Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Courier Times - New Castle, IN | Religious perspectives - A pastor reflects with hope on Thanksgiving


Saturday, November 22, 2008


Religious perspectives - A pastor reflects with hope on Thanksgiving



First Presbyterian Church


Saturday, November 22, 2008



During the months of November into December, there are two scenes I envision at times that give me pause for reflection. One is marked by a frenzied business observable on black Friday after Thanksgiving Day. Another by contrast is more subdued and somber to the eye. In the economic climate of this election year, the latter view draws my heart and mind toward further exploration.


These days, I can imagine folks trudging slowly through the commercial marketplace of life in the cold arctic tundra of the North American holiday season. In my mind's eye, I can see people just going through the motions, trying to get by and make it to the other side of their current financial predicament.


If I were able to probe more deeply into the psyche, I can maybe even perceive of myself or a neighbor nearby in the world of our emotional thought life doing the same. In a mystical moment, I turn to look and stare outside the window of the pastor's study. And I wonder to myself, thinking, you know, this could be a picture of any two of us: a neighbor next door, and me. There we are, just getting by, attempting to make it through the winter of our discontent, hoping the heating and utility bills remain low enough with today's price of gas.


As the freshly fallen snow comes to rest upon the frosty frail ground, I think about what has befallen us in recent days, not only as a country first, but also as a planetary population of humanity. In the ongoing global saga of the human race, it appears we now face especially in the U.S. the consequences of our consumerism, materialism, greed, and neglect of stewardship.


In an ever-expanding quest for more to satisfy our insatiable thirst for instant gratification, we can now conceive of ourselves being undesirably and undeniably depleted of resources, burned out in the never-ending pursuit of "happiness" and "the good life" of a sought after American dream at others' and one another's expense.


In a self-centered, self-serving, increasingly individualized and secularized culture of entitlement, we may search for a quick easy fix where none exists for our rescue no matter what kind of planned bailouts our elected officials and expert economists may devise and attempt to implement. And skeptically, cynically some might suspect these unparalleled propositions could once more be earmarked on their and their cronies' behalf.


While the wearying winds and wintry weather wears on, the opening words of that timeless classic English novel among the writings of Charles Dickens comes to mind from 'A Tale of Two Cities': "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness..."


Sometime after Election Day, when fires were burning in southern California, I read of one pastor from the west coast who shared a curious phrase with the rest of the virtual universe. I was intrigued by their short thought provoking statement, promulgating over the internet through their status update comment in the electronic realm of the world wide web portal sites of Facebook and Twitter notifications that "it is a fecund time."


A time in which we are - as a multicultural, multinational, globally interconnected people on earth - at a crossroads, with many burdens to bear and much fruit-bearing yet to be borne, if only, for the time being, in our imagination(s). And yet, something has been a brewing. Change is a coming, and has now already come.


In the midst of an unprecedented economic downturn upon our 232 years young democratic republic, accompanied by its intricate effects on the global economy while wars on terror continue, did we really just now, only a moment ago, amidst all the suffering and chaos, witness the increased rising of voting by a generation of citizens, young and old alike, exercising their civic duties anew toward the breakthrough of service in a government of the people, by the people, and for the people with the advent of the first African-American President-elect in the new millennium?


This is huge! This is big! This is heavy! In the tsunami's wave and wake of centuries following a dominant Western culture of enslavement and intercontinental prejudice, it is in a word, monumental.


Those among us of different colors who, in this society of wealth and privilege, have personally experienced bigotry in their lifetime are faced with a new reality. In the face of one cross-cultural person of prominence with whom we may now find ourselves identifying as a transforming, presiding influence, we could very well be experiencing a paradigm shift toward a new political and even newer religious landscape.


Our lives and life together in this multi-national country of firsts, I sense, has turned a proverbial corner and will now and forever, never be the same again. This is first, in a sense, an undiscovered country. There is yet more to be fully revealed and realized in its larger ramifications for the dawn of a new era in inter-national leadership and human relations. This, I believe, is a God-given opportunity of a new and great adventure for us all to consider and experience together as a people being and becoming transformed by grace.


As I heard Dr. Martin E. Marty remark from his theological distillation of Niebuhr last week at a seminar and luncheon in Indianapolis with Senator Richard G. Lugar on the subject of religion and politics, we are as sober-minded leaders in community, together tasked with renewed zeal and fervor to approach the times with "hopeful realism and realistic hope."


And biblically, the apostle Paul's writing in Scripture informs us that as a people of God, we are called to such a hope that does not disappoint. Especially on the occasion of the first major holiday weekend celebration following a historic presidential election during a uniquely American season of Thanksgiving, I cannot do otherwise, but find myself giving thanks.


