U-C: What I See

Thursday, June 30, 2005

On Peacemaking


I had a wonderful experience at the peacemaking conference at Ghost Ranch last week. I was blissfully out of touch with both cell phone signals and the internet. My son Teo and I managed to hike or swim every day together, and my wife Kitty and I did the "high ropes" course for the first time, which was something I've been wanting to do for a long time. (I understand there are some incriminating photos out there somewhere.)

I haven't had time to write about the experience, but John Sniffen of Presbyterians Today has posted two extremely well-crafted articles based on one of my plenary sessions and another one by Maake Masongo, a pastor and professor of practical theology from South Africa. You can find them at:




Also, if you haven't seen it before, you should definitely check out the Presbyterian Peacemaking website, which is at:


I've just spent a day in Charlotte with the National Black Presbyterian Caucus (there were well over one hundred young adults and youth). I'm flying today (God willing and the storms let up) to northern New Jersey to spend the holiday weekend with my wife and son and all of Kitty's family in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. For the next ten days, I'll be crisscossing New York and New Jersey to see the best of what Presbyterians have to offer in those places.

Blessings on each of you.


Thursday, June 16, 2005

concrete ideas for Presbyterians concerned about the environment

Sisters and Brothers:

Here’s a short list of a few opportunities that are out there for going deeper into issues of ecology and the protection and nurture of God’s creation.

First, check out the Presbyterians for Restoring Creation website at www.prcweb.org. Consider joining and making a real commitment to support their important work.

Second, PRC was created to put legs on a marvelous document overwhelmingly affirmed by the General Assembly that met in 1990 (91% in favor) called "Restoring Creation for Ecology and Justice." That study named the 1990’s as the “turnaround decade” for church response to environmental crisis, which speaks to that Assembly's enthusiasm, if not its realistic grip on what would happen the following decade.

The huge support for this document makes it clear that this is another of those issues which has the potential to unite Presbyterians in common commitment and action across the spectrum of theological opinion. That study is available through the Office of the General Assembly, or it can be ordered online for $1.50 (including the study guide) at http://www.pcusa.org/environment/resources.htm. I highly recommend it for adult or youth education classes in your local church.

Third, I’ve been developing a friendship with Dan Terpstra, a Presbyterian from near Knoxville who is hot to get Presbyterians involved in environmental challenges in a far more profound and “hands-on” way. He is working with the Jaguar Creek Environmental Project in Belize to offer a one-week, experiential seminar to strategize about how our churches could and should find spiritual grounding and new life in the responding to the overwhelming destruction of God’s creation. The conference will take place October 22 to 29. We’re hoping to recruit a group of at least fifteen to twenty people (and we hope half of them will be college students) who will be financially and prayerfully supported by their congregations. Their task will be to spend a week in Belize discerning God’s will and the movement of God’s spirit on these important matters, and strategizing about how to move Presbyterians to take action. If you’re interested in following up on this, please be in touch with Dan at terpstra@cs.utk.edu. I think it’s a great opportunity.

These steps are obviously the tip of the iceberg, but they are at least a few, concrete places to begin.

May we be a blessing for all of God’s creation.


Wednesday, June 15, 2005

What If?

Sisters and Brothers,

As I have traveled this year, I’ve been challenged to think about what the PC(USA) has to offer the world. Put another way, I’m committed to do my part to hold this wonderful denomination together, but only if we can come up with a compelling answer to the question, “For what?” Can we as a denomination discern and articulate God’s special call to us to offer a concrete witness of who Christ calls us to be in the world? What do we want to be known for, and are we willing to risk everything to follow God’s call into radical witness? To be honest, if church is mostly about being a social club, there are a lot of other options out there. I dream of a church that makes a claim on all of us – to give everything we have to the task of following Christ into the world, sharing Christ around the world, living Christ’s justice in all the world.

Here are a few concrete examples that have come up for me over the past few months as I’ve seen the best of what we have to offer.

Presbyterian Education - What does it mean to be a “Presbyterian related college or university?” Is there something distinctive students we graduate offer the world? Are our students simply getting “a good education,” making it possible for them to compete more effectively in the dominant economy and get a bigger piece of the pie? Or, are they learning the values that will help us to create God’s global community in a world of suffering and need. What if Presbyterian Colleges were known, as many were when they were founded 100 years ago - for shaping the students who will be on the frontier, the students who will change the world? (I’m happy to report that these are questions that many of the Presidents of those institutions are asking.) What are the hallmarks of a Presbyterian education that will help to build communities of equity, justice and faithfulness to the values of our faith in a world that confronts overwhelming need?

