Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Friday, August 31, 2007

Win Your Very Own Bible!

We are now ready to begin official preparations for The Bible in 2008! I have over 100 Bibles (NRSV with apocrypha) to give away to folks connected with First Pres. We'll get more if we need 'em. You can get your very own Bible by sending the church ten bucks or by completing a quiz! By the way, you can always donate to our Bible fund so we can keep the Bibles a-comin'. I'll wager that I'll give away more Bibles than Bob this year!

Beginning January 1, 2008 we will begin reading the Bible front to back and I am producing a guide to go with it. Each month there will be a little quiz and prizes for those who have turned in the quiz! A big prize at the end for all who have finished. We will read with an historical/critical/metaphorical eye. More information in our September 2007 newsletter

But you need a Bible first. So, to get one, complete the word find below. Find thirty books of the Bible in the following paragraph:

There are 30 books of the Bible in this paragraph. Can you find them? This is a most remarkable puzzle. It was found by a gentleman in an airplane seat pocket on a flight from Los Angeles to Honolulu, keeping him occupied for hours. He enjoyed it so much he passed it on to some friends. One friend from Illinois worked on this while fishing from his john boat. Another friend studied it while playing his banjo. Elanie Taylor, a columnist friend, was so intrigued by it she mentioned it in her weekly newspaper column. Another friend judges the job of solving this puzzle so involving, she brews a cup of tea to help her nerves. There will be some names that are really easy to spot. That's a fact. Some people, however, will soon find themselves in a jam. Especially since the book names are not necessarily capitalized. Truthfully, from answers we get, we are forced to admit it usually takes a minister or a scholar to see some of them at the worst. Research has shown that something in our genes is responsible for the difficulty we have in seeing the books in this paragraph. During a recent fundraising event, which featured this puzzle, the Alpha Delta Phi lemonade booth set a new record. The local paper, The Chronicle, surveyed over 200 patrons who reported that this puzzle was of the most difficult they had ever seen. As Daniel Humana humbly puts it, "The books are all right here in plain view hidden from sight." Those able to find all of them will hear great lamentations those who have to be shown. One revelation that may help is that books like Timothy and Samuel may occur without their numbers. Also, keep in mind, that punctuation and spaces in the middle are normal. A chipper attitude will help you compete really well against those who claim to know the answers. Remember, there is no need for a mad exodus; there really are 30 books of the Bible lurking somewhere in this paragraph waiting to be found. God Bless…





"I'll be expectin' that all y'all are readin' your Bible?"













I also have plenty of Family Story Bibles
for every kid in church second grade and under. We have a whole nest of babies in the nursery these days. You can barely keep yourself from steppin' on one of the critters. They can read the Family Story Bible along with their parents and win prizes each month too!

This and That

Here are some tidbits:


The Gray Fossil Site opened yesterday in Gray! Here is the article in the JC Press.



In light of that, here is a thought-provoking post from Progression of Faith. Is Christianity Outdated?



The Johnson City Library is presenting a live slide-show of an Inconvenient Truth.





Time to stand up and be counted to save the Rocky Fork Watershed.

Oneida

(It is Conversations with Bob! Bob and I are doing what The Theological Task Force has requested. Keep lines of dialogue open and speak openly of agreements and differences in a respectful way! It is Bob's turn!)


I like to think of myself as a long term pastor. I was in rural PA for 7 ½ years. I was pastor at 1st Presbyterian, Oneida, NY for 12 years.



We moved to Oneida in 1989 and left in 2001. I was a member of Utica Presbytery before John arrived and after he left. In some ways Oneida feels more like home, except when we lived near my parents, than any other place we’ve lived and I’ve served as a pastor. When we moved to Oneida our son was in 3rd grade and my daughter in 1st. Both our children graduated from Oneida High School. Both still look on Oneida as home. For the first time in our lives we bought a house, which frankly isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

This will be a bit of a struggle about how much to reveal about my relationship with the church in Oneida. I’m going to say the good things first.

For the first time in my life I was a head of staff. Oneida 1st had about 400 members on the roll when I arrived. I had taken courses in management and enjoyed being head of staff. We had a secretary, two sextons, a Christian Educator, and sometimes a Music Director and sometimes an Organist and a Choir Director. I tried to be a collegial head of staff. Unfortunately a couple of times I had to fire employees. I hated that, but it was part of the job. Joyce Irwin, our Music Director and later also the Christian Educator was the best organist, choir director I have ever had the pleasure to work with. And she developed innovative programs in C.E.

I continued teaching Kerygma classes, including Beginnings, a class on Genesis, Discovering the Bible, an introductory Bible class, Interpretation, a deeper class on how to interpret the Bible, and Hallelujah, a class on Handel’s Messiah. I urge any pastor to consider the Kerygma classes. I also wrote my own class on Mark a class built on the Kerygma model, classes on The Book of Confessions using Jack Rogers’ wonderful book, Presbyterian Creeds: A Guide to the Book of Confessions, and a series of small group Bible studies. All in all I had a blast teaching. And, as most teachers do, I think I learned much more than the students.

At first I had a great deal of support for change, but I didn’t rush into things. My two installed predecessors had lasted 2 ½ years and 10 month respectively and both had resigned but really had been forced out. So I took the process of change very, very slowly. We did experiment with different types of worship on Pentecost each year and incorporated some of the changes into regular worship.

