Representatives from four Columbia River Indian tribes in Oregon — Nez Perce, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon, and the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation — invited more than two dozen Presbyterians this past fall to participate in a fire and water ceremony.
Not too long ago our presbytery meeting was held at a cathedral-like church with thick stone, intricate stained glass and a grand, high pulpit. As I climbed the steps to the pulpit, I swear the air got thinner. When I got to the top and behind the mic, I felt like I was commanding a starship. There was a smooth wooden shelf encircling the area, like an expansive console surrounding me, but without flashing computer screens. I felt like I could pilot the church straight to heaven. As I looked down upon my colleagues something inside me felt strange. Then I realized what it was. I had pulpit envy.
Next to the entrance of Lucy Janjigian’s apartment is a drawing that her granddaughter made. It depicts Janjigian, her granddaughter and the words “My grandmother helps orphans in Armenia. She inspires me to help other people.” Her granddaughter has pigtails. Janjigian has a superhero cape. In real life, Janjigian is a bit of a superhero.
On a sunny July morning, I drove into the Waldheim Jewish Cemetery in Forest Park, a suburb west of Chicago, to attend the burial service for a former hospice patient. Waldheim was founded during the second wave of Jewish immigration to the city in the late 19th century, and it has been the final resting place for women like Sara, a Holocaust survivor from Russia who lived into her 90s.
Done right, service to God is not an easy task. From the beginning, the people of God struggled with the issue of faithfulness; and those who were chosen to lead them, especially the prophets, were often confounded by the worldly challenges around them and the inner challenges of disobedience within the community of God’s people.
He looks me right in the eye, holding his cup in front of him all aquiver. Westley has been waiting — and waiting — for the moment when we all drink the grape juice, the blood of Jesus Christ, together.
I was once in charge of logistics for an important meeting at an international airport. Since VIPs were flying in from all around the world, I wanted to make sure that everything was set up perfectly. I dutifully went to the conference room a couple of hours early and found, to my surprise, several strangers camped out.
‘In life and in death we belong to God.’ So begins A Brief Statement of Faith of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Yet many Presbyterians struggle to claim this foundational article of faith. The predominant American culture keeps the reality of mortality hidden from public view, even within the church.
Leaders at First Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennesee, had a difficult decision to make. The congregation had existed on a downtown block for more than 200 years. It has had three sanctuaries on the site and the graveyard has tombs for signers of the United States Constitution. Numerically, the historic congregation was holding steady, but its most recent building was old and in decline. Should members invest in costly renovations so that the building could be used for 21st-century ministry? Or should the congregation move to a more modern space closer to where the members live?
The Ascension of the Lord has never been an important event on the Presbyterian church calendar. But perhaps it should be, as there are things we can learn from it.
The story of Jesus ascending into heaven after appearing to his followers in the 40 days after his resurrection does come with two significant challenges. First, as a rule, people do not simply float away into the sky. Just think of the nightmare that would pose for the Transportation Security Administration. Secondly, the story presents a picture of the universe we know not to be true. “Heaven” is not “up” and “hell” is not “down” and we do not live in “the middle.” So a literal reading of the story is not going to be helpful.
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” —Ps. 23:1