Are They Christians?!

I recently watched someone post a prompt on social media that was designed to be a collaborative space for church leaders to share ideas about how they were going to respond to the latest restrictions in our state. This thread rapidly devolved into a den of vipers devouring one another, pointing fingers, calling names.

“These leaders are letting fear, not faith, control them.”

“Those leaders don’t love their neighbors or the vulnerable and only care about their own rights or sense of normalcy.”

You’ve all seen the reductionistic arguments a million times by now. Even if you haven’t seen that particular thread I’m referring to, you’ve more or less still seen that thread somewhere else.

I’ll be honest, I got a little depressed. These are Christian leaders?

Like so many of us, these past eight months have shaken my faith… not in God, but in the American Church. Problems I knew existed—but naïvely thought were more peripheral—have been brought to the surface; open wounds oozing a witness to the world that looks so little like Jesus’ healing touch. We’ve seen it in Christians’ response to the pandemic. We’ve seen it throughout the General Election. The venom. The vitriol. And I don’t make any claim whatsoever to have any ability to rise above it; I have convictions and concerns too, after all. I’ve been shocked to see thoughtful Christians I respect defending behavior and viewpoints that seem so diametrically opposed to the gospel that I’ve wondered what Bible they were even reading.

But enough of all that. The problems are well-known to us. We’re living them, after all. Instead, I want to provide an encouragement in two simple points.

1) I thank God for Matthew 13:24-30. The parable of the weeds (or the “tares” if you prefer). There’s a beautiful harvest planted by a Good Farmer. But an enemy sneaks in and plants a bunch of weeds in the field overnight. What should be done? Find the weeds, surely, and rip them up. “‘No,” says the Good Farmer. “If you gather the weeds, you’ll pull up the wheat along with them. Let both grow side by side until the harvest.”

Let both grow side by side.

This parable offers me the freedom of humility on two fronts. First, it reminds me that it’s not my job to pull up the weeds. “But they’re choking out the good crops! They’re damaging the witness of the church at a time it’s desperately needed!” No. Go ahead and let both grow side by side. But this parable brings me humility’s freedom in another way: every single Christian in my life who I might be tempted to label as a “weed” is, without exception, absolutely convinced (so far as I can tell) that they are the faithful followers of Jesus.

And that means I might be a weed, too. And so might you. Yes, you. I don’t say that to terrify us or shake our assurance of salvation, that we might be ourselves the ones who are weeds to be gathered “in bundles to be burned.” I don’t think that’s the point of the parable. Rather, I say it, once again, to lead us to the freedom of humble prayer and worship. Only by God’s grace might I be a good crop bearing good fruit, and I throw myself on that grace every moment of every day; in my decisions, in my considering complex questions, in my desire to be a witness to Jesus at a time it’s desperately needed.

2) Jesus among the crowds. I’ll be honest, I’ve craved quiet lately. It’s a strange thing to crave, I admit, amidst so much isolation from one another. But I don’t so much crave auditory quiet, but rather quiet from the din of everyone’s opinions flying everywhere on every single matter. But I’ve been nudged the past few days not to seek God in the quiet, but to ask where God is in the noise. And here’s where I’ve seen God in the noise: Jesus amidst crowds. So many crowds. Those crowds were undoubtedly filled with people who had skewed perceptions of him and his mission. People who were getting the gospel all wrong. People who were following him for all the wrong reasons. People who were trying to fit him into their box, or prop him up into their agenda. Some were even there to try to trap him or defy him. And yet Jesus commands the attention of every single one of them. Misguided or not, they can’t help but keep their eyes fixed on him, they can’t help but follow him. And it’s in that space where Jesus begins the work of transformation for each and every one of them.

In the sometimes disheartening and depressing noise of Christians and Christian leaders shouting louder and louder, this much remains true: they can’t keep their eyes off of Jesus. A distorted image of Jesus? Yes. Sometimes even utterly grotesque. But surely Jesus can break through even that. I hope so. Because I know sometimes my selfishness leads me to concoct a distorted image of Jesus that serves my interests a little too well. And yet he still breaks through all of that.

Sometimes Jesus avoids the crowds, sometimes he escapes them or dismisses them, but oftentimes, he shows up in and amidst them. Jesus spent a lot of time in crowds. In the noise and the clamor and the chaos. And he leads them, and he teaches them and feeds them, and he heals them and transforms them. This is the Lord of the still, small voice. But it’s also the Lord of the crowds, of the noise, the Lord of the wheat and the Lord of the weeds.