In the long run we started using the Logos Program for youth, a midweek program that included recreation, education, worship education, (mainly a musical experience like choirs), and dinner. It was fun. The high school youth started a rock band that played in worship occasionally and was well accepted by the congregation. This unfortunately led to conflict with the Women’s Association.

And yes I did weddings, funerals and baptisms.

One of the best things about Oneida was the Council of Churches. Most of the congregations in town participated including the Pentecostals and the Roman Catholics. We had some wonderful programs on differences and similarities of worship and even a program on baptism. I did joint weddings and baptisms mostly with the Roman Catholics. We started a voluntary hospital chaplaincy program which I headed for around 5-7 years. We even worked out a program to help people who needed assistance by writing vouchers to a local gas station/convenience store. The Methodists kept the records.

One of the big controversies in Oneida was about the Oneida Indian nation. They bought some land, negotiated with the governor and opened a casino. Then they sued the county government, claiming a lot of land as part of their reservation, including the whole city of Oneida. For some reason this didn’t go over too well with the home owners whose houses were on the land the tribe claimed. We pastors worked for peace and reconciliation, particularly when violence was threatened. This got some of us, including me, in trouble with some of our congregational members who didn’t want any reconciliation.

I took on some responsibilities with the Synod serving first as a member of the Personnel Committee and then as chair of the committee. I was chair of the committee through a rancorous downsizing of staff. It was a heartrending experience.

The biggest spiritual issues in the my time in Oneida, before the last two years, was that my wife became ill and spent 6 weeks in the hospital and later my daughter became ill and besides her time in the hospital, was ill for almost a year.

As John pointed out when we first started this dialogue I was an Evangelical in what, from my point of view, was a progressive presbytery. The good news was that, for the most part I was respected and heard. The presbytery rarely voted my way on important issues but that didn’t stop me from being respected and accepted. And I had one very close friend who was my spiritual advisor and I his. We probably knew more about each other than our wives did.

BUT! There was a curious dynamic of conflict in the congregation. I expected this and tried to encourage new styles of dealing with conflict, for the most part unsuccessfully. We got new hymnals but kept the old ones and I tried to use hymns from both, but some people didn’t accept the new hymnal at all. They wouldn’t sing the hymns if they were from the new hymnal. We tried a new method of serving the Lord’s Supper, coming forward to receive the sacrament. Some loved the new method. Some wanted only the old method, being served in the pews. We had a successful negotiation about this, having a congregational wide survey which helped people to not only state their emotional/spiritual reasons for wanting to receive communion in a particular way but also to make theological statements on the issue.

We also had a successfully resolved conflict about change in the chapel. We formed a task force of people who disagreed about how to use and set up the chapel and they came up with an elegant solution that was different than any suggested by any of the sides earlier and satisfied all sides. Unfortunately all problems were not so easily solved.

I started a DMin program at Pittsburgh Seminary in 1997. I loved it. I had spent too much time on administration and not enough on theology. The program gave me the balance.

In the spring of 2000 things came to a head. I had started training small group leaders to encourage spiritual renewal as part of my DMin project and talked with the Session about spiritual renewal. In the meantime I made the mistake of paying attention to the new members of the congregation who wanted change and not paying attention to the needs of older members. Finally, after we called in people from the Committee on Ministry the Session asked for my resignation. But with a twist.

My daughter had another year in high school. The Session allowed me a year to find a new call so my daughter could finish high school in Oneida. I had to drop my DMin project and program. The conflict and solution was hidden from the congregation. We decided to stay so my daughter could graduate. It was a great decision for her. It was a terrible decision for me. I spent a year working in a congregation where the Session had made it clear that I was no longer wanted and it hurt terribly. Fortunately I still had lunch with my friend and got a lot of support from the Interim Presbytery Exec. It was something but it wasn’t enough.

After several interviews all over the country, I ultimately accepted a call to a congregation in New Jersey. I resigned as pastor of Oneida 1st, a decision I’m still not sure was the right one. Sometimes I think the conflict should have been brought to the congregation. And unfortunately I carried with me a lot of anger and pain from Oneida.

Suffice it to say that it was a bad parting. We sold our house and we moved to a church in Titusville, NJ.

I will talk about that next time.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Life in Lowville


(Welcome to Conversations with Bob! Soon to be a major motion picture!)


In July of 1992, Lovely Spouse, Girl, Boy, and Sister packed up our things and moved from Princeton, New Jersey to Lowville, New York to begin my first call as pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Lowville. (Lowville rhymes with Cowville--cows outnumber Lewis County homo sapiens three to one!)


It is a beautiful, historic church in a village of about 3,500 folks.


I was ordained and installed in the church in September of that year.
Before the presbytery and the congregation I affirmed my ordination vows. I affirm and uphold them with sincerity and in good conscience to this very day.

My ministry there was one of involvement in the local community. I headed a task force to build a Habitat for Humanity house in Lowville, which we completed just before I left. We participated in ecumenical ministries with other congregations. I worked with the students at the Lowville Academy in helping them put together a Baccalaureate service with the graduating seniors for several years. I was called on nearly every year to participate in the Memorial Day services and offered prayers for that. I did many weddings and funerals for those within the church and without. A few of us got together to provide over 300 Christmas dinners for the community every year. I served on the Mental Health board in the community and various task forces to improve lives in Lewis County.

