Monday, December 16, 2013

Defining God Down, So He Can Be Denied

Revised, with apologies, December 17th, 2013.

The Experience of God by Eastern Orthodox theologian and philosopher David Bentley Hart is a critique of both the faulty logic of modern atheists and of the easy targets provided them by simplistic understandings and explanations of God by people of faith. 

To whet your appetite for Hart’s books, he, in speaking of those on both sides of the God-No God debate, argues that, “none of them is talking about God in any coherent sense at all.”  He goes on to write, “…my chief purpose is not to advise atheists on what I think they should believe; I want merely to make sure that they have a clear concept of what it is they claim not to believe.”

Hart bemoans the rise of ideological extremism, fundamentalism, not only in religion but in politics, economics, etc., and argues that "the new atheism is often just the confessional rote of materialist fundamentalism..."  He identifies "...young earth creationists who believe that the two contradictory cosmogonic myths of the early chapters of Genesis are actually a single documentary account of an event that occurred a little over six millennia ago...' as "opponents against which (the new atheism) is well matched."  Hart identifies such Biblical fundamentalism as a phenomenon of the last century or so and makes the case that it is in no way a return to the faith of the early church.

I suppose we are easily tempted by the first Genesis creation story (Genesis 1) in which God says, “Let us make man in our image,”  to imagine the inverse, God in our image, a sort of super human who creates just by speaking and who would act and rule and judge just as we would if we were perfect and had all that power.  The Genesis writers seem to have done that in the second Genesis creation story (Genesis 2), saying that God created man by taking something available, some dust from the ground, and making something else, a man, out of it, or taking a rib from a man and making a woman from it. That would be crafting or manufacturing, not creating. 

This is not to marginalize the beautiful inspired Genesis creation stories that teach essential spiritual truths, primarily that God created and that what He created was good.  Thanks to the divine gifts of self awareness, curiosity, intelligence and technology, we know a lot more than the writers of Genesis about the incredibly complex and ongoing creation processes God put in place.  We can even replicate some of those processes.  We have some evidence about how species change over time and some theories about the origin of species, but we still don’t have a clue about where all this matter and energy and life and reason come from, about how God created out of nothing.  As Hart writes, "The world is unable to provide any account of its own actuality, and yet there it is all the same."     

Hart never mentions Jesus or the incarnation.  Writing about the God that can be found in Judaism, Christianity, Islam and other major mono-theistic faiths he says, “I want to distinguish…between, on the one hand, metaphysical or philosophical descriptions of God, and, on the other, dogmatic or confessional descriptions, and then to confine myself to the former.”  Of course he is a confessing Christian, but writes, “It may be that one faith is truer than any other, or contains that ultimate truth to which all faiths aspire in their various ways; but that still would hardly reduce all other religions to mere falsehood.”  Hart explains up front that his book “forthrightly and unhesitatingly describes a God who is the infinite fullness of being, omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient, from who all things come and upon whom all things depend for every moment of their existence, without whom nothing at all could exist.”  It sounds like St Luke, writing more concisely in Acts 17:28 – “For in him we live, and move, and have our being;”

And this from Hart on atheism:  “I acknowledge up front that I do not regard true philosophical atheism as an intellectually valid or even cogent position.”  He sees it as a “fundamentally irrational view of reality, which can be sustained only by a tragic absence of curiosity or a fervently resolute will to believe the absurd,” that, “must be regarded as a superstition, often nurtured by an infantile wish to live in a world proportionate to one’s own hopes or conceptual limitations.”  Could we believers sometimes be guilty of that same wish?

I’m not going to spoil the reading with any more quotes.  Hopefully this has whetted some appetites for a challenging read.  You can get it on your Kindle for $11.99.  And, meanwhile Christians, as Christmas approaches, can give thanks for Immanuel, God with us.


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Major Topics in Catholic Christianity

Just in case anybody was wondering what it is all about...
(Click on the chart for better readability.)

Monday, October 28, 2013

Commitment to Social Spending: More Than a Tithe

Sometimes it helps to provide some historical context for currently observed phenomena.  The chart below shows total federal, state, and local social benefit spending, as a percent of GDP, for the United States since 1960, the 25th anniversary of Social Security and five years before Medicare and Lyndon Johnson's "War on Poverty" which featured "Guns and Butter" on its menu.  That philosophy was responsible for the major increase in social spending between 1965 and 1975.

I've written several times about the major shift in direction for the US economy in the mid 1970's (Search for 1974), and one likely effect of that can be seen in this chart, growth in social spending slowing dramatically in 1975.  In 2000, after President Clinton and the conservative congress of his time had collaborated in the 1990's to end "welfare as we know it," total social benefits as a percent of GDP was at 1975 levels.  There was an increase in the early 2000's, maybe due to the Medicare Drug Plan, and then a rise above 14% with the social spending done in response to the 2008 real estate crash.

So, here we are, facing an uncertain economic future, a poverty level essentially the same as fifty years ago when the "War on Poverty" was launched, a national debt of $17T, greater than our current annual GDP, and still borrowing about a third of everything the government spends.  The current approach just doesn't seem to be working very well.  We have institutionalized poverty, and our economic future is looking pretty dim.

Here is my suggestion: Lets pin total social benefit spending at 10% of GDP, about average for the 1970's, 1980's, and 1990's.  That's a tithe, and, combined with all the voluntary giving of time and money by our generous citizens, should keep poverty in control.  And, if we stop committing social benefits to folks who really don't need them, people like me for example, there will be plenty to help the truly helpless even while cutting Social Security and Medicare tax rates on the productive young people who will spend or invest the money elsewhere.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Catechism of the Catholic Church

I first read this 688 page document, paying particular attention to the scripture references, while I was a student at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary eight or ten years ago.  It is great educational and devotional reading for any Christian, Catholic or not, if taken in fifteen or twenty page bite size pieces at a time.  Of course Protestants will find some things they disagree with, but it will be a fairly small percentage of the whole, and those sections can just be ignored or skipped.

