I am reading a book by Christopher J. H Wright with the unusual title (for a Christian author) “The God I Don’t Understand.”  There have been many books written of late questioning God and the way of the world but they tend to be written almost exclusively by atheists.  Wright, by contrast, contends in his book that questioning God with difficult questions is not only a Biblical calling but one in which some of the most profound people of faith have done over the course of time.  I’d like to type in part of a paragraph for consideration:

I feel the language of lament is seriously neglected in church.  Many Christians seem to feel that is somehow can’t be right to complain to God in the context of corporate worship when we should all feel happy.  There is an implicit pressure to stifle our real feelings because we are urged, by pious merchants of emotional denial, that we ought to have faith (as if the moaning Psalmist didn’t).  So we end up giving external voice to pretended emotions we do not really feel, while hiding the real emotions we are feeling deep inside.  Going to worship can become an exercise in pretense and concealment, neither of which can possibly be conducive for a real encounter with God.  

What are your thoughts?  Do you agree or disagree?

All the best & in Christ, 


Wright, Christopher.  The God I Don’t Understand (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI).  P. 52.



                I often like to get my family outside – away from the television, computers, telephones, and anything in general that plugs into an electric socket or runs on batteries.  Last night, we sat on the steps of our home and watched a storm headed our way.  Sometimes it was sheet lighting.  Sometimes forks of lighting lit up the clouds.  Seconds after the lightning, the sound of thunder would follow.  It was fascinating  to our children.  How many adults will barley glance at the same tonight?  Yet the excitement and fascination in their questions just make them joyful moments.  We had the same experience a few months ago as Lesley explained to them about stars.

                Sometimes in church, I will overhear a child asking a question about God.  They have the same degree of curiosity about God as about lightning.  I’ll also note that often when children enter a sanctuary – their eyes will open wide as they take in all of the sites to which adults are long accustomed.  Giddy discussions are often stopped midstream as they look around the room.

                I once read a Christian author who maintains that we take the magic and the power away from God sometimes.  We treat the Bible as some ordinary book.  We believe sanctuaries are just like any other space.  We exclude the possibility of something remarkable happening through prayer. 

                Lightning is remarkable.  The Bible is a holy book.  Sanctuaries are special places.  And most of all, God remains mysterious, remarkable, and One for whom we should never lose our awe and reverence and respect (especially when we talk with Him). 

All for now.  In Christ,


P.S.  In general, I think we have to use pronouns for God.  The English language sounds stilted without them.  Nevertheless, I realize “Him” no more accurately refers to God than “Her.”  Nevertheless, I stick with Him out of tradition.

Time Travel

One of my favorite story telling modes is science fiction, and a frequently-used plot device is time travel. The current Star Trek movie, the upcoming Terminator movie, and the television show Lost all use this device.  I think I experienced it today – but in a way that moves from fiction to reality.

My day started off by hearing from one of our church members, who is recently back from Afghanistan. He brought in prayer rugs, ceremonial knives, and even dressed in Afghan garb. But what really made it futuristic was how, with pictures and videos, he showed us what his work was like over there. The pictures alone could never have told the story like he did, but with them, he was able to tell us the story in a way that even ten years ago would have been impossible.

Next, I headed down to First Presbyterian in New Orleans. I was baptized as an infant in this church. My parents were active there in the 1950s & 60s. Its sanctuary has always seemed tremendous to me. It is still gorgeous but looks different to my adult eyes. The reason why I was there was to observe their homeless ministry, which our congregation supports. About seven Presbyterians welcomed about sixty homeless people in for worship, food, clothes, and a ticket that pays for sleeping quarters at the Salvation Army. I felt that despite the difference in function between the church folks and the visitors (some there to give and some to receive), everyone talked with each other as equals. For a moment, I caught a glimpse of a future scene that hopefully will become more of a reality in Christ’s larger Church.

For lunch, it was a jump back into the past because I was able to eat at a restaurant that my father used to take me to as a child – Pascale Manales.  When I shared with the waitress that it had been some thirty years since I had been there last, she said, “Well the family that owns the restaurant prides itself in not changing. The meal you had then should be replicated today.” And it was – from the Chicken Parmesan to the fresh french bread, it was just as I remembered it.

Dinner and my evening class brought me back to the present, as about ten folks gathered to dig into the Scripture passages for Sunday. The passages in this Easter season have lots to do with the Holy Spirit, and we reflected together on the Trinity, issues facing the church, the city, and our congregation, and what God may be saying to us. Hurricanes, crime, hope, friendships, and diversity peppered the discussion. There were some great observations, including how stress is a common issue facing us all and how God’s love is frequently shown in community.