Our church grew, not only in adding members but as well as personal growth. We started a Stephen Ministry program, read the Bible cover to cover, (which we shall be doing again in Elizabethton in 2008). I held a number of classes for folks regarding theology, Bible studies, and awareness regarding social issues.

And of course I participated in a great number of funeral services for members of my congregation and for those in the community who didn't have a church. One in particular was for a homeless man. At the graveside in the county cemetery (the potter's field), the social worker, the funeral director, the gravedigger, and myself honored this man's life. We didn't even know his name. The four of us gave thanks for his life and witnessed to the Resurrection.

I also did a fair number of weddings, mostly for those who were not in our congregation. I provided counseling (communication, conflict management, those kinds of things) and through that reached out to people who had rarely or never participated in church life.

We built up the Sunday school and youth group. We would take the youth on mission and educational trips to New York City, Washington D.C., and to the Delaware work camp which I led for a couple of years. Some of Bob's youth from Oneida participated in that. I also worked with the Utica Presbytery, serving on the Education and Nurture committee for six years, working mostly with the youth of the presbytery at overnights, leading 18 of them to the Presbyterian Triennium in 1995, and many other programs.

Through the presbytery, I met and worked with many of my colleagues on a number of projects. Rev. Dennis Dewey became a good friend. He introduced me to the art of biblical storytelling. I would lead worship through the use of storytelling and Dennis and I even went to one of the state penitentiaries to tell stories to the inmates!

The reason I offer this long list is because I have felt that ministry is when the church goes out into the world with the love of Christ. I continued to challenge myself with biblical studies and theology and was impressed with a couple of books in the mid-90s, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography by John Dominic Crossan and Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time by Marcus Borg. I discovered these works through parishioners who were hungry and searching for a way to understand Christian faith in the modern (postmodern) time.


I often found myself ministering to people who had been "burned by church" or who had struggles with their inherited beliefs.
My sermons were generally considered thought-provoking and challenging and not everyone liked them. I like to think that they were and still are testimonies to the grace, love, and mystery of God.

For about three years in a row, after the General Assembly would meet, and its controversies would be in the news (usually regarding lgbt people and ordination), I would give my yearly "sex sermon" which was about opening our hearts and minds. I think back on it now with a little embarrassed amusement. It was still theoretical, and I constantly referred to gay and lesbian folks in the third person, as if you weren't really there! After my yearly sex sermon, I would leave the next day on vacation! Even still, the congregation was very receptive, and through those sermons, people began to trust me with their own stories.

Lowville was and is a great congregation. It is served currently by Sarah Sanderson-Doughty (who recently served on the Theological Task Force for the denomination). She is doing a magnificent job. I like to think I helped the congregation increase their awareness regarding women in ministry. However, I know that Sarah demonstrated expertise and confidence without my help.

Lovely Spouse finished her music education degree at SUNY Potsdam and ended up teaching k-3 music at Lowville Academy. She went on to get her master's at Ithaca College. She is one talented hard worker. Lowville is a snowy place, nestled between Lake Ontario and the Adirondacks. We received 200 inches of snow per year. Many times after big storms, school would be called, and even church was a couple of times. I even had the sacrificial ministry of ski chaplain for the Snow Ridge Ski Run.

Sister graduated from Lowville Academy in 1996 and went on to graduate from Syracuse University in 2000 in musical theatre. She is in NYC producing plays and teaching. In the summer of 2000, as we visited my parents in Montana, my father asked me if I was ever going to return to Montana. I said, "I doubt it." But that summer, I discovered that the First Presbyterian Church of Billings was open. On a lark I updated my Personal Information Form and sent it to them. I wasn't looking to move, but thought I couldn't pass up an opportunity to return to Montana and serve a much larger congregation.

LS and I really struggled with this decision. She had a great position as did I. What would the move do to the kids? But we felt a desire to get closer to my folks and felt the Spirit's leading.

I was called to the position, and just after Christmas, we said tearful goodbyes to our friends in Lowville. Girl, now a Sophomore in high school, and Boy, an eighth-grader, were not the happiest of campers to move across the country in the middle of the school year, leaving all their friends. Merry Christmas, kids!

We spent eight wonderful years in Lowville. I look upon that time with great fondness and will always think of that congregation as my first love.


On to the Big Sky Country next time...

The Early Years of Ministry--Bob


Welcome to Conversations with Bob! Better than the Soaps!



For all you Presbyterian Camp people, yes that is a picture at Ghost Ranch. An explanation in a few paragraphs.

I started out in ministry learning very quickly that seminary didn’t give much practical training for ministry, at least in the 1970’s. I knew Biblical languages and all kinds of theology but those didn’t prepare me for what I was to do. My first real test in ministry came with my first funeral. I got a call from a funeral home asking me to do a funeral for a non church member. It was a young man who was in the act of stealing gasoline and had been overcome by the fumes and died. What do you say at a criminal’s funeral who died in the act? I preached on grace.

Most of my work was with youth and taking communion to shut-ins. Youth are a great deal of fun and a real challenge. When they aren’t bored to tears they ask the questions adults are afraid to ask. And when they trust you they will tell you things that their parents wish the pastor didn’t know.

