Monthly Archives: June 2023

What Did I Do to Deserve This?

When we say, “What did I do to deserve this?”, we are usually referring to something bad that we have experienced. I have had a number of those experiences myself. I have had cancers three times, losing my left eye to the first of these. I have developed atrial fibrillation and hypertension, requiring half a dozen prescription medications and several surgeries, including the implantation of a pacemaker to control these conditions. I have been out of work several times for periods of six months to a year (actually self-employment with zero income for that year). And my wife Mary died nearly six years ago leaving me a widower. I suppose I could ask, “What did I do to deserve all this?”

However, I also have a great deal to be thankful for. I am now cancer-free, I have learned to live with monocular vision for more than 30 years, and I am still reasonably fit and active. I can still drive my own car and I can walk and run (though not often) without any assistance. And when I look back over the 81 years (so far) of my life, I have much more to be thankful for. I was happily married to a charming, lovely, highly intelligent, loving and caring woman for nearly 53 years, and we shared an exciting and rewarding life of challenge, adventure and accomplishment all of those years. We had opportunities to enjoy professional careers in several different industries, including aerospace manufacturing, commercial/industrial building construction, commercial real estate, telecommunications, and university academia, as well as stints as independent consultants in marketing and career transition.

During our years together, Mary and I were able to indulge in our joint passion for travel, seeing new sights, and experiencing new cultures (and foods) in all 50 of the United States and more than 60 foreign countries around the world. We lived in a number of cities in Texas, as well as spending 9 years in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and 2 years in Virginia Beach, Virginia, meeting and becoming friends with many people in each  place. We also had opportunities to associate with people in several different Christian denominations, including Roman Catholicism, United Methodist and Charismatic Methodist churches, a Southern Baptist church, an Assemblies of God church, a Charismatic Presbyterian church, and since 1985, a PC(USA) Presbyterian church, discovering in the process that they all had the same basic Christian beliefs, although differing in more peripheral issues. In other words, they were all part of the same universal family, even though they often quarreled over different perspectives on what they considered matters of importance.

I have a delightful daughter, a wonderful son-in law and two terrific grandsons that I stay in close contact with. Since my official retirement in 2010, I have been able to offer my services on a pro bono basis to counsel people in job transition on how to find the best possible employment opportunities to do meaningful work that utilizes their talents, abilities, experience, passions, and personality, while maintaining a healthy work-life balance. A very rewarding experience for me. And I am still able to indulge in my passion for constructing and flying radio control model airplanes.

So, all in all, I have a great deal to be thankful for, and the truth is, when I ask, “What did I do to deserve this?”, the answer is emphatically “Nothing!”. I have been the recipient of God’s grace all the days of my life, in spite of my many failings and misadventures. And since grace is defined as unmerited (or undeserved) favor), I have done nothing to deserve it.

Realizing that is why when people ask me how I am doing, I now answer, “I am doing remarkably well, much better than I deserve.”

Emergence Christianity

(Taken from the book of this title by Phyllis Tickle)

The Great Reformation of 500 years ago “was about the change, politically, in Western governance from fiefdoms, baronies, and hereditary domains to the nation-state configuration that for most of the last five centuries has informed the Western way of ordering life”

“The Great Reformation, economically, was about…birthing, and then enabling capitalism as a dominant characteristic of Western ways…The Great Reformation was also about a world that, in order to communicate its new ways and profit from them, abruptly needed a literate population for commercial reasons.”

“The Great Reformation was also concerned with the discoveries being made in the physical universe and, as a result, of human ability to begin to pierce, penetrate, understand, manipulate, and even in some ways change or harness the power for the betterment of mankind”

“The Great Reformation was about a whole shopping list of things, every one of them part and parcel of who we are and what our society for the last five centuries has been.”

And “religion, whether we like it or not, is intimately tied to the culture in which it exists… Just as surely as one of the functions of religion is to inform, counsel, and temper the society in which it exists, just so surely is every religion informed and colored by its hosting society”

Now we are in another time of transition, one that is having as great an effect on society and religion as the Great Reformation. It is known as the Great Emergence. And the Christianity that is now emerging is quite different that which emerged from the Great Reformation.

According to a recent Barna survey these are the five top responses to the question of why people are beginning to doubt Christian beliefs and, as a result, leaving Christian churches and becoming self-styled spiritual, but not religious people.
• The hypocrisy of religious people (42%)
• Science (31%)
• Human suffering (30%)
• One religion can’t have all the answers (29%)
• Conflict in the world (24%)

In other words, people are abandoning organized religion as it exists today because they do not see that it understands scientific realities, is unwilling to examine other possibilities than its preconceived opinions and is failing to address human suffering in the form of racism, poverty and outright intolerance of people that are not like themselves, often resulting in physical conflict.

This is obviously a far cry from what God birthed the church to be, a loving, caring, accepting body of people who invited one and all to join them, and who took measures to ensure that everyone’s needs were met. So God is once again stirring the waters of human society and religion to flush out the detrimental aspects of both and to usher in a new era of human relations that more closely resembles the kingdom of God on Earth.

As Phyllis Tickle pointed out in “The Great Emergence” in the five hundred or so years since the Great Reformation North American Christianity has evolved into four, roughly equal groups or categories to form a diagram called a quadrilateral.

What is happening as God stirs the waters is a blurring of lines between the four sectors, with the result being a gathering center. Where there were once very distinct segments of Christianity whose leaders seldom spoke to one another, much less tried to understand the other’s point of view, the advent of the world wide web and the burgeoning social media exposed the people in the pews to a great variety of differing opinions and they began to wonder if they still had all of the answers to the burning issues arising in the society in which they lived.