The Nurture of God’s Creation - Last weekend in Silver Bay I learned that there is a growing collaboration between the Presbyterian Camp and Conference Center Association and Presbyterians for Restoring Creation, and the possibilities of such a collaboration captured my imagination. Presbyterian Churches and judicatories own a lot of land. What if Presbyterian camp and conference centers were known as the place where we are:

1) hallowing God’s creation,

2) educating our participants about biblical values that glorify God’s creation,

3) developing a reputation that one of the hallmark’s of the Presbyterian faith is to protect and nurture God’s creation, and

4) using God’s hallowed spaces to win for Christ the hearts and minds and souls of a generation of kids, young adults, and elders who are increasingly adrift in a culture that is antithetical to Christian values?

I’m glad that so many in my generation and my parents’ generation had transforming experiences in our camps, but that’s not a compelling reason to keep them alive. A compelling reason to live looks to the future and tells us how our witness to the world will be distinctive because we continue to value and treasure these properties that God has entrusted to us.

What about mission? - What if Presbyterians were known, once again, as a people who are going to the margins in the farthest corners of the world where God’s good news and the witness of Jesus Christ is most needed? What if we acted as if being Christian, and maybe even being Presbyterian, was the most important thing in our lives? What if we created an ethic where it is normal and even expected for Presbyterians to give significant time to going out into the world in mission? I’m working on a series of 10 posts for the Blog that I am calling “Musings on Mission” to further explore this theme. Stay tuned.

As I travel, I am increasingly excited by the fertile ground that God’s people have tilled in our denomination. We have everything we need to live as if we believe that God does, indeed, call us to transform the world. What are the ideas you have about what our powerful history of a reformed tradition and our combined resources as a people of God might offer the world in a way that is distinctively, authentically, and uniquely Presbyterian? Put another way, how do you hear God calling us to use the strengths God has given us to strengthen the church and improve the world?

The time is now! What are we waiting for?


Sharing the Waters of Life - Silver Bay, New York


Last summer one of the first commitments that went onto my calendar was the conference that I just attended on Lake George in the Adirondacks of upstate New York. It was the 10th Anniversary Celebration of Presbyterians for Restoring Creation, called “Sharing the Waters of Life.” (For more information about this great organization, go to www.prcweb.org.)

Over two hundred participants gathered for three days of sharing and reflection about what it might mean to take seriously God’s call to hallow God’s creation. I went to this one as a participant, because I am convinced that the ecological challenges confronting us today must be understood as a theological challenge that God puts before us over and over again in the stories of the Bible. I went to learn, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Dr. Vandana Shiva, trained as a physicist but now the Director of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology in New Delhi, India, moved me beyond words with her description of the challenge before us. She posits that we live in a world increasingly defined by commodification of the common good. Put another way, her concern is that the most basic elements of God’s creation that sustain all living things – especially water - are clearly at risk of being privatized for the creation of wealth rather than being protected in a way that will continue to sustain all living things in God’s world.

Without trying to encapsulate all of what Dr. Shiva had to say, here are a couple of gleanings from her talks that moved me the most. (As always, these are as close as I could get while scribbling madly and trying to keep up, so they are not truly direct quotes.)

“The next frontier in the creation of capital is the privatization and commodification of water. In a market system, if you have money, you will be able to buy water. If you don’t, you will be out of luck. Privatization is the dominant idea in water management today.”

“Access to water must be considered a human right and a basic right of all living things.”

“As a people, we have felt so small that we feel afraid. That’s why we must connect with one another as we expand ourselves into new communities and new understandings, even as we create an ever-diminishing footprint.”

“The problem of our time is that the wisdom of the common good has been conflated with the non-common good. We’re told that the “private good” is the same thing as the common good. We must stand against that understanding, because it leads to the notion that if some individuals are doing extremely well, then the public at large is doing very well. That is rarely true, and the needs of the whole community will always be most important.”

“The job of theology is to distinguish between an ethic of sharing and an ethic of capital or privatization.”

Perhaps the greatest challenge that Dr. Shiva put before the group was her conviction that it is the job of our faith communities to create grass-roots, local, community-based expressions of democracy in order to insist on that which sustains life being reclaimed for the common good. She has written many books about her experiences in India and around the world. One recent book is “Water Wars,” published in 2001.

The second speaker at the conference was Associate Professor of Philosophical Theology at Austin Theological Seminary Bill Greenway. Bill’s “awe-shucks” demeanor and his storytelling style belied his remarkable critical thinking about what the Bible has to say to us about God’s desire for creation.

