Why I am an Atheist Who Believes in God

I was interested to read Frank Schaeffer's latest book, Why I am an Atheist Who Believes in GOD: How to Give Love, Create Beauty and Find Peace. Partly because he is the son of Francis and Edith Schaeffer. Partly because his spiritual journey has been tortuous and tumultuous, to say the least. And also partly because I thought he might challenge my thinking and living and maybe even give me a new perspective or two.

I was wrong.

I was strangely touched, early on in the book, by his portrayal of himself as a man who often doesn't believe in God but can't stop praying...or praying with his grandchildren. I loved his statement, "Embracing paradox helped me discover that religion is a neurological disorder for which faith is the only cure." And I found it compelling when he said, "To the extent I choose to go, church is one of the places I may offer my grandchildren a vision of life that is about more than status, stuff, education and money."

But I couldn't even finish the book. I got halfway through and, while I found parts of his story to be interesting, even captivating, I started to feel yucky (look it up, it's a theological term). His frustratingly a priori pronouncements seemed to be laced with so much bitterness and acerbity that I just couldn't keep going (he even looks mean and grumpy on the book cover!).

Maybe I should have stuck with it in the hopes of getting to the "Give love, create beauty, and find peace" part. But life is too short, and it would have taken too long...if it ever did get to that).

A Prayer for Pastors

God of all,
we know you sent us out to do your work,
to face rejection,
to spread the good news of the Kingdom of God,
to have people turn their backs on us,
to be your prophets,
to be laughed at,
to heal the sick,
to be dismissed,
to travel light,
sometimes broke and sometimes penniless,
and sometimes rich and wealthy.

We are reminded to shake off the dust from our shoes
when we are not welcome and not listened to.
We are reminded that in our weakness you are strong.
We are reminded that in all of this, Jesus too was rejected and a scandal to many.

Lord, today some of us step into pulpits as your prophets
in places where we have been treated less than kind,
and sometimes outright rejected.
Lord, pour your healing salve into the wounds we carry.

Today, some of us are so wounded from the attacks
that it is hard to lift our feet to shake the dust off our shoes.
Pour your healing grace over us that makes Christ's power perfect in our weakness.

Today, some of us feel like total failures and like giving up.
Pour your steadfast love into us that we may see ourselves as you see us,
and not give up as you yourself did not give up. Amen.

(From Rev Abi's Long and Winding Road blog; cross-posted from www.oneprayeraday.com. The photo--of the pulpit in Worms Cathedral, Worms, Germany--was taken by me).

The Pastor's Desk (Episode 38)

The pastor's desk pictured above is that of one of my oldest and best friends, the Very Reverend Bill Riley, pastor of Russells Point Church of God in Russells Point, Ohio (and for all you punctuation nerds, there is NO apostrophe in Russells Point. Go ahead, look it up. You know you want to).

He also very kindly sent along the photo below, to show that he uses only the very finest study materials. His ministry is obviously of the highest quality.

(If you would like to participate in this recurring feature on the Desperate Pastor blog, submit a photo of a pastor's study, office, or desk--but no tidying up before taking the picture, mind you--to bob@bobhostetler.com, along with a short description identifying to whom it belongs)

Church of the Week: St. Patrick Church, San Francisco, CA

On a recent visit to San Francisco (with the lovely Robin and our grandchildren, Miles and Mia, above), I took an opportunity to pay a quick visit to the historic St. Patrick Church, seen in the background of the photo above. 
This Roman Catholic church, on Mission Street between Third and Fourth Streets, dates to California Gold Rush days. An earlier church building was destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. It is sometimes called "the most Irish church in America." Its Irish flavor is apparent not only in its name but also in the Connemara marble of the church's pillars and interior walls, imported from Ireland, and in the stained glass windows that trace Irish history from pagan days to the time of St. Patrick, and depict the patron saints of each of Ireland's thirty-two counties.
The present building, which church deacon Virgil Capetti describes as modified English Gothic, or Gothic Revival, goes back to 1914. Today the church serves a multi-generational and multi-ethnic population, including Latino and Filipino residents. I took in just a minute or two of the homily during the 12:00 service.

