Good Friday – Bill Kettenring

April 10, 2020

We are blessed to have a number of retired pastors who worship in our congregation. For Holy Week, we asked them to each write a blog post on a different day of Holy Week. Up today is Bill Kettenring for Good Friday

Well, this has been the most challenging Lenten season I’ve ever known. That whole personal-sacrifice-for-the-common-good has taken on a more mature meaning. I’m never going to hear about giving-up-chocolate-for-Lent in quite the same way, again.

Good Friday is like that. Where Easter Sunday gets top billing for resurrection and celebration, it’d be just “back to work like usual,” if there was no victory over cruxifixion and death. “Turn the other cheek”and “go the extra mile” are but simple quotables, and even only ancient muttering without “enduring the cross, despising the shame” as evidence of Jesus’ integrity and reliability:  He did (and does) what He called us to do.

Good Friday is our day of At-One-Ment. We remember that, as dark as it was, how unfair, inconvenient, frightening, Jesus went through it. He did feel abandoned by God, but never so much as to stop crying out to God. In spite of the hatefulness below him; he asked God to forgive them.  And he finshed his work and he knew it. 

And all I’ve been asked to do today is, love God, love my neighbor as myself (in times like these!) and, uh, to stay home.


Rev. Bill Kettenring was just getting his legs under him, what with all the Men’s breakfasts, occasional luncheons, sleeping in and general meddling he was doing after retiring from almost 30 years in Child Welfare.  Then the pandemic hit and he had to start retirement all over. Bill is ordained as a Free Methodist Elder, but the Presbyterians at CKPC have been nurturing, tending, prodding, feeding and praying for him since 1994. There are signs it’s working.

Maundy Thursday – John Haberlin

April 9, 2020

We are blessed to have a number of retired pastors who worship in our congregation. For Holy Week, we asked them to each write a blog post on a different day of Holy Week. Today’s entry comes from Dr. John Haberlin:

The Desired “Last Meal” Jesus Desires to Eat with Us

Maundy” Thursday … No! Not Monday Thursday! Maundy, another “insider” word (Churchese), puts one of faith’s most vital concepts on the dusty library shelves of historic theology. Hopefully it will come alive as you read. Jesus thought what happened on what we call “Maundy Thursday” was so important it was the focus of the last hours of His life before he was arrested.

Think of our word “mandate”. The Latin version used “mandatum” in translating Jesus’ words “YOU SHALL love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus combined quotes from Exodus and Deuteronomy.

Maundy is also linked to the stories of Mary anointing Jesus’ feet and Jesus washing the disciples’ feet that fateful day. This humbling act of cleansing makes us so uncomfortable that it is seldom part of our experience. Humility is hard.

All four gospels record this Passover, though differently. I encourage you to compare the four gospel views and also Paul’s words in his letter to Corinth (Matt. 16:24-30; Mark 14:10-26; Luke 22:1-22; John 13, 1 Cor. 11:23-28).

The context of the Jesus’ Maundy experience was the Passover. Passover reenacts the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. To avoid the fatality of the tenth plague a spotless lamb was to be sacrificed and be the main course of this memorial meal. The lamb’s blood was to be spread at the top and sides of entry door. The “angel of death” would “Pass-over” each house and the first born male child would die if no blood was there. Even Pharaoh’s son died. Thousands of Hebrews fled crossing the Red Sea safely but the waters engulfed the pursuing Egyptian army. (see Exodus 12)

By God’s commandment, a Passover feast was to be the first thing done after they successfully escaped and it was to be celebrated every year after that … and it continues.

The meal is central to the celebration. Different from our meals, there is symbolic meaning with each prescribed part. The meal was and is to reenact the story of the Exodus. Many details deal with the preparation, specific foods and when and how they are a part of the drama. I will deal with those parts Jesus made central.

The symbolic meal has five essential parts. Four cups of wine are consumed at specific moments in the feast, the cups of: Remembrance, Deliverance, Salvation and fourth, the Cup of the Coming Kingdom. Between the second and third cups, the meal is eaten, lamb is the meat.

Initially, the Israelites were told to “Remember!” specifically to remember the exodus, how God led them from Egypt. Jesus was bold to say “Do this remembering Me!” For those hearing this it must have been disturbing, shocking. This, if you think about it, was heresy. Take time to ponder this. Reread the story of Israel’s escape from Egypt and ponder our escape from slavery of sin.

A dramatic part of the dinner rehearsed the pain from which the children of Israel were delivered. They individually consume bitter herbs, hot horseradish, so with the tears generated every generation would identify with the pain of exile. Could you now stop and take some bitter herb and cry with those of the past that have suffered ultimately for our benefit?