He described our current understanding of our relationship with God’s creation as “toaster theology.” Our common wisdom today is that nature functions something like a machine to supply human needs. The theory is that this is only fair, since we are the highest beings among God’s creation. However, if nature is a machine, akin to a toaster, then it’s no wonder that God’s people have paid little or no attention to the long-term impact we’re having on God’s creation. What difference does it make in the long run: after all, you can’t redeem a toaster – it’s inanimate.

Bill’s talk cannot be easily summed up. Personally, he challenged me to examine the assumptions that undergird my own faith. Though I have always loved the wilderness, and I’ve been an avid backpacker, cross-country skier, and river runner, I come away wondering about all the ways in which I have missed the richness of God’s love for all of creation that is woven throughout the Bible. If nothing else, the gift of serving our church as the moderator has given me a new humility about all the wonderful ways in which God is evident in the world and the rich variety of ways in which God is experienced.

Perhaps this is yet another place in which our church can commit to a careful re-examination of scripture that refuses to be held captive by our divisions of right vs. left or conservative vs. liberal, evangelical and progressive. (Just so you know, my conviction is that “evangelical” and “progressive” are words that describe folks on both ends of the theological spectrum that currently defines our denomination.) In this area, as in so many others, we have a great deal of work to do in our effort to be faithful.

God is good – All the time!


Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Presby Peace Fellowship position open

Sisters and Brothers,

Many of you know that I have served on the National Committee of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship for more than ten years. In the last few years, we have created a "hands-on" intern position, designed to last one to two years, that we call the "Partner in Peacemaking." That position has been filled by Rev. Christine Caton and by Kelly Wesselink, who is just finishing her term this month.

You're not going to get rich, but if you're looking for a way to be involved in peacemaking that is real, here's a basic job description and folks to contact for more info.

You can also check out the Peace Fellowship's great new website at http://presbypeacefellowship.org.

Job Opening with PPF

The Presbyterian Peace Fellowship is searching for a new peace advocate, to continue introducing PPF’s Colombia program and nonviolent values to many churches and colleges. We are hiring another Partner in Peacemaking to start not later than Sept. 1, 2005. Spread this information far and wide.

Job Description -- Partner in Peacemaking, with the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, with experience in Latin America.

This is a full-time, stipended position with a main focus on the Accompaniment Program in Colombia; therefore fluency in Spanish is a requirement, and participation as an Accompanier for one month in Colombia is part of this opportunity. For specific details, please contact both Anne Barstow and Betty Kersting .

The Presbyterian Peace Fellowship works to make the Presbyterian Church USA more of a nonviolent force for God's peace in the world. At the present time, the Fellowship’s major projects are 1) furnishing accompaniers for those threatened by violence in the Colombia Presbyterian Church; 2)sending delegations to areas where Presbyterian partners are experiencing violence – currently Israel/Palestine and Colombia; 3) maintaining a presence and a voice at meetings of the General Assembly; and 4) participating in the campaign to close the School of the Americas (WHISC) at Ft. Benning, GA.

Tell someone you know. Peacemaking is the work of the church.


Video from the dialogue with Presbyterians in Las Vegas


Several of you have expressed curiosity about the day that I spent talking about tough issues with Presbyterians in Las Vegas. I'm pleased to report that folks there have worked hard to make the video footage available on the web. You can check it out


I have had some trouble playing the footage on some browsers.

Please remember that the style was intentionally informal. I spoke without a manuscript and answered questions extemporaneously, and I tried, as always, to share my experiences as moderator and my understandings of the church as honestly as I could. There are at least one or two errors that I made that were factually incorrect, though relatively minor in terms of their importance. More importantly, this is not a polished statement of Presbyterian Policy, nor should it be taken that way.

Thanks for your care for the future of Christ's church.


Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Next Colombia Accompaniment training


I'm told that the next Colombia Accompaniment Training will take place in Washington, D.C. on July 14 to 17.

The idea is simple. Presbyterians register as short term volunteers through the website portal at www.pcusa.org/onedoor. Simultaneously, you should be in touch with Charles Spring, the coordinator of the trainings for the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship for information about the training and for help in discerning whether this project is for you. Charles can be reached at bunch@stanfordalumni.org.

Then, you raise the money from your church, presbytery, synod, friends, family, pets, houseplants, etc., to attend the training. You need to complete the application process with the denomination BEFORE you attend the training, which takes place two to three times a year.

The training is itself considered part of the discernment process. Either you, or the trainers, may determine that this isn't the right time or a good fit for you. If the decision is to go ahead, Charles will help to create the teams and the calendar for their involvement.

