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A Challenging Task

Preachers and church leaders had a challenging task this week, in the midst of division and disconnection in our country, to preach good news. Here is a short list of what has been said from Presbyterian pulpits and messages more broadly. In collecting these, we have attempted to give attention to a variety of contexts, but also recognize this list is in no way exhaustive. We hope you will add links to words you found inspiring in the comments. May we learn from one another and be encouraged by each other.

  1. John Wilkinson, Third Presbyterian Church of Rochester, NY.
    Sermon: Future Tense
    “‘It will be all right,’ because God is God, but that word can ring hollow if it is not accompanied by other words and actions.”
  1. Lisle Gwynn Garrity & Sarah Are, A Sanctified Art.
    Post-Election Prayer
    “When it feels as if the darkness might overcome the light, and that we may never get it right, remind me that you have me eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to love.”
  1. Anna Pinckney Straight, Old Stone Presbyterian Church in Lewisburg, WV.
    Liturgy and sermon using Isaiah 65: 17 – 25
    “Today is the day to take a step toward true unity, one that begins in faithful foundations and flows into everything that we do.”
  1. Mindy Douglas, First Presbyterian Church of Durham, NC.
    Letter to the Congregation
     “We stand together as God’s people, seeking to right wrongs, love with abandon, and bring hope to the hopeless. We will not stop working. We will not stop loving. We will not stop hoping. We will not stop working for peace.”
  1. Denise Anderson, PCUSA co-moderator from Temple Hills, MD.
    Blog post: The Message to the Margins
    “We can no longer trust in ‘love’ and ‘goodwill.’ Love and goodwill should have never made this a possibility. Love and goodwill should have demanded better of this child of God and strongly condemned the vitriol that came from his mouth. Instead, that vitriol was validated.”
  1. Andrew Foster Connors, Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, MD.
    Sermon: Where Do We Go From Here?
    “The church has to set the table for a different kind of politic than the one we’ve been repeating. One where we engage people who we find offensive, even scandalous in real relationships, standing with the most vulnerable among us – personally and politically.”
  1. David Renwick, National Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC.
    Sermon: In Power and Out of Power (sermon begins at 26:28)
    “Jesus said elsewhere in the Sermon on the Mount: No matter what the political situation of the world we live in, easy or hard, like it or dislike it, we are always called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. And being salt is most important when life to you seems to have lost its taste.”
  1. Christopher Edmonston, White Memorial Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, NC.
    Sermon: The Beginning and the End
    “For today please don’t forget this: each of you as members of the church and the people of Christ have a calling to be peacemakers, justice-seekers, reconcilers, and what the Bible calls ‘repairers of the breach.'”
  1. Brian Paulson, First Presbyterian Church of Libertyville, IL.
    Sermon: From Ugliness, a Beauty Emerges: Greater Love (sermon begins at 43:32)
    “Let us not taunt each other. American is split right down the middle in American politics. Today, there are members of this congregation who are in a place of deep pain, and even fear…. If you don’t feel this way, please bear compassionately with your neighbors. There is a place for lament in the vocabulary of faith.”
  1. Pastors at Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago, IL.
    Letter to the Congregation
    “Together, we seek a better and fairer world not just for ourselves, but for any people who feel overlooked, dismissed, or worse, hated because of who they are.”
  1. Katie Baker, Central Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, MI.
    Sermon: The End is Near
    “There is no hiding under a rock, no matter how beautiful the stone, and pretending that all is well because everything, in fact, is not. This conversation amongst Jesus and his disciples is convicting because it calls us to trust God in untrustworthy times.”

For God So Loved the World

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Don Meeks and Jeff Krehbiel are curating “Can We Talk?”, a modest attempt at an uncommonly gracious conversation among colleagues who differ on matters of conscience. Can we bridge the theological differences that divide us? Can we even talk about them? Can we affirm the best in each other’s theological tradition while honestly confessing the weaknesses of our own? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Jessica Tate

Early in its life, NEXT Church sensed a call to be a place within the Presbyterian Church (USA) where we could build bridges across the divisions in our lives and in our church. The divisions are many —

theological differences

urban or rural or suburban or small town distinctions

larger churches, small churches

generational divides

rich or poor or somewhere in between.

Our culture is one of increasing division. We see it writ large today as the final polls suggest a presidential election – and a country – fairly evenly (and often bitterly) divided across party lines.

photo credit: seanmcgrath via photopin cc

photo credit: seanmcgrath via photopin cc

As many of us go to the polls to shoulder part of our responsibility as citizens in a democracy, the 1946 Book of Common Worship for the Presbyterian Church in the United States offers this prayer:

Almighty God, who dost hold us to account for the use of all our powers and privileges: Guide, we pray Thee, the people of these United States in the election of their rulers and representatives; that by wise legislation and faithful administration the rights of all may be protected, and our nation be enabled to fulfill Thy purposes; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Does our vote — the best of each person’s wisdom, experience, conscience, and faith teachings — count? Yes.

Does it matter who wins today? Yes.

Will the next president and city council member and senator and school board member enact laws and policies and nominations that will effect our daily lives and the lives of our fellow citizens? Yes.

Will winning or losing mean life as we know it is over? No.

The reality is that regardless of how the votes turn out, we still have to live together on November 9th and 10th and 11th and into December and January and through the next year and the year after that.

The division and anger we have seen around this presidential election is significant. We have been quick to demonize the other candidate, the other party, the other supporters, the other voters. And yet, truly, there is no them. There is only us.

