Key Theological Issues of Church and Society

•August 27, 2008 • Leave a Comment

With the space limitation of 1500 characters (that is LETTERS, not words!) we are supposed to be able to clearly articulate the “key theological issues of our church and society that are reflected in the ministry of your congregation.”  It’s impossible, yet we have to try in order to get our CIF (Church Information Form) posted to Church Leadership Connection (which I think should be called “church harmony dot com” since it’s the PCUSA’s online match-maker service).

So we’ve tried to come up with something terse yet significant, proufound yet not so much so that it frightens away prospective candidates for our Director of Christian Education and Youth Ministries position.

I’ll post our attempt here.  It reflects some musings that make sense to our congregation in suburban NE Ohio.  I wonder what YOU might identify as the key theological issues in your context of ministry.  Ok, and to be fair, think of this in terms of 1500 characters written for a CIF — that’s part of the context!

What are the key theological issues of our church and society that are reflected in the ministry of your congregation/organization?

What does it mean to be a follower of Christ in our cultural context?
Our Christian faith makes deliberate and specific claims on our lives. At the same time, the world in which we live competes for our allegiance and asserts its own claim on us. Living as faithful disciples of Jesus in the midst of these sometimes opposing influences can be difficult. Pioneer seeks to be a church in which we are aware of the multiplicity of forces calling to us, and provide a community in which living as faithful disciples is nurtured.

What does it mean to be Presbyterian in our denominational context?
In 1951 Pioneer Memorial Presbyterian Church was formed out of two non-Presbyterian congregations that united and chose to become Presbyterian. Since that time Pioneer has been active in participation and leadership in the PC(USA). With the current divisions in the denomination, Pioneer is firmly grounded in the PC(USA) and the Reformed tradition. Pioneer has learned well how to be a congregation that values differences of opinion while remaining in covenant fellowship with each other, and we value our connections with our sister congregations in the PC(USA).

What does it mean to be the Church in our world?
The Church has a unique witness in and to the world. Peace, justice, healing, reconciliation, and compassion are words taken from the lexicon of Christian faith and which, when enacted, become the foundation for the Church’s place in the world. The life and ministry of Jesus demonstrated for us how to care for those most in need. The call of Christ moves us into the world to be the incarnation of God’s love to neighbors near and far. From hands-on local mission projects to working for peace and justice in the world, Pioneer seeks to be a congregation making a difference in the world.

RevJavaDude as Winemaker???

•October 14, 2007 • 2 Comments

It’s a long story, but I’ve got 22 gallons of California grape juice (Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and a Chianti-like blend) turning into wine in my basement as I type this.  If you’re interested, check out the details on my wine blog (  I’ve never made wine before, so this is an adventure — one that has “lots of blog posts” written all over it!

Prayers Abound

•September 26, 2007 • Leave a Comment


I have been praying off and on most of today, feeling the weight of the conflicts in our Presbyterian denomination.  But my prayers are not just despair, there is much hope in my thoughts and utterances.  I am confident that in all of this God is much larger than any of us, and that Christ’s Church will survive even our most difficult disputes.

There is further reason for hope.  Our Presbytery, under the leadership of our Moderator and our Executive Presbyter, has set out to build bridges with the leadership and congregation of the Bay Presbyterian Church.  Part of the bridge building is providing a response to the inaccuracies of the church’s documents (see today’s earlier post).  But the biggest part of this effort is to have conversation and time together — leaders of the Presbytery with leaders of Bay.  In my mood this morning I failed to hold up this wonderful effort.  Regardless of the outcome, both Bay and the Presbytery have committed to work with one another in the process of Bay’s discernment.

So my prayers continue.  I pray that Christ would be at the center of it all — the center of Bay Presbyterian Church as they discern their future, the center of the Presbytery as we care for and work with one of our sister congregations, the center of us all that we would be faithful, compassionate, and Christ-like in all we do.  I pray for the leaders of Bay Church, and for the leaders of our Presbytery.  They are fine people — all of them.  And I confess my own impatience, my own frustration, my own complicity.

I still feel strongly that our relationships as congregations and Presbytery simply must be relationships of love, trust, integrity, and authenticity.  We must be Christ-centered and Christ-like as best we can, even in the most difficult of circumstances.

May the peace of Christ be with us all…


•September 25, 2007 • 2 Comments

I’m in a foul mood.  I’m disheartened and I’m angry.  My spouse even brought me coffee this morning, but that didn’t salve my troubled soul. 

