Lenten Examination

No this is not some special quiz that is given only during Lent or a special medical test that doctors perform during this season.  Instead, it describes the practice of intentionally setting aside time for the regular examination of our conscience and our consciousness as discussed by Marjorie Thompson in “Learning Forgiveness:  A Lenten Study” from The Thoughtful Christian.

This week we explored the role of these dual examinations as we begin with looking inward and outward as a foundation for our learning about forgiveness.

For examination of conscience we explored Psalm 51 with the familiar cry of “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.” (51:1)  The idea that we must look honestly on our lives and lift to God in prayer our sins . . . the things we have done and the things we have left undone.

We explored the reality that we must open ourselves to God and realize that it is not possible for us to earn forgiveness and instead we must totally rely on God’s grace and mercy.  In the end, “The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (51:17)

The exploration of examination did not end with looking inward, but also looked at the importance of examining our consciousness as we experience the wonder of God’s creation around us.  Psalm 139 served as the model for how we can do this as we acknowledge, “Where can I go from your spirit?  Or where can I flee from your presence?  If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.” (139:7-8)

This week we were challenged to honestly consider who we are and what we have done, as we continue to learn about forgiveness.  It was wonderful to hear the perspectives and ideas of the conversation group as together we strive to faithfully serve God.

Join us as we continue this conversation on Thursday mornings at 10:00am in the Fellowship Hall as part of our ongoing Coffee, Cookies and Conversation series.

Crossposted from:  Lenten Examination

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30 Days to the Marathon

As I was getting ready for my run this afternoon, I realized that it was time to start using the “Tempo C” workout.  That means today’s run was a 40-minute tempo run (I’m using Jenny Hadfield’s “Marathon – Intermediate Run Training Plan”) of 10-minutes easy pace, 25-minutes tempo pace, and ending with 5-minutes easy pace.  I am no speed racer, but even at the faster tempo pace I was able to maintain the speed without problems.  Plus, it was great to be outside running even on an overcast day in the mid-20s (wind-chill in the upper-teens) after being stuck inside on the treadmill for the past two runs.

And the best part is that the “Tempo C” workout also means that as hard as it is to believe after 15+ weeks of training, there are only 30 days until the Circular Logic Marathon.  Boy does time fly.

Why forgiveness?

Of all the possible topics for the church to talk about on Thursday mornings, why have a conversation about forgiveness?  This is the question that I had to answer when deciding whether or not to facilitate a Lenten discussion on forgiveness.  There are so many different possibilities for where to start having a conversation about being Christians in the world today, so why start with forgiveness?

The simple answer is because we all need forgiveness.  The reality is that we all sin and fall short of who God calls us to be.  So, why not start with something that we all have in common.

This does not mean that forgiveness is an easy topic to talk about.  That is where The Thoughtful Christian comes in with Marjorie Thompson’s curriculum “Learning Forgiveness:  A Lenten Study”.  This 6-part program serves as the foundation for a conversation about forgiveness.

We began our journey by considering Luke 15:11-32 (The Prodigal Son) on Thursday, February 14.  This is a familiar story to many Christians, but we considered it from new perspectives . . . intentionally reading it as the different characters in the parable (e.g., younger son, older son, father, servant) to hear it with new ears.  The conversation that followed encouraged us to think in new ways and to see that every story (even a familiar one) has multiple perspectives.

We did not solve all the issues of forgiveness in our first conversation, but we did begin to see that sin is more pervasive than we often think and more people than we normally think need forgiveness.  Including in this familiar parable, where when we look closer we find that it is not just the younger son who needs forgiveness . . .

Join us as we continue this conversation on Thursday mornings at 10:00am in the Fellowship Hall as part of our ongoing Coffee, Cookies and Conversation series.

Crossposted from:  Why forgiveness?

Taking on something new . . .

Often during the season of Lent people give things up as part of their preparation for Easter.  This year I decided to try taking on something new . . . writing a blog post each week about something happen at First Presbyterian.  This is a new endeavor and an experiment that I hope you enjoy, so please join us each week and feel free to share what you think & feel.