I read it again maybe three years ago before being received into the Catholic Church.  It seems to me that life long Catholics have amazingly little interest in this 1994 publication targeted at the American Catholic Church, but for individuals coming from other faith traditions, it is invaluable.  Below is a very abbreviated outline I prepared for introduction of the major contents of the book to persons interested in becoming Catholic or even to Catholics who are not familiar with it.  Click on it for a more readable view.

Monday, July 8, 2013

In One Thing Only

Listening to yesterday's Gospel reading from Luke 10 about Jesus sending the Seventy out and instructing them to "rejoice in one thing only," I was reminded that it was the text for the one and only prepared sermon I ever delivered.  Near the end of my three years of Lutheran seminary, I took Professor Tom Ridenour's Preaching course, not because I ever intended to do any preaching, but because Lutheran preaching is really based on careful and systematic analysis of scripture, with appropriate attention to context and key words, seeking understanding of what the text meant to those who wrote and first heard it and applying that to current situations.  Lutherans are among those who also face the additional troublesome discipline of following the lectionary which forces the preaching pastor to systematically work through most of Holy Scripture during a three year cycle...and then do it all over again.

Dr. Ridenour gave us several texts from which to choose for our soon to be videotaped sermon to the rest of the class.  After the taping, we each met with him, one on one, to review the video and hear his appraisal of our sermons and delivery of same.  I was probably the only student in the class not preparing for a lifetime of such preaching.

Anyway, for whatever it is worth, here are the text and my sermon.  I'm not going to reveal Dr. Ridenour's appraisal of it, but I did get credit for the course.

Rejoice in One Thing Only
Darryl K. Williams – April 19, 2004

A Reading from Luke’s Gospel (10:1-20):
After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.  Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road.  Whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace to this house!'  And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you.  Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house.  Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you;  cure the sick who are there, and say to them, 'The kingdom of God has come near to you.'  But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 'Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.'   "Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me."  The seventy returned with joy, saying, "Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!"  He said to them, "I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning.  See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you.  Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven."
If you would like to spend a couple of hours reading a good story of life changing significance, curl up with Luke and Acts and read them all the way through.  These books were written by one person and comprise more than 25% of the New Testament.  We talk about Paul so much that it would be easy to get the idea that he wrote most of the New Testament, but he is in second place.  Luke and Acts together are unique in presenting, from the viewpoint of one writer, the life and ministry of Jesus AND the early years of the Church He established and of which we are members today.  The Gospel reading today describes one of the early mileposts in formation of the Church: The sending out of the seventy. 

I would (or at least could, with appropriate reference to Matthew 16:18) argue that the church was born in the fifth chapter of Luke when Jesus said to Peter, in the presence of James, and John, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people." That gives us a pretty strong clue about what the church is supposed to be doing.  Peter James and John left everything and followed Jesus.  Jesus took them around the countryside preaching and teaching and healing, and he gathered other disciples who also walked with him and listened to Him and learned from Him as he proclaimed the good news. The church was planted and sprouting like bean sprouts coming forth from fresh moist soil in the warmth of spring sunshine.  People were being caught. 

Jesus was always looking for more people who would leave everything and follow him.  He had high standards, and he did not make it easy for those who were interested.   He didn’t just say, “Come on in.  We will work out the details later.”  In the ninth chapter, the original three have grown to twelve, and we find him sending out the twelve to proclaim the Gospel and to heal.  They apparently stirred up a lot of interest in Jesus because just after that we find Jesus and the twelve surrounded by several thousand who have followed them and are hungry.  Jesus feeds them, and then he makes one of his sobering announcements:  He was going to be rejected and killed and raised on the third day.  I guess most people heard the parts about rejection and killing but that the part about being raised went right over their heads.   Then he said, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me." 

That should bring in the recruits in a hurry.  Follow you where Jesus?  To rejection and death? 

Well, Jesus, I do want to do that, but I have some things I need to do live a little.  I need to bury my father…and I need to say some goodbyes…and put my affairs in order.  You’ll find these objections in chapter 9. 

And Jesus says, "OK, but those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it."  And by the way, I can’t guarantee a place to lay your head at night, and you are going to have to put me ahead of your friends and family.

Tough words….High standards.

But still Jesus ends up with seventy who are willing to go.  And that is where we find ourselves in today’s scripture from Luke 10…on the crest of a growing wave which is the church. 

We may read a bit enviously about these seventy.  They knew Jesus…in the flesh…sat at his feet…learned directly from Him…from Jesus himself.  And Jesus gave them power.   He gave them power and authority to cast out demons and to heal the sick.   Man, would I like to have that kind of power and authority…to cast out demons and to cure people of their illnesses.  Man, I’d be going from hospital to hospital just curing people right and left.  I’d cure them and bring them to church.  I’d say, “You are cured.  Come to Ebenezer (My church home at the time).”  All the doctors would be out of business.  There wouldn't be any need for all these new heart centers that are being built.  I’d be in the newspapers and have a book deal and….    Oops.  Sorry.  I guess I lost control there for a minute.  Maybe I am having just a little trouble with that part about denying myself.

Maybe some of the seventy went a bit off the deep end also.  They came back thrilled and rejoicing, telling Jesus of their experiences…that even the demons had submitted to them.  And Jesus has to give them a little admonition about what they should rejoice over.  They should rejoice over one thing only: THE FACT THAT THEIR NAMES ARE WRITTEN IN THE BOOK OF LIFE.  There was no lack of follow-up on the part of Jesus, their leader, teacher, coach, organizer, source of authority, spiritual advisor, and….saviour.

Jesus gives some pretty detailed instructions in this Gospel reading.  I wonder if those instructions have any practical meaning for those of us in the church today.   OK, sure, I know it’s a different world.  People don’t walk around in the dust in sandals and carry bags of money and stay in the homes of strangers and cast out demons and cure people anymore.  We have sidewalks and cars and credit cards and Motel Six’s and managed care to take care of all those things.  And of course everybody already knows about Jesus and they have all made their decisions.  It’s up to them, and they have made their choices. 