Presbytery meetings.  As a pastor, I am not a member of a local congregation but of the “Presbytery” — the regional grouping of Presbyterian churches and the “governing body” for the churches within its membership.  To be honest, most of these bi-monthly meetings are pretty-much snoozers.  Mostly administrative.  Mostly reports of the various ministries and missions of the Presbytery.  And the coffee is always bad.  We did get to meet Rev. Vilma Yanez-Ogaza, moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Colombia (South America).  That was cool.  And the best line of the evening:  (in Spanish) “I’m from Colombia — we grow the best coffee in the world!”  I’m sipping a nice Colombian blend right now.  Cheers to you, Vilma!  The best part of these meetings is always the connections — seeing people who serve and are members of other congregations in the area.  We don’t get together enough to kindle the friendships and professional relationships between pastors and churches.  But at least we can count on seeing each other every-other month at these 4-6 hour gatherings.  And I usually leave tired from the tedium, but energized by the fellowship.  But not last night.  I was frustrated and disheartened.

There is a church in our Presbytery, Bay Presbyterian Church, that is in the final stages of their plans to leave our denomination, the PC(USA).  Yada yada.  One more church that has become disillusioned by the theology and polity of our denomination.  It’s boring news these days, and makes us Christians seeem even more irrelevant to the world around us.  I can’t blame people for not wanting to become part of an “institutional church” if all they know about us is that we can’t get along.  Bay Presbyterian is one more church in a string of congregations in our denomination that is packing up their marbles and leaving.  It might be the first congregation in this Presbytery (Presbytery of the Western Reserve) to leave, but they are just one of a few dozen churches across the country who can’t stand how “liberal” the Presbtyerian Church has become.  So they want to figure out where to go — to the EPC (Evangelical Presbyterian Church), the PCA (Presbyterian Church in America), or a new collaboration of like-minded conservatives within the PC(USA) who have arranged with the EPC to allow them in AND to allow them to keep ordaining women — the New Wineskins Association of Churches.

If Bay Presbyterian Church decides to leave the denomination it will be a sad thing, one more demonstration that we truly have yet to figure out how to live in the wide embrace of God’s grace.

On the other hand, if they don’t think they can faithfully serve Christ from within the PC(USA), then I bid them a heart-felt farewell.  Better for them to be able to focus their attention and resources on ministry rather than on being contentious with the rest of us.  And while it is less of a demonstration of the unity of the church, it will frankly be easier for the rest of us, too — we can get on with being the Church rather than fussing with each other all the time.  I don’t like divorce at all, but when the inevitable comes it is best to get on with it…


Using the divorce metaphor might be helpful.  While there is no “good” divorce, the WORST breakups are when one of the partners viciously attacks the other with false accusations, untruths, and other distortions — ususally to justify their actions to the kids and the neighbors.  Unsuspecting children and friends can be deceived by the accusations, particularly when the other partner does not attack back.  The one-sided vitriol makes the situation not only ugly, but pitiful.  Well, the leadership of Bay Presbyterian Church has become that unsavory, unenviable bitter spouse who seeks to discredit the other at all cost.  This document was given to us last evening by the group that is attempting to provide some last-ditch-effort marital counseling.  It is a document that was distributed by the leaders of Bay Church to its members:

 Bay Document  click on the thumbnail to read the document

It is a chart provided by the leaders of Bay Church to its members.  My hand-written note at the top of the page is my simple evaluation of the content of the document:  “Propaganda doesn’t have to be true.”  I could go line-by-line through the chart and offer a counter-point to virtually each of the questions raised and distorted answers given, but I won’t.  But I must address two points and the overall tenor of the document:

Question:  Who Is Jesus?

According to this document, the NWAC (New Wineskins), EPC, and PCA denominations answer the question:  “God/”The” Way” (which, actually, is heresy… but that is another matter).  The PC(USA) answer to the question?  “Debatable” is what the document posits.

Question:  Authority of Scripture

NWAC and EPC:  Inspired/Infallible, PCA: Inerrant, Inspired/Infallible.  The PC(USA) answer?  “Debatable.”

Give me a break.  We in the PC(USA) have 11 (eleven) Confessions that are part of our CONSTITUTION.  These are foundational confessions, creeds, and statements that express who we are as Presbyterians and how we understand and interpret Scripture.  All of us who are leaders in the Presbyterian Church (USA) — including the pastors and elders of Bay Presbyterian Church, I might point out — take vows at our ordination including the following (the first three vows):

  • Do you trust in Jesus Christ your Savior, acknowledge him Lord of all and Head of the Church, and through him believe in one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?

(<start sarcasm> that’s pretty ambiguous now, isn’t it?  <end>)

  • Do you accept the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be, by the Holy Spirit, the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the Church universal, and God’s Word to you?

(such ambiguity again!)