Next a mixture of apple, dates, nuts and wine passed among them. It looked like the mortar their slave ancestors were forced to make into bricks in Egypt. It was and is a sign of the necessary unity of the faith community: “If we don’t work together we will die!” At this point Judas dipped, looked Jesus in the face and left on his journey as a traitor, while the rest of the disciples questioned, “Is it me?” Here we can stop and ponder: have we betrayed Jesus, have we broken the unity of the faith community?

Before the meal, three pieces of “unleavened” bread were presented, the middle piece broken in half and hidden to be revealed after the Sacrificial Lamb had been consumed.  It was called “the Hidden. Watch for this later.

Central to the Passover feast, a “sacrificial” lamb was consumed. Remember John the Baptist’s announcement, “Look! The Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world!” In the exodus, the blood of that Lamb was placed on the door frame so the angel of death would “pass over.” Here is the heart of the Passover and the heart of our faith, Christ’s horrible, sacrificial death in our place. Stop and ponder, I dare say, “Consume Him.”

The hidden bread is then revealed. Jesus retrieved the bread and sent everyone into a spin: “This is MY body, broken for you. Do this in Remembrance of ME!” He gave it to his disciples. Shock! Confusion!

Then Jesus took the third cup, the “cup of salvation.” Paul made it clear that it was the “cup after supper.” He filled it, lifted it and he said, “This is the New Covenant /Testament in MY blood. All of you drink from it.” What spun in the disciples minds? What goes through your mind when you hear these words? Heresy??? Ponder!

The final cup, the cup of the coming kingdom, was consumed. Someone was sent to the door to see if Elijah the prophet was there. No one seen, they would say, “Next year in Jerusalem.” Just a thought: Jerusalem means “City of Shalom/Peace.” We too join together watching and waiting for the return of Christ. Our communion concludes with: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you show forth the Lord’s death until He comes again.” Jesus said, “I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the Kingdom of God comes.”

This is a time to remember God’s deliverance, to remember people’s pain, to experience God’s salve (salvation) and move into the future trusting God.


Rev. Dr. John Haberlin grew up in West Seattle, attended Seattle Pacific, Fuller Seminary and received his DMin from Louisville Presbyterian Seminary. He began at Westminster Presbyterian in Yakima, moved to First Presbyterian in Hayward, California, served as founding pastor of CKPC, was Associate for Church Growth at General Assembly, and finally pastor at Harrison Square Presbyterian in Centralia. He is married to his lifelong friend, Pamela (who painted the Last Supper image above following da Vinci’s). They have three children and six grandchildren.

Palm Sunday – Jim Davis

April 5, 2020

We are blessed to have a number of retired pastors who worship in our congregation. For Holy Week, we asked them to each write a blog post on a different day of Holy Week. Our series begins with Dr. Jim Davis’ Palm Sunday post:

Palm Sunday: is it “the end of the beginning” or “the beginning of the end?”

Well, in one way it’s clearly “the end of the beginning,” because it’s the end of the events of Jesus’ life that lead up to it.

  • The prophecy Anna gave Jesus’ parents when he was just days old; “this child is set for the rise and fall of many in Israel”
  • The baptism of Jesus where “the Spirit descended on him like a dove”;
  • The call of the disciples, the conflicts with the Pharisees, the crowds who “came to him from everywhere,”
  • The message about God’s kingdom, the miracles, the messianic confession of Peter, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!”

All of it is prelude leading up to Palm Sunday and one word … “Hosanna! It means “Save Us!” Literally!
And it was time to say it. Time for all Jesus had done to come to this: a plea.

  • For the crowds shouting it, it’s a plea for political salvation from occupation and domination by a foreign power, the empire of Rome.
  • For the Jewish leaders hearing it, it’s a naïve plea for a person named Jesus to do something he obviously couldn’t (defeat Rome), and be someone he obviously wasn’t (a Messianic King).
  • For the disciples, (interestingly), it’s a plea they probably listen to with a mixture of hope and fear. (Luke suggests, the disciples may have joined the “Hosannas.” But Matthew, Mark and John say nothing about what the disciples said that Palm Sunday.)

It probably means the disciples were hearing the “Hosannas” but remembering other words, Jesus’ words.

“And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem. Jesus was walking ahead of them … and those who followed were afraid. Taking the 12 Jesus began to tell them again what was going to happen. ‘We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said “where the Son of man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes who will condemn him to death … but after 3 days he will rise.’” (Mark 10:33).

So, which was it? The end of the beginning, or the beginning of the end?

And today?

For you and me? Is Palm Sunday supposed to be a joyous celebration of Jesus as our King, or a somber reminder that our King is about to be crucified?

A few years ago, John Leax, an English professor at Houghton Christian College and a poet wrote that Palm Sunday “seems the strangest holiday of the year; a celebration of misunderstanding!” And he’s right! It was and often, it still is! For if we celebrate the end of the beginning on Palm Sunday without at the same time remembering it’s the beginning of the end, we’re misunderstanding. Because it’s both! But it’s even more!

