Friday, August 31, 2007


Senator Larry Craig from Idaho was arrested in June 2007 in a men’s restroom at the Minneapolis Airport. He plead guilty to disorderly conduct. Apparently, it was a place frequented by men seeking gay sex. Of course, the press is having a field day, and Craig isn’t helping matters by denying that a guilty plea suggests his guilt.

Interestingly, the big word of the day is “hypocrisy.” Several commentators are expressing their moral outrage that Craig is a conservative Republican who speaks strongly in favor of “family values.” That he would say one thing and do another has caused the pundits to be shocked and dismayed.

I am bothered by the tidal wave of “hypocrite” charges. Is Craig a hypocrite? The evidence suggests yes. Nonetheless, there are bigger problems here than hypocrisy. As one pundit noted, “Adultery, for starters, is worse then hypocrisy.”

Oscar Wilde, no paragon of a prim and proper puritan, once quipped, “that hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.” Back in those days, vice and virtue were considered objective. The hypocrite, despite his moral failing, at least knew the right thing to do. These days, our current culture teaches that morality is based entirely on personal preferences. The highest good is “to be true to self.” Where virtue is defined by the individual, hypocrisy becomes the only vice.

Paul’s confession of sin rings a little different in the modern ear:
“We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (Romans 7:14-15)
Paul is a self-acknowledged hypocrite. He doesn’t particularly need redemption. He needs merely to change his convictions to fit his morality. In our world, the libertine will never be a hypocrite.

“Hypocrisy”, at least in its current manifestation, has become a useless word.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Newsletter: Spiritual Self-Contradiction

“I am told God loves me--and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul.”
These are the words of Mother Teresa in a prayer to Jesus as reported recently by Time magazine. The excerpt comes from a larger collection of letters and papers entitled, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light. The press coverage of the new book has suggested a scandal.

The talking heads on the cable news shows cluck that Mother Teresa was a hypocrite. Here is a woman who dedicated her life to God. Nonetheless, she often wandered in a spiritual desert. She had days, rather years, in which God seemed silent. The author of the Time article suggests that Teresa’s life presents “a startling portrait in self-contradiction.”

I only know Mother Teresa through her public persona. She was born in Macedonia and began her ministry in India at the age of 19. There she ministered to the poor and dying of Calcutta in the name of Christ. I cannot speak to her inner spiritual life. I am in no position to judge. However, is it possible to follow God and not feel God’s presence?
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?” (Psalm 22:1)
The psalmist believes that the answer is yes. In fact, Jesus himself speaks the psalmist’s words from the cross. Faithfulness does not mean happiness all the time. Discipleship can be accompanied by sorrow, silence, and suffering.

Human beings are emotional creatures. Our emotions can bring a passion and intensity to all of life. We should not neglect our feelings. Nonetheless, the love of God does not change when we cannot perceive it. We are saved by God’s grace in Jesus Christ, not our feelings. We must rely on the promises of the Scriptures and the collective faith of the church to sustain us when our own individual faith seems insufficient.

If you have never experienced the “self-contradiction” of spiritual dryness count yourself blessed. If you are like the rest of us, do not despair. Bring your fear, anger and doubt to God. Raise your concerns, and ask your questions. Wrestle with God, and even ask for a blessing. In the end, know that we belong to our faithful Savior, Jesus Christ, even if we cannot feel it.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Newsletter: Beyond the Answers

The answer is 42. You know, the answer to life, the universe, and everything. It’s 42. At least that is the claim of Douglas Adams in his science fiction farce, The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy. The problem, according to the book, is not the answer. Instead, we don’t know the right question. Here, Adams pokes a little irreverent fun at the elusive nature of existential questions. Who are we? Why are we here? Knowing the answer and understanding its meaning are two separate things.

We stand with Christians throughout history proclaiming that Jesus is Lord. God has a claim on our life, and as a result, we live differently. The question remains, how shall we then live? Faithful living means asking that question. More importantly, it means having the courage to live with the answers. Guided by the Holy Spirit, we worship God, study the Bible, and pray. In humility, we then step out in faith.

In the past two years, our congregation has been in a season of discernment. After much worship, study and prayer, we acknowledge that God is calling us to equip the Church for the life of faith. Paul writes in the letter to the Ephesians…
It was [Christ] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13)
We want for our congregation what God wants for us--that we become mature in the faith. We would like our church to be a vibrant, dynamic community, alive in Christ.

Knowing our calling and living it out are two separate things. On August 24-26, the First Presbyterian Church will be hosting a conference on “Equipping the Church: Responding to our Call.” I encourage you join us for a weekend of teaching, fellowship, music and reflection.