But surely we can learn something from the instructions Jesus gave?  There must be some general principles there.  If we read and listen carefully we might conclude that we are all called and sent out…not just the pastors.  Isn’t that what Jesus’ whole ministry was about…calling people and challenging them and teaching them and sending them out?  For Jesus it was not just the twelve, and for us, it is not just the pastors. 

We might also conclude from the instructions that Jesus gave that we should pray for help…Jesus says, “Ask the Lord for help…”  right there is verse 2.

If we dig deeply into Jesus' words and look for principles rather than specifics, we might conclude that we should have a sense of urgency and not waste time…that we should be satisfied with little and refuse to be burdened down by material goods…that our focus should be on others….that we should not get discouraged…that we should deliver a consistent and simple message.  All these ideas are contained in the charge of Jesus to the seventy.

Most of those instructions are all about logistics, but what about that consistent and simple message?  Just exactly what was the message he gave them to deliver?  He told them to say only two things, one in verse 5 and one in verse 9.  The first is “PEACE TO THIS HOUSE.”  The second is, “THE KINGDOM OF GOD HAS COME NEAR YOU.” 

PEACE is an important theme to the writer of Luke and Acts and remains so in our worship today. 

In the story of the birth of Jesus, the Heavenly Host proclaims, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth PEACE among those whom he favors!"   We will sing the same phrase in a few minutes in our hymn of praise. 

When Jesus is taken to the temple for circumcision, he is presented to Simeon who took him in his arms and praised God, saying, "Master, now you are dismissing your servant in PEACE, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,  a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel."  He probably didn't use the same tune we are going to use for these same words in a few minutes after we share in the body and blood of Jesus. 

Throughout the Gospel, Jesus tells those he has healed to "Go In Peace."  We will hear that same charge at the end of our worship.  And after his death and resurrection, Jesus stands among a group of His followers and says, "PEACE be with you."  And we will say that to each other today as we prepare for Holy Communion.

The meaning of peace in the New Testament is much broader and deeper than harmony among people and absence from war.   According to the prophets, it would be an essential element of the messianic Kingdom…that Kingdom of God which Jesus says has come near.  The word the prophets used was Shalom.  In Christian thought, shalom or peace is nearly synonymous with the salvation that comes from Jesus.  If you listen carefully, you can hear that deep meaning in all those phrases we use in worship.  When we pass the peace during worship, we are not saying, “It’s so good to see you.  Have a nice day.”  We are saying that we are all recipients of the peace that comes from God through Jesus Christ…that we are recipients of His free gift of salvation…that we are experiencing and sharing that gift together…that the Kingdom of God has come near…and that we too, just like the seventy, have only one thing in which to rejoice…that our names are written in the Book of Life. 

Thanks be to God who gives us the strength, as we share together in the body and blood of our Savior Jesus Christ, to continually deny more and more of ourselves and to follow Him more closely.  

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Sargent Shriver, "A Good Man"

I just finished reading A Good Man, Mark K. Shriver's highly personal biography of his dad, Sargent Shriver.  Probably few people under the age of forty have heard of Mr. Shriver, but a few essential facts are well documented in Wikipedia, and there is no need for me to try to reword them.

Robert Sargent Shriver, Jr.; November 9, 1915—January 18, 2011) was an American statesman and activist. As the husband of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, he was part of the Kennedy family, serving in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. Shriver was the driving force behind the creation of the Peace Corps, founded the Job Corps, Head Start and other programs as the "architect" of Johnson's "War on Poverty" and served as the United States Ambassador to France. During the 1972 U.S. presidential election, he was George McGovern's running mate as the Democratic Party's nominee for U.S. Vice President, replacing Thomas Eagleton who had resigned from the ticket.  (

He was also heavily involved in his wife's founding and operation of The Special Olympics.

The Wikipedia article goes on to say that Shriver was a devout Catholic, attended daily mass, and always carried a rosary.  His son's biography focuses on that central theme of his life, his faith.  Mark sees his father as a person who focused his entire being on loving and serving God and his fellow man with great enthusiasm and without reservation, a strict follower of the two greatest commandments, a man who always lived in the moment, looking forward with excitement to meeting God in the life to come, and worrying not at all about mistakes of the past or challenges of the future.  He took these words of Jesus seriously:
Matthew 6:33-34  But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today. 
Politically, I would be the opposite of Mr. Shriver.  But, my conclusion based on his son's understanding of his life is that if we all loved and served as he did, motivated as he was, all those labels that divide us, conservative and liberal, rich middle class and poor, gay and straight, White, African American, and Hispanic, Democrat, Republican, and Libertarian, would fade into insignificance.  We could be conservative without being A Conservative, liberal without being A Liberal, etc.  Our identities would have nothing to do with race or sex or fiscal leanings.  We would each claim only this identity: "Child and Lover of God."

Read the book.  It is inspirational.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Burdens of Wealth and Covetousness

The meaning of "wealthy” has changed significantly over the centuries.  In Biblical times, Abraham was declared wealthy because of his “flocks and herds, silver and gold, male and female servants, camels and donkeys.”  His son, Isaac, “had possessions of flocks and herds, and a great household, so that the Philistines envied him.”  Isaac’s son, Jacob, “grew exceedingly rich, and had large flocks, and male and female slaves, and camels and donkeys."  Job had “seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred donkeys, and very many servants.”  Well, I’ll take some silver and gold, but you can have the rest of it.  Having such wealth sounds like a lot of worry and work and responsibility to me, trying to make sure all those servants are faithfully shepherding and feeding and watering and protecting all those sheep.  I have enough trouble just keeping my one house in good shape.

