Friday, July 17, 2015

It’s Right There! Quick! Grab it!

So what is this gospel we say is so important?
We have this incredible gospel that we are called to proclaim to the world.  It is the greatest good news ever!  We have it, and we need to proclaim it.   The question for us is this: "How are we to speak of this news so the world will receive it?” 

Sometimes, it seems like people aren’t listening.   But we really are describing the best good news there could be.  So why don’t people get it?  Are we saying that people don’t care? 

Maybe.  Sometimes, though, it seems like we are afraid to really speak out—to really proclaim it like something that really matters.  We preach sermons to the faithful in our sanctuaries on Sunday all right, but when that approach has little impact in the world we generally don’t change our tactics.  We are not very bold, really.  So what’s the problem? 

Is it fear?  Are we, the bearers of the greatest good news ever, too afraid to really try?

Actually, there are reasons for fear.

Persecution against Christians is up across the whole world. Yesterday, NPR reported that the persecution against Christians is so strong in Syria that Christianity itself is dying out there.  Christians have been unwilling to face the persecution, and even death, that is so prevalent there.  Those who do not have a strong faith are leaving the faith.  And Syria is only one example.  Across the world fundamentalists of other faiths (Islam to a large degree, but be sure to look for headlines about Hindus in India, too) are punishing Christians just for being Christians.  I can understand the fear faced by our brothers and sisters of the faith.

At home, religion in general is under attack, including Christianity.  Fundamentalist Christians are sometimes so interested in standing for what is holy that they forget that God is love.  Their failure to proclaim the love of God has given Christianity a bad name, insinuating that we serve a hating vengeful God, rather than the God proclaimed in the Scriptures.  The Scriptures forthrightly tell us that God is love (1 John 4:8).  Those of us, who know God’s love and wish to stand out against those fundamentalists, find it very difficult.  We tend to be painted with the same brush.  Polls show that many unchurched people believe that Christians are full of judgment and teach judgmentalism and hate, and they even think that we believe in a vengeful God, full of wrath.  It is downright disheartening.

In fact it is so disheartening that many are leaving the church.  Many are leaving because they do not wish to be associated with a group that has the reputation of trading love for judgment and hate.  Others are leaving because their churches, not wanting to be hateful or judgmental, have toned down their proclamation of the gospel.  It is almost like the agents of Love—Who is God—have forgotten what is so important about the gospel of Jesus Christ that we would bother to proclaim it at all.

Is that what we are afraid of?  Maybe.

These people who are leaving our North American churches and bad-mouthing the ones, who remain are not some vague “other people” we have never heard of.  They are our friends, and all too often, they are our family.  It hurts when they leave.  And it hurts when they tell us how bad Christians are, because we are those Christians they have known.  When they bad-mouth “those Christians,” we are the ones feeling the sting of their arrows.  It hurts, and we don’t want to attack them back, because we really do wish to stand for the incredible, forgiving and healing love that is possible in the world.  (Indeed, this is one of the way we experience God in the world.) Even so, small human creatures that we are, it is tempting for some of us to just lick our wounds and go hide.  For others it is tempting to go on the attack and tell the world how terrible it is for hurting us and for turning their back on God.

But we can’t. We actually have the greatest good news ever, and it comes to us from God, Who is Love! 

The time has come for us to take Jesus at his word.  Remember that Jesus, time after time, greeted his disciples with these words: “Do not be afraid.”  We need to take courage and proclaim Jesus’ gospel without fear, because the gospel is that important and it is that powerful.  Just because we have failed to communicate it, or have failed to grasp it enough to live it very well in the past, doesn’t matter.  Right now it is time to stand up and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.

So what is this gospel that we say is so important?

The Gospel of Mark gives so many accounts of Jesus’ teachings and healings, and of his saving work on the cross.  But that same gospel begins with this one verse as a thumbnail summary of Jesus’ message.  Listen to Mark 1:15:

The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe
in the good news.”