Grace and peace,

Pastor Bill

Crossposted from:  Taking on something new

Marathon Day (aka – Slogging Through Overtures) – Part 2

After a break for dinner we continued “slogging through overtures.”  The pace picked up significantly during our business meeting tonight as we considered (and ACTED ON) recommendations from the three remaining committees:

  • Committee #13 – Peacemaking and International Issues
  • Committee #09 – Mission Coordination
  • Committee #19 – Health Issues

As we finished up the last of the items for consideration, I realized that I could quote what the Moderator was going to say.  The voting sequence for commissioners is:  “Commissioners, you have been advised.  Please vote while your keypad is active.  Please complete your voting now.  Has anyone not voted?  We await results.”

Also, mark your calendar now for:  Big Tent – Grow Christ’s Church Deep and Wide.  The event will be in Indianapolis, Indiana from June 30 – July 2, 2011.  Join in the family reunion as ten different conferences occur at the same time and place.  Think General Assembly without all the committee and plenary meetings!!

As an endnote to the protest this afternoon, the word that we were given is that the protesters were not affiliated with the PC(USA) and had not been credentialed to be on the assembly floor.  When the protest began they were asked to leave by GA staff and the Moderator, which was followed by a request from building security who said if they did not leave they would be considered to be trespassing.  Then the police asked each protestor to leave voluntarily or they would be arrested.  Some left voluntarily and some were removed by the police and issued a citation for trespassing before being released.

So, we now have less than 12 hours left on site for the 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA)!!

Marathon Day (aka – Slogging Through Overtures) – Part 1

Today was a day with many hot button issues on the docket (agenda), so here are my brief (I hope) views on some of the big actions of the day:

  • The parliamentary excitement started early today as we considered a “Motion to Reconsider” all actions answered by Item 12-12 last evening.  And, only 40% of commissioners voted to approve the motion to reconsider so our actions from yesterday stand unchanged.
  • Passed – Item 14-07 “On Iraq.” – an amendment attempted to include language from the original overture related to directing the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) to study the relation to expenses in Iraq & Afghanistan and the impact on the US economy.  In the end this amendment (as was the text in the original overture) was defeated.
  • Passed – Item 14-03 “MRTI Report of Its Engagement with Corporations Involved in Israel, Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank.” – the report deals with several companies, but this item is close to home since there is a Caterpillar plant in Lafayette and members of the congregation are directly or indirectly employed by them.  Carol McDonald (Co-Executive of the Synod of Lincoln Trails and former moderator of the Presbytery of Wabash Valley) made a very strong presentation about the impact within the synod of Caterpillar and their employees.
  • Answered with action on Item 14-03 – Item 14-01 & 14-02 “On Divestment from Caterpillar, Inc.” – an amendment was made to divest the PC(USA) from Caterpillar and the amendment was overwhelming defeated by the GA (71% against).  Interestingly, a YAAD (Young Adult Advisory Delegate) who was on the committee said that pastors from the Peoria area said that from their perspective while it would hurt, divestment was a better option from their perspective than continued denouncements every 2 years.  Though an Elder Commissioner from Great Rivers Presbytery (where Caterpillar is headquartered) said that she was against all attempts to divest and denounce because Caterpillar has no control over what end users use their products for.
  • Passed – Item 14-08 “`Breaking Down the Walls’—From the Middle East Study Committee.” – after HEAVY amending during committee the updated report (with large sections now removed and/or changed) was discussed and approved overwhelmingly during plenary today.
  • Passed – Item 18-06 “On Directing the Board of Pensions to Extend Benefits to Same-Gender Spouses and Domestic Partners.” – I asked another question today because the way that people were talking about an up to 1% increase in Board of Pensions dues would be thousands of dollars more per year.  The reality is that for someone making $30,000 that would be a dues increase of $300 per year and I wanted everyone to hear from someone at the Board of Pensions that the number is really that small.  I felt silly asking the question (and I hope it did not come off as flippant) but people were making it sound like this would be thousands of dollars extra a year that would be breaking the bank.
  • Passed – Item 05-04 “On Amending G-11.0407 and G-4.0560, and Adding a New G-11.0408b. Regarding Commissioned Lay Pastors.” – It was a surprise to me that with no debate or amendments the efforts to expand the role of CLPs (Commissioned Lay Pastors) within the PC(USA) was disapproved.