  • Do you sincerely receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our church as authentic and reliable expositions of what Scripture leads us to believe and do, and will you be instructed and led by those confessions as you lead the people of God?

(and a third time…)

If by “debatable” the leaders of Bay Church intend to be educating their congregation in the long history of the Reformed Tradition to be “Reformed and always being reformed,” then I commend them.  We DO have healthy debates about Jesus, Scripture, issues facing the church, etc.  If we didn’t engage in these conversations, we would not have ELEVEN confessions of faith.  Each of these magnificent expressions grew out of confidence that who God is and what God is about is bigger that we can imagine or capture in words.  Each of the confessions are the result of faithful discernment.  So in this sense, “debatable” is a cornerstone value of the PC(USA).

But that’s not what they mean.  They are falsely accusing the PC(USA) of not having a Christology or an understanding of Scripture’s authority.  Hogwash.  And shame on those leaders for lying to their congregation and distorting the truth about the PC(USA).

To the leaders of Bay Presbyterian Church:  shame on you.  You are engaging in behavior that violates your ordination vows.  You are being like the divorcing spouse who makes up lies and false accusations to demonize your partner.  Please don’t treat the “kids” and our “neighbors” this way, even if we are divorcing.

I wish you would not leave the PC(USA).  But if you do, I wish you all of God’s grace and peace.  But I also wish that you would not distort who I am and who WE are in the Presbyterian Church (USA) simply to make the divorce feel better for you.  We are sisters and brothers in Christ.  That’s not debatable.

I’ve Been Simpsonized

•September 24, 2007 • Leave a Comment

I just got “Simpsonized” and this is the result: 

 Jeff Simpsonized Cropped                     Jeff Simpsonized 2 cropped

This was the stylish photo I uploaded to create this Simpsonesque beauty.  I didn’t have the option of putting a clergy robe and stole on the “new me,” but I don’t mind the shirt color — green has always looked good on me!


Want to try it?  Go to Simpsonize Me ( and see what you come up with.  Email me the result if you get a good one!

Java Junkie

•September 20, 2007 • Leave a Comment

I love coffee.  Nothing new about that.  This morning I pulled a nice double espresso that I clutched in my hands as I took my daughter to the bus stop.  I get Peet’s shipped to me fresh every month.  I’ve got fast pay cards at Caribou and $buck$.  Of course I grind my own beans (burr grinder, obviously).  I own and use several different French presses.  Yep, I love coffee.

One of my best friends in the world, though, puts my coffee consumption to shame.  He’s a Java Junkie.  He is a self-professed “coffee connoisseur” and “Dalai Lama of Latte.”  His blood runs brown.  His name is David.  david m. bailey actually (the lower case letters are his choice).  He’s a folk singer.  Check him out here:  He drinks obscene amounts of coffee.

He was in town this week doing some concerts in the Cleveland area.  We had the chance to go to an Indians game together.  Thanks to Francis for making this happen!  Jacob’s field was packed for the game against the Detroit Tigers (and the Indians WON!!!).  Check out this photo from my phone’s camera — it’s reminescent of Ansel Adam’s “Moonrise Over Half Dome.”  I call it “Moonrise Over the Jake.”

The Jake

This is me and David.  He has brown eyes.  I think they used to be blue.  He’s had too much coffee.


You might think I’m exaggerating.  David has recorded 17 cds.  This is one from a few years ago.  It’s called “Coffee with the Angels.”  Before this album I never imagined the pristine celestial beings throwing back a mug of Joe.

 DAVID M. BAILEY: Coffee With The Angels

(click on the album to see more of David’s music)

One of the tracks on this album is called “Java Junkie.”  You can listen here:

 Java Junkie

He has very few diva-like requirements for his concerts.  In his booking kit he asks for appropriate sound system, a stool to sit on, and a THERMOS OF STARBUCKS COFFEE.

All joking aside, David is an amazing gift in my life.  He lives his faith, and has done the unimaginable (at least for most of us in this culture) — he has followed his dream.  So he’s a husband, dad, and full-time hippie folk singer.  He’s been through a lot in his life and it has formed in him a unique perspective with which he sees life, faith, and the world.  His music gives a glimpse into his life and his way of seeing things.

It was a gift to have time with David on Tuesday.  We talked more than we watched the game.  We ate a couple of hot dogs (it was $1 hotdog night at the Jake!) and drank terrible beer.  And it was as though the year-or-so since we’ve seen each other was but a day.  There are too few friendships in our lives that are like that.

Once again I am grateful for this body of people we call the Church.  It is a strange Presbyterian path that brought our lives together.  These kinds of intersections of lives are such a gift, and it is the church that has provided the opportunity to create and nurture these friendships.