Economic conditions seem to have been different in New Testament times with Roman currency established as the medium of exchange, buying and selling of goods commonplace, and existence of solid middle and upper-middle classes.  We have the example of the “rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus,” and provided a tomb for short-term occupancy by Jesus.  And there was “Lydia, a worshiper of God…from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth,” who, after being baptized, opened her home to Paul and Timothy.  It must have been a spacious home. There was Zacchaeus, who was “a chief tax collector and was rich,” but not rich like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had been.  After all, he had climbed into a tree to see Jesus, having no servants to lift him up.  Wealth is relative.  I’m guessing that with the Roman Empire at its peak and with zealous tax collectors such as Zacchaeus at work throughout, most of the real wealth at that time belonged to the empire and to the emperor and his buddies.

We know enough about those centuries between the end of the Roman Empire and the invention of the printing press to know that the chances for economic prosperity were slim.  There was a vast divide between the wealthy landholders and those who were allowed, under feudalism, to eke out a meager sustenance working that land for the primary benefit of the landowners.

In the 21st century, most of the wealth of the wealthiest consists of no more than records, sometimes just digital information, that show “ownership” of so many shares of various companies or mutual funds or certain numbers of bonds, the values of which fluctuate daily for strange and mysterious reasons.  There are some wealthy landowners, such as Ted Turner who owns two million acres, but for most truly wealthy people, multi-millionaires, the tangible things they own, land, houses, cars, horses, etc., make up a negligible portion of their holdings and the much bigger portion consists only of those ownership records.  Values of such holdings are intangible and subjective and can change in the blink of an eye as everyone who owned Lehman Brothers bonds in the fall of 2008 or who bought Apple stock six months ago can attest.  And, if the records of ownership were to disappear or the rules governing ownership were to change significantly, as under Chavez in Venezuela, the ownership could be lost.  Our system, as it has evolved, is very fragile and faces threats as serious as and far more mysterious than the Biblical moths and rust and thieves.

But one thing about wealth has remained true over the centuries: Most of the wealth is and always has been held by a small percentage of the population, at least partly because only a small percentage of the population is both capable of and seriously interested in building and preserving wealth and bearing the associated burdens.  Hard work, disciplined planning, and delayed gratification often lose out to excessive credit card debt, irrational consumption, and advertiser incited envy, all of which bring burdens of their own, neither more nor less problematic than the burdens of wealth.  Those of us who suffer from such may heed the warning to, “Go the ant, you lazybones.  Consider its ways and be wise,” or the commandment to “not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

Sometimes envy, or covetousness, may be incited by talk of spreading wealth around.  For those burdened with credit card debt as a result of having been tempted by persuasive advertising to consume irrationally, or even for those feeling sympathy for ones so suffering, the idea of spreading some wealth around may seem very enticing.  Just force Warren Buffett to sell some of his shares in Berkshire Hathaway and send that money to Washington, DC, for redistribution.  With his or her share, the recipient of new funds can upgrade to an iPhone 10, buy a new battery powered car, paint his or her house, or invest in Berkshire Hathaway.  Chances are slim that the choice will be door number three and even less, door number four.  The house will continue to deteriorate and somebody else will have to buy those shares Mr. Buffett sells.  So, the rich get richer and the poor stay poor. 

Even with all these problems, we can take comfort that wealth or lack thereof is not important in the long run because “one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions," because “The rich and the poor have this in common: the LORD is the maker of them all,” and because we should “not be afraid when some become rich, when the wealth of their houses increases.  For when they die they will carry nothing away; their wealth will not go down after them.”  We can just hope that the wealthy will invest wisely in job creating businesses and industries for the benefit of the willing and able and will give wisely to help those who can’t help themselves.

Note: The quotes above are all from the Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version.  And, yes, I am well aware of the many Biblical warnings to the rich, not the least of which is that phrase, "go down after them," in the last quote above. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Pope and the Poor

From an AP news story about Tuesday's public appearance of Pope Francis:   
"Francis said the role of the leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics is to open his arms and protect all of humanity, but "especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important, those whom Matthew lists in the final judgment on love: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison."  
I love this position of Pope Francis and find it the same as that of Jesus Christ.  You may wonder then why I do not count myself as a liberal social progressive advocating free health care, for example, for all.  The reason is that our liberal progressive social system fails to adequately protect the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, and the sick because of its insistence on trying to help everybody whether help is needed or not.  Just because the poor need help is no reason we all have to chip in to buy annual physicals, flu shots, and birth control pills for each other.

Instead of helping, our current system patronizes and enables the disadvantaged while frittering away taxpayer money assisting middle class and above folks who really don’t need assistance.  We have an expensive bureaucracy that depends on a large lower class and would crumble if the problems of poverty were actually solved.  In 1965 a “War on Poverty” was launched with approximately 15% of the population below some arbitrarily defined poverty line and almost fifty years and billions of dollars later we still have approximately 15% of the population in poverty.  And, because the system is designed in a way that perpetuates poverty, it is the children of the poor who are most likely to become poor adults.

It started in 1935 with Social Security for all and then compounded the error in 1965 with Medicare for all.  The current administration doubled down with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a government takeover of the health care insurance system for all when the focus should have been on a health care system (not insurance) for the poor.  The systems which are means tested, housing and food supplements primarily, ask little of recipients other than standing in lines and completing paperwork on a regular basis.

Social Security is probably the lesser evil because it does not distort markets and prices.  It just redistributes income from younger working folks, whether they can afford it or not, to older and disabled folks, whether they need it or not.  And, since the demographic destiny of the USA, absent opening the borders wide to immigrants, is a diminishing ratio of workers to retirees, the system is unsustainable.  Of course Social Security was supposed to be fully funded by our contributions to the system during our working years, but, unfortunately, that money we paid in advance was borrowed and spent and current payments to retirees all depend on current tax receipts from working folks.

The health care problem is much more serious because the isolation of patient from provider by third party payers including large employers, insurance companies, and government, with congress trying to micromanage the system under the guidance of health care industry lobbyists, has distorted the market and resulted in soaring costs, prices, and profits.  There is no competition and no price transparency, and patients have become pawns in a system that cannot be understood.  Health care has unnecessarily become unaffordable for all but the wealthy.