For such a season as this, I am beginning to believe that we have been raised and blessed to seize the day and make for a fruitful, fruit-bearing time. With stark challenges to tackle, wonderfully awful agendas to aspire toward, and massive obstacles to overcome, we shall indeed, Lord willing, overcome as a nation, indivisible.


It starts with the audacious optimism of expressing our profound gratitude for not only what we have and where we are now, but also for what we do not have and where we are not now in a place to be. It is a decision over a contrast of choices in which we can choose to acknowledge and submit to the sovereign Lord of history, or acquiesce and submerge into a sorry state of ungodly affairs, void of purpose or direction.


In this day set aside for giving thanks, we are afforded an opportune window of time in which to pledge anew our allegiance for one another's better future under the Almighty in Whom alone as our currency suggests we would trust, even as the early pilgrims did with their newfound friends on that first Thanksgiving celebration together upon a New England terrain.


May we, each and every one of us, find ourselves appreciating where and when we are with this truth in mind: That we are all children of a loving God - our ever-caring provider whose grace is sufficient and whose mercy abounds.


In view of this, it is appropriate for us once again to recount our blessings with grateful, thankful hearts. As we continue to wait in the hope of Advent, let us renew our commitment to the Lord, ourselves and neighbor alike in the redeeming and reconciling work of ministry and mission for the common good. As the Word of Scripture imparts comfort, may the Lord bless us and keep us to find favor and peace with one another on earth as it is in heaven.


The Rev. Rex Espiritu serves as pastor of First Presbyterian Church in New Castle.



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Saturday, May 17, 2008

On the Continual Calling to be Christians, even for those "not yet" called

I recently had a brief e-mail exchange with a brother in Christ with whom I have been friends in our adult lives as husbands and fathers for over sixteen (16) years. As Christians, both he and I have come from more conservative, evangelical, reformed backgrounds. Somewhere within the somewhat lengthy reply/ies in our conversation(s) over e-mail, the discussion touched upon the notion on my part of "everyone being on a journey..." and how [it is that] God would have us treat others [pastorally and graciously] as led by the Spirit of the Lord according to God's Word.

After our last communication, I read the following quote attributed to German theologian Karl Barth in his seminal work(s) of Church Dogmatics which provides food for thought along a similar, if you will, eschatological vein--that is, in referring to the sense of "the now, and the not yet", all of us are at the same time throughout our lives lived for God's glory both 1) not yet now what we will be; and yet, also in a sense 2) now already what we are to become. Barth speaks to this in terms of referring to those who are called and as yet "uncalled", and uses this line of thinking to lead us to consider "an openness towards others".

April 26“... our calling to be Christians, as plainly shown in the New Testament in the figure of Peter, must take place again and again. No man who is called does not also have to see and understand himself as one who has still to be called and therefore as one who stands alongside and in solidarity with the uncalled. Is it not inevitable, then, that our self-understanding as Christians should constrain us on this side, together with our knowledge of the existence of Jesus Christ in its universal significance, to an openness towards others in which we reckon with the fact that they are what we ourselves still are even as Christians, namely, those who are not called but are still to be called?" — Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV,3,2 page 494

One might also relate this to [the ecclesiology in] Calvin's writing(s) on the visible and the invisible church--that the practical application of our theological idea(s) of, in more contemporary terms, "who is in[side], and who is out[side]" of the church, the "called out ones" (EKKLESIA), could prove at times to be somewhat problematic. This is where one might begin to find one's self approaching [if not already over] the edge of what critics of Barth's theology regard to be [among/in concert with] universalist ideologies.

reformata, et semper reformanda
At this point in my own journey of faith and formulating/developing/reforming theology of/on ecclesiology, the bottom line for me here is praxis. The practical outworking of my biblical understanding in how I perceive, or maybe more accurately, how I choose to perceive of others becomes paramount. In order to work out [the process of] my [own] salvation with fear and trembling, I might believe the Lord my God to be more concerned in the end about how I loved and continue to love others, how I believed in and continue to believe for the best in others, and how I prayed and continue to pray for the calling of others who are now and/or yet to be in Christ. As the apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13, it matters more how and that we have love(d) well in, through, and for our Lord God Who is love (1 John). Paul prefaces his treatise on love with these words: "And now I will show you the most excellent way...." (1 Corinthians 12:31)

2 Corinthians 5:16 (NIV) So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Persevering through the Psalms in the Life of Prayer

February 2008

February 16“The psalms train us in the very prayer of Jesus, for it is to the Psalter that he turns on the cross. As we are absorbed into the Psalter, our religious imaginations are fused to his. Just as important is the way the repetition of psalm and canticle shape us to find our way forward through rather than around, above, or underneath the given form of the scriptural witness. ... And the effect is significant, for when we look up from the Psalter and cast our eyes on the cross, this life of prayer has trained us to look into the fathomless depths of his crucified form rather than compulsively searching for brighter, more pleasant alternatives.” — R. R. Reno, The Daily Office