So as I sip my espresso this morning I raise my mug.  Here’s to David.  Here’s to surviving all that life throws at us.  Here’s to friendship.  Here’s to the Java Junkie.

Top Seven: Reasons to Join the Choir

•September 17, 2007 • Leave a Comment

Top 7

Today’s Category:
The top seven reasons to join the church choir

7. The auditions are far less embarrassing than trying out for American Idol.

6. You’ve just been selected for jury duty and want to get used to sitting with a group of your peers.

5. The collection plate is never passed to the choir.

4. Special vibrating massage pews in the choir loft.

3. You’re running out of clean clothes and the choir robes save on laundry.

2. Pants optional.  Need I say more?

And the number one reason for joining the church choir is:

1. Choir robes are flattering for every body type.  And the colors are smashing!

Top Seven: Reasons to Keep the “Single Sock”

•September 14, 2007 • Leave a Comment

Top 7

Today’s Category:
The top seven reasons to keep the “Single Sock” when its match has been lost

7.  Wear it with a different “Single Sock” — the mismatched pair will go particularly well with your tie-dye t-shirt, cut-off jeans, and birkenstocks.

6.  You just went through the heartache of losing one sock, why make it harder on yourself?

5.  You’re promoting diversity over conformism. Free the oppressed and unmatched socks!

4.  They make good sacrifices to the dryer gods who are always hungry for more socks.

3.  They make great Christmas gifts for Crazy Uncle Louie.

2.  Keep them in the dryer as bait for the gnomes that stole them. Gnomes are worth a fortune on e-bay these days.

And the number one reason to keep your “Single Socks:”

1.  As the Apostle Paul said, “The blue sock cannot say to the black sock, ‘I have no need of you.’  Indeed, we are the sock drawer of Christ and individually members of it.

Pilgrimage to Ohio’s Mecca

•September 12, 2007 • 7 Comments

The Shoe

On Saturday I was led in a pilgrimage to Ohio’s own Mecca.  The ‘Shoe.  The House that Harley Built.  The Horseshoe.  Ohio Stadium.

This is one awesomely massive stadium.  It’s not big.  It’s enormous.  On Saturday it was a sea of red.  105,000 red-shirted fans of Ohio’s own Buckeyes.  And I was one of those fans:


I have seen this stadium on television for years.  I’ve watched the Rose Bowl since I was a kid.  Everyone in Southern California does.  And I’ve seen the other bowl games, too.  The Buckeyes were often featured somewhere in that mix.  I always thought of them as one of those oddly wholesome, corn-fed, Midwest powerhouses.  I’m still trying to figure out how a state as far east as Ohio can be considered midwest… but I digress.  But as often as I saw the Buckeyes on TV, they were always “them.”  I was a UCLA fan.  PAC-10 was my conference.  LA’s Coliseum and the Rose Bowl in Pasadena were the big stadiums.

Living in Atlanta for 16 years made me realize that college football is a religion.  But truthfully I never drank the Kool-Aid.  I just couldn’t get excited about being a Bulldog (University of Georgia) or a Yellowjacket (Georgia Tech).  We did get to spend quite a bit of time in Sanford Stadium (UGA) when we volunteered with the 1996 Olympics, and it seemed huge.  But it was itty-bitty compared to where I sat on Saturday.  105,000 people in one place.  That’s more people than most of America’s cities!

Then it hit me.  Holy Crap!  Not only am I SITTING IN “The ‘Shoe,” I am a Buckeye now!  I live in Ohio.  This isn’t just on TV — I’m here!  How did this happen?!?  This guy is largely responsible:


This is Greg.  He took me to the game on Saturday.  He’s got season tickets (a prized and much-sought-after commodity).  And he was the chairperson of the Pastor Nominating Committee that brought the P-Ds to Ohio.  He’s a Buckeye through-and-through.  His son was even in the Ohio State Band (seeing the band in both the stadium and in the “skull session” before the game was awesome!).

So I’ve been to Ohio’s “Mecca.”  Thanks, Greg, for the day — it was cool beyond words.

Go Bucks!

My New Java Creation Station

•September 8, 2007 • 6 Comments

800ESXL Espresso

I’ve got a new machine.  A new toy.  And it makes yummy espresso!  It’s a Breville 800ESXL (typically called the “Die Cast”).  I shopped a lot, and decided that I really didn’t want to spend the $$$$$ on the highest end machines.  This one’s in the middle.  I got it today, and I’ve already pulled at least 10 espressos!  It makes shots with the distinct three layers that a good espresso should have.  The temperature is good.  And this bad boy is FAST compared to the 20+ year old whimp I’ve been using…

Come on over — I’ll make you an espresso, capuccino, or latte!