For the word “end” has 3 meanings. Sometimes it means the “culmination” of something. Sometimes it means the “extinction” of something. And sometimes, sometimes it means “a goal, the “end” you’re hoping to reach.” (Think football for a minute and hoping to reach something called the “end” zone and the “goal” line!)

So, what’s the real “end” of Palm Sunday?

  • Is it the end of the beginning?
    • Yes, it’s the culmination of Jesus’ earthly ministry to that point. But that’s not all.
  • Is it the beginning of the end?
    • Yes, if you’re talking about Jesus’ earthly life. But that’s not all either.
  • So, what’s left? What’s the goal?

Scripture says it so well. It doesn’t leave us in doubt.
“Since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead came through one too. In the same way that everyone dies in Adam, so also everyone will be given life in Christ. Each event will happen in the right order: Christ, the first crop of the harvest, then those who belong to Christ at his coming, and then the end, when Christ hands over the kingdom to God the Father, when he brings every form of rule, every authority and power to an end.” (1 Co 15:21-24).

So, this Palm Sunday,

  • CELEBRATE! Shout with joy! “Hosanna! Jesus is the Messiah, the King!”
  • REMEMBER, and say it softly. “Hosanna. Jesus you’re my Savior who went to the cross for me.
  • AND SAY IT WITH HOPE, SURE AND CERTAIN HOPE. “Hosanna! The real goal, the ‘end-zone’ lie beyond Jerusalem and beyond the cross. It lies in the New Jerusalem for Jesus and all of us who receive him as our King and Savior.

Amen.


Rev. Dr. Jim Davis was the second Senior Pastor of CKPC (from 1999-2007).  He left to take a position as Senior Pastor and Head of Staff at a large church in Texas where his three grown kids live, but when it was time to retire, he and his wife Carolyn knew they wanted to be back in Kitsap and at CKPC.  They live in Seabeck now, looking out at Hood Canal and the Olympics and feeling blessed. Jim still teaches New Testament part-time and online for Fuller Theological Seminary.

Questions in Quarantine: A Poem

Posted by Tyler Kirkpatrick | March 23, 2020

Wendell Berry makes it a practice of writing a poem on his Sabbath. I’d highly recommend the anthology of those poems, titled This Day. I always thought this was something he did as a sort of committed discipline, and perhaps it is. But I’ve also found it is in moments of rest when inspiration most often comes naturally, and a poem is more something I’m receiving than generating (this is not, emphatically, to say I consider myself an inspired poet!).

This poem came on my Sabbath this week. It needs two disclaimers before I share it with you:

  1. These are questions, they are not truth claims. This is not a systematized theology or even a sermon. They are questions that I guess I have been pondering over and praying over, pushing on and pushing against, seeing what holds and what doesn’t, what’s true and what’s not.
  2. I always try to use gender inclusive language in my sermons (e.g., “humanity” instead of “man,” etc.), but it was a bit trickier in this poem because of syllables and sound. I know that bothers some people, so I do apologize.
Questions in Quarantine
Unseen save for the trained eye of the microscope
this virus infects and affects the world of man.
Is it of man?
Was that ancient sin of Adam and Eve
not one of pride only, but also of greed?
"They wanted to know,"
but might the pursuit of knowledge and discovery unchecked
lead man unsuspecting deeper and deeper
into the secret places of the earth,
touching things unseen and shaking free unexpected terrors?

Is this virus of earth?
As man searches desperately for immunity,
might this very virus be the immunity
of an earth weakened and sickened
by polluted skies and melting ice caps
and obliterated ancient forests?

Or is this almost unseen virus
of a world entirely unseen
save for in prayers and in ancient stories?

Is it--in a word--of Hell?
Is this the infernal serpent still seeking man's destruction?

Or is it of Heaven?
Is it God's wrath on man's disobedience or,
more likely, God's mercy on man's disobedience,
shaking him free from slavish service and sacrifice
to the idols of economy and production
recalling him to what is essential:
taking care of creation
and taking care of fellow creatures
and surrendering to the Almighty,
the Maker of all things, seen and unseen?

The Cathedral of Facebook

Posted by Tyler Kirkpatrick | 3/4/2020

Yesterday, I did something very brave.

I logged on to Facebook.

Okay, despite the scary things one can find on Facebook, it wasn’t bravery at all; it was just mindless habit. Just like nearly every other 21st-century human, I have a difficult time navigating where social media should or shouldn’t fit in my life. There are days when I’m inclined to give it up altogether (I’ve probably got more Luddite in my bones than not), but I’m not certain total removal from something so influential and important (like it or not) in our world is the best response, either. For most of us, social media is a swirling whirlwind of love and hate, good and evil, connection and isolation, information and misinformation, inclusion and FOMO.