I suppose all of the problems are in some way related to the currently popular belief in equal outcomes rather than equal opportunity, the belief that no one should be singled out or insulted or made to feel bad, the belief that one lifestyle is as good as another and is no business of government.  The best descriptor for the system that has evolved is probably “politically correct.”

But, the fact is that, while personal loving assistance, face to face, from one person to another, expecting nothing in return, is Christ-like, provision of government handouts, though an impersonal and very expensive bureaucracy, to the poor, with no expectation of anything, not even an attempt at change in behavior, in return, is patronizing, insulting, demoralizing, and enabling.

And, the issue of assistance to the poor is complicated because of the entanglement of faith based organizations with government through acceptance of government funding, assistance that always comes with strings attached.  So, we find, for example, that a Catholic hospital that is required to provide and accept insurance under the new health care law must cover and provide services that are against its teachings.  Catholic hospitals in the USA are caught up in the same complex funding and billing system as secular institutions and serve the financially comfortable as well as the poor.

So, my suggestion is that Catholic hospitals sell their huge and expensive facilities, shrink to a more manageable size, stop accepting government funding, and focus all efforts on providing loving preventive health care, education, and counseling to the poor through a nationwide network of free medical clinics, funding their operations with donations only.  Leave the corrupt health care industry-government complex to the secular institutions.  I’d like to donate time and money to one of those Catholic medical clinics if they are established.  But I'm not coughing up anything voluntarily for these "non-profit" hospitals we now have.

Well, at least I think faith-based free medical clinics are a good idea, but I’m thinking the federal government Department of Health and Human Services might disapprove them if they were to become too conspicuous.

Just a final word on the system we have.  It obviously helps a lot of people but it also hurts a lot of people.  It’s well institutionalized and probably is not going to change much.  So I guess my primary point is that the Church cannot count our government welfare system as our obedience to the commandments of Jesus.  We have to do a lot more, and I suppose that is the challenge Pope Francis has put forward.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Christian Existence: Human Reality and Divine Mystery

Below is a short paper I wrote in May, 2002, to fulfill a requirement for a Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary course, Introduction to Theology.  The professor was Dr. David Yeago, prominent Lutheran theologian, who was always challenging us to do a better job of "unpacking" the texts we were studying or quoting and who must have been frustrated and disappointed with the short and simplistic essays we students wrote in response to his deeply challenging lectures and writings.  But, it was a privilege to sit in his class and see him at work.  There is an interesting sample of his work, The Catholic Luther, published in First Things, March 1996.

Christian Existence: Human Reality and Divine Mystery
Darryl K. Williams
May 6, 2002
HT252 - Introduction to Theology


Christians realize they cannot understand and usually don’t question the miraculous work of grace God does in the hearts and minds and souls of individuals to bring them to salvation from sin, death, and the devil.  We accept that work of the Holy Spirit as a divine mystery.  We accept that God chose us, and we give thanks for it.  But it is a mistake to focus on that choice as bearing only on our eternal destinies and ignore what Scripture says about the responsibilities of Christian existence.  

Just as there are both divine mystery and human reality of Christ, represented by His two natures, there are both divine mystery and human reality of Christian existence.  If we are “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life,”[1] how are we to know what those good works are, and how are we able to accomplish them? What is this “way of life” intended for the Christian, and what is the role of the Church in it?  It is the purpose of this short paper to give brief and superficial and incomplete, though hopefully not incorrect, answers to these questions which have occupied the minds of great thinkers and spawned volumes of brilliant writing through the centuries.

The Human Reality of Christian Existence

Salvation in the New Testament is both event and process, and source of both assurance and hope.  Jesus certainly talked to His followers about final judgment, a place in His Father’s house, paradise, and mansions, but He talked more about the reality of challenges of the Christian life.  He restated and explained the application of the Old Testament law to the daily life of the believer.  He also carefully taught the appropriate relationship between the believer and God in his instructions on prayer and worship.  For Jesus, the point was not to just hang in there hoping for escape from punishment and a great reward sometime in the future but to live an unselfish life of love and worship and service to God and fellow mankind.

Also in support of salvation as both event and process, St. Paul, in his epistles to the churches, wrote of believers having been saved[2], being saved[3], and hoping for salvation.[4] Paul’s emphasis, like that of Jesus, was on the Christian life in the Church beginning with its starting point or initiation, baptism.  For both Jesus and Paul, Salvation begins “now,”[5] not at the time of death.  And with salvation comes a tension because the person is, as Luther wrote, “… at one and the same time righteous in Christ and sinful in his own flesh: simul justus et peccator.”[6]  That is a serious condition making the life of the believer into a battlefield and putting the believer at odds with the world.  The battle that rages is probably what Jesus referred to when He said:
Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.[7]
Jesus said that He had come that we might have life and “have it abundantly,”[8] but He never promised that it would be an easy life.  His demands for change are echoed in St. Paul’s words to the church at Rome; “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.[9]  Certainly, the whole message of Jesus, confirmed in the writings of St. Paul, was about transformation of lives in the pattern of the change in the lives of His first followers from fishermen to “fishers of men.”[10]

What did Jesus intend for the life of the believer?  From His word and example we know that Christians are to live lives of prayer and to love and serve and worship God and to love and serve each other.[11]  We are to subject ourselves to the discipline of study of scripture and to the discipline we learn from Scripture.[12]  Christians are to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.[13]  Life should be better for all because we are here.  We are to tell the Gospel story and baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.[14]  We are to avoid judging each other[15] and let the weeds grow with the wheat until the time of harvest.[16]  Based on the example of Christ, we should associate with and witness and minister to the un-popular and the sinful and the disreputable as He did with Samaritans and lepers and tax collectors.   As citizens of Heaven and Earth, we are instructed by Jesus to “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”[17]