So far, we're up to around a dozen accompaniers who have gone to Colombia for at least a month. They go in teams of two (one of whom must be a Spanish speaker). All report life-changing experiences and deeply meaningful new friendships with our sisters and brothers in the Colombian church.

Fundraising to cover the experience is up to each participant. However, the Colombian church provides support that helps keep expenses low, and we've discovered many churches have welcomed the opportunity to be involved in this important witness.

Witherspoon has a good website with reflections from a few folks who have worked at accompaniers. You might want to check it out at


Please continue to keep our Colombian brothers and sisters in your prayers. They are working hard to be faithful in a difficult place.


Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Young Adult Ecumenical Forum on Globalization and Poverty

Hey young adults,

Here's a "heads-up" on what sounds like a great opportunity. There will be an ecumenical gathering called the "Young Adult Forum on Globalization and Poverty" to be held at Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis from August 11th to the 14th. I found out about it from Elizabeth Campbell, a "student no more" who just graduated from Davidson College.

The speakers look great, and our churches absolutely need to be in the thick of responding to the challenges of the global economy. If you're interested, check out this website.



My name is Elizabeth Campbell, and I met you during your time at Davidson College this past spring! (I just graduated this May). I am writing to you because I need your help! I am part of a planning committee for a summer conference that will take place at Eden Theological Seminary this August (from the 11-14). The event is called the Young Adult Ecumenical Forum on Globalization and Poverty, and basically, we are a bunch of young adults who are passionate about issues of peace and justice and trying to establish ecumenical space for young adults to learn more about contemporary issues (this year: poverty and globalization) and earnestly discuss how the American Church can faithfully confront these issues and their many subtleties and consequences. Overall, we have an amazing array of speakers for this year's forum and are really, really excited about our plans!

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Please help us search for the next BorderLinks Director

Hey folks,

Just a quick heads up to let you know that BorderLinks is searching for a new Executive Director. If you are interested, or you know someone else who might be, please check out the position description at www.borderlinks.org. Deadline for applications is about three weeks away.

This is exciting news for me and for BorderLinks. I have been asking our Board of Directors to move in this direction for several years so that I could focus on other work. My new title, at least for the moment, is "Founder." This year, that means helping with the capital campaign, leading a few border trips, and cheerleading. That's pretty much all I have time for anyway, in the midst of my moderatorial duties. As the new person arrives, we'll have to see what God has in store for all of us next.

I encourage you to check out the website and think about who you know who might be a qualified candidate.

Thanks for your help with this.


Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Meanwhile, Back on the Border


I arrived back in Tucson on Sunday night at 9 p.m. Tucson time (5 a.m. Monday morning in Kinshasa), and on Monday I joined about 125 people who gathered in the border city of Sasabe to kick-off the "Migrant Journey: We Walk for Life." This event took place last year with thirty walkers. This year there are sixty full-timers who will walk seventy-five miles through the desert - following the journey taken by many migrants - and arrive in Tucson on Sunday afternoon.

Their journey is particularly poignant, because while I was in the DR Congo there was a record-breaking heat wave here in the Sonoran Desert. At least twenty-three people lost their lives due to heat exhaustion and exposure during the last two weeks.

The walkers will have great support, including vans that will transport food and water. They will walk in the early mornings and rest in the brutally hot afternoons, as most migrants do at this time of year. Even with that kind of support, the walk is dangerous. Last year two people had to be taken to Medical Facilities for rehydration.

A few weeks ago, I drove 100 kilometers south on the dirt road from Sasabe, Arizona to Altar Sonora, where most migrants arriving from the south generally arrive and begin their journey across the border. The washboard road functions as a bottleneck through which all the migrants in this part of the desert will pass before fanning out fifty to one hundred miles along the border in either direction to begin hiking through the desert.

As we drove south, we counted more than sixty full vans and four buses that passed us - all headed north with men, women, teenagers, and even a few kids - headed north looking for a job and the chance at a better life. Conservatively, I figure there were twenty people packed in each van, and forty per bus. That would make more than 1350 people who passed us in a two-hour drive on an afternoon in early May.

Matthew's words take on so much more meaning in this context:

"I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger, and you welcomed me. I was naked and you clothed me. I was sick and in prison, and you cared for me."

My Catholic friends who care for these folks when they arrive in the migrant shelters of northern Sonora talk about "the Migrant Christ."

Please keep folks in the desert in your prayers this week, migrants and the advocates who care enough about their plight to participate in the Migrant Journey.

Check out www.nomoredeaths.org for information about migrant support and how you can be involved this summer.