First, Jesus proclaims it as good news. 
“The time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God has come near.”  Actually, what in the original language it is more graphic than English; what it really says is “The Kingdom of God is at hand,” which was meant to convey that the Kingdom of God is so close—so very close you can just grab it with your hand.  The time has come.  The Kingdom of God is right there, right now.  Grab it!  Quick!

The Kingdom of God is about life the way God desires it to be.  First and foremost, it means that we will be restored in our relationship with Love, who is God, who is also the Creator and also the One who empowers us and the true Lover of our soul.  God is not happy with all that is out of whack in us, and neither should we be.  But God is the true Lover of our Soul.  And that is reason enough for you, also to be a true lover of your soul.  The Kingdom of God is near.  Grab it!  Quick!

I think this is where we go wrong so often in our Christian witness.  When I listen to Christians, they often do not start with the good news.  Often they are concerned about something that they think is wrong,  so they naturally want to start by convicting people of their sin.  What it sounds like, right our wrong, is that they want to start by judging; and let’s face it, that just is not acceptable. “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.”  That’s what Jesus tells us (Mat. 7:1).

No God, the true Lover of our soul, starts by expressing love for us.  When Jesus speaks it, he starts by pointing us to the Kingdom, and the Kingdom is about all that makes life come alive—your life, my life, all of life! It’s about all that your soul would tell you it truly wants if it could speak to you.  It is about living in right relationships with God, with our human community, and within the whole dynamic community of God’s beloved creation. 

When we bear witness to the gospel, let’s start there.  Jesus did.  We should, too.  It is only in the light of this love that the rest of it makes sense.  God came in Jesus Christ to join with us, in the flesh.  I almost always say that God does not want us to miss the depth of God’s love for us.  Jesus shares even our DNA, because humans absolutely would doubt the depth of God’s desire to be with us if he came in any other way.  God wants communion with us and, incidentally, with all creation.

What about repentance?
It is in this light this love that Jesus then calls us to repent.  Repent, Jesus says—which means change directions.  The way you are going is not working.  It is not leading to the life that you long for down deep.  It is not leading to the fruits of the Spirit.  Galatians 5:22-23 describes the fruits of the Spirit this way:

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity,
faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control

And you can have these.  God has them for you and they are right there.  Quick!  Grab it!  Change course and let God lead you.  They are there for you, because God, Who loves you is ready to let you have them if you turn the corner and turn to God.

And it is not just about you.  Repent, because the way you are going is not leading to the kind of communities that glorify God.  God wants communities that bring justice and peace and security to the people.  Living in right relationship with God points us back to living in a way that lets all God’s people thrive.  And let’s face it individuals do not live well if they are not part of a living, caring community.  We need one another, and when our selfishness, or our judgmental attitudes, or our unwillingness to forgive block our ability to build community life together, everyone suffers. 

Indeed, our elders have always taught us that it even goes beyond our human communities.  We have to honor the whole web of life in creation if we are to live well.  Otherwise, God’s creation will either overwhelm us, or turn its back on us.  It won’t come as a catastrophic flood again—although that did happen once.  But check out Joel and Jonah, and many other places in the bible.  Indeed, Job 12:7-8 says this:

But ask the animals, and they will teach you;
    the birds of the air, and they will tell you;
ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you;
    and the fish of the sea will declare to you.

God’s salvation is about being restored to God, and learning each day to live more and more in right relationships with everything.

True Repentance Confronts the Stubbornness of Our Own Heart
It is not the unclean spirits—it is not the demons that scare me when it comes to repentance.  Jesus is the power of God in the universe.  Demons and spirits have to go when commanded.  The disciples went out and cast out many spirits.

The hard part is our stubbornness of heart.  The hard part is our unwillingness to believe that the life Jesus has for us is good life, the true life that we, and that all creation longs for.  I am telling you right now that the Kingdom of God is right there…right there!  Grab it!  Quick!

When we don’t, we need to ask ourselves this:  what am I allowing to separate me from what God wants? Repentance is about change.  What needs to change?  What sacred cow in my life needs to be cast out?

This is so important.  We have become comfortable with the way things are, and we don’t want to become uncomfortable.  Sometimes we make what we are comfortable with so sacred that we would never consider changing it, and we don’t want anyone telling us we should question it.  But really…what are he things that separate us from God?  And what are the things that are getting in our the way of proclaiming the gospel with our whole being—with our words, and with our life, and buy taking a stand that this gospel is more important than anything—even that it is urgently important?

You see, the gospel of Jesus shows itself in changed lives.  It’s not just about saying some words.  It’s about allowing the light of Christ to help us begin showing us how to live different in the world.  We don’t learn it all at once.  The bible tells us that we must learn to be mature Christian people.  But it is about letting the light shine so we can see and learn.  The gospel of Jesus Christ shows itself in changed lives, and changed lives lead to a changed world!  It is that powerful.

But be ready: People won’t believe you when you tell them you found this gospel.

No one is good enough to proclaim this gospel and being believed right away.  Jesus couldn’t do it in his own hometown.  Paul started the church in Corinth, but they bad-mouthed him when he was away.  Both had to find a way to deal with this, and so do we.  How did Jesus and Paul handle it?

Bad mouthed by the church he started in Corinth, Paul recognized that nothing he did would be considered good enough.  So he wrote this amazingly heart-felt second letter to the Corinthians because of his love for them.  What does he say about his own inability to measure up? 

Basically, he tells them that if all they can see is weakness, then that is fine.  God has used even Paul, weak vessel though they believe he is, for the ministry of Jesus.  And this is a great sign that the power is from God, not from Paul.  Because even this weak person they believe Paul to be can proclaim the gospel. And if people find his ministry stirring the longing of their hearts, stirring them to seek real life and not just bare existence, a real desire for a change in their lives to live—then that longing clearly is from God. 

And so it is for us.  The people who have shared the gospel with us are just people.  They are not Saviors; they are not superhuman.  They are just sinners like you and me, who knew they needed salvation and found it in Jesus.

But Jesus was not accepted in his own hometown.  How did Jesus deal with that? 

Well, his disciples were from the same region, and he did not want them to experience the same roadblocks that he suffered.  So, when he sent them out, he sent them two-by-two.  The gospel needs to be shared in a way that makes it clear that you and I are not the Savior.  When it comes form two or more people, it changes the message.  And if the people really would not receive the message, then they were to go on. 

This is the reason, I am told, that the Anglicans in Canada have begun commissioning local pastors in many Canadian villages in twos or threes.  They believe this reflects what Jesus did, and it changes the dynamic so that local pastors work as teams, and are not as likely to be rejected for their individual work. 

In the end, it is people’s hunger for the gospel that makes our testimony effective.

The world hungers for the gospel.  Those folks working to build healthy communities in our villages are responding, sometimes very effectively, to the hunger for the gospel.  If we love people enough to care for them, that love is of God.  We need to know that and open ourselves so God can nurture that love.

Those folks daring to build up their churches are responding to the hunger for the gospel.  They are daring to say that Christian fellowship is important, that Christian learning and growth is important, and that God is important.  When our souls are filled with awe, and when we wish to focus our lives on what is important—and make no mistake-that is what worship is all about—it is God, Who is worthy of our worship, our awe, and the focus of our lives.

The world hungers for the gospel, and there are signs of that hunger all around—even in Anchorage.  People know that the world needs to change (to repent) or there will be real consequences. One sign I saw just last week.

I decided to go to a movie for a change of pace.  So I looked at what was playing at the nearest theater.  Do you know what was playing?
  • Mad Max: Fury Road—about people struggling to existence after the world falls apart.
  • San Andreas: about people trying to survive after the big earthquake strikes.
  • Jurassic World: when our own technology brings back the dinosaurs, who then threaten the existence of our world.
  • Terminator Genisys—where the machines we created attack the humans and threaten our very world.

Our society increasingly either fears, or hopes that the time has come for the old order to pass away and a new order to come.  There is a way forward at this very moment in our history.  There is a path that leads to fulfillment both for you personally and for the world.  That way is provided through Jesus Christ, for all who will follow it.

My question is this:  are we willing to proclaim it?  We are called, as disciples, to proclaim it.  This means we must put our faith forward by proclaiming it in our stance that this is important—even urgent.  And, we must proclaim it in our actions, building our own life as Christians, and building up our faith communities. 

All people hunger for the gospel, but more at some times than at others.  What about you?
1.     In your own life, do you hunger for the fruits of the Spirit, which are love, joy, peace,
        patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control?

2.        In your own life, do you wish for fulfillment—a meaningfulness and purpose in life?  God
did not create you for an empty life. The gospel message is meant for you. 

Hear the good news!  The Kingdom of God is right there.  Quick!  Grab it!

Change course: trust the good news of the gospel.

How does that play itself out in life?  What is this life of meaning, and of learning that I have been talking about?  We will talk more about that next time.

2 Corinthians 12:2-10

12:2 I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven--whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows.

12:3 And I know that such a person--whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows--

12:4 was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat.

12:5 On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses.

12:6 But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me,

12:7 even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated.

12:8 Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me,

12:9 but he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness." So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.

12:10 Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

Mark 6:1-13

6:1 He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him.

6:2 On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, "Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands!

6:3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him.

6:4 Then Jesus said to them, "Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house."

6:5 And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.

6:6 And he was amazed at their unbelief. Then he went about among the villages teaching.

6:7 He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.

6:8 He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts;

6:9 but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.

6:10 He said to them, "Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place.

6:11 If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them."

6:12 So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent.

6:13 They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Experiments in Ministry

I just want to share one very intriguing thought that I picked up at Big Tent, the amazing mission event held every second summer. One of the seminars I attended was talked about the power of New Ministries in the mission of the church. Here are three gold nuggets I took away from that seminar:

ONE: Most successful new ministries these days are not about planting a new church in a growing area and watching it grow. Rather they are about a handful of people movenulld by God to take on a particular ministry task for their community. The task might be to build Christian community in their neighborhood, or to address a particular need of compassion in their community-like homelessness or hunger, but it usually begins with two or three people who are passionate about this Christian ministry.

TWO: These ministries are often very different from the traditional "congregation-in-a-building" ministries of previous decades. Rather, they are experiments in new ways to do ministry. Vera White of the 1001 Worshiping Communities Office of the PCUSA has described these new ministries and the Research and Development arm of the church. Often these ministries do not start with ordained leadership, although sometimes their leaders begin studying for ordination, or recruit ordained leaders to join them later; often they do not include a building-they meet in homes, or request permission to meet in an existing church or other building; but they are passionate about their ministry being a true Christian ministry that builds up disciples of Jesus Christ for the purpose of engaging in this specific ministry. Many of these ministries only exist for a short time. Others are growing and maturing as Christian ministries. However, all are successful as Christian Research and Development, because the churches and presbyteries, and the Christian disciples they work with inevitably learn from their efforts. Success is about learning for future Christian witness.

THRnullEE: As these new ministries connect with presbyteries, they tend to inspire new efforts in the more established congregations. As church Immanuel Presbyterian Church in leaders see what others are doing, and pick up on in Anchorage is considering a what others are learning, they are inspired in their Community Garden Ministry for 2014 own efforts. The Presbytery of Pittsburgh reports that nothing has renewed their long-standing churches like the inspiration that came from the new ministries in their midst.

With this in mind, I am wondering what new efforts God is inspiring in the hearts of the faithful in Alaska? What might our presbytery endorse as experiments in mission, today?


Friday, August 16, 2013

Here Come the Millennials

It is no secret in our presbytery that the church is currently facing a huge generation gap. Our churches are increasingly filled with gray-headed worshipers and increasingly fewer from the younger generation.  Truly, we see a generation gap.

I write all of this with a great sense of irony.  It is truly ironic that the Baby-Boomers, my generation, are now largely empowered as the leaders of the institutional church.  Yet, it was our generation that coined the term generation gap back in the 60s and 70s.   We insisted on living for ideals and principles rather than simply conforming to the “establishment" as had, we believed our parents' generation.   Indeed, our generation defined ourselves in terms of movements...civil rights, women’s rights (including women’s ordination), anti-war, environmentalism --all were all major movements of our era,   We Boomers saw it as our place to stand against the status quo and to work for new movements to improve society.

Now, we are the establishment.  We always knew this day would come, but I feel somewhat amazed, anyway.

We Boomers are now the ones who are upholding the institutions of church and society, and we comprise the older generation that the younger generation is rebelling against.  I wonder if our parents are secretly amused.

The generation we are across the gap is the Millennial generation, those people born since 1980.  The Millennials are a huge group of people, with a population twice the size of the Boomer generation.  Yet, though the oldest Millennials are already in their mid-thirties, the Millennial generation has been held back by circumstance and is only now beginning to show its strength.  The longer careers of older workers, combined with the economic crash since 2008, left so many of the Millennials without jobs, without spending power, deep in debt for studies that did not lead to jobs, and frustrated as society (read Boomers) continue to treat them as "kids."  Yet, the time has finally come when Millennials have begun to come into their own.

One of the defining characteristics of this generation is that they are digitally savvy.  Indeed, for many, "Digital" seems to be their native language, which really does make them, and their world, different from that of older generations.
  • They  form community (friendships, dates, social causes) as readily through social media as in person.  
  • The breadth of their online contacts allows them to network with with a much wider diversity of folk than their elders, and they are better skilled at networking than their elders, too.
  •  As a result, they are looking at a wider range of alternatives to help the world than their elders.  After all, the more voices that network together, the more ideas come available for exploration, and the more creative brains become available to collaborate together.
  • At the same time, the Millennials are also much more opportunistic than their elders—meaning they are ready to jump at some of these new opportunities as soon as they find them. 
The Millennials have much to offer in God’s service of renewing society and church.  It is time for the older generation to celebrate some of the amazing potential that God is raising up among us.

As a baby boomer, myself, I find both great joy and some (normal I think) trepidation in watching the up-and-coming younger generation.  I find their idealism rejuvenating.  

The joy comes from the vibrant ideals the Millennials are capable of pursuing.  They see the huge crises (environmental, financial, energy and political) looming over society, but also see the potential for a different future for he world.  Many boomers lost their zeal such causes in the 80s and 90s, but listening to the Millennials often reawakens those old desires.  If we Boomers can cease worrying about change and embrace it, we could become great allies with the Millenials.

The trepidation comes from a fear that the two generations will fail to see this common ground and form alliances together.  It would be easy for the Boomers to remain afraid of change and fail to reconnect with the idealism that defines them at their deepest level.  It would also be easy for the Millennials to witness the trouble the world is in and fail to realize that the Boomers really do have insights into this complex world that could save a lot of trouble as we build a new future.  Basically, the trepidation I feel has to do with the human tendency not to build trust among one another.

Yet, change must happen.  Our generation cannot simply burn all the world's fossil fuels and leave nothing for he future.  The environmental calamities that our generation is must not be ignored if we care about anyone other than our ourselves.  The world must be a place where people build sustainable economies and societies.  The diversity of human society must not give-in to the temptation to solve everything  through the tyrannical grasping or power that is always looming.

So how do we define the gifts that each generation brings to the table?  How do we free the creativity of the younger generation God is raising up, and how do we harness the wisdom that only comes with experience?  

God knows!

I certainly don’t have answers to all of that.  I am hoping that we can enjoy an ongoing conversation on this topic throughout our presbytery, and throughout the Christian Church.

So…to help start the conversation, I have attached just a few of the slides that Dr. Christine Hong, a Millennial herself, shared with us at the PCUSA-sponsored Big Tent gathering earlier this month. 

Curt Karns

Hope is God’s melody for the future;
Prayer is to listen for it;
Faith is to dance it.  (Rubem Alves)

Curt Karns
Executive Presbyter
Presbytery of Yukon
616 W 10th Ave
Anchorage, AK  99501
c -907-350-3969
P Please consider the environment before printing this email

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The church's R&D department.

One of the take-aways from the PCUSA Big Tent Event in Louisville last week is the roll of new ministries. New ministries serve as the place where the church experiments with new ideas that include new groups of people. There is great energy in new ministries, because the people involved are participating in a new thing (Isaiah 43:19) that God is doing. That energy, and the successes that come out of that energy, inform and inspire the older congregations in a presbytery. In essence, the new ministry has the potential to renew a whole system of churches, serving as the R&D Department of the Church.

What new ministries are needed within the bounds of the Presbytery of Yukon?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A New Ministry? Learning From Good Samaritans.

What a year for weather! 

After living in Eagle River for five years, Cindee and I thought we knew what to expect.  We had already established the Alaskan EcoEscape Permaculture Learning Center to teach practical skills for living sustainably on this planet, and it was time to schedule some classes.  We were confident, last fall, when we scheduled a class on Clay-Straw Construction for the weekend of June 1-2 that we would have several weeks to prepare.  All we needed was to get the roof up before June, so the clay would stay dry if the weather was wet.  Plenty of time.

Of course this was the year when winter wouldn’t die; it was still snowing on May 18.  Before the roof could go up, we had to prepare the site.  The new construction was going to be a greenhouse and therefore on a south-facing slope.  As it turned out, the slope was not accessible with a tractor, so we had to dig terraces by hand,  Preparing the site for the class turned into a marathon event, digging and wheelbarrowing late into the night, digging house posts into frozen and rocky ground, and finally putting up walls and roof.


I have rarely been so exhausted in my life.  But the class was worth it.  In fact the class was so overbooked we had to schedule a second weekend for another group.

Our desire was to offer a class on how to build using alternative building techniques.  We wanted to demonstrate one of the methods that uses less fossil fuels, that designs buildings to last centuries, and that uses materials that do little harm to the environment.[1] Through the Alaskan EcoEscape Permaculture Learning Center, we want to engage people in trying out ideas for living better on the planet.  This means living in right relationships with the planet, with our fellow human beings and with God.

Class learning to lay Clay-straw
Some have accused Cindee and me of being a little too fanatical about living into a future that is different than the present.  Some have expressed a distrust of people like us, who dare to believe that God really will lead us into a different future, the future we need.  And make no mistake, we do need a different future.

Everyone knows, for instance, that our planet cannot support seven (maybe growing to be ten!) billion people much longer, not if we continue living the way we are living now.  Many are praying for a very unlikely technological miracle.  Others fail to believe the looming crisis is real, because it has been developing for decades—what some have begun to call the slow emergency.  Others choose simply to ignore the situation.

Yet, across the world millions of people are taking the situation seriously.  I believe these people are like the Good Samaritan of Jesus’ parable.  Samaritans did not follow the Bible properly.  Nevertheless, it was two properly religious leaders who passed by an injured man, while this Samaritan was the one who saw his plight and responded from the heart.

At our Clay-Straw Construction people came from across southern Alaska.  All wanted to know about how to build using local building materials.[2]  Some wanted to know about permaculture principles and organic gardening.[3]  Most were also interested in connecting with a community that cared about the shape of our future together.
Terraced Greenhouse, with clay-straw in one wall

Christians need to be engaged at the very front of this movement.  In the South-Central region of our presbytery there is a growing movement to grow local food, to teach permaculture principles (for a sustainable culture), to transition into a low fossil fuel future, and to create intentional living communities that create more community in people’s lives.  Yet, there is no overt witness from people of faith.

The Bible begins with God’s creation of heaven and earth, through six stages (days) of creation, ending with God simply resting in joyful relationship with all that God had created.  Human beings are explicitly called to live in right relationship with the planet, to get their food from it and to care for it (Genesis 2:15).  Psalm 104 speaks of the wonder of creation, and God’s providence for all creation—telling us that God loves and cares for creation for its own sake and not just to benefit humans.  In the New Testament we are told that all creation groans in suffering as it awaits the salvation of our God (Romans 8:22).  And Jesus told us to love our neighbor, to alleviate suffering, and to pray and live for the kingdom (that is, for God’s will on earth).

I believe it is time for a new Christian ministry based on God’s call for right relationships.  It is time for a ministry based on creating a sustainable future.  I currently am employed to work part-time (80%) for the presbytery.  In my 20% personal time, I have been pursuing this idea of forming a Christian witness to God’s call for sustainable living. 

What, I am wondering, shall this Christian witness look like?  Right now I am simply talking to folks to see where the Spirit is moving.  Do you have thoughts on developing a specific Christian Witness to God’s call for sustainability?  If so, here is what you can do:

  1. Contact me, Curt Karns, at

  2. Gather some folks from you church and schedule a time to come out to our house. We can show you what we are working on through the Learning Center.  Maybe you can help us add more clay-straw to the house.

[1] As opposed to many accepted construction methods.  For instance, cement manufacture releases greenhouse gasses (so much cement is used worldwide in construction that this represents a major concern); many paints and finishes give off VOC gasses that harm human health, etc.
[2] Lumber is an Alaskan product and does not need to be shipped from some distant land.  The clay we dug up from a source we knew near Healy (though we have since learned of some clay deposits much nearer).  The straw we bought from a farm in the Mat-Su Valley.  The windows were recycled from old buildings.  The clay wicks moisture and therefore maintains humidity, but it also holds heat and radiates it back into the living space.  The straw insulates the walls.  Clay-straw together repels mice and mold.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Becoming the Presbytery Owl

Lately, I have been putting effort into writing vision and job descriptions for the Presbytery Owl…which, it turns out, is one of the roles I have been asked to play for the presbytery.  Writing vision descriptions is necessary, because the presbytery voted in October to reduce my work to 10 months per year.  It has become necessary to define which roles the executive presbyter will play in presbytery leadership, and which he (I) will not.  Since the first of those blocks of time away from the office will be this month, it is high time to decide on what ministry roles the executive presbyter shall fulfill. That is the role of the vision description.  A job description describes the duties included in fulfilling that vision. 

According to the Presbytery Leadership Team the executive presbyter is called to play two roles within the life of the presbytery.

First, the executive presbyter is to serve as pastor to the presbytery.  This means that the executive presbytery is to serve
·      as pastor-to pastors,
·      as first responder, along with the stated clerk, to crises and problems as they arise in the presbytery.
·      as the “face” of the presbytery, showing up in each region and helping interpret the mission of the presbytery,
·      spending two weeks out of eight on-site in the villages pursuing specific goals.
·      and as holder of the presbytery vision when staffing committees.

It is when we talk about the second role the executive presbyter plays that we find ourselves describing the Owl to the Presbytery.  The executive presbyter is not caught up in one congregation or community, or even just in our presbytery.  The executive is to rise up and look at the big picture, as if from an altitude, and asked to challenge the presbytery to not lose its own perspective on what God is doing. 

Some scholars [like Ron Heifetz] call this “leading from balcony space.”  However, the Joint Parish members commented in February that “balcony space” was truly not descriptive in a land with almost no balconies; they wanted a better definition for this role than that.  As that conversation progressed, one person finally spoke up and said this is more like the owl.  It hovers over the tundra with sharp eyes and sees with wisdom.

Since then, different groups have thought about the executive presbytery filling the role of Owl to the Presbytery and have shared some creative thought on how this image helps the presbytery.  I want to share some of that creative thinking. \

Before I do, though, let me share one personal thought:

I have never really liked the title executive presbyter.  I always have to explain what it means, and the explanation is not very exciting.  However, given the two roles the Leadership Team has asked me to play, I have been toying with the title Pastor and Owl to the Presbytery.  Now that is a fun title!  Anyone want to add it to our personnel list?

Monday, May 13, 2013

Living the Solutions

Living the Solutions
Garden Ministry at Immanuel
Immanuel Presbyterian Church of Anchorage recently met to discuss putting legs on their vision statement for ministry.  One ministry they have decided to design is some form of Church Garden ministry.

Nationally, garden ministry has been gaining attention as it allows the church to reach out in ministry to people beyond the local church, especially low income people who do not own land.  Some of the benefits of garden ministry include these:
  • Garden ministry increases family independence by allowing people to grow their own food;
  • garden ministry helps congregations to connect with low income people an form better relationships in life and ministry;
  • and garden ministry increases helps congregations to learn and teach about the environmental value of growing food locally (no CO2 emissions for transportation), as well as methods for growing things in more environmentally friendly ways than what happens in most commercial farming.
Immanuel Presbyterian Church has only just decided to begin designing their own Garden Ministry approach.  This year, they hope to continue developing the plan, and to make the preparations needed to be ready for next year's growing season.    

Building with Local Materials--Clay Straw-build at Bioshelter
Experiments on living into sustainable life can sometimes result in a more efficient and comfortable life, as well.  That is the hope of Cindee and Curt Karns at the Alaskan EcoEscape Bioshelter and Permaculture Center.  This summer they are offering classes on building with locally harvested clay and straw.

The classes will offer a "hands-on" learning experience at the Bioshelter near Eagle River.  Participants will learn about the breathability, thermal mass value, and ecological benefits of clay construction. They will then practice, first by making the clay slip and adding the components necessary for proper construction, and then by acutally constructing a wall in a new, clay-straw greenhouse.

The first class will be June 1 and 2.  The instructor will be the well-known clay-straw builder, Lasse Holmes of Homer.  Classes with Lasse Holmes cost $250 for the weekend.  There are still two slots open

A number of participants indicated they could not come on that date.  Therefore, a second class will be held on June 8-9.  Cindee Karns will be the instructor, following Lasse Holmes' teaching.  Classes with Cindee Karns cost $50 for the weekend.

For information on the classes, email:

For a meditation on how the Karnses see this as a response of faith, see Curt's Blog From the Bioshelter, reflecting on the Lord's Prayer and Philippians 4:8.

Earthcare Concern
NOAA--400 ppm CO2 -- May 9 marked the first time in millions for so much greenhouse gas
One of the most important faith issues of our day: how will humanity respond to the catastrophic impact humanity's current lifestyle is having on life today, and will have for future generations.  In Alaska Kivalina, Nowtok and Koyukuk already stand as poster-children for the impact it is having in our own state.  But the projected impact on all life in the lifetimes of young people alive today, and for their children, is hard to believe.

Since Earthcare is the most urgent global concern for people of our generation, this blog would love to hear what disciples of Jesus Christ are doing to live into a different, life-sustaining way of life.

Possibilities for the Future
The Economics of Happiness is an informative video exploring economics that do not exploit or overconsume land or people.  The video has become available on a pay-per-view basis through VIMEO

Although The Economics of Happiness is not from an explicitly Christian source, it is a thought provoking video.  The video can be used by groups interested in exploring the signs of the times we are in, and interesting possibilities for the future.