To live such a life is a challenge faced by every believer and a challenge that cannot be met under one’s own power.  St. Paul left a very personal written testimony about the human reality of Christian living, saying “I do not understand my own actions.  For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate,” and concluding, “Who will rescue me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.[18]  Martin Luther described the human reality of Christian life in his famous phrase from The Freedom of A Christian, “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.  A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.[19]  Luther makes it clear that motivation is the key and that the motivation for good works can never be for one’s own benefit.  “Man, however, needs none of these things for his righteousness and salvation. Therefore he should be guided in all his works by this thought and contemplate this one thing alone, that he may serve and benefit others in all that he does, considering nothing except the need and the advantage of his neighbor.”[20]  In Life Together,[21] Dietrich Bonhoeffer described the conflict that results from our desire for self justification.  That sinful desire leads us to compare ourselves to others and results, because of our self centeredness, in criticism of the others.  By so doing, according to Bonhoeffer, we justify ourselves.  If only we realize that we already have the gift of justification by grace, we no longer have to justify ourselves by comparing ourselves with others and can accept others as creatures of God.  Only then, Bonhoeffer wrote, can we minister to them without judging.  Only then are we free to do what we want to do rather than what we hate.  Only then are we free to be “servant of all, subject to all,” as Luther taught.  These similar testimonies of St. Paul, Martin Luther, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer show that their common rescuer was the Holy Spirit whose ongoing presence is the divine mystery of Christian existence which enables all Christians to be victorious in the human reality of Christian existence.

The Divine Mystery of Christian Existence

There are two aspects to the divine mystery of Christian existence. First is the spiritual awakening, symbolized by baptism, which comes as a gift through the Holy Spirit.  The second aspect is the ongoing spiritual sustenance that comes through the Eucharist and enables the believer to live in a manner that is pleasing to God. 

The first divine mystery of Christian existence is the work of the Holy Spirit in awakening the sinner to a realization of what God has done and of the justification that is a gift of God to the sinner.  St. Augustine came to that realization in a garden after reading a verse of scripture, St. Paul had to be struck blind on the road to Damascus, Luther had his “tower experience,” Dietrich Bonhoeffer suddenly realized he had not been a Christian is spite of being a theologian, and John Wesley had a strange “warming” of the heart.   All these theologians and Church leaders and others who have joined them through the centuries realized, through the power of the Holy Spirit, what God had done for them.  They were justified!  They had not made a ‘decision for Christ.”  God had made a decision for them.  But they did decide, as every person who realizes what God has done for them through the divine mystery of justification by grace must, whether,  in thankfulness and through the power of the Holy Spirit, to let the promised power of God flow through their lives or to deny that power and continue living in frustration and doubt.  Scripture leaves no doubt that believers are to claim that promise and accept union with Christ through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  St. Paul wrote to the Romans “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.[22]  He had a more positive statement to the Corinthians, saying “…all of us…are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.[23]  So, according to St. Paul, it is possible, through the divine mystery of the presence of the Holy Spirit, for Christians to please God. 

The second divine mystery, ongoing spiritual sustenance, comes through the Church which is the vehicle which God has provided for the transformation of the Christian life. It is easy, from a worldly viewpoint, to misunderstand the Church, seeing it, at its best, as a super civic club, growing, raising and spending money, doing good, and helping people, or, at its worst, as an exclusive private club or clique with strange practices and little interest in reaching beyond its doors or in inviting more people inside.  The New Testament is the story of the founding and early development and worship and practices of the Church, Heaven’s embassy in the world.[24]  From the founding of the Church by Christ in Matthew 16, with a dozen charter members, to the first Holy Communion prior to his crucifixion, to the promised coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and the resulting expansion of the Church, to the worship symbolism in Revelation, the Church is the focus of the New Testament.  The Church is not a super civic club, nor is it an exclusive private club.  It is the body of Christ, of which Christ is the head, and is the location of the communion of saints.

Because the Church is the body of Christ, the life that is pleasing to God is life in the Church through which the grace of God and the power for Christian living are received in baptism which is cleansing from sin and Eucharist which is spiritual nourishment.[25]  Christ is the head of the Church, and Christians are the body of Christ.[26]  That means Christians are in union with Christ.  The job of the Church, in union with Christ, is to continue the work that Jesus began in the first century in Palestine, loving God and neighbor and delivering the Gospel message.  Being a Christian means being a member of the Church. 

One way to think of the divine mystery of Christian existence is that there is a total disconnect between the benefits we derive from it and our ability to invest anything in it.  The student studies long hours and does well on an exam and gets a good grade.  The farmer toils in the fields and reaps a bountiful harvest.  The Christian, through the grace of God, receives a free gift of faith which results in justification.  With that justification comes sanctification, motivation and resources to do God’s good works. A fundamental problem for many Christians is that it is easier and more human to work hard on our own to do all the things we think Christ would have us do, as the student works for good grades or the farmer works for bountiful crops, than to open ourselves spiritually to the Holy Spirit and depend on the mystery of the divine guidance that is available from that source.  Simply striving to do better on our own, admirable from a human viewpoint, is “works righteousness” and displeasing to God.

It is also difficult for Christians to come to grips with a new concept of progress when thinking of Christian living.  It’s in our human nature to want to accomplish things and to be better.  One thing we cannot do in this life, even though enabled by the Holy Spirit, is make progress in reducing the infinite gap that exists between our worldly righteousness or good works and the divine perfection that is God.  The good works we do in the power of the Holy Spirit do move us forward, but just as, mathematically, an infinite distance minus 10,000 miles is still an infinite distance, we still have the same gap between what we do and what God would ultimately have us do.


Without the salvation that comes from God, life is either blissful ignorance or hopeless wallowing in sin and despair, both ending in death.  With that salvation from death, sin, and the devil, we enter into the human reality and divine mystery of Christian existence. 

The human reality of that Christian existence is that we are at odds with the world, and the divine mystery is that we are able to win the ensuing struggle only through giving up our own egos and efforts and opening ourselves completely to the power of the Holy Spirit.

Thanks be to God for that power!  May He give us the strength and wisdom to rely on it.


Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Life Together: A Discussion of Christian Fellowship, Translated by John W. Doberstein. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1954.

