to burst.

The bubble I see bursting is the Christian enterprise in America. It is bursting ever-so-slowly, as in the slo-mo video, and millions of people still find life, meaning, safety and structure inside their bubbles.
But one failing congregation at a time, the surface of shimmering shape is being breached, and collapse comes quickly. Suddenly, as if overnight, the money is gone. Bills can’t be paid. Clergy are unaffordable. Young families flee or stay away. Buildings are returned to secular usage.

Perhaps most perplexing, many people discover they didn’t have much religious interest beyond keeping the building open. They hadn’t learned to rely on prayer, to see their lives as mission for God, to make decisions in the world based on Godly admonition, or to form sustainable spiritual relationships beyond bubble boundaries.

I recently wrote a newspaper column on Pope Benedict XVI’s surprise retirement. I lamented his eight years of leading the Roman Catholic Church backward. I lamented the Church’s track record of supporting injustice in order to defend the institution.

My column drew an immediate burst of rage from staunch Catholic traditionalists, who termed me “anti-Catholic” and therefore inherently wrong and unfit to write a column.

Their vehemence was so sudden and over-the-top that I wondered if a bubble was being breached. They were rising to defend something that suddenly looked vulnerable, maybe even passing away.
They wouldn’t see it that way, of course. In their eyes, the Church is built on solid rock and will last forever. Those who deal in bubbles often see reality that way. Then the bubble bursts.

In the past 50 years – a mere wink in 2,000 years of church time – Mainline Protestant churches have become a shadow of their 1950s heyday. Roman Catholic dioceses in America are closing schools, closing parishes, losing nuns and priests, and spending heavily to settle sex-abuse litigation.
Other denominations are struggling, too, such as Southern Baptists. So are megachurches once they get beyond the excitement and personal charisma of the founding pastor.

Bubble-bursting isn’t limited to whatever denomination or tradition you don’t like. Nor is it anti-Catholic (or anti-anything) to lament over it. When the wind of God’s Spirit is trapped inside bubbles, this is what happens.

The Spirit aims to roam freely over the landscape, creating what God wants created, changing lives, sending people out, showering grace on those who need grace, sending prophets to call down the greedy and self-serving,

That wind blows where it will and cannot be held for long inside any bubble, no matter how fervently some want to see that bubble as a rock-solid structure and the bubble’s shimmering surface as God’s great and eternal delight.

By Tom Ehrich