The Sixth Day – Genesis 1:24-31

Posted by Tyler Kirkpatrick | July 4, 2020

I was recently inspired to write a poem for each day of creation–(which are written as poems themselves). I will be posting a new entry each day. Today: Genesis 1:24-31.


The Sixth Day

Like rereading a kind text or note from
a loved one sent hours or minutes before
their unexpected passing or
gazing at the photograph of a joyful moment
together with friends taken the day before
the world turned on its head: Sept 10, '01
or December 6, '41 or New Year's on the eve
of 2020, smiling faces unaware of ominous
thunderclouds fast approaching on the horizon,
so is reading the account of the Sixth Day:
a happy memory turned melancholy
by future tragedy, a reminder of what was
and what could have been.

The Imago Dei, 
the Crown of Creation
moved by Pride 
soon forgot in whose image they were made
soon forgot they were created
soon forgot their fellow humans were also 
made in their Creator's image
soon forgot the earth was given to them to be 
received with thanks, not taken by force;
soon forsook their calling to steward
choosing instead to plunder, the only
creatures capable of not being what they were 
created to be.

The Imago Dei; desecrated but not destroyed
defaced but not effaced, in need of redemption
but not irredeemable
Redeemed by One Uncreated who alone was now capable
of being what these creatures were created to be,
who was taken by force, plundered, crucified
forgotten and forsaken
moved by Love,
the Crown of Thorns on
the Imago Dei.

The Sixth Day a reminder of what was and
what could have been and
a glimpse of what one day will fully be
glimpsed now in the face of my friend who
devotes his life to those with 
mental illnesses forgotten by others,
glimpsed now in the hands of the vet 
caring for the injured roadside deer,
glimpsed now in the feet of the farmer
walking her field once more in unending
cycle of love and labor, her patch of planet
received to steward, to grow, to give:
the Imago Dei
the Sixth Day.

[1] Raimondi, Marcantonio, ca. 1480-ca. 1534. Adam and Eve, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=50226 [retrieved July 4, 2020]. Original source: http://www.mfa.org/.

The Fifth Day – Genesis 1:20-23

Posted by Tyler Kirkpatrick | July 3, 2020

I was recently inspired to write a poem for each day of creation–(which are written as poems themselves). I will be posting a new entry each day. Today: Genesis 1:20-23.


The Fifth Day

Consider the birds of the air
Unburdened in freefalling flight
It is almost as if God forgot
to tell the fifth day creatures of gravity

Broadtailed hummingbirds dart,
dash, dance, zip, flit, fling, streak,
swim through air from fuschia to fuschia;
painted buntings plunge, a blur of color 
diving before switching direction 
to resurface on the limb of a tree;
falcons float effortlessly on the wind's waves
like a spread-eagle snorkeler passively surveying
the world below in objective observance.

Salmon soar through open ocean before 
annual upstream spawning, their very nature
seeming to defy nature;
angelfish like stunt planes loop, flip, fly
in easy freedom as moon jellies hover in haunted 
weightlessness, suspended above the floor below.

Birds swarm in the waters above like fish in flight
Sea creatures swarm in the waters below like
underwater aviators, each a reminder of
the limits of gravity's persistent pull,
nearly every corner of creation now
stocked and teeming with life,
The Fifth Day.

[1] Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=57542 [retrieved July 2, 2020]. Original source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/dharma_for_one/8111513291/ – Janetandphil

Sehnsucht

There are better pictures of the Olympic Mountains out there. This one has powerlines in it, but that’s kind of the point. It’s a picture I took on a recent walk. It’s what’s available to me now.

Posted by Tyler Kirkpatrick | May 12, 2020

One of the joys for Kitsap County residents is our proximity to, and many vantage points of the jagged, snow-capped (at least this time of year) Olympic Mountains rising up dramatically above Hood Canal. I’ve found over this past month I’ve lifted my eyes up to those hills often with longing. Longing for the fresh air of old growth cedar and high alpine wildflower meadows and lakes. But, like so much else in our world, the National Parks have been closed (though perhaps are opening soon!), preventing me from inhabiting those spaces I can see for now only from afar.

I’m reminded in those moments of a German word that C.S. Lewis loved: sehnsucht, that is, an experience of “bittersweet longing.” As professor Forrest Baird defined the term it’s an experience where “the want is acute and painful, yet the mere wanting is felt to be somehow a delight.”[1]

“the want is acute and painful, yet the mere wanting is felt to be somehow a delight.”