At Montreat Conference Center a few weeks ago, Melissa Harris Perry quoted Maya Angelou saying, “You can never say of other people that they are monsters. Anything that another human can do, you can do. We are all capable of greatness and of horror.”

That sounds familiar. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. 

Against that backdrop of human goodness and sinfulness – our capacity for greatness and horror – Jesus commands us to love our neighbor. Indeed, Jesus commands us to love our enemies. My friend and colleague Don Meeks says be very careful who you label an enemy, because the second you call someone an enemy, you are compelled to love that person.

I pray that on November 9th and 10th and 11th and into December and January and beyond, the church will help us find a way forward as a country and as communities. We are well poised to do this — not only because of our Lord’s command to love one another — but because of the kind of community we are called to be.

For the church gathers NOT around a particular issue that aligns with a particular political agenda, but around a foundational belief in the transformative power of God who has the power to transform us individually and collectively.

We gather NOT out of convenience or likeminded-ness, but because of a deep commitment that we belong to each other – that our salvation is bound up in the salvation of others.

We gather NOT around identity politics or ideology or age. Rather, we’re one of the last places in our society where people gather across generations and differences and seek to create together the beloved community.

We gather NOT as a social club or professional organization, but as a people who are seeking to know and follow Christ in our daily lives.

Go vote today. And in the days ahead let us commit ourselves to the long, slow work of loving our neighbors and loving our enemies and seeking together the common good for the sake of Christ who was sent because God so loved this world.


JessicaTate270Jessica Tate is the Director of NEXT Church. She lives in Washington, DC. 

The Witness of the NEXT Church in an Election Year… and Every Year

By Chris Chakoian

Exactly fifty years ago, Karl Barth said “Take your Bible, and your newspaper, and read both” (in Time, 4/20/1962). My guess is today he’d tell us to look our screens – including the presidential debates. But it’s gotten so ugly, it’s hard to watch. (Women in a binder, anybody?)  At the vice presidential debate, Martha Raddatz nailed it:

“I recently spoke to a highly decorated soldier who said that this presidential campaign has left him dismayed. He told me, quote, ‘the ads are so negative and they are all tearing down each other rather than building up the country.’ What would you say to that American hero about this campaign? And at the end of the day, are you ever embarrassed by the tone?”

I don’t know about them, but I’m embarrassed. Worse, I know that I’m contributing to the vitriol. Yuck.

I’m not naïve. Conflict is part of life. We have different, sometimes mutually exclusive goals, priorities, values. But how do we handle conflict? For me, the answer is (often), badly. I know we’re hardwired to fight, to flee, or to freeze. But we’re also “made in the image and likeness of God” – and with a frontal cortex, we have the capacity to overrule our first reactions.

What would happen if we took Jesus seriously when he tells us to talk to our opponent directly instead of gossiping or slandering … to bring in a couple of others as referees if we need to … or, at worst, to treat the other person “as a Gentile or a tax collector”? If we think for a nanosecond about how Jesus treated Gentiles and tax collectors, maybe we can aspire to treat our opponents in the same way: not as stupid, unworthy, or lost causes, but as children of God deserving of grace, as ones who don’t yet understand, but who may yet grasp the power of God’s love, who are invited to come into the family of grace.

Last Thursday I heard Eboo Patel, founder of the Interfaith Youth Corps, speak at Chicago Ideas Week. (Eboo is Muslim, btw.) He talked about what we learn when we listen to each other. How Martin Luther King, Jr. learned his greatest lesson not from a Christian but from Mahatma Gandhi, a Hindu. Then Eboo talked about a young woman in the Interfaith Youth Corp – Balpreet Kaur.

balpreetOn September 22, someone unknown to Balpreet took this picture of her in line at the OSU bookstore and posted it on Reddit in the “funny” section.

The caption read, “I’m not sure what to conclude from this.” Soon a torrent of posts flowed in:  –”Beards on women are now in!!! yes!!!” “So is this a transgendered Sikh? Explains why they haven’t shaved and the Turban. One of those things has got to go.” One person said, “It’s Pat,” the SNL mystery man-woman.

This is how Balpreet responded on Reddit:

“Hey, guys. This is Balpreet Kaur, the girl from the picture. …I’m a baptized Sikh woman with facial hair. Yes, I realize that my gender is often confused and I look different than most women. However, baptized Sikhs believe in the sacredness of this body – it is a gift that has been given to us by the Divine Being …and, must keep it intact as a submission to the divine will.

“My attitude and thoughts and actions have more value in them than my body because I recognized that this body is just going to become ash in the end, so why fuss about it? No one is going to remember what I looked like. However, my impact and legacy will remain: and, by not focusing on the physical beauty, I have time to cultivate those inner virtues and hopefully, focus my life on creating chance and progress for this world in any way I can.

“To me, my face isn’t important but the smile and the happiness that lie behind the face are. So, if anyone sees me at OSU, please come up and say hello.”

Balpreet Kaur did what Jesus taught, maybe better than most Christians do. It gives me hope for the rest of us … even now.


christineChakoian_fullsizeThe Rev. Christine Chakoian has led the First Presbyterian Church of Lake Forest, Illinois since 2005; on her arrival it became the largest church in the denomination headed by a woman pastor. She serves on the advisory board of the NEXT Church as well as the board of trustees of McCormick Theological Seminary and the Lebanese American University, a Presbyterian-affiliated college in Beirut. A frequent contributor to 30 Good Minutes, a national public television program, Ms. Chakoian is also a columnist for The Presbyterian Outlook and The Christian Century.