I started a new summer program in 1980. We had Bible studies at houses with pools. We also had dinner. Needless to say, food and swimming attracted lots of youth. The second summer the youth studied the Psalms for the summer. One of the youths had a close relationship with an elderly couple in the congregation. The wife was in the hospital with Alzheimer’s and pneumonia. We read and talked about one of those Psalms that say if you are good and faithful the Lord will reward you with health and riches. The girl got all upset; pointing out that here was a faithful Christian who wasn’t healthy or rich. She questioned the message of the Psalm. It was a very good discussion. The curious thing happened during prayer time. The girl said she wanted us to pray for her elderly friend. I asked what we should pray for and she said we should pray that the woman would have a quick and painless death. We did so. The woman died that night. I’ll leave the questions and debate about the theology and efficacy of prayer to you.

We also took two work trips, both times to Ghost Ranch. There is nothing quite like digging ditches, fixing trails and getting tumbleweed out of the sewer pond to help youth discover the meaning of mission. I’ve always thought that work trips build the faith of youth and adults because of the connection between the work and evening prayer and Bible study.

I did some adult education as well. I spent a year teaching Kerygma: the Bible in Depth. The class members learned something. I learned a lot. Teaching became a spiritual experience for me and on top of that I learned enough about the Bible to develop a preaching style.

The biggest spiritual event during my years in Anaheim was the birth of my son. Any Christian parent knows that you need a deeper faith when your child first does projectile vomiting. It scared the heck out of me! Having children means praying out of a position of helplessness. There are those little lives in your hands and you are responsible for both their physical wellbeing and their spiritual wellbeing. It’s an awesome responsibility.

The other important thing I learned in Anaheim was that there are different styles of church management. The senior pastor went to seminary in the 1950’s. The management style back then was the senior pastor is in charge and the assistant/associate pastor did what he/she was told. I learned a collegial style at seminary. Needless to say, we clashed. Which lead to me seeking a new call in 1982.

We moved to rural central PA, a massive difference from urban Anaheim. I had a lot of farmers in my two congregations. You could buy your veggies right at the farm. You could even raise a pig and have a party to slaughter and start cooking the pig! We didn’t raise pigs, but Debby canned and froze veggies and fruit with the best of them.

Now I was the pastor. Suddenly I had a whole lot more sympathy for my old boss. Now I got the complaints and the weird phone calls about the flowers for Sunday. I really didn’t care about the flowers at all but one deacon called me every week about the flowers. If I wasn’t home she wanted a decision from Debby. Debby was not amused.

I learned that prayer can be a very earthy thing. We prayed for rain. We prayed for the flood waters to go down. Most of all I prayed for and with people in hospitals.

Being a pastor of a couple of small churches meant you knew everyone well. Most of the funerals were for people I knew well. They hurt. I had to learn how to love people and minister too them while my own heart was breaking.

I preached every Sunday now, which took a lot of preparation time. I was very glad when computers came in so that I could edit on the computer! I learned that being pastor of two congregations meant that you could write one sermon but the message had to be different at each church because there were different needs. Worship took on deeper meaning. I discovered that it is difficult for me to be in a worshipful mood while leading worship. The Lord’s Supper became very important to me because as the elders served the congregation I could sit and pray and meditate on the sacrament.

I still led youth groups, including a class for junior highers on sexuality. What surprised me to no end was that parents made their children go to the class! Youth group attendance doubled during that particular segment. And the youth didn’t go into giggle mode but asked intelligent questions. It was a good program. I was very fortunate to have adults who worked hard to talk about the joyful gift of sexuality and how to use that gift carefully as a Christian.

I also learned that rural poverty could be as bad as or worse than urban poverty. One of my congregations was in a community that sat on the flood plain of the river. Almost all the church members had moved out of the community. I was very proud of them when they went door to door in the community, not just looking for new church members but trying to find out the needs of the people in town. We did a lot of work with the poor. I learned about the joys of having rats in your house because the people next door wouldn’t take out their garbage. I learned about the problems of absentee landlords who don’t keep the properties up to code. To my dismay I discovered that some of these absentee landlords were members of my congregation. I became the pastor for the community, called on to meet the needs of people who never went to church.

And Debby became pregnant again. This pregnancy was different. During the third month Debby started bleeding and had to stay in bed for two weeks. Besides giving me both the responsibilities of ministry and care for a 2 year old at the same time it made me think about children and abortion. I was driving down the road one day listening to a tape by Phil Keaggy and his song, The Little Ones came up. Here are some of the lyrics:

Who will speak up for the little ones,

Helpless and half abandoned?

They have a right to choose

Life they don’t want to lose.

I’ve got to speak up, wont you?

I had to pull off the road because I was crying and couldn’t see. I had been opposed to abortion before this on Biblical grounds but now it became real to me in a new way. I prayed everyday for our baby to live, knowing she might die. Others were making decisions that would cause the death of their babies. I came to the conclusion that there abortion is rarely a proper moral choice but mainly on emotional grounds. Our daughter was born with a few physical problems which were easily overcome by surgery. Unfortunately she inherited traits from me like stubbornness that appeared soon after she was born and continue to this day. On the other hand, both of are children were and are delights.

Rural churches can be a lot of fun but they also make a pastor spend a lot of time in the car. The closest hospital was 20 miles away, but a lot of people didn’t go there. They went to Harrisburg, Hershey or Danville, all over an hour’s drive away. Some days I just got in the car and spent the whole day visiting people in the various hospitals.

The other major issue that confronted me was doing counseling for people. I started working with people who were being physically abused, people going through divorces and people on drugs. There was no counseling center close by and there was a great stigma attached to seeing a therapist. Even talking with the pastor was frowned upon. And people found out, sometimes simply by seeing who’s car was parked near my house. Gossip moves in a rural community faster than the speed of light.