In his own life, Lewis said he first experienced this sensation as a young boy when his brother brought in a tiny toy garden he’d put together with some moss and twigs. Lewis suddenly had a deep desire to become tiny and to inhabit the lushness of the garden. Or, similarly, “every day there were what we called ‘the Green Hills’; that is, the low line of the Castlereagh Hills which we saw from the nursery windows. They were not very far off but they were, to children, quite unattainable.”[2]

Though the want is acute and painful… the mere wanting is somehow a delight.

And sometimes the desire is more delightful—or at least “differently delightful”—than the satisfaction of that desire.

My family’s go-to campground when I was a kid was the White River Campground in Mount Rainier National Park, so we hiked all over those trails on the eastern slopes of the mountain. My dad would help me point the large telescopes at the Sunrise Visitor Center onto the glaciers where I could see climbers that looked like tiny ants even with the help of a magnified lens. I remember as a kid looking up at the upper icy slopes of the Emmons Glacier towards the summit with a longing—a delightful desire—to be there.

Now, I have been there, having summitted Rainier three times (a puny number compared with my predecessor Lee Riley’s 25 times, and many other CKPC climbers who have also been up a fair bit). Two of those times I summitted by that very same route I watched as a young boy, now myself one of those little ant-climbers. In many ways, the satisfaction of that sehnsucht desire of my boyhood was extraordinarily fulfilling; those Rainier climbs were exhilarating and truly wonderful; memories that I wouldn’t trade for almost anything.

In other ways, though, the satisfaction of that desire was less than the desire itself. On one particular climb I was probably the coldest I have ever been in my life as we got caught in a miserable rain/snow and extremely high winds. I was the most exhausted I’ve been on one particular climb. And I was more sunburnt than I’ve ever been on another. I can tell you that none of those experiences had factored into my boyhood sehnsucht longing and imagining of what it would be like to be there.

We are in a period of longing. Longing for hugs, longing for picnics with friends or board games at a local brewery, longing to go to places we are prohibited from going to and much of that is simply painful, bitter longing. In bitterness, it’s appropriate to practice the tradition that has been handed down to us from long ago: lament. It is good and right for us to lament, and to help others and give them the space to do the same in this time.

But might there also be a bittersweetness somewhere in our longing? Or even a sweetness? C.S. Lewis said our desires reveal things about how we were created. Our desire for hugs reveals how we were created for community, connection, and intimacy. Our hunger reveals we are creatures who need food and nourishment. (And, Lewis says, our sense that “time flies” or our surprise at “how much so-and-so has grown!” reveals we are creatures not created for time, but for eternity.)

The satisfaction of the longings and desires we currently have in this strange season of staying at home will be a wonderful thing. And yet in some ways the satisfaction won’t fully live up to the desires themselves, at least not in the long run. As Annie Dillard put it in her description of the beautiful majesty of the view from the cabin in the San Juans from which she wrote one of her books: “It was very grand. But you get used to it.”[3] Schedules may well get overcrowded and busy again, conflicts will arise with friends and family. In those Olympic Mountain alpine meadows, I’m sure I will get bitten by mosquitos or flies. The satisfaction of the desire to finally get a view from the summit will be satisfying; it will be beautiful and other-worldly, but it will also be bitter cold and we’ll still get sunburnt from time to time.

I’m not trying to be a wet blanket here, I’m trying to be a pastor (hopefully those aren’t the same thing too often!). My hope is that we might see God in our very desires and longings right now. My hope is that our desires will point us not only to the things that are good—very good!—that we will attain soon enough and will indeed satisfy, but also that they might point us to deeper desires, to the “far off country,” the heavenly country. The longing is very painful and bitter some days. We lament that. But sometimes it is bittersweet. Sometimes it is reminding us of how much we love and desire something, some place, or someone we’ve taken for granted. Sometimes God is using our very desire to reveal something to us about how we were created, and to reveal something about a future we are destined for which is only hinted at in our sweetest sehnsucht longings.


[1] Forrest Baird. Lecture given at Whitworth University in Fall 2010.

[2] C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy. Since I am working/writing from home in this season, I don’t have all of my books with me, which means I can’t easily cite page numbers as I normally would.

[3] Annie Dillard, The Writing Life.

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.

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.”

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.