[1]Luther, M. 1999, c1957. Luther's works, vol. 31 : Career of the Reformer I (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works. Vol. 31 (Vol. 31, Page 344). Fortress Press: Philadelphia

Tappert, T. G. 2000, c1959. The book of concord : The confessions of the evangelical Lutheran church: Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press: Philadelphia

Yeago, David S. 2001. The Faith of the Christian Church: A Catholic and Evangelical Introduction to Theology. Columbia, SC.: Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary.

Yeago, David S. 2001. Classroom Lectures for HT 252, Introduction To Theology. Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, Columbia, SC.

The New Oxford Annotated Bible. 1994. New York, NY.: Oxford University Press.

[1] Ephesians 2:10
[2] Romans 8:24
[3] 1 Corinthians 1:18.  It seems that Paul is writing only to those already in the church and saying that they, along with him, are in a process of “being saved.”
[4] 1 Thessalonians 5:8. 
[5] 2 Corinthians 6:2
[6]Luther, M. 1999, c1960. Luther's works, vol. 35 : Word and Sacrament I (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works. Vol. 35 (Vol. 35). Fortress Press: Philadelphia
[7] Matthew 10:34-39
[8] John 10:10
[9] Romans 12:2
[10] Matthew 4:19.  An example of language update gone amuck is revision of  the KJV’s, ‘I will make you fishers of men” to “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”
[11] Mark 12:29-31
[12] See Hebrews 4:12 and 2 Timothy 3:16-17
[13] Matthew 5:13-16
[14] Matthew 28:19
[15] Matthew 7:1
[16] Matthew 13:25-30
[17] Matthew 22:21
[18] Romans 7:14-25
[19]Luther, M. 1999, c1957. Luther's works, vol. 31 : Career of the Reformer I (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works. Vol. 31 (Vol. 31, Page 344). Fortress Press: Philadelphia
[20]Luther, M. 1999, c1957. Luther's works, vol. 31 : Career of the Reformer I (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works. Vol. 31 (Vol. 31, Page 365). Fortress Press: Philadelphia
[21] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, trans. By John W. Doberstein (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1954.

[22] Romans 12:2
[23] 2 Corinthians 3:18
[24] I liked this explanation Dr. Yeago gave in class of why it is inappropriate to fly national flags in churches.
[25] John 6:54: So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.
[26]  Colossians 1:18 - He is the head of the body, the church;

Saturday, January 5, 2013

A Countercultural "Urban" Plunge

Below is a paper I wrote ten years ago to satisfy the counter cultural experience requirement for a Masters Degree at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary (LTSS).  I decided against a trip to the jungles of South America and chose a relatively simple visit to the African American community in nearby Atlanta.  Something had led me to expect progressive Atlanta to be a model of good race relations and racial equality.  As you will see, if you read the paper, I was disappointed.

I did follow through on the intent expressed at the end of the paper and volunteered at The Cooperative Ministry in Columbia for about seven years, early 2003 through 2009.  In 2006 I began volunteering also at Home Works of America, an organization which serves primarily the elderly low income community in Columbia.  In 2010 I opted out of the mostly food and clothing voucher ministry of The Cooperative Ministry in favor of more attention to the hands-on home repairs needed in pretty much the same dominantly African American community.  I am very thankful for the opportunities, as a Home Works of America volunteer, to learn and use new skills in service to those in need.

Another interesting thing about the paper is that it foreshadows and explains some of the rationale for our move eight years later to the Catholic Church.  I was pretty staunchly Lutheran at the time but interest in the Catholic Church was clearly blooming.

And finally, I am not pleased with the writing below but conquered the desire to get into editor mode and have published it just as written and submitted to the professor in January 2003.

Reflections on the January, 2003, Urban Plunge
Darryl K. Williams
January 23, 2003

This Cross-Cultural experience consisted of nine days in the South Atlanta African-American community.  Issues explored and studied were housing affordability, gentrification and the resulting displacement of the poor, homelessness, community disintegration, community building, health care, and juvenile law enforcement.  The experience included a meeting of Concerned Black Clergy of Atlanta,[1] a meeting with ELCA Synod of the Southeast Bishop Ron Warren, and visits to The Carter Center, the King Center, a social service organization, and to some communities under redevelopment.  It included attendance at a Muslim worship service, four worship services in African-American churches, and one combined Black Methodist - Reformed Jewish Synagogue service.  For the most part, the worship services were in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. on the weekend of the national holiday established in his honor.

In general, the Plunge was a discouraging experience.  There are glimmers of hope, mostly reflections off the faces of loving persons dedicated to improvement and progress, but the breakdown of the family, failure of public education, increase in juvenile delinquency and involuntary prostitution, and segregation of the races are all major problems in Martin Luther King, Jr., Country where the scars of the gross and shameful injustices resulting from the sins of slavery and involuntary segregation and racial discrimination, both blatant and subtle, are daily visible reminders that all is not well.  And when those scars are ineffective reminders, leaders in the community and in the churches, where religion and politics are as connected as husband and wife, seem ready to fill the gap and to say that the solutions to the problems of the individuals and the community are in City Hall, the State House, and the National Capitol.  The limited sample of messages I heard in the churches we visited suggests that the predominant message is a paternalistic, "Behave yourselves, remember the past, and vote Democratic."  It may be that the messages are less political on weekends other than the King Holiday weekend.  It seems worth noting that the message in the mosque we visited was about personal responsibility.  The speaker said that it is an individual’s first responsibility to take care of himself so that others do not need to take care of him.  Then, from that basis, others can be helped.  It is a message that seems to be resonating in the Black community, resulting in growth of the Muslim population.