After about 5 years I decided it was time to move on. I took some church management courses and circulated my dossier. In November of 1989 we moved to Oneida, NY. While there I met this crazy pastor from up on the Tug Hill Plateau, John Shuck. More on Oneida next time.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Personality Type

I wonder if I have been honest with this latest or have changed? I used to be an INTJ, then moved to INTP, now INFP! Hmmm....

Click to view my Personality Profile page

OK, Scholars: Put Your Fancy Theology to Work!

Thanks to Sandra at Concerned Tennessee Citizens, I learned this latest news from the National Iranian American Council:

President Bush announced today that he has authorized US forces in Iraq to confront Iran militarily. "I have authorized our military commanders in Iraq to confront Tehran's murderous activities," Bush said in a speech to US war veterans in Reno. Simultaneously, US forces raided a hotel in Baghdad and detained ten Iranians who according to a U.S.-funded radio station included members of an Iranian negotiation team.

This move comes amidst a campaign by the White House to escalate the rhetorical war between Washington and Tehran, in which the President has taken concerted new steps toward war. This flurry of rhetoric has largely rung hollow in the halls of Congress, as members are away for summer recess.

While Congress has been gone, the harshness and frequency of the rhetoric from both sides has steadily increased. Last week the Bush administration announced its intention to designate the IRGC as a terrorist entity, an unprecedented move. This week in Reno, the President reiterated accusations that Iran was smuggling weapons into Iraq while chastising the Iraqi prime minister for his diplomatic relations with Iran. Left unchallenged, all these steps point in one, undeniable direction: War.

When I was 18 in high school in 1979-80, we thought we were going to fight Iran. A generation has passed and war with Iran is still on the table. Think it is a swell idea? So theologians, with all your views of predestination, total depravity, original sin, virgin birth, substitutionary atonement, and whatever other theories of God, what will you do? Is there ever a point in which theology deals with the real world?

A Slice of History

Here is the sermon by Rev. Horace Cowles Atwater. You can read it or hear it on-line. I preached this sermon at our celebration of our 225th anniversary on Sunday. First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton is the oldest congregation in Elizabethton, very probably in Tennessee. No brag, just fact. Atwater served the congregation from 1870-1877 and is buried in Highland Cemetery in Elizabethton. He wrote a book, Incidents of a Southern Tour or the South as Seen Through Northern Eyes that you can read on-line.

We have recently discovered over 100 sermons by Rev. Atwater as well as his journal. All but five are in the library archives of East Tennessee State University. They have yet of course to be published. Atwater was a northerner and First Pres., Elizabethton, was a northern congregation following the War Between the States.

Atwater was an incredibly intelligent minister. He wrote all of his sermons out in longhand on whatever paper he could find in fountain pen. Then he went over them in pencil, making corrections to his text. You may, as I did, wince at his less than ecumenical attitude toward Roman Catholics and Baptists. His sermon was one of pride for our nation, for education, mission, and freethinking that Presbyterianism brought to this country.

He preached this sermon upon his return from the 1876 General Assembly in Brooklyn, New York. He was filled with hope about the possibilities of the country following the war and how Presbyterianism could contribute as it had contributed to its success in the past. He sounded a bit self-congratulatory, but I forgive him that for his excitement. Of Presbyterianism, he wrote:

Presbyterianism always smacks strongly of freedom.
It will soon celebrate its two thousandth anniversary.
It never waxes old, and gets moss grown.
It is ever flexible, democratic, attractive.
It accommodates itself easily to change.
It believes in progression.
It adapts itself to all grades of society.
It is the bible, reason, and common sense in due proportions, condensed.
He was also pleased at the form of church government, which he felt was the best in the world:
Granted our form of church government and doctrine—
teaching every man’s responsibility to God first of all and to love neighbors as himself.
That none are to lord it over God’s heritage…
That every man must read the bible for himself and do his own thinking...
That calls no man master…
That God had a plan when he made this world of free agents…
That he foresaw from eternity every thing which has and will take place…
That He has not abdicated his position at the head of a moral universe.
Again and again he preached about civil and religious liberty and freedom of conscience. It was a great day celebrating a slice of history. You can read about it in the Elizabethton Star and in two separate articles in the Johnson City Press, here and here.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Seminary Life


Welcome to Conversations with Bob. More embarrassing details about our life and faith!

We moved to Princeton, New Jersey in the fall of 1989. I enrolled at Princeton Theological Seminary. The previous year my brother was involved in a serious motor cycle accident. You need to know that my brother has always been and still is my hero. It was difficult for me to see him in the hospital. The doctors said he wouldn't make it. He had a serious head injury. I saw him probably the day after the accident and he was non-responsive. I took his hand, let him know I was there, and I still swear today that he squeezed my fingers. I told the nurse that he was going to be OK. She asked me how I knew and I said that I just knew.

It took him a year of recovery. He couldn't remember one day to the next for months. But he is one tough son of a gun. My mother and others prayed for him daily, and I have to affirm that prayer (the energy of love) does good. He of course received excellent medical care as well. He recovered from a traumatic situation and continues teaching high school in Eastern Montana. All of that was happening as I was preparing for seminary.

Lovely Spouse (LS) and I looked at other seminaries, Dubuque Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa and McCormick in Chicago. But Princeton was my choice. It had the best financial aid and it was, I thought, the most challenging intellectually of all the PCUSA seminaries. I am sure many of my colleagues will challenge me on that.

We lived in married student housing with Girl and Boy who were four and two at the time. The married students had a great community. I even delivered the Trenton Times as one of my jobs to all who subscribed on campus. I also pumped their gas at the local Mobil station on the third shift. And on weekends, played old favorites on WBUD "Your B-U-D Buddy."

Not a whole lot of time for socialization. It was work and school. LS did daycare from the apartment and then worked on her degree at Trenton State. Girl and Boy had fun. Then we got another, whom shall be called Sister. This was LS's youngest sister who came to live with us after the parents' divorce, from 7th grade until she graduated college . During one semester we had LS's mother and both sisters in our seminary apartment. We had to turn the dining room into another bedroom. Eventually, the housing folks were very gracious (and bent some rules I think) by allowing LS's mom and sisters to rent a unit.

I began to care about lgbt issues at seminary. The first day at orientation, various groups introduced themselves and enticed us join. One of the many groups was a club for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students. I didn't even know what the words meant. A student stood up before us and said what his group was about. I immediately noticed a chill in the room. The guy next to me said under his breath but loud enough for me to hear: "There shouldn't be a group like that on campus." I had a very different reaction. I saw an incredibly courageous person who simply had a group for his kind. I thought he deserved support and dignity.

I loved seminary. It opened my mind to things I had never thought possible in church. I learned about historical criticism, theology from various points of view, and other religions. My favorite professors (some have left, others retired, some have died) included Patrick Miller, Katherine Doob-Sakenfeld, Dennis Olson,"Jimmy Jack" Roberts, Kathleen McVey, James Moorhead, Jane Dempsey Douglass, Karlfried Froehlich, J. Randall Nichols, Christine Neuger, Richard Osmer, Charles Ryerson, Stephen Kraftchik, J. Christiaan Beker, James Charlesworth, James Kay, Nancy Duff, Daniel Migliore, Richard Fenn, and my two favorites, William Brower and Mark Taylor. From Taylor I took Intro to Theology, Contemporary Hermeneutics, and Feminist Theologies. I realized that theology had to do with life here on Earth. William Brower was the speech professor. I took every course he offered. He was an expert on Robert Frost and he was awesome in that he showed us the poetry of life.

I ate it up. In some semesters I took 21 credits just to get enough. Not to brag, but I graduated near the top of my class. I could have stayed there forever.

At graduation, I wore two ribbons. A green one to support women's ordination and a lavendar one to support glbt people in the ministry and in life. I had to explain the lavendar ribbon to my parents when they came for graduation. It was in a sense my "coming out" as a straight ally. At that point, it was for the most part theoretical, based on simple fairness. Since then, it has become personal as I have ministered to, with, and have received far more than I have given, by sexual and gender minorities in the church. It has been the most humbling and gracious part of my ministry.

I graduated in 1992. We were looking to go out west, but nothing was open. I interviewed with a church in Lowville, New York, way up in the snow belt (200 inches of snow per year) and we decided to be New Yorkers. The First Presbyterian Church of Lowville, New York will always be my first love. More on that next time....


Homo sapiens, neither good nor evil

I have two thinkers in mind. The first is Jared Diamond author of Guns, Germs, and Steel, Collapse, and The Third Chimpanzee. In these three works, he provides an excellent analysis of the origin of homo sapiens, what we have accomplished, where we could be headed, and what we might be able still to do.

The second thinker is Patricia Williams author of Where Christianity Went Wrong, When, and What You Can Do About It and Doing Without Adam and Eve: Sociobiology and Original Sin.

In reading these two authors, it is apparent that most of the theology that we have inherited is based on outdated anthropology. Diamond in The Third Chimpanzee reports that from what we know through anthropology and DNA analysis that we share nearly all our DNA with chimpanzees, our closest relatives. Not only that, but chimpanzees are closer to homo sapiens than they are to any other family member in the animal kingdom including other apes. Williams writes that doctrines of original sin are simply false. We are in essence a mix of drives that enable us to succeed and can lead us to our destruction.

The myths of Genesis are human-created as is every bit of language and thought form. The creeds of the Christian church are also human products, of course. The challenge for us is to discover those myths, philosophies, symbols, and values that will enable us to not only to survive but to live in equanimity with all of Earth.

I firmly believe that the way forward is to dismiss the "Divinity" of all human products, (or add "Divinity" to all human products, the result to me is the same, although the latter may sound more "spiritual") whether they be religious or not and take what is life-giving. We have had a marvelous discussion on one of my previous posts, that has led me to wonder if we may be getting somewhere.


Monday, August 27, 2007

On the cover of the Johnson City Press.

Well we're happy country preachers,
elders and teachers,
and we love everywhere we go.
We preach about beauty and we preach about truth,
And pass the plate at ev'ry show.

Its all designed to rest our minds,
but our minds won't really find rest.
We keep gettin' richer but we can't get our picture,
on the cover of the JC Press.

JC Press, wanna see my picture on the cover...
Press..., Wanna buy five copies for my mother!
Press..., Wanna see my smilin' face,
On the cover of the JC PRESS!

Here it is kids!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Being Special

If you missed CNN's God's Warriors, you can catch them again beginning tonight. I only caught a part of the first one, but folks I have spoken with said that Christiane Amanpour did a great job. I just returned home from a long, fun church day. We had our heritage Sunday. I delivered a sermon by Rev. Horace Cowles Atwater who was pastor at the church I presently serve in the 1870s. Great sermon. Intelligent guy. But dang, being chosen and fighting for God's cause was heavily present in his theology. Everyone has God on their side and can point to some "authority" to prove it.

What if we simply gave all of that up? What if we admitted...
  • that we don't know if God chose anyone...
  • that we don't know if God prefers (or "inspired") this book, creed, and worship practice over those of others...
  • that none of us likely knows what "God wants," and that your guess is as good as mine...
  • that we need to figure this all out for ourselves...
  • that it cannot be a good idea to commit ecocide in the name of God?
I wonder if the task for clergy for the next couple of centuries is to dismantle any special revelation regarding the will of God and all of the authorities that go with that revelation. Seriously, can anyone show me that the humanity is better off because of supposed special revelation?



Muppet Personality

What Muppet are you? Thanks to BesoMami and Pastor Bob for the quiz...

You Are Scooter

Brainy and knowledgable, you are the perfect sidekick.
You're always willing to lend a helping hand.
In any big event or party, you're the one who keeps things going.
"15 seconds to showtime!"

MDiv--Bob


Welcome to Conversations with Bob! Here is Bob!







What’s the most fun you can have in Southern California? Going to Fuller Seminary!


Okay, hiking in the mountains and body surfing come in as close seconds. The traffic is terrible and there is nothing quite like being able to see the air you breathe. Fuller is about five miles from the front of the San Gabriel Mountains and they disappear everyday at about 10:30 AM into the smog. Fortunately they come back out by 5:00 PM.

My years at Fuller were some of the best years of my life. I loved the learning, I loved the friendships, and I loved the classes. Well, maybe polity class wasn’t all that great but most of the rest were.

I don’t think I ever really considered going to a different seminary. Part of the reason was that I had been away from my family for 5 years and I wanted to spend time near Mom and Dad again. Part of the reason was that I wanted to go to an evangelical seminary and Fuller was the best. Looking back I think Fuller opened me to consider new and different ideas. If I had gone to a mainline seminary like Princeton I would have put a wall around me to protect me from all the heresy. Going to Fuller allowed me to relax and learn.

Fuller in the 1970’s was an interesting place to be. Some of the scholars who helped start the seminary were still there and some of the new great faculty was coming on board. The biggest problem at Fuller between 1975 and 1979 was the size of the student body compared to the number of faculty. Fuller grew so quickly that the some of the class sizes were immense. They even had MDiV students teaching Greek! I did some tutoring, mainly teaching people English grammar. You can’t learn Greek without knowing English grammar. I took a New Testament Theology class with Glen Barker that had 160 students in it. But I got to study under Roberta Hestenes, Paul Jewett, George Ladd, Fred Bush, Lewis Smedes, Bill Pannell, William LaSor and even Dan Fuller. And yes, I took a bunch of classes from Jack Rogers.

I was like a pig who found where the farmer kept the slops. I got to study what I always wanted to study. Even Hebrew was fun. The best thing about studying at Fuller was that the professors didn’t let you just learn evangelical theology. You had to study every perspective. So I read various liberation theologies, process theology, Pentecostal theology, even Quaker theology along with current and past evangelical theologies. I was required to read Luther, Calvin, Augustine, some of the Anti Nicene, Nicene and Post Nicene theologians, and lots of Church History. The one thing missing was any real emphasis on Eastern Orthodox theology. There were so many students from so many traditions you could have a theological argument about just about anything at any hour of the day or night.

And since there was the School of World Missions, now called the School of Intercultural Studies, you met a lot of people from all over the world. One of my intercultural learning experiences came one day as I walked into chapel with a friend from Africa. In parts of Africa men who are friends naturally walk down the street holding hands. You all may have noticed that this is not a tradition in America. My friend from Africa took my hand as we walked into chapel and I had this panic reaction. I kept telling myself this was a natural thing in Africa. My emotions told me that everyone around us thought we were gay. We weren’t, after all, in Africa.

I got married at the end of my first year at Fuller. I drove back east to New York, got married, went on a week of honeymoon and then we packed up all of Debby’s stuff and drove back to California. We moved into Fuller housing and Debby went to work to support us. It was a good thing my parents lived near by because some weekends we went to Mom and Dad’s to eat because Debby didn’t get paid until Monday. We managed to stretch three years at Fuller into four because we couldn’t afford to pay for all the classes for a three year schedule.

Ever notice that if you have a roof over your head, food to eat and books to read that life can be wonderful? We didn’t have a TV, rarely went to the movies, couldn’t afford to go out to dinner but had a blast. We hung out with friends, had each other over for dinner, talked theology, (which put Debby to sleep), played Frisbee and generally had a good time.

But the best for me was the learning. I learned how to read the Bible not just as a book with stories but as a book with authority. I learned to read the Bible as a scholar. I learned to lead small group Bible studies. I read theology, a practice I’ve kept up my whole life.

I considered going on and getting a PhD. I didn’t and I made the right choice. I am a pastor.

I spent one year working in my home congregation developing an Adult Education program. I spent a summer working with youth at another church and the next year working with college students.

And then I spent a summer working as an intern in a large congregation. It just so happened that the pastor had been the pastor of my home church in New Jersey had moved to Southern California. He had arrived the fall before and both the associates left almost immediately. Two weeks after I started he and his family went on vacation and I was the only quasi pastor there. It was a 1,500 member church. I survived. It made a big difference in the way I thought of myself as a pastor.