Yesterday one of my friends posted something that irked me (I’m sure that’s never happened to any of you). So I did what any good Christian would do… I went to click that little ellipsis in the top righthand corner of their post so I could “Unfollow” them. I’ve been able to convince (deceive?) myself that this is a virtuous thing I’m doing; I’m not doing it to insulate myself from people who think differently than me, I’m doing it because it’s easy for me to get really judgmental when scrolling through my feed, so I simply remove the temptation to judge by Unfollowing it.

But then I got this nudging instead… pray for them.

If I sound pious, don’t let me fool you. I didn’t want to. And as I began to pray for them, I at first began with a sanctimonious and condescending prayer, “Lord, help them to see the truth [because apparently I can see all truth and they can’t]… they know not what they do [because apparently Jesus’ words on the cross when he is redeeming all of humankind could easily be my words when I’m scrolling my Facebook feed].” Fortunately, the Holy Spirit wasn’t going to let me off the hook so easily. “the Spirit comes to help our weakness. We don’t know what we should pray… he pleads for the saints, consistent with God’s will.”

I knew I didn’t get to pray a self-serving prayer that made me feel better, but one of humility that acknowledges my own limits, one of love that keeps in mind the sanctity of the poster as an image-bearer of their Creator.

Lord, I pray for _____________. Forgive me for judging them. I pray for our relationship. Thank you for whatever you are doing in their life right now. I don’t even fully know what to pray for them because I confess I’m so arrogant I think I have things much more figured out than they do. Whether they are far from you or much closer to you than I am, I pray that you would continue to draw them to yourself, and that this post would not drive a wedge between us, but somehow be a catalyst for drawing us closer. If there is truth in what they are saying that I have blinded myself to in being more certain than I ought, please give me the humility to hear that truth.

Even today as I logged on, I found myself in old habits of wanting to cast judgment. Discipleship is hard work! But I’m encouraged that God is at work everywhere in our world, empowering us and inviting us to be people who love and pray; that the holy places and cathedrals of prayer are not just in the conventional places of prayer, but that even (or especially) the mundane places may be holy places to pray… even somewhere as unexpected and unconventional as the Cathedral of Facebook.

Older posts…

Bible Translation Mania!

Posted by Tyler Kirkpatrick | 1/16/2020

I continue to receive feedback and emails expressing well, opinions, about our new sanctuary Bibles. Many of you have already read the letter I wrote this fall outlining the process that was followed by Session. If you haven’t, read that before reading this blog post because this is in some ways an addendum to that letter. I’d like to consider here a couple of the more common objections I’ve heard to the new translation, and respond to those objections not so as to dismiss or diminish them, but to use them as a stepping stone to challenge us to read scripture in a more robust way.

Some Objections to the New Translation

Objection #1: “I have certain verses or phrases that are significant to me or that I have memorized and this translation sounds totally different!”

I really like this objection because I really like memorization and believe in its value and importance in the life of faith. It’s one reason I always use one of the same two Benedictions: I can remember my parents at significant moments in our lives quoting to us the Benediction our pastor used every Sunday. I hope you’ve come to really know and be steeped in those words of scripture that I say every single Sunday. On a similar note, as a kid who grew up in the church, I was “encouraged” (i.e., bribed by candy) to memorize scripture. My motives may not have been perfect or pure when I memorized those verses, but I’m amazed at how many of them have come bouncing back into my mind unexpectedly in moments where I was in distress or rejoicing, needing encouragement or exhortation. So, I’m empathetic to this objection. Certain words and phrases stick with us, and that’s really good. At the same time…

A response to the objection: First off, no one is mandating that you now memorize those dear and beloved verses in the new version! Nor are we mandating that everyone in the church go purchase the CEB. Many people bring their own Bibles (or use an app on their phone) which differ now from the Bibles we have or differed before from the Bibles we had in the Sanctuary. Please, keep doing so!

Secondly, an analogy: Mount Rainier, when viewed from the North or East or South or West looks almost like four entirely different mountains. The East side of the mountain is one long, clean slab of snow and ice comprised primarily of the massive Emmons Glacier. The North side of the mountain is rocky and rugged; cut down the middle by the treacherous Liberty Ridge and adorned with the Willis Wall. Of course, it’s all the same mountain. Because translations are, by definition, not the original text themselves, I think they can be helpful in guiding us to see “the mountain” (that is, scripture) from different angles. I still have my preferred vantagepoint for looking at Mount Rainier (it’s the Sunrise side, because that’s the side my family grew up camping and hiking at), but a trip to the other side of the mountain to view it from a different angle can be helpful in deepening my understanding of it and connection to it. By all means, hold on to your preferred translation of scripture, but don’t be threatened by new or different ones. Instead, see them as resources available to you and allow them to deepen your understanding of scripture and maybe even ask different questions. In fact, I wrote about one way the CEB challenged me to see a text with which I was very familiar in a new way in a blog post last year.