St. Patrick Church is located at 756 Mission St. in San Francisco.

Pastor, Get Outta Town!

My online friend (that's the only way most people will associate with me), Lawrence Wilson, recently posted an updated list of free or low-cost retreat and vacation opportunities for pastors on his website, here.

I have personally benefitted from his list--and in the past have taken free or low-cost retreats in Kentucky, Colorado, Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana (the photo at left was taken on one such retreat, in an idyllic setting in Durango, Colorado). I highly recommend and strongly encourage you to peruse Larry's list and plan ahead to schedule not just a retreat, but regular, re-creative retreats...for your sake and for the sake of your marriage, family, and ministry.

Searching for Sunday

Let's get this out of the way first: I'm a fan of Rachel Held Evans. I wish everyone would read her with an open mind, especially her book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood (which I reviewed here). Unlike some, I don't read her blog or her books because I see her as a nuisance or a threat, but because she is unfailingly honest, vulnerable, entertaining, thoughtful, and insightful. So I expected her latest book, Searching for Sunday (subtitled "Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church"), to be the same.

It is.

It is a thoroughly honest, searchingly vulnerable, wholly entertaining, thoughtful, and insightful book. It tells the story of Rachel's solid fundamentalist/evangelical upbringing, her subsequent questioning of, disillusionment with, and departure from the church as she had always known it. Much of her story and struggle will ring true for many, especially with her generation (but not exclusively, as it often tracks with my experience, and I'm pretty ancient compared to her).

But don't think this is a diatribe against evangelicals, much less the church as a whole. It is far from it. Organized around the seven sacraments recognized and practiced among Catholics, Episcopalians, and in Orthodox traditions, Searching for Sunday is a hopeful book. It is shot through with love for Jesus and his Body. It is this:
Not every young adult gets married or has children, so we need to stop building our churches around categories and start building them around people. 
It is this:
Even when I don't believe in church, I believe in resurrection. I believe in the hope of Sunday morning. 
And this:
The good news is you are a beloved child of God; the bad news is, you don't get to choose your siblings. 
And these:
Sometimes I think what the church needs most is to recover some of its weird.  
Sometimes the church must be a refuge even to its own refugees.  
[After relating the story of the woman caught in adultery] Perhaps it would be easier for us to love if it were our sins we saw written in that dust and carried off by the wind. 
I often wonder if the role of the clergy in this age is not to dispense information or guard the prestige of their authority, but rather to go first, to volunteer the truth about their sins, their dreams, their failures, and their fears in order to free others to do the same.  
Our various traditions seem a sweet and necessary grace.  
As my friend Ed puts it: "When you join a church you're just picking which hot mess is your favorite."  
The truth is, the church doesn't offer a cure. It doesn't offer a quick fix. The church offers death and resurrection. The church offers the messy, inconvenient, gut-wrenching, never-ending work of healing and reconciliation. The church offers grace
Like almost everything Rachel Held Evans writes, Searching for Sunday will prompt tears and laughter, anger and "amens," nods and groans. It may not change many minds, but I hope and pray it will open hearts.

Church of the Week: Epic Church San Francisco

The lovely Robin and I, while visiting our California kids and grandkids this past weekend, visited Epic Church in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco.
The church meets in a unique location, in an alley (Stevenson "Street"), on the lower level.
The digs were not spacious but they make the most of the space they have. They offer coffee in their lobby, which of course I consider a mark of a successful church.
The worship team on this morning was led by my son and daughter-in-law (they were subbing for the church's usual worship leader) and so was inspirational on multiple levels. Seriously, the Spirit was there and moving in and on me, for sure.
I loved the Epic Church experience. The welcome was warm. The message, by lead pastor Ben Pilgreen (above) was excellent. The mission and vision were clear and compelling. The details (like the one-sheet program of the week and combination contact card/offering envelope) were attended to. And the worshiping saints were a diverse crowd in every respect. I left encouraged and enthused and blessed.

Epic meets at 250 Stevenson Street (off 3rd Street), San Francisco, CA 94103. The church website is http://www.epicsf.com.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone