When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let
down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but
have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this,
they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break.
--Luke 5:4-6 NRSV
My family and I were watching a movie this week when Carrie Underwood popped up on the screen in a cameo role. My sons vaguely know the former American Idol winner and country music superstar from the musical introductions to Sunday night NFL games. They are too young to understand what a big deal American Idol was in its early seasons. I remember when Underwood won American Idol and received a record contract. Her first single was “Jesus Take the Wheel.” I thought, “Oh boy, what a dumb song title,” and I rolled my eyes at its overt sappiness.
I can’t really say why, maybe it’s middle age or maybe I’ve experienced one to many moments of feeling helpless in the years since the song came out, but I don’t hate the song anymore. It’s still sappy and more than a bit manipulative in its use of Jesus to get a song on Country radio, but I can relate to the character in the song who hits some black ice, loses control of her car and realizes her lack of control is a good metaphor for her life. I’m pretty sure anyone who hasn’t hit a moment when they’ve done all they know to do only to realize it’s not enough just hasn’t lived long enough yet.
I listened to a minister friend of mine’s sermon from last Sunday where he preached on the story in Luke 5 where Jesus enables his soon-to-be disciples to catch a miraculous number of fish. When Jesus tells them here to put out their fishing nets, Peter replies they’ve been fishing all night and have caught nothing. Jesus tells them to try it again on the other side of the boat, and when they do the nets are full. My friend interpreted the story as a metaphor for all the ways we exhaust ourselves trying to do things with little to show for our effort. When we finally humble ourselves and try it Jesus’ way the results are far different. When we say, “Jesus, take the wheel. . . er. . . the fishing net,” we have a better outcome.
Is there a place in your life where you have exhausted yourself trying to do things under your own power, because you have resisted admitting you have no control over that situation? As Christians in America, we have been taught that faith is about a set of beliefs rather than faith is about the practice of trusting God. We understand faith as only an intellectual pursuit—a checklist of things we say we believe that have no real bearing on our lives. I confess that I often act as a “functional atheist”—as if God were not a real part of my life. I am surprised each time I reach the end of my own ability and effort only to discover what is beyond my control.
The Episcopal priest and writer Barbara Brown Taylor writes the following about her spiritual journey:
“I…arrived at an understanding of faith that had far more to do with trust than with
certainty. I trusted God to be God even if I could not say who God was for sure. I trusted
God to sustain the world although I could not say for sure how that happened. I trusted
God to hold me and those I loved, in life and in death, without giving me one shred of
conclusive evidence that it was so.”
In other words, “Jesus, take the wheel” or the fishing net or the parenting or the job hunting or the healing or the (insert your anxiety here).
As a minister, I’ve learned how rarely I truly trust God with my life. Despite preaching about it for a couple decades, I’m not great at actually doing it. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised then to see that church folks, even the most faithful ones, aren’t very good at it either. It’s no wonder church leaders and the most ardent volunteers exhaust themselves trying to do church, because they are doing it by their own power, their own skills, their own best ideas instead of trusting God with the wheel or the budget or (insert local church crisis here).
Whether in the church or in my personal life, I’ve had plenty of experiences where I feel like I’m fishing all night without much to show for it. How about you?
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
Before I get to my point in this newsletter, allow me a moment to explain a few things.
I was ordained as a Baptist, but I have been granted standing as a minister in the Christian Church, Disciples of Christ (DOC) and the United Church of Christ (UCC). The DOC, the denomination of PHCC, and the UCC have been in “full communion” with each other since 1989. It’s common for ministers in one denomination to have ministerial standing in the other, and there are all kinds of joint work between the two denominations from the shared global mission board down to local congregations who are affiliated with both. I have served both UCC and DOC churches as minister. I share all this denominational background, just so you’ll have an idea of where I’m coming from when I share a resource from the UCC, in case you don’t already know about its relationship with the DOC.
One UCC resource I would recommend to you is its daily email devotional, which you can subscribe to via ucc.org. I regularly make use of stories or ideas in my sermons or writings that come from the daily devotionals. Like any such series, some days I’ll read it and think “meh” and other days I’ll feel like God inspired the author to write it just for me. My responses to it have more to do than my particular spiritual situation on a given day than the quality of a particular devotional. I appreciate the UCC devotional, because it comes from a theological and social justice perspective that is unfortunately rare in American Christianity. I especially appreciate reading the wisdom of female, non-white and LGBTQ voices included in the emails. Unfortunately, I’m not aware of a similar daily email devotional offered by the DOC, although I do read similar ones by particular DOC ministers and Chalice Press, the DOC publisher, always offers quality devotions in book form.
As I mentioned, I hang on to UCC email devotionals that speak to me. There is one from back in 2014 that I feel is a good word for Park Hill Christian Church. Reebee Girash, a UCC minister in Massachusetts, wrote about her attempt to be a Good Samaritan in her church’s community. She had the idea for the children’s Sunday School to collect during November the ingredients for making pumpkin pies. They would give them to the church’s food pantry, so its clients could bake the pies in times for Thanksgiving. Thankfully, she asked the director of the food pantry about the idea first. The director informed her that most of the pantry’s clients didn’t have ovens.
Girash realized she had made assumptions about the people served by the pantry and that she didn’t really know what their needs were. The director said one of the biggest unmet needs their clients reported were basic first aid items. So, the children of the church collected items for first aid kits made up of band aids, bacitracin, soap and washcloths.
The reason I thought this particular story was a good word for Park Hill is its simple but profound lesson. Girash confesses that she made assumptions about the needs of people in her church’s community, and she writes, “When I paused to listen, I heard an unexpected story.” I think PHCC—and most other churches too—need to practice doing some intentional listening to their communities.
All of us want to be the Good Samaritan. We want to be the good neighbor Jesus describes who helps the stranger left beaten and robbed on the side of the road. Yet, I can’t tell you the number of times I have been guilty of making assumptions about people in the communities of churches I’ve served without ever really making an effort to listen to those people. I’ve worked with church leaders to plan programs that nobody really wanted or needed (sadly this often included programs for people inside the church too). When I have made an effort to get to know people near the churches I’ve served and to listen to their needs, I’ve often found unexpected stories.
When I’ve seen churches do a good job listening to their neighbors, they have done some interesting things. They have offered workshops on spirituality, mindfulness and health to people who say they are uninterested in “organized religion.” They have provided meals in their social halls for community groups that work with low-income single parents lacking support systems. They have turned their property into a Halloween carnival for kids who live in areas where it is unsafe to trick-or-treat. When churches make an effort to listen, they discover opportunities for ministry they would have never tried if they were left to their own ideas.
Make an effort to listen to people in your particular part of PHCC’s community. What needs do you hear people expressing?
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
“Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be
opened for you.
--Matthew 7:7 NRSV
I am in the business of prayer. In every setting where others know I am a minister, I am asked to pray. I lead corporate prayer in worship. I pray with people whom I meet with and visit. I offer up prayers for others throughout my day. One might think I know more about prayer than I do, since I’m doing it all the time. Yet, when it comes to praying, I feel like a tightrope walker without a net. I know so little of how it works, if it works, when it works and why it doesn’t work or at least seems not to work. So much about it is a mystery to me.
As with a lot of language about God, it is easier for me to say what I believe it is not than it is for me to say what I believe prayer actually is or does. For example, I do not believe prayer is a mechanical transaction where we say the magic words and then what we pray for happens. Prayer is not a purchase via Amazon Prime where the 1-click-purchase button makes a product in a vast warehouse begin its journey to my door step within two days and my credit card is automatically charged. Jeff Bezos may control much of our economy, but he hasn’t figured out how to make prayers act like monthly refills of laundry detergent.
I also don’t believe that prayer is only a process of changing the one who prays, although I know plenty who do. No doubt, praying does change the one who prays. It can operate much in the same way as meditation bringing centering, mindfulness and inner peace. The act of praying brings intention to changing one’s own behavior for the better, such as achieving more patience, less anxiety and more awareness of others. In some ways, measuring a change in one’s self is the easiest way to discern that prayer works. I don’t believe, however, that prayer is simply a closed circuit within a person. If prayer affects nothing outside of oneself, it seems like something else is going on, however good it may be.
I don’t believe God is like a genie who exists to grant our wishes. I suppose God could have a purpose for us finding a parking spot close to a store or an interest in us making it through an intersection before a light changes, but in general, I would assume God has bigger concerns elsewhere in the universe. And no, as much as Patrick Mahomes’ passing ability seems like a supernatural occurrence every time he connects with Hill or Kelce, I don’t think God is going to fix it so the Chiefs automatically win a second Super Bowl.
I don’t believe God controls everything making prayer unnecessary. I do believe that God is always at work in our world, in ways we often fail to recognize, but there’s a whole lot of awful stuff happening in this world that I don’t want to lay at God’s feet. If God causes pandemics, school shootings and cancer diagnoses and God could have prevented them but just willy-nilly chose not to do so, then God is amoral if not immoral and therefore unworthy of love and worship. God may allow awful things to happen, but my faith in God being first and foremost a loving God prevents me from believing God allows terrible things to occur without some other worse thing making the terrible things we see a necessity. Call it free will or what you like, but I am still placing my bets that God allows the chaos still present in this world to exist because of a higher purpose unknown to us.
It's this last point, which involves some pretty deep stuff, such as the nature of who God is and questions of why God allows undeserved suffering, that hits at the heart of the question of whether or not prayer works. In my experience, one never arrives at truly satisfactory answers to these questions but at best one can only find answers one can live with. When one has discarded all the bad solutions for the question of why God seems to act sometimes and not others, the few solutions left are enough to get by on or they are not. Most days the answers I’ve come up with are enough for me, but truth be told some days are so bad these answers are not enough. I’m always mistrustful of people who think they have such deep mysteries, like the ones surrounding prayer, figured out.
A big reason I believe prayer does work is because I accept that there are more variables in the mix than just my prayers and God. There is a whole planet of people acting with free will, making good and bad choices, and the consequences of those choices may linger for generations to come. Also, we exist in a present moment affected by the choices of people who lived generations, if not centuries and millennia, before we even drew our first breaths. If human free will is real, then God has to work within and without a whole lot more human actions than just my single prayer.
I just read an essay on prayer that addresses this point by the excellent scholar of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible Terrence Fretheim, who died last year. Fretheim notes occasions in scripture where human prayers seem to change God’s mind—a startling thought, if such human language can apply to the creator of the universe. He also offers a great example of how our prayers are one part of a massive matrix of human activity:
An analogy may be suggested: human sinfulness has occasioned numerous instances of the
misuse of the environment. Some of that misuse (e.g., pesticides) has caused cancer in human
beings and devastated animal populations. Human beings may be forgiven by God for their
sin, but the effects of their sinfulness will continue to wreak havoc beyond the act of
forgiveness. We confess that in response to prayer God is at work in these effects, struggling
to bring about positive results in and through human (and other) agents. It is not a question
as to whether God wills good in the situation. The issue is God’s relational commitments that
may entail self-limiting ways of responding to evil and its effects in the world. Anti-God
factors may be powerfully present and shape the future in negative ways, even for God.
I have many Christian friends for whom talk of God’s “self-limiting ways” amounts to blasphemy. They would argue that since God is omnipotent, God Can do anything at any time. I wouldn’t disagree with that point in theory, but I would assert, along with Fretheim, that God has for whatever reason given human beings freedom and freedom is often misused. God works in response to our less than good choices and actions at a level of complexity that boggles the mind considering all the choices and actions of all the people who live now and have ever lived before.
If anything, the idea of God working in response to and in the midst of the multitude of human actions and choices means that your and my prayers matter greatly. The more we connect with God, align ourselves with God’s purposes and make space for God to work through us and our prayers the less resistance there is to God’s ongoing works of love and goodness. We can never know for sure or by how much, but our prayers for ourselves, for others and for our world may be just the wiggle room God needs to work in a given situation or life. I have often heard the metaphor of a small crack of light shining into a dark room enabling a person to see as a description of God’s love and light shining into a painful situation. Our prayers may just be the small crack for God’s light to shine through.
Grace and Peace,
If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.
Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.
--Isaiah 58:9-12 NRSV
Some notable clergy from our denomination, The Christian Church, Disciples of Christ, participated in the recent Inauguration Prayer Service (held virtually) on Inauguration Day: Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II and Rev. Dr. Cynthia L. Hale.
This isn’t the first Inaugural Prayer Service to include Disciples ministers. In the 2009 service, then General Minister and President of the denomination, Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins gave the homily, and she also participated in the 2013 service. In 2009, 2013 and this year, Rev. Dr Cynthia L. Hale, pastor of Ray of Hope Christian Church in Decatur, GA participated in the services. Also, Rev. Dr. Serene Jones, President of Union Theological Seminary, NY participated in the 2013 service.
In this year’s service, Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II gave the homily, and if you haven’t done so, I encourage you to pause your day and either read it or watch it.
Here is a link to a video of the service. The homily begins about the 44 minute mark, although the whole service is beautiful and worth watching: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fNHIr4dXFbA
Here is a link to the written version of the homily: https://time.com/5931343/william-barber-inaugural-prayer-service-sermon/
The homily is a powerful statement about God’s concern for the poorest in our society and every society. Barber takes as his focus scripture verses from Isaiah 58 (some of the verses I included above).
If you are unfamiliar with Barber, I encourage you to get to know him. He is one of the founders of The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call to Moral Revival. The group takes its name from the final work of Martin Luther King Jr. which sought to unite low-income white, black and brown people to work for economic justice. This campaign was left unfinished due to the King’s assassination. You can find out more at poorpeoplescampaign.org. I especially encourage you to read the biblical justification for their important work.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
“Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father,
will be with us in truth and love.
2 John 1:3
The power of Grace in our lives was first demonstrated through the power of love. God’s love for us.
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for
The power of God’s love is always available to each of us. And the power of his Grace comes to us when we put on the clothing of Jesus Christ. As we become more Christ like in our walk in this world love becomes more powerful and natural in us. As that love grows so does our capacity for grace. When we share that power more freely and completely with everyone we meet, we become true disciples of Jesus. In his book The Power of God’s Grace, Gary Schulz says:
“When we walk in love, we are walking in the power of God; we are filled with the fullness of
Being filled with this “fullness” means that we too are filled with the same grace that filled Jesus. This grace is for everyone who walks in the way of Christ. Like all things with God, though, it is our choice whether we live into this grace.
“If we choose to live by this truth and obediently love as he commanded us, we will continue
in his grace, and his grace will abound in power through us. Otherwise, his grace will lay
dormant within us and all will miss the glory of God.” Gary Schulz, The Power of God’s Grace.
By living into God’s grace, we spread that grace to others. Just as the power of love showers others with the desire to act in love; the power of grace lived out in our lives becomes powerful for others.
Like a fire that spreads from a spark the power of God’s grace grows within us and spreads throughout the church, then moves outside of the church and touches everybody we encounter.
As we become more Christ like our walk becomes one of power that is fueled by the Spirit. For we do nothing in our own power, but through the Spirit. God’s grace covers us in all our weakness. It is through his power that grace is activated and becomes in us a powerful force that spreads throughout the world.
Lean now into the power of grace granted us through the person of Jesus Christ. Let the Spirit move within your hearts building the powerful love that this broken world needs. And in this way God’s powerful grace will flood the world with healing and peace.
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But
I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may
be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the
good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.
--Matthew 5:42-44 NRSV
In the Peeples’ household, my wife and I have taught our sons from a young age to be a good sport when they lose a game. After board games, tossing bean bags in cornhole games and countless hours of video games, we have insisted our sons shake hands. The winner must tell the loser “good game” and the loser must tell the winner “congratulations.” In that simple exchange, our hope is that these two brothers might remember there are things greater at stake than who won or lost a game—their own integrity and their relationship.
I can remember a decade ago when then KC Chiefs head coach Todd Haley refused to shake the hand of then Denver Broncos coach Josh McDaniels after the Broncos utterly destroyed the Chiefs by a score of 49-29. My sons who were 7 and 4 at the time pointed at the screen and were horrified an adult—coach of their favorite team no less—refused to shake hands as they had been taught to do. Haley was not known for his self-control, and in his defense it was Josh McDaniels who was on staff with the Patriots before and after this event. Haley made a general apology to the media the next day and said if he had it to do over, he would shake McDaniels’ hand. I have no idea if he ever apologized to McDaniels in person. It was a teaching moment for my sons that they still remember. How one reacts when you lose reveals one’s character.
I have been thinking about what it means to be a good loser this week as I have watched the events surrounding the inauguration of a new president. As has been well-documented by now, President Trump did not stay for the inauguration of now President Biden, choosing instead to fly to Florida the morning of Inauguration Day. It should be noted that Trump is in both good and bad company. Three other presidents chose not to attend the inauguration of the men who beat them in what were bitter elections. He is joined by the admirable presidents John Adams, who refused to attend the inauguration of Thomas Jefferson, and John Quincy Adams, who refused to attend the inauguration of Andrew Jackson, and the not-so-admirable Andrew Johnson, who refused to attend the inauguration of Ulysses S. Grant. Yet, most U.S. presidents have chosen to attend the inaugurations of successors, even presidents who only served one term and had to watch the person to whom they lost the election take the oath of office. The reason this is important is that something greater than a single election is at stake—the symbolism of a peaceful transfer of power in our republic, a thing not to be taken for granted of which we were reminded by the insurrectionist riot that took place two weeks ago.
To his credit, Trump apparently did continue a tradition begun by Ronald Reagan and continued in recent decades by succeeding presidents—leaving a personal letter for the incoming president on the Oval Office desk. Trump’s letter to Biden hasn’t been made public yet, but previous letters have been made known. My favorite one is the letter George H. W. Bush left for the man who defeated him in the 1992 election, Bill Clinton. In that letter, the senior President Bush wrote, “You will be our President when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well. Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.” What a classy thing to write! After a bitter election, the defeated president was able to remember that there was something greater at stake—the success of our nation, the fate of the United States and the nation’s influence throughout the world. He understood the moment was about far more than himself.
There is a lot more I could write about my own opinions about President Trump and the policies of his administration, just as I could write about my criticisms of particular policies and actions of each of the preceding presidents in my lifetime, but I’m particularly thinking about what this moment says to me and you. When you and I lose, how do we respond? Maybe we aren’t a defeated president, but many of us know what it is to lose out on a promotion, a job we were going for, a position in a volunteer organization we hoped to hold like the PTA or some other civic group or even in a game of golf or pick up basketball. How we act when we lose says a lot about our character.
Do we allow the stakes of the moment to become the exaggerated stakes of life and death? Do we allow our own feelings of low self-worth to spew out of us onto the other by demonizing them and belittling their accomplishments? Do we let jealousy, envy and covetousness twist our insides until we seek to undermine the one whom we lost out to? In short, do we forget the basic truth that each person involved—loser and winner—is a person created by God and therefore a person of worth? Do we forget there is more at stake than the loss itself—the success of an organization or place of business, the sustainability of relationships and the state of our own souls?
Our culture does not reward losers. A quick internet search for quotations about losers will turn up all kind of responses from Vince Lombardi, Knut Rockne, Paul Newman and every other kind of star in sports, business and entertainment declaring there is no such thing as a good loser. Yet, from a certain point of view, Jesus Christ was a loser. During his ministry, he faced constant opposition, was continually misunderstood, his closest followers ended up abandoning him, and he was killed with common criminals. Sure, we know how the story ends with the resurrection and exaltation of Christ, but by everyday earthly standards Christ first a loser.
As Christians, we trust that the end of our stories is also known. Whatever failures and losses we face in this life do not have the last word on our value or on the fulfillment of God’s purposes for each of us and for all of creation. This truth is why Jesus taught us to love our enemies—not just our moral enemies or enemies who seek to do us harm, but also the people we view as enemies because they won something that we wished to win. There are greater things at stake than the accomplishments of this life, than our trophies, awards, promotions and elections. Our relationships, the common good of all people, and the character of our very souls all matter much more to God than our defeats.
Muhammad Ali wasn’t a Christian, but I believe he understood this truth. He is quoted as saying after the first time he lost a bout, “I never thought of losing, but now that it's happened, the only thing is to do it right. That's my obligation to all the people who believe in me. We all have to take defeats in life.” May we live out the words of Jesus and the words of Muhammed Ali, for the sake of ourselves and all the people who believe in us, because no less than the God of all creation also believes in you and me.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
During a conversation I recently had with a minister friend of mine whom I’ve known since seminary days, we each reflected on the congregations we have served. Each of us remarked about the strengths and weaknesses of this congregation or that one. Some had great theology, others were involved in exciting ministries, but each of us knew what it was to be in a church that looked great on paper but had an unhealthy, even toxic, culture. We both agreed that rather than a church with a rich history, strong theological pronouncements and vibrant ministries in the community, we would rather have a kind church. A church can do a lot of things right while still getting the most basic things wrong. I’d rather be in a church where people were kind, even if it was struggling, than a church that by all outward appearances was doing great but didn’t practice kindness.
Kindness seems so basic. We are taught to be kind when we are young. It is a building block of human social interaction. Yet, in adulthood, we are not rewarded for kindness. Instead, we are often rewarded for aggression, the pursuit of profit above all else, and the beating of competitors by any means. We are rewarded for climbing our particular social ladder, usually at the expense of others. Kindness doesn’t result in awards or social recognition. In fact, practicing kindness may ensure one doesn’t achieve the self-centered goals others prize.
It seems like common sense that church people would be kind people, but that has not been my experience. Church people are still people, and when people spend all week long engaged in behavior that often runs contrary to kindness, it’s ridiculous to expect them to show up at church and act in a different way. Church board meetings can become mirror images of corporate board meetings and business sales meetings. Church events can resemble social events which are Darwinian in their participants’ pursuit of social status. Sometimes at church, kindness is a matter of empty words alone.
In my career, I’ve had the experience of serving a church that was really good at welcoming new people, but those new people rarely stuck around long. I always wondered why we were so bad at keeping the people we attracted. I’d assume it had to do with cultural trends that don’t value commitment, people coming who had issues which made being a part of a community difficult, and competition from larger churches with deeper pockets. As I look back on that experience with a little distance, I have begun to think that the real problem was that the church just wasn’t very good about being kind to one another, much less to new people. New folks who showed up would feel initially welcomed, but as they tried to get involved, to build relationships and to share their talents, I believe they met resistance. There was an insider clique that sustained itself like the “cool table” in a middle school lunchroom.
In my newsletter articles, emails and sermons, I have tried to highlight the assets of Park Hill Christian Church. I believe one of its assets is the kindness of its people. Granted, I’ve only known this church during the COVID pandemic, and things are far from normal, so maybe there’s a mean streak I haven’t encountered yet, but I have been impressed with your kindness towards one another. I know that I haven’t been here long and there is such a thing as a honeymoon period, but I’ve appreciated going to board meetings and executive committee meetings without afterward feeling like I needed to seek counseling for PTSD. I’ve taken note of members who have taken it upon themselves to reach out to other members who have been isolated during the pandemic. I’ve seen your generosity in giving to community groups that meet human needs. I’ve watched your conversations over Zoom and occasionally in person while social distancing. I have seen that staff are appreciated rather than being treated like “the help.” There are lot of small ways I have seen the kindnesses of PHCC.
Every congregation has its own culture. Each church has a way of being which results from its particular history and the amalgam of interactions between the people who make it up. I’ve learned that despite efforts to teach church folks to be kind, it seems like congregations either are or are not kind, no matter what is taught. It’s a strange mystery to me how people who may act kind as individuals can take part in a group, especially a church, that cumulatively results in unkindness, but myriad examples of just this dynamic exist. I know PHCC is not perfect. It’s made up of human beings who have broken places inside of them after all. I’m aware of some of the past fights and controversies in the life of the church. Yet, at least in the parts of PHCC I have seen, kindness is a part of this church’s culture and one of its assets.
I am only the Interim Minister after all, so maybe I’m off base here. Perhaps, I don’t know “the real” PHCC. If so, I’d love to hear from you how your experience of the church has been different. I’d also love to hear if you think my impression of the church’s kindness is correct.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees,
and no one shall make them afraid;
for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken
--Micah 4:4 NRSV
For me, one of the most moving parts of inauguration ceremonies today came when 22 year-old poet Amanda Gorman read her poem “The Hill We Climb.” She eloquently mixed scripture (Michah 4;4), American history and imagery reminiscent of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. She addressed the recent violence and turmoil but offered hope as we work for a brighter future. I urge you to watch her recite this powerful poem multiple times to take in her words. If you watched it live, watch it again.
Here is a link to a video of her recitation:
Here are some lines from the poem I loved as best as I could transcribe them:
We have learned that quiet isn’t always peace
And the norms and notions of what “just is”
Isn’t always justice . . .
We are not striving to form a union that is perfect
We are trying to forge a union with purpose
To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man
And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us but what stands before us
We close the divide because we know to put our future first we must put our differences aside
We lay down our arms
So we can reach out our arms towards one another
We seek harm to none
And harmony for all . . .
Even as we grieved we grew
That even as we hurt we hoped
Even as we tired we tried
That we will forever be tied together
Not because we will forever again know defeat
But because we will never again sow division
Scripture tells us to envision
That everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree
And noone shall make them afraid
If we are to live up to our own time,
Then victory won’t lie in the blade
But in all the bridges we’ve made
That is the promised glade
The hill we’ll climb
If only we dare
Because being American is more than a pride we inherit
It’s the past we step into and how we repair it . . .
We will not be interrupted or turned around by intimidation
Because we know our inaction or inertia
Will be the inheritance of the next generation
And our blunders become their burdens . . .
For there is always light
If only we’re brave enough to see it
If only we’re brave enough to be it
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your
thinking be adults.
--1 Corinthians 14:20 NIV
In high school I was in the play Inherit the Wind. Unfortunately, I did not have the part of the Matthew Harrison Brady or Henry Drummond, the two legal heavyweights debating the legality of teaching evolution. My role was a combination of three different roles: hot dog vendor, Eskimo Pie vendor and a juror. The juror had no lines, and the hot dog vendor and Eskimo Pie vendor had only one line each. As I sat through hours of play practice waiting for my few lines, I practically memorized the arguments for and against the validity of Darwin’s theory of evolution. The play was based on the real life so called “Scopes Monkey Trial” which happened in 1925 in Dayton, TN. The simplistic religious beliefs of the town minister in the play were easy to poke holes in, and I assumed such beliefs were confined to an earlier age. I didn’t realize back in high school that the debates between science and Christian fundamentalism in the early 20th century would resurface later in my life.
I grew up as a Southern Baptist, but my minister father and my schoolteacher mother valued education. I was taught by them to try and read the Bible with an eye towards its historical context which was different than our own. They also taught to be suspicious of Christians who refused to accept modern science. I never felt much of a personal conflict in regards to balancing the claims of science and the claims of faith. The conflict between science and faith never seemed like an either/or proposition to me.
As I went to college, seminary and graduate school, I learned there were deep streams within Christianity of valuing reason and the best science of a particular age. You wouldn’t know it from the arguments of the most visible purveyors of the faith in our culture. Much of the animosity towards science in Christianity came after the Enlightenment and the rise of modern scientific study. Fundamentalisms of every religion developed as an antagonistic response to science and modernism. Christian fundamentalism flared up brightly in the early 20th century, such as in the “Scopes Monkey Trial,” but after public debacles that hurt their cause more than it helped, fundamentalism eschewed the public eye. With the rise of the Religious Right at the end of the 1970’s, old fights were new again, as Christian fundamentalists sought control of political offices to reinstate prayer in schools, ban the teaching of evolution and more activities hostile to science. These critics of modern science and the use of reason seemed ignorant of Christian tradition valuing both.
Evangelical and fundamentalist Christians have always been better at using the media than their more open-minded counterparts. With the rise of the internet, it seems Christian ignorance has spread ever wider. In many circles today, to be Christian equals rejecting science, reason and critical inquiry—at least all kinds that do not support its own worldview. Some of us may scoff at the Creation Museum in Kentucky with its life size Noah’s ark (complete with cargo holds to contain dinosaurs!) but for many American Christians this is an acceptable view of history.
If Christianity is going to survive, it must reject the false dichotomy between faith and science. I appreciate the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ explanation of how the two are really pursuing different things. To put faith and science in opposition to one another is to misunderstand both. Sacks writes, “Science takes things apart to see how they work. Religion puts things together to see what they mean.” Similarly, in an interview, Adam Gopnik shares that even Darwin understood this difference. Gopnik says, “You can be completely committed to a rational, if you like, material explanation of existence, of why — how we got here, without being committed to a reductive account of our own experience. You can believe that there’s a completely rational account of how we got here but that you can never fully rationalize what we feel here.” One of the big reasons younger generations of Americans are rejecting organized religion is because they are asked to choose between a science-less religion and a religion-less science. If those are the only two choices, the latter seems like a more honest course of action. Christians who are faithful and who value science must be more visible and more vocal if Christianity is to survive.
In navigating the contours of my own faith and the use of reason and science, I have always appreciated the simple elegance of John Wesley’s thoughts on the matter. He promoted theological reflection via scripture, faith tradition, reason and experience, what is called “Wesley’s Quadrilateral.” In his Sermon #70, which is titled “The Case of Reason Impartially Considered,” Wesley takes on those who value reason too little and those who value reason too much. (He takes as his scripture 1 Corinthians 14:20 which is printed above.) It’s a nice argument that explains the important things reason can do for us and the important things reason cannot do for us. He finds a middle way between an ignorant faith on one hand and a reductionistic non-faith on the other. When it comes to Christians who don’t value reason, Wesley has the following words to say:
When therefore you despise or depreciate reason, you must not imagine you are doing God
service: Least of all, are you promoting the cause of God when you are endeavouring to
exclude reason out of religion. Unless you wilfully shut your eyes, you cannot but see of what
service it is both in laying the foundation of true religion, under the guidance of the Spirit of
God, and in raising the superstructure. You see it directs us in every point both of faith and
practice: It guides us with regard to every branch both of inward and outward holiness.
In other words, a healthy Christian faith is one that employs reason. Of course, there are things in a Christian’s experience and their beliefs which are outside the bounds of what science can ascertain, such as eternal life, divine revelation, etc., but a responsible faith uses the mind along with the heart. I’ve often heard more open-minded churches say, “Here at our church, you don’t have to check your brain at the door.” That is reassuring to hear, but it’s a wonder any Christian ever thought such a step was necessary.
Today when denial of science literally has lethal consequences—e.g. refusal to believe in the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines—we need Christians who will set aside internet conspiracy theories and science nightmares found in sensational movies and TV shows. We need Christians who will trust the advances of science while realizing that science cannot possess all the knowledge of what makes life worth living. If people of faith refuse to trust the advances of science, then the consequences will be not only fatal for Christianity but also for the lives of people like you and me.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
“And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ
Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace,
expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through
faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can
boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God
prepared in advance for us to do.”
Ephesians 2:6 – 10
What is Grace? That is a question we will be looking at over the next few weeks. In his book, The Power of God’s Grace, Gary Schulz describes Grace this way:
“Grace comes from the heart of God and has its greatest benefit on the heart of man.
Grace is filled with love and compassion, but it also [is] filled with power and the will of
The great joy for us is that the desire of God’s heart is for us to benefit from knowing him. Our God, in his awesome power, cares deeply for his creation. Schulz goes on to say:
“It is about our relationship with God. Grace is a flow of power of God through his
people to accomplish his will among us. It is about his life manifesting in and among
Clearly, God wants more than just worship or praise from his people. He deeply desires a relationship with us. Grace is about God moving through us in a real and powerful way. It is more than forgiveness or mercy; it is the engine of redemption played out through our lives. Its power brings change in our hearts as we draw closer to God. It is the gift of knowing that our God is interested in our every moment of being.
Schulz also notes:
“Grace is a teacher. Our heavenly Father teaches us how to live according to his
righteous ways. This is a critical aspect of his grace.”
We are not left alone to figure out what God’s will is nor are we left alone to struggle with the path of righteousness. Christ has given us the Holy Spirit to guide our steps. It is through relationship and communion with Christ and the Father that the Spirit grows within us. Grace is the working of the Spirit upon us to prepare us to be a light to the world.
“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to
say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and
godly lives in this present age, ….”
Titus 2:11 – 12
It is this “teaching” of Grace that allows us to grow in righteousness in a broken and troubled world. It is the moving of the Spirit within us that helps us to become more Christlike in our daily living. It is the gift, from the Father, that refines us and burnishes the rough edges of our lives to make us true tools for the building of his Kingdom here on earth.
But we must be careful. From the very beginning there have been those who would twist God’s gift of grace into something it is not. Grace is not an excuse to live unrepentant lives. It is not a cover for continuing to live in disobedience to God.
In the garden, the serpent used half-truths to convince Eve to disobey God and eat of the fruit. We are faced daily with this sort of temptation. Leaders, both religious and public feed us with these half-truths to keep us from really listening to God. We must remember it is a personal relationship with Christ and the Father which keeps us connected to the Spirit.
“Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good,
reject every kind of evil.”
I Thessalonians 5:20 – 22
Remember, relationship is God’s heart desire. And when we stay in relationship with him, through Christ the Son we are filled with the Spirit of Truth. Schulz says:
“Jesus came to deliver us from sin for eternity so that we would live for eternity.”
Grace is Spirit driven, through Christ who gives us the strength and wisdom to know righteousness. We do not become perfect in this world, but through the teaching of Grace, we learn to build our relationship with God and the path of righteousness becomes clearer.