In the center of the quadrilateral, “where the four corners of the segments had met, now there was s swirling center , its centripetal force racing from quadrant to quadrant in ever-widening circles, picking up ideas and people from each, sweeping the into the center, mixing them there, and then spewing them forth into a new way of being Christian, a new way of being Church”

So what are the basic characteristics of Emergence Christianity?

  • Radical obedience to the words and teaching of Jesus Christ as recorded in Scripture and as received, during discernment, prayer, and teachings, into their own beingness
  • Insistence that the Bible tells one story in the Old and New Testaments, so there is a respectful connection between Judaism and Christianity
  • Willing susceptibility to the power and truth of story, but suspicion of propositional truth and especially of doctrinal and/or dogmatic exegesis.
  • Belief that theology as a conversation is something to be used as a means, not an end.
  • To always opt for grace over morality
  • To be entirely persuaded that orthopraxy, or right action, trumps orthodoxy, or right belief, every time
  • To know above and beyond all else, that the Bible story tells us that there is a kingdom, that it is now and not yet, here and also there, come and coming and then, knowing this, to live every minute of every day accordingly



The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why

(Taken from the book of this title by Phyllis Tickle)
The Right Reverend Mark Dyer has observed that “the only way to understand what is currently happening to us as twenty-first- century Christians in North America is first to understand that about every five hundred years the Church feels compelled to hold a giant rummage sale.”

“That is, about every five hundred years the empowered structure of institutional Christianity, whatever they may be at that time, become an intolerable carapace that must be shattered in order that renewal and growth may occur. When that mighty upheaval happens, history shows us, there are always at least three consistent results of corollary events.”

“First, a new and more vital form of Christianity does indeed emerge.
Second, the organized expression of Christianity, which up until then had been the dominant one is reconstituted into a more pure and less ossified expression of its former self.”

“The third result is of equal, if not greater, significance though. That is, every time the incrustations of an overly established Christianity have been broken open, the faith has spread-and been spread – dramatically into new geographic and demographic areas, thereby increasing exponentially the range and depth of Christianity’s reach as a result of its time of unease and distress.”

So what we are witnessing today is the cracking open of the carapace (hard shell) of religious doctrines that have caused so much strife and divisiveness in Christian churches to allow for repentance (change of mindset), renewal and growth of understanding of formerly taboo subjects. That is, God is calling the Church to learn to see things from the divine point of view, rather than from our preconceived and narrow perspectives.

History shows us that Dyer is correct in stating that this occurs about once every five hundred years. Those of us in the reformed tradition are fond of celebrating the Great Reformation of the sixteenth century, five hundred years before our time. The Protestant tradition arose from this time, resulting in significant changes to the then extant structure of the Church.

Five hundred years before that, in 1054, the Great Schism occurred, dividing the Church between Greek and/or Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. Both of these segments flourished in their respective spheres of influence.

Five hundred years before the Great Schism came the fall of the Roman Empire and the elevation of Gregory I, who became know as Gregory the Great because of his work in “leading a continent that was in total upheaval into some kind of ecclesio-political coherence and…{guiding} Christianity firmly into the monasticism that would protect preserve, and characterize it during the next five centuries.”

As Phyllis Tickle says: “When Christians despair of the upheavals and reformations that have been the history of our faith – when the faithful resist, as so many do just now, the presence of another time of reconfiguration with its inevitable pain- we all would do well to remember that, not only are we in the hinge of a five-hundred-year period, but we are also the direct product of one.”

‘It is especially important,” she says” to remember that no standing form of organized Christian faith has ever been destroyed by one of our semi-millennial eruptions. Instead, each has simply lost hegemony or pride of place to the new and not-yet organized form that was birthing.”

Tickle continues: “Christianity became a global religion as a result of the Great Reformation. A large part of that globalization was in direct consequence of Protestantism’s adamant insistence on literacy, which in turn led more or less directly to the technology that enabled world exploration and trade. As a result, Catholics and Protestants alike could, and did, carry Christianity out of Europe and into the world beyond, often in strenuous – and energizing – competition with each other.”

Unfortunately, the Church that Protestantism and Catholicism spread to other continents was largely colonialized in nature, treating the natives of those continents as subjects, or worse as slaves, with all the negative consequences and resentments that fosters. This was manifested in the United States in the 19th century as the country and its churches were sharply divided over the issue of slavery. The result was the secession of the southern states leading to the Civil War and to the split between northern and southern branches of Christian denominations.

Although the country was reunited following the end of the war and many, if not most, denominations have since reunified, lingering resentments and attempts to nullify the effects of ending slavery continue to this day.

More recently both the country and the churches are increasingly at odds once again, this time along staunch liberal and conservative lines, over issues such as systemic poverty and institutional racism, as well as immigration policy and the LGBTQ community, especially over same sex marriage and the ordination of gays. And this is not just in the United States, as racism, intolerance, subjugation, and resultant poverty are rampant in all corners of the globe.

All is not lost though. As Tickle concludes: One does not have to be particularly gifted as a seer these days, however, to perceive the Great Emergence already swirling like balm across that wound, bandaging it with genuinely egalitarian conversation and with an undergirding assumption of shared brotherhood and sisterhood in a world being redeemed.”

So be aware that it’s time for another rummage sale. It has already begun and will continue until a new and better form of Christianity emerges, one that more closely represents the kingdom of God on earth.