In the fall of 1979 I received a call and became the assistant pastor of education and visitation at First Presbyterian Church, Anaheim, CA.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Meeting My Lovely Spouse


Welcome to Conversations with Bob. Bob and I are telling our stories.

I enrolled in the Yellowstone School of Broadcasting in the Fall of 1982. The school had just started by DJ Michael May in a storefront in Billings, Montana next to the Tap Inn on Broadwater Street. It was a four-month course in broadcasting designed to give students an understanding of radio. We learned through practice how to read the news, introduce songs, as well as the sales and management side of radio. In the end, we would have an aircheck tape and resume to present to radio station program directors. It was a kick. Radio people are the wildest and weirdest people on Earth.

That is how I discovered my wife known from now on as LS (Lovely Spouse). She was a college drop-out like me from the same college, Montana State University in Bozeman. The year I had taken off on my hitchhiking trip, she as well tripped-out and got on a bus for California.
We didn't know each other in college, but we both remembered seeing each other on stage at MSU. I had played Fred, the nephew of Ebeneezer Scrooge, in A Christmas Carol, and she played the ingenue in Something's Afoot.

I remember falling in love when I saw her on stage and fell in love again when she was in my broadcasting class.
She was good enough to bring home to mom.

Even though we had only officially dated for a month or so, we decided to get married. She took the longer route at the broadcasting school and wouldn't graduate until May. I had graduated in January and the two of us took a road trip to find a job for me.

I finally landed one at KFLI in Mountain Home, Idaho. I started work there in February of 1983 doing the afternoon shift. We played records then, and I read the news and the agricultural reports. It was a country music station and I didn't know one country tune except "The Gambler" by Kenny Rogers. I was in to heavy metal. I learned to adjust. I lived in a converted army barracks at the rent of $125 per month.

Meanwhile, back in Billings, LS planned for our wedding in May. Her mother was a member of First Presbyterian of Billings and the minister married us in May of 1983. He was not too impressed with me, I am afraid, especially when I told him I didn't believe in God. He thought we were too immature to be married. He was probably right. But in the end, he was wrong. We have been together now for nearly 25 years through thick and thin. (Ironically, as our story unfolds, I succeeded him as pastor of First Pres., Billings. That story to come).

LS joined me in our barracks and landed a job in nearby Boise at KIZN. I also joined that station after about a year. They had an A.M. talk station, KTOX, in the garage. I managed the feed of syndicated talk shows and had an hour of my own to do my own talk show. I interviewed any bizarre character I could find, including one guy who claimed to be a thousand years old.

After a few months I moved up to the FM, also country, KIZN 93 FM and soon worked the afternoon drive shift. I had the highest rated pm drive slot in Boise. Meanwhile, LS moved over to an easy listening station, KBNY 97 FM and became the first female morning drive person in the market. We were hot. So we decided to reproduce. Girl was born in December of 1984. We lived in an apartment in Boise, then with my parents' help, bought a mobile home in a trailer park in Eagle, ID, a suburb.
We thought we were so hot that we decided to move to Seattle.

We realized that the mobile home had wheels and moved it in the Fall of 1985 to Auburn, Washington. I got a job at KRPM 106 FM in downtown Tacoma, working the all-night shift. LS landed some part-time work at KLSY FM Seattle. She would fill in for the now famous, Delilah Renee, before Delilah went national.
Boy was born in February 1987.

Around 1985 or 86 LS started to go back to church. She attended a Presbyterian church in Auburn, White River Presbyterian. The minister, Rev. Francis Horner, had been her pastor in Bozeman, MT when she was in high school. She wanted me to attend but I resisted.
One day, as we were driving around on a Sunday afternoon, I asked her what the minister said during his sermon. She said, "He told us it is time to stop living for ourselves and to start living for God." Still to this day, I don't know if she made that up or not. It hit home for me. I realized that all of my righteous indignation against the church and God was a cover for not seeking a higher way.

Before I even attended a worship service, I went with her the very next week to a New Members' class. We introduced ourselves to the other folks and Francis asked us if God called us to give everything up and follow, would we. Both LS and I said, "Yes, absolutely." I joined that church and soon after felt a calling to the ministry. I particularly appreciated the openness to the sciences and the humanities and oddly enough, it was the prayer of confession, printed in the bulletin each week, that won me over. Confession of sin was not something you do once, but is a part of life. We do so knowing that we are pardoned and forgiven even before we ask. For me, it was the necessity of being honest with ourselves about who we are.

Francis was awesome. He saw something in me and became my mentor. I had no idea what it was to be a Presbyterian let alone a minister and he guided me through the whole process. I went back to college, the University of Washington, and worked toward a degree in English with a creative writing emphasis graduating in the Spring of 1989.

I worked at the radio station while attending school for awhile during that time, but eventually was let go when new management came in. White River Presbyterian hired me as parish visitor. For my final year of college I worked for the church visiting new people under the evangelism committee.

Francis took me everywhere and tried to teach me everything he knew. He is still active in Seattle Presbytery. I owe so much to this man who embodied and still embodies for me deep faith and love.
The congregation was incredibly supportive of LS and I and our two tykes. They were baptized just before we left for seminary in Princeton, New Jersey. To which I turn next time...