Objection #2: “I don’t like the translation/they translated this verse incorrectly/badly”

I am, admittedly, less empathetic to this objection. There have been more than a handful of times in the past few months where someone has brought some form of this objection to me as a sort of incontrovertible proof that the CEB is an inferior translation. Without fail, when I’ve opened up to the Hebrew or Greek, it has been almost immediately obvious why the translation team made the decision that they did. To be clear, it doesn’t mean I always agree with their translation choice, but it does mean that I don’t get to immediately dismiss out-of-hand their translation. I have to wrestle with why they made the choice they did. Next time you come across a translation in the CEB that you don’t like, instead of immediately saying, “Ah, this is another reason this is a bad translation!” I’d challenge you to do the following:

  1. Ask why you don’t like that phrasing. Is it simply because it is different from what you’re used to? If so, rather than seeing it as a threat, ask how it might be inviting you to ask a new question or see something in a new way in a text you know really well. Sometimes we can become so familiar with something that we think we really understand it, but we’re missing something crucial.
  2. Compare it with other translations (not just the one you like!). I think a tremendously helpful practice for Bible study is reading a passage in several translations and seeing where significant variances in phrasing or word choice come up. Those are often key components to understanding the passage. Rather than assuming the translators have once again “screwed up a perfectly good translation,” try to begin by giving them the benefit of the doubt. Why might they have made that choice? Most likely, they’re not trying to deconstruct everything you believe about God and the Bible (though a little deconstruction is good for all of us, from time to time!); more likely they are trying to provide clarity to a verse that is perhaps confusing or often misunderstood. A few translations worth looking at for side-by-side comparison: NRSV, NIV, ESV, JPS and NASB.[1]

Concluding Thoughts

I personally don’t have one go to, preferred translation that I stand by or champion. I haven’t for a long time. While I certainly had a few translations that I would not have wanted us to adopt, I really felt the decision should finally be up to Session (with some guidance from myself as well as the insights of our “clergy collegium”). There are things that I don’t like about the CEB, just as there are things I don’t like about the NIV and NRSV and every other translation. I have, nevertheless, found the CEB to be helpful in my study and engagement with scripture. The fact is, oftentimes five words are needed to translate one word, but the teams have to make a choice. They have to choose one word. I’m not a champion of any one translation of the Bible, but I am a champion of thoughtful engagement with scripture, and simply dismissing a translation because “I don’t like it” or “It’s not what I’m used to” doesn’t exactly fit under the umbrella of thoughtful engagement. Above all, I want us to not lose sight of the fact that we come to scripture to be formed and transformed by it. I am resolute in my belief that the Holy Spirit can and does speak through many translations, provided that translation was done faithfully, prayerfully, and humbly. My prayer for us as a church is that even if we don’t like a particular translation, we will be staunch in our refusal to let that be a stumbling block or distraction that prevents us from coming to the Word of God and being transformed and renewed by it.

[1] What about the King James Version?! I think the KJV may be unparalleled in the beauty of its language, and I read it for that reason. It has a lot of problems as a translation, however. That is nothing against its translators, but more of an observation that when it was translated over 400 years ago, they did not have nearly the same volume or quality of ancient manuscripts available to us today (chief among them, the Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in the 1940s).

Appendix: Clergy Collegium Insights

If this blog post is an addendum to my letter, then this is an appendix to the addendum (or is it an addendum to the appendix?). Anyway, I thought I would include some of the comments from our guild of retired pastors that came in when we were soliciting their opinions on translation. I won’t identify which one said which in case they’d like their thoughts to remain anonymous (though they are welcome to claim their own comments!):

“[Y]our timing is amazing… I was sputtering ‘I hate translation!!!!! (Insert stronger words if necessary)” … sat down and read your email. I was working on my sermon for next week… and totally frustrated with the translations… CONCLUSION: I think the church pew bibles should be in Hebrew and Greek. Which version?… The reality is that the vast majority of those that actually use their Bibles like in Bible studies will continue with their present translation and put up with the differences. Also, many of us are using sites like Biblegateway.com don’t really care which version.”


I’ve been leaning on the Common English Bible for most of my personal Bible study, mainly because I enjoy how it surprises me by its English word choices in translation. The JPS has become a delightful supplement for OT studies, though.

In these times, I think adult Christians should be challenged to think critically and to be humbled by the breadth and ambiguity in Scripture. Reformed, or not.

I agree… Put the Hebrew and Greek in the pews, too!!


“I like the CEB best of those… It is much clearer and less strained than the NRSV.

Even though I studied with Dr. Everett Harrison who translated Thessalonians in NIV, I think the NIV did the unthinkable in my opinion when it translated Ecclesiastes ‘vanity of vanities’ as ‘meaningless’ rather than ‘temporary’ or ‘fleeting.” That has always bothered me.”

Come!

Posted by Tyler Kirkpatrick | 12/10/2019

“The people walking in darkness have a seen a great light… A child is born to us, a son is given…” -Isaiah 9:2, 6

Karl Rahner once said this about Advent: “Every year we roll up all our needs and yearnings and faithful expectation into one word: ‘Come!’”

I got a head start on my sermon prep this week because our choir already sang the text into my soul on Sunday with their gorgeous rendition of Isaiah 9 from Handel’s Messiah (if you missed it, you can listen to it here beginning at the 23:31 mark). As I’ve begun preliminary work on this birth annunciation text in Isaiah, I’ve been thinking about the particular poignancy Advent has for Brittany and me this year. We eagerly and excitedly and nervously wait for the birth of our son in January. We’re in the final stages of “preparing the way” and “making room,” completing last minute projects in our nursery and home. We’ve paid attention to the “signs and wonders”: a growing belly, morning sickness, ultrasounds and the stories of other parents who have gone before. We wait in faithful and joyous expectation. Come!

And yet it’s impossible for me to forget the particular poignancy of last year’s Advent for us as well. As I’ve shared with the congregation before, Brittany and I suffered a miscarriage last September. The song that sung into my soul last Advent was not from Handel’s Messiah but JJ Heller’s “Braver Still”:

I never saw it coming
There was no way to prepare
The world kept spinning 'round me
And left me standing there

And it's okay to grieve
A life that could not be
I'm trying to believe
In something better

Last Advent we grieved and worried and waited, hoping for God’s promises of goodness and faithfulness to manifest themselves in some new way, waiting in what felt like perpetual darkness for a glimmer of light. We clung tightly to words of scripture and words of prayer spoken over us. We waited in need, and we waited in yearning. Come!

Our office staff is reading a book right now together called Love Big, Be Well about doing life and ministry in a small-town church. The author observes this about the church calendar: “it gives us a way to practice our faith even when we do not feel our faith. We are not asked, come February or March, whether or not we’d like to repent and make room for God. Lent simply instructs us to do it. No one asks us whether or not we feel up to celebrating Easter… No, Easter simply hands us a fifty-day feast and says, Go do joy.”

I like that.

The season of Advent simply arrives, no matter what our particular mood is today, and it instructs us to pray, “Come!” And yet the profundity of that word is that we can come together as a church to pray that word. Those of us waiting in joyful expectation can tell stories of God’s faithfulness, even as we hold and sit with an pray over those of us who need to be held and sat with and prayed over, those of us who are waiting in need and in painful yearning. And somehow, we can come before God together as the church with all of those things rolled together—with both the “hopes and fears of all the years” and we can pray one word: Come!

A Poem

Posted by Tyler Kirkpatrick | 11/13/2019

I make absolutely no claims to being a poet. I am invigorated by reading poetry, and I hold poets in high esteem, but I myself rarely endeavor to do it. Every once in awhile, however, a poem stirs in me and I do the best I can to help it emerge onto the page. Like the last blog post, this emerged during Brittany’s and my time away in Hawaii (it’s almost as if rest is a good thing for writing…). It was inspired by the beauty of that place, by my meditations on my soon-to-be-fatherhood, by my own memories of Hawaii as a kid, and by C.S. Lewis’ great insight that nostalgia “is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience,” a desire that nevertheless points to a longing that exists in each one of us for Something greater.

Longing for the Far Off Country

A blue-hued horizon haunts the memory
of a past which never quite was,
like yearning for some distant island somewhere
far beyond that straight-edge symmetry of sea and sky
but which is only found in the very granules of sand
and stick of salty air
here
and in photographs faded and tinted by time and love.

The sun still hangs high overhead
in a sky not yet tinted orange
by the inevitable fade toward which it marches.

Soon my day will bring forth a new day which is not my own
but to whom I hope to give this island love,
that he may yearn for and be haunted by the happy memories
of an island hinted at in the fluorescent pink sunrise
longed for in the blue midday heat
and fully found only after the last orange of sun-painted sky
vanishes into night.

How Great Thou Art

Posted by Tyler Kirkpatrick | 10/31/2019

Last week Brittany and I worshipped in a leper colony.

Well, sort of. Many of you are probably aware that we were very fortunate to spend the last week-and-a-half in Hawaii, time together that was restorative and for which we are very thankful. We spent a few nights on the island of Molokai which is probably best known as the location of a leper colony that operated for about 100 years as a response to the rampant spread of the then-misunderstood Hansen’s Disease. Children and parents, husbands and wives were torn apart in heart-rending fashion in forced quarantines to this colony which was segregated from contact with the outside world. Joseph De Veuster—more famously known as Father Damien—was a Catholic priest who chose to serve there. Father Damien dug upwards of five graves daily and hand-built over 2,000 coffins in order to ensure the banished and forgotten citizens of the colony would have dignified deaths.