I was reminded that, while Blacks, along with other races, have prospered, on average, in Atlanta and other major cities over the past few decades, averages mean very little.  The distribution of prosperity is bimodal rather than normal.  Many have prospered, but many are trapped at the bottom.  They have been "left behind," but not in the sense of the currently popular "rapture" theology.  They have been left far behind the economic and social and educational progress of which Atlanta boasts.  As a result they have deficient job skills, deficient social skills, insufficient money, little family or community support, and, often, no warm, safe, and comfortable place to lay their heads at night.  And the future does not look good because their children are at risk and are disproportionately involved in behavior which brings them before judges in Fulton County Juvenile Court.  Some are involuntarily prostituted and put to work on the streets or in hotels and motels. 
I was reminded that, even for Blacks who are doing well socially, economically, and educationally, there remains a heightened sensitivity to racial discrimination because they have been and continue to be the victims of it.  It helps me understand if I think of my own sensitivity to persons making fun of people with Appalachian mountain accents, because that is where I grew up and learned to talk.  It has become clear to me that many from other regions of the country make assumptions about persons with such accents just as some make assumptions about Blacks because of the color of their skin, their names, or their accents.  I was surprised to learn that some Blacks see even LTSS as a racist community.  How could that be?  Well if the most visible Black employed on a campus is a janitor, the concerned Black person wants to know why that is so.  If there are no Black Lutheran full-time MDiv students on a Lutheran Seminary campus, the concerned Black person wants to know why that is so.  A few days after the Atlanta trip, back at LTSS, I learned that a Black graduate of LTSS had been unable to get a call to a South Carolina pastorate.  No wonder the supply of students has dried up.  The eyes of the sensitive Black person easily recognize racial issues that the rest of us miss.

What is to be the response of the "one holy catholic and apostolic church" to these problems?  What portion of our energy and resources should go toward a solution to it?  During the Plunge I was reading a novel (How Firm a Foundation by Marcus Grodi) about a Protestant Congregational pastor struggling to defend his own church’s theology, which he had promised to preach and teach, vs. the theologies of other Protestant churches and the Catholic Church.  I was struck by how much Church energy is consumed as a result of the proliferation of theological positions.  I found myself wondering to what extent such theological issues distract the Church from fulfillment of the Great Commandments[2] and the Great Commission.[3]  The splintered "Church" is a dominant presence in South Atlanta with hundreds of congregations and tens of denominations.  Jesus, the founder of the Church, went about touching persons and solving their problems.  Why then, are there not faith-based solutions, led by the multitude of Christian Churches in the community, touching and solving the problems of the people who live even in the shadow of Georgia’s gold-domed state capital?  That seems to me to be a particularly pertinent question to us Lutherans, who are at the forefront of one of the greatest splits in the history of the Christian Church and have a well defined, well thought out, and well defended theology, but are in a small minority, and are almost certainly wrong, in at least some of the details.  Has that emphasis on theology distracted us from obedience to the Great Commandments and the Great Commission?  A principle I was taught as a manager in industry is that people don't care how much we know until they know how much we care.  Is it possible that we have focused too much on what we know and not enough on how much we care?

But despair and discouragement are counter-productive.  We know that much about our faith will remain a divine mystery that we can only struggle to understand.  The critical thing is that we should not devote so much of our corporate and personal energy to that struggle to understand and reconcile the mysterious that we fail to act on those things that are clear: That we are to love God and our neighbors and are to baptize and teach.  I'm reminded of a quote from, I believe, Mark Twain: "It's not the things in the Bible that I don't understand that bother me; It's the things I do understand." 

The glimmers of hope I mentioned earlier included the inspiring story of Dr. Robert Lupton, a man who charges the mainline churches with jumping right over the Great Commandments to emphasize the Great Commission and with being willing to send money to help the poor but not to get personally involved.  A Vietnam War veteran, Bob’s commitment to serve juveniles evolved into a commitment to families and, finally, into a commitment to build communities.  His wife bought into Bob’s vision, and they sold their home in the North Atlanta suburbs and moved into a “bad” neighborhood in South Atlanta 17 years ago.  The organization they built is called FCS Urban Ministries, and the neighborhood they built is called Tapestry.  Bob has written two inspiring books[4]  about the wonderful things that happened as a result of his family’s act of obedience.  Also inspirational were the individuals we met in the Juvenile Justice System.  A program coordinator, a judge, a facilities manager, and a person specializing in a fight against involuntary prostituting of juveniles all showed sincere love and concern for the young persons with whom they were dealing. 

Another hopeful event occurred after the official Plunge had ended.  An article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution during the King Holiday weekend had reported on the state of integration of churches in Atlanta.  Only two were mentioned as being well integrated, and one of those was Our Lady of Lourdes (OLL) Catholic Church in the heart of Martin Luther King country, just across the street from King’s burial place.  The next weekend after the Plunge, my wife and I were back in Atlanta to celebrate the first birthday of our youngest grandchild.  On Sunday morning we visited OLL.   There we found an economically and racially mixed congregation, packed with joyful worshipers  focused on worship and celebration of the Eucharist and talking about the ways that particular congregation tries to serve the community in which it worships and lives.  I guess the Catholic Parish system has contributed to the mix of the congregation and to its ability to focus on worship and on love of neighbors.  

Finally, what is to be my personal response to the challenge of the Plunge?  I chose this particular experience because of membership in Ebenezer Lutheran Church, a downtown church challenged by many of the same problems as Atlanta churches, though on a much smaller scale.  I guess the Black community of South Atlanta is bigger than all of greater Columbia.  The Plunge experience will help me play an educated role in determination of the future mission and programs of Ebenezer, but it also challenged me to get personally involved.  As a first step, I am taking the counselor training at The Cooperative Ministry and plan to volunteer there at least a half day per week.
I want to express my appreciation to Dr. Arthur Lewis, Director of the Lutheran Theological Center in Atlanta, and Reverend Michael Wilson, Director of the Urban Training Organization of Atlanta, for organizing and leading the 2003 Atlanta Urban Plunge experience.  May that experience result in greater and more effective ministry of all who participated in it.

[1] A joke the members tell on themselves is that they are not all clergy, not all Black, and not all concerned.
[2] Mark 12:28-31
[3] Matthew 28:19
[4] (Return Flight and Theirs Is the Kingdom)