Boxers or Briefs: A Choice at Bottom

Some people think the Boxer Rebellion describes the refusal of young males to wear a certain style of undergarment.  Actually, it was an event which took place at the beginning of the twentieth century in China.  Old movie fans or fans of old movies might enjoy Charleton Heston and Ava Gardner in "55 Days at Peking".

Great Expectorations: Ode to the Spittoon

Men, I am proud to say, are by nature and nurture gross and disgusting creatures. I did my very best to pass on this crude heritage to our three boys. However, my success was not equal to my desire. I assume their occasional fastidiousness may be traced to their mother's "sugar and spice" influence.

Teat for Tat

Anointing events as the will of God is a devotional, if not exactly theological, temptation.  Christians accept God's providence in both prosperity and adversity, a sentiment famously expressed in the Heidelberg Catechism, which I think represents the irenic and ecumenical Lutheranism of Philip Melanchthon within the burning heart of Calvinism.  As a passionate advocate for The Book of Confessions,

Born Still

Being one, I like to defend ministers whenever and wherever possible.  Our "too too solid flesh" is subject to considerable frailty, but in a Presbyterian pulpit there is little excuse for blatant and pompous stupidity.  Listening to a Christmas sermon our family learned a painful lesson in the hermeneutics of suspicion.  The text was "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, says your God" (Isaiah 40:1). 

Haberer begins tenure as Outlook editor

Welcoming Jack Haberer

Editorial note: This issue is the inaugural for Jack Haberer's tenure as editor-in-chief of The Presbyterian Outlook. Several Presbyterian leaders, some of whom have worked with Jack in denominational efforts, give their thoughts on his coming to this new ministry:

Precious Blood

Blood everywhere!

            So recently The DaVinci Code argues in exciting and so Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" demonstrates in excruciating detail.  In the hot flash of a mini-pause the issue of blood becomes a fascinating subject.  The Israelites regarded blood with holy awe because they understood blood to be the life of the flesh.  Under the old covenant, the offering of blood was central to the sacrificial system. 

Advent expectations

Deck the halls with expectation. 'Tis the season for anticipation.

The original lyrics better fit the tune, but these words do fit the season. Children dream sugarplum dreams. Soldiers count down the days to a holiday leave. Shoppers look forward to a smiling friend unwrapping that perfect gift. Worshipers sing of the arrival of the Savior.

Why such December expectations, Advent anticipations?

The answer--God places them in the hearts of believers. They prompted landlocked Noah to build a boat, and elderly Sarai to decorate a nursery. They moved Ruth to leave the green fields of Moab and David to sing songs. They spoke to Mary treasured words of shepherds and angels. They emboldened Peter and John to command, "Rise up and walk."

Sadly, in post-Watergate America and in the post-reunion Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), cynicism--anticipation's dread enemy--seems to be out-shouting the more hopeful voice. Alongside impatience, apathy, certitude, and self-importance, cynicism has been waging war on the more hopeful Christian virtues of faith and trust. Of course, sinning ways of sinful people continually pump more helium into the balloons of disappointment in the church, but the resulting pessimism misses the point of Christian faith.

Throughout the biblical record and pervasive through church history the refrain is sung, "Have faith in God!" Bold faith animates the stories told of the first century Christians. Deep trust radiates from the lives of millions of faithful through the centuries, and for good reason. God has come through for them. The one who promised to build a church against which the gates of Hades would not prevail has overcome time and again. 

In this season of Advent, in a time when many Presbyterians are warning of the demise of the church, how can we recover the vibrant faith of our forebears? Might we dare believe again that the best is yet to come?

Sing to the Lord

This sermon on Luke 4, Jesus' inaugural address in the synagogue at Nazareth, was preached at the Worship and Music Conference in Montreat, North Carolina, in the summer of 2005 by John L. Bell. 

I must remember to talk slowly and clearly because you have an accent. Oh, some people don't believe that, but I can testify to that being true, particularly in this place and at this conference to which I first came over 10 years ago.

I was teaching an afternoon elective on a song from the New Testament. It was a setting of the beatitudes in St Luke. It began:

Blessed are the poor,
the kingdom of God is theirs.

I was hardly into the first line when a woman interrupted me and said, "Excuse me, but in our church we talk about -- "and then she said something which sounded like "the pooah in speerit."

So I asked her to repeat herself. And again I heard, "the pooah in speerit."

I was totally puzzled. My mind went to Exodus chapter 1 where there is mention of two Hebrew midwives one of whom is Puah, but the other is Shiphrah not Speerit. As the lady noticed my consternation, she did what my grandfather once advised when dealing with foreigners: speak more loudly. "POOAH IN SPEERIT."

And then the penny dropped, and I realised that the dear lady was saying: "poor in spirit." At first I wondered whether she was denying that our Lord blessed the poor. But then I realised that she was in fact pointing to the alternative versions of the beatitudes. In Luke, Jesus says, "Blessed are the poor," while in Matthew, he says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit."

The stories we are reflecting on today, however, have no alternative. They speak of the raw physical realities with which God is involved: issues of life and death, oppression and liberation which cannot be spiritualised away.

My “Presby-only” college search

Most high school seniors have extensive lists of requirements for potential colleges: location, cost, class sizes, major offerings. While I looked for colleges two years ago, all of those variables were important, but I seemed to have one other prerequisite: a Presbyterian heritage. 

When I was asked what I was looking for in a school, I rarely started with the Presbyterian qualifier, but those interested noticed a pattern quickly enough. "Well," I'd say, "I'm looking at (different schools)." And, although each institution has a reputation for academic excellence, the unique common denominator was that of a relationship, whether active or more nominal, with one particular denomination-- my own. 

My eagerness to attend a Presbyterian college may seem to have an obvious explanation. As the daughter of a Presbyterian minister (Warrensburg, Mo.), the familiarity of my home denomination's theology and practices seemed comforting as I planned to live on my own for the first time. Plus, occasional scholarship breaks for PKs didn't hurt.  

In all honesty, however, there was another, more practical reason for narrowing my search to Presbyterian colleges. It simply made the list of possibilities somewhat more approachable. With hundreds of options, choosing a college seemed an overwhelming prospect, particularly since I was unsure of my career path. By saying "Presby-only," my list seemed reassuring and workable. It also seemed the perfect match for a person who proudly remembers the moment she learned to spell P-R-E-S-B-Y-T-E-R-I-A-N at the age of five. 

But then the decision-making moment arrived. And I enrolled in a Baptist school.

On the Beret

Pulpit nominating committees need a lot more help than they are getting.  For example, when I left my first pastorate, the pulpit nominating committee met and quickly agreed that whatever else, they did not want another minister who wore a beret and made pastoral calls riding a bicycle.  They thought these practices were not only eccentric but weird then, in fact, one was thrifty and the other was theological.