Despite counsel to the contrary, Father Damien did not distance himself from his infected parishioners; he believed in the importance of human touch and contact, and because of this “irresponsible behavior” he eventually contracted the disease which would lead to his death at the age of 49. After discovering he had the disease, he began his sermon that Sunday with two simple words: “We lepers.” That is to say, “I’ve always been here with and in this with you… and now I am one of you.” We.

Last Tuesday Brittany and I toured this colony (the only way you’re allowed to see it is if you are part of a tour) and came to the church built by Father Damien, the very church where he delivered that sermon. No doubt it pales in comparison to the great cathedrals of this world in splendor, and yet the sacred and secular are commingled inseparably in that space. The colony and church sit on a small, lone peninsula at the base of towering, verdant sea cliffs—the tallest in the world, in fact—lifting one’s eyes upward, simultaneously evoking wonder at their beauty and the beauty of their Creator, while also serving as a daunting and sobering reminder of the isolating prison walls they functioned as to keep people in. Inside the church the walls were adorned with the Stations of the Cross depicting a suffering Jesus with whom the lepers could no doubt identify and yet who also has the power to “change the leper’s spots.” In the floor of the church Father Damien had opened holes to function as spittoons because in the advanced stages of leprosy it is difficult to control excessive drooling.

The tour itself wasn’t anything special. Our tour guide had some unconventional (to put it mildly) views of the world and a keen interest in conspiracy theories that he seemed more interested in talking about than Father Damien or the history of the leper colony. There were just six of us on the tour and everyone was friendly enough, but on the whole everyone seemed to keep to themselves as passive participants with no real connection to one another.

But then we sat in the simple sanctuary of Father Damien’s church with spittoons and the Stations of the Cross. And our tour guide, not knowing any of our religious backgrounds said, “If it’s alright, I’m feeling led to sing.” And with the muffled roar of ocean waves in the background he began:

O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder

Consider all the worlds thy hands have made

And then an older gentleman sitting behind us softly joined in,

I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder

Thy power throughout the universe displayed

And then Brittany and I began to sing until all seven of us strangers were singing together

Then sings my soul! My Savior God to Thee

How great thou art, how great thou art

We all knew that the Spirit was moving. Maybe it was because the gospels tell us that Jesus was especially near to the lepers, the sinners, and the unclean and so we somehow knew that he was especially near to us in that space that served as their place of worship for over a century. Maybe it was looking down at the holes in the floor and imagining them singing the very words we were now singing:

And when I think, that God his Son not sparing

Sent him to die, I scarce can take it in

That on the cross my burden gladly bearing

A colony of people sent to this place against their will to die in hopeless despair, worshipping a God whose Son was sent willingly into a world of hopeless despair to bear the heaviest of burdens. A colony of people taken against their will from their homes and families and friends, people whose earthly “tents” were betraying them in the slow decay of flesh caused by a microscopic organism called mycobacterium leprae singing together:

When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation

And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart

Maybe it was some of those things or all of those things or none of those things, who knows? “The Spirit blows wherever it will.” But as the Spirit blew among the warm Hawaiian trade winds in that little church on Molokai, we all somehow knew that the only words that made any sense to say in that sanctified air of were “My God, how great thou art!”

The People in My Ear

Posted by Tyler Kirkpatrick | 10/7/2019

“As long as we read the Bible or a spiritual book simply to acquire knowledge, our reading does not help us in our spiritual lives. We can become very knowledgeable about spiritual matters without becoming truly spiritual people.” – Henri Nouwen

Over the past few months I’ve had a several different people ask me, “Tyler, you quote a lot of people in your sermons… Could you please create a list of your most-quoted authors?” Well… at the risk of leaving some voices out (or the greater risk of saying too much, because this list is already longer than I intended it to be!)… here’s a shot at some of the authors I frequently quote, or authors who inspire me in pastoral work and in sermon writing. In other words… here are the people who keep jumping off the bookshelves in my office and finding their way into my ears as conversation partners as I seek to prayerfully and thoughtfully engage scripture.

Maya Angelou – Her poetry challenges and stretches me. It deepens and widens my vision of God’s world.

St. Augustine – In many ways considered the father of Christian theology (or at least Western Christian theology), Augustine wrote copious amounts of theology. But the story of his conversion, Confessions, remains one of the greatest all-time works of Christian writing.

Karl Barth – The world of Karl Barth is daunting to enter because he has written so much! I include him on this list because he has perhaps had more of an impact on how I think theologically than any other theologian. A good intro to his theology is Dogmatics in Outline (a commentary on the Apostles’ Creed), and his collection of sermons he gave on regular visits to the local prison, Deliverance to the Captives, is a good devotional read.