Things got interesting this afternoon when a protest group moved on to the assembly floor and disrupted the work of the assembly.  The group carried signs and moved to the front of the assembly and stood.  The Moderator handled things very well and paused discussion as we joined in a hymn and then she lead us in a prayer before placing us in recess until the protestors were peacefully escorted out by a police officer.

After the protest and impromptu break we returned to our discussion of Item 05-21 “Responsibility of General Assembly to Provide Authoritative Interpretations of Book of Order (G-13.0103r)” which after a lot of debate on polity issues was approved as amended.  And, we were all granted the unofficial title of “polity wonk” by the Moderator.

On a side note the:  congratulations to Rev. Carol McDonald on being named to the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly (COGA) by the General Assembly Nominating Committee (GANC) and being approved by the GA.  While there were many people nominated to serve the larger church at the GA level, it was neat to have a friend on the list of nominations we approved!

Caffeine!! I need caffeine!

Getting going on the 6th day of GA had my rethinking my decision to not drink caffeinated beverages, because a Dr. Pepper or Diet Coke sounded really good this morning (but I did not give in to the temptation).

Today was a day with many hot button issues on the docket (agenda), so here are my brief (I hope) views on some of the big actions of the day:

  • Passed – Item 04-06 “On Appointing a General Assembly Commission on Middle Governing Bodies – COGA.” – after significant amending the GA created a “commission” to act on its behalf to work with, study (including the questions from the Overture 04-05 that our presbytery concurred with) and (as needed and when invited) to make changes to middle governing bodies (presbyteries and synods).  There seemed to be among some commissioners a significant amount of fear and possibly suspicion of what the GA is trying to do.  And, I made my first (and possibly only statement) from the floor during the debate when I asked a question (and brief follow-up) on the impact of a proposed amendment . . . I hope that the butterflies bouncing around in my stomach were not too obvious.
  • Passed – Item 06-09 “On Amending G-6.0106b.” – there was a lot of debate on this item.  And, after serving on this committee earlier in the week (see earlier posts here, here, and here) there were several times that I just wanted to scream that what was being said is not what the committee is recommending (my apologies to Jill and the other Bill for having to listen to me during the 1 ½ hours plus of debate).  In the end after much debate and discussion the item passed:  53% – yes; 46% – no; 1% – abstaining.
  • Passed – Item 11-11 “Commissioners’ Resolution. Regarding a Call to Stand with Immigrant Presbyterians in Their Hour of Need.” – after significant discussion and debate the GA voted to call for among other things for the PC(USA) to “Refrain from holding national meetings” in locations with laws similar to the “Arizona Law” on immigration.  An interesting question asked, what happens if Pennsylvania passes a similar law in the next year since the 220th GA is in Pittsburgh?
  • Passed – Item 12-12 “The Final Report of the Special Committee to Study Issues of Civil Union and Christian Marriage to the 219th General Assembly (2010) Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).” The report passed and will be commended to the presbyteries for study (with the minority report to also be commended for study).  Interestingly, with a single motion this report became the final answer for all the other items on marriage.  The amazing thing is how fast the action went and it will be interesting to see if there is a motion to reconsider tomorrow morning when things sink in.

After being ahead or even on the docket for most of the last two days, we had such long discussions on several issues today that we had to “arrest” consideration and move on to other items to keep things moving a couple of times.  Which meant I spent most of the day at my desk and it was a late evening before we finally “caught up” & finished the docket for today.  Though I did get to eat a delicious lunch at Salsa a la Salsa restaurant and dinner with the Presbytery at The Melting Pot.

PS – As the day went on, the need for caffeine returned several times and while not giving in to the call for a Diet Coke or Dr. Pepper, I did enjoy chocolate (Linda – thank you, thank you, thank you for the snacks!!).