The past is always bitter-sweet. There are moments in time we will always treasure. There are others we’d like to forget but still inform who we are. The future is a mix of hopes, dreams, and fears. But the time machines in our heads, hopefully, always land us back in the present where God has placed us with a purpose.

What do you see our purpose as today?  Why has God given you the experiences that you have had?  How can they help us all have a better future?

Questions to ponder and enough for tonight.

All the best & in Christ,


The Issues at Hand

Grace and peace to you through Jesus Christ. It is my hope that this blog becomes a conversation starter for a discussion on how we can be a more authentic and effective community of faith together in this place.

Faith has become like a dessert for the average Christian in our culture. It has ceased to be the main course, and communities of faith are regarded more and more as totally optional enterprises in our worship of God. Also, some faith communities have either allowed themselves to become co-opted by a particular political or social agenda or totally divorced themselves from the issues of the day. We can hardly offer people a foretaste of the coming Kingdom when we become overly-wedded to worldly kingdoms and their leaders.  At the same time, we become just a social or history club if the world around us and its problems become irrelevant to us.  Involvement in our world and its issues should be a foregone conclusion. But what is motivating us? Are issues from the outside leading us or is Christ leading us to speak to the issues (and get involved)?

It seems that churches are frequently confused. We are wise enough to know that we need to change, but we can’t seem to find the right direction.  Many are advocating change in the church and urging that if we don’t change we will die off.  But many of these same advocates seem more focused on what I would call “redocarating” than on trying to get the church back on track. I don’t believe “radical redocorating” (by tossing our heritage) is the answer.  Do you agree?

Many of these advocates for change seem to have more of an axe to grind over the way we do things (procedurally) than over anything else.  And I don’t mean by this challenging the procedures I am used to in church (I am Presbyterian).  If I were a Methodist, for example, and someone advocated tossing the idea of listening to a bishop, my question would be “Why?”  How does following the guidance of a bishop prevent me as a Methodist from hearing Christ’s call?”

Perhaps a refocus is in order. The church needs to get back to offering people a genuine answer to how they can find a fuller life in this 21st century world and make a difference if they put Christ first.  How do you think can we do that?

The church does need to change, but not in the trendy ways you find advocated by many Christian writers.  How would you suggest we change?

Here are some ideas I have:

1. Stop dividing ourselves and work together more.  The world does not need more Christian denominations. The work of the church is greatly diminished by the repetitive work done by very similar groups of Christians less than a mile from one another.  While facilities are needed, we all tend to become overly wedded to them, at the expense of following Christ and making a difference for him.  Divisions in the church that happened decades and even centuries ago need to be re-examined by larger bodies, and smaller churches need to gather and ask what we can do together to advance Christ’s coming Kingdom and pool our resources.  

2. Develop people in the faith. Beyond membership, activity in church functions, and participating in governing bodies, few churches set spiritual benchmarks for their members. If someone came to join our church and asked, “How will I be different five years from now?” we should have good answers for them.  Which benchmarks would you suggest? Should we have benchmarks at all?

3. Stop trying to make everyone happy (which is a perfect prescription for making everyone unhappy).  The Church needs to have the guts to look the world in the eye and say that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the light. That doesn’t mean that we become intolerant neighbors.  It means that we stop being indifferent neighbors.  Jesus isn’t just “our thing.”  His salvation is for all, and we shouldn’t be scared to believe it and live it. How does this statement make you feel? 

4. The church must connect with the issues of people’s lives.  Congregation should frequently offer events outside their church grounds and discuss  issues of interest to the larger community.  We should be good neighbors, opening our doors to our neighbors in ways that share the Good News of Christ with them in all that we do. Is your congregation relavent? Does it spead the Good News through ALL its activities or does it act merely as a neighborhood facility?

Jesus changed the world by following God, building relationships, and speaking the truth (with Scripture as the guide).  As his disicples we are called to do the same today.  And as the world’s resources are reduced and humanity’s power through technology continues to increase, it is incumbent on us all not to leave this to the next generation.  Our time is now. The Church in our culture is at a crossroads.  In what ways do you think the church needs to turn onto a new path?

I hope this generates discussions online and in the church (and not just at Parkway).

All the best & In Christ,

Tom Paine