Wendell Berry – Berry has an interesting perspective, and has written a voluminous number of essays on the topic of neighboring well in one’s local context. He has also written a number of short stories and novels, but if I were to recommend one Wendell Berry book it would be his collection of poems written on his Sabbaths titled This Day. I find Berry to be in the tradition of John Steinbeck (Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden), and I try to think like these two writers whenever I’m reading and exegeting the Old Testament.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer – Perhaps led a more interesting life than anyone on this list (German pastor who opposed Hitler and was part of a plot to assassinate him, eventually put to death by the Nazis in a death camp), so Renate Wind’s biography A Spoke in the Wheel is well worth reading. Life Together is short and a helpful look at what it means for Christians to do… life together. Cost of Discipleship is also a great read.

Ta-Nehisi Coates – The only book of his that I have is Between the World and Me, but I find myself going back to this short little book, as well as many of the pieces he has written for The Atlantic quite often.

Annie Dillard – Dillard helps me cultivate a sense of wonder about the world God created, and the vastness of the living, holy God. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is maybe her best work but may be utterly strange to someone who has never read anything by a mystic. Holy the Firm is a short, remarkable work that is actually set on an island in Puget Sound. And The Writing Life is, I think, the best book I’ve ever read about preaching (it’s not really about preaching, and it applies to vocation in general).

Fyodor Dostoevsky and Leo Tolstoy – I’m grouping these two Russian novelists together though I probably shouldn’t. If the size of Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov or Crime and Punishment or Tolstoy’s War and Peace or Anna Karenina are daunting, try reading the “Grand Inquisitor” by Dostoevsky (which is actually part of The Brothers Karamazov) or the wonderful short story by Tolstoy, “The Death of Ivan Illych.”

Anne Lamott – One reviewer said Lamott “is walking proof that a person can be both reverent and irreverent in the same lifetime. Sometimes even in the same breath.” Yep, that’s Anne Lamott. I’d probably recommend Traveling Mercies as a first jump into her writing.

Madeleine L’Engle and Denise Levertov – I’m grouping these two together only because I’m listing them here for their poetry (though, as many of you know, L’Engle of course has remarkable works of fiction). Both have small collections of poetry that explore the complexities of faith, and I’ve quoted both a number of times (and/or used their phrasing for sermon titles!): L’Engle’s The Weather of the Heart and Levertov’s The Stream and the Sapphire are absolutely fantastic.

C.S. Lewis – Lay theologian? Scholar? Essayist? Fiction writer? Children’s author? All of the above. I’ve read plenty of C.S. Lewis, and I keep going back to works of his that I’ve read multiple times, always finding fresh insights. For an intro into his world, I’d recommend: Mere Christianity, Screwtape Letters, The Great Divorce and of course, The Chronicles of Narnia.

Martin Luther King, Jr. – Federally-mandated curriculum requirements ensured I learned about MLK every year in school, but it wasn’t until after college that I really discovered MLK the pastor. All of the social activism of his life was rooted in a robust theological foundation. MLK was quite the theologian, and I’d heartily recommend Strength to Love as a devotional read.

Henri Nouwen – An excellent perspective on spirituality. He has written a lot of books; Life of the Beloved is a fantastic look at his thought (and would work as a small group study). As a pastor I was helped greatly by the books Creative Ministry and Wounded Healer. I’ve also gifted his devotional collection Bread for the Journey on more than one occasion.

Flannery O’Connor – I’m always cautious about recommending O’Connor because she has a strange perspective on the world (actually, if you read enough of her, you might start to see that we have a distorted perspective and she has a lot of truth that initially strikes us as strange, “You shall know the  truth, and the truth shall make you odd,” she once quipped). Mystery and Manners is a good introduction to how she thinks and what she’s looking to accomplish in her stories, and A Good Man is Hard to Find is a good first step into her fiction.

Eugene Peterson –The moments when I am most faithfully fulfilling my vocation as a pastor are probably the moments when I am paying closest attention to Peterson’s words on pastoral ministry. I’ve personally been helped/challenged/encouraged by his memoir The Pastor, as well as Working the Angles, and The Contemplative Pastor. He also has some great stuff on spiritual theology, like Christ Plays in 10,000 Places. And his Biblical commentaries would be a great aid for small groups: Under the Unpredictable Plant (Jonah), Run with the Horses (Jeremiah), and Reversed Thunder (Revelation).

NT Wright – Wright has, in my opinion, helped reshape the landscape of New Testament scholarship in a positive (and challenging!) way. He is a prolific writer, but I found Surprised by Hope and How God Became King helpful. Whenever I’m preaching from a New Testament text, I always make sure to check what he has to say in his New Testament for Everyone commentary series.

Lastly, two books I’d strongly recommend: Tattoos on the Heart by Father Greg Boyle, and Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson (I didn’t recommend them as authors because Stevenson has only published the one book, and Boyle recently published his second, but I’ve not read it and heard mixed reviews).