Thursday, June 15, 2017

ALL THINGS BEING EQUAL - GENDER INEQUALITY

ALL THINGS BEING EQUAL - GENDER INEQUALITY

From the Sermon Series: Christ and Current Events – 5.
2 Sam. 11:26-12:13; NT Luke 8:1-3
A sermon by The Rev. John A. Dalles
Preached originally on Sunday, August 16, 2015

Let’s begin where we were, think about where we are now (and where we are not) and then look to the future.

THE WAY WE WERE…

We begin in 1971.  I have two dear friends, a brother and sister.  One is my age and one is a year ahead in high school.  Expectations about each of my friends surprised me.  The expectation is that the friend who is male will go to college.  The expectation for the friend who is female, not so much.  There are also at home expectations.  Each of them has household duties to perform each week—we called them chores back then.  Things like mowing the grass or washing the dishes, that sort of thing.  Expectations were that the son would do the chores assigned to him, but if some better offer came up in doing things with his friends, he could let the chores slide, maybe get to them later, maybe one of the parents would end up doing them instead.  Expectations for the daughter were different.  If something special or fun with friends came up, the chores had to be done first.  No further argument.  It was a bit eye opening.  A bit peculiar.  And seemed quite wrong.
You may have grown up in a similar situation.  This is not to say that the parents didn’t love both children dearly, but there were a set of rules for the guys and a set of rules for the gals.  That was it.
Forward a few years, to 1975.  The largest architectural firm in the unites states, famous then and still huge and famous today, sent one of their senior partners to speak to the juniors in the architecture program at Penn State about job opportunities with their firm.  He spoke very highly of his large Chicago office filled with innovative architects.  The audience included all of my fellow architecture majors about a third of whom were women, about to embark into a profession that was dominated by men.  Loraine, who was one of the best students, asked a question during the Q and A portion of the talk, “What opportunities do you have available for women at your firm?”  The speaker seemed surprised by the question and then after giving it some thought, said, “We can always use a good color theorist…” it was a bit eye opening.  A bit peculiar.  And seemed quite wrong.
That was it.
Also in 1975, we had a family reunion in Pittsburgh.  Our family went to worship at First Presbyterian Church downtown, since it was where the great aunts had been members forever before they moved to St. Petersburg, Florida, in the 60s.  We were there on a communion Sunday.  After the sermon, when it was time for communion, the elders moved gracefully up and down the aisles, in the special Presbyterian sacrament we call communion.  I was watching all of this and there was something odd about it all, that at first I could not put my finger on.  Then it dawned on me.  Of the 16 or so elders moving through the historic Gothic sanctuary, amid the gorgeous Tiffany stained glass windows, and the well oiled walnut pews, not one of them was a woman.  Not one.  Having grown up in a different Pennsylvania Presbyterian church of the same PC(USA) denomination, where women elders were as numerous as men…it was a bit eye opening.  A bit peculiar.  And seemed quite wrong.
In homes, in the workplace and in places of worship, it seemed… there was a certain rule, spoken or unspoken, that opportunities for men and opportunities for women were not the same.  Not the same.
That is the way we were.

WHERE ARE WE TODAY?

Have we come a long way, baby?  Yes and no.  We have many women in Congress, on the bench of the Supreme Court, and Cabinet Secretaries.  The immediate past three Secretaries of State have been women.  These are recent innovations.  Some of our younger members of the church will scratch their heads to think that there was ever a time when it seemed controversial for there to be a woman architect, a woman minister, or a young woman whose household chores were looked upon differently than those of her brother.
But we can all point to situations in most every line of work where there is still an inequality between what women can do, or what women are paid to do it.
Gender pay gaps persist around the world, including in the United States. 
But in some vocations that is changing
More women own and operate their own business than ever before.
Today, women make up almost 15% of the active duty members in the United States military.  But there, equality issues remain.
Globally women are much more likely to be able to read and write than are men.
Almost exactly the number of women hold jobs as do men.
But the number who make it into the upper echelons of management remain dis-proportionally small.  Just 13% of board members are women and fewer than 3% of Fortune 500 companies are run by women. These numbers are higher than they’ve ever been before, but they’re still far from impressive.
Some fields are still very much dominated by men: women hold just 27% of computer science jobs, and only 5% of electrical engineering jobs,
Where we are now…it is better than it was in 1970's, but not good enough.
I had not been here very many yeas when one of the women elders in our congregation made a appointment to come and chat with me.  She and her husband had bought a house over in a suburb not far from us, but just far enough away.  She came to tell me that they would probably be joining a church near their new home.  This was a disappointment to me, because she was a very fine elder and a great church member.  I expedited her to say that they would be jointing the PC(USA) Church there, which is a very fine congregation and one of the oldest in our presbytery.  No, she did not mention that church.  She mentioned a completely different church, not a PC(USA) church, where then, and to this day, women cannot serve as deacons, or as elders or as ministers.  There are some proof text verses of scripture that are used to justify this archaic position. 
And she has a daughter.  As do we.
I said to her then what I would say to her again today, and what I would say to anyone who would make such a move:  
“I suppose I can understand why you might make the conscious compromise to join a congregation in which you will not be able to serve as you have been able to serve here, but I cannot understand why a parent would allow their daughter to grow up in a faith environment that treated her like a second class citizen.” 

It was a bit eye opening.  A bit peculiar.  And seemed quite wrong.  Like a throwback to the 1970’s, or the 1950’s or the 1880’s…

I hope there is not one parent here who expects their daughter to take some long-held hope or dream and let it die because it is something that only men do.
That would not be the way of Jesus.  In his writings, both in the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts, Luke is particularly good at showing us that Jesus treated women as whole people, not the second class people that most of his traditional Middle Eastern society forced them into being.  Where they could not speak to men outside the  home, could not appear outside the home without their heads covered, and face veiled, could not speak their own mind, offer their own opinion, own their own property, contribute to and support causes that were dear to their own heart, hold leadership positions in the vocations and political arena.  I hope there is not one parent here – be they ever so well-meaning – who would ever say to a daughter, “Well you probably shouldn’t peruse that line of work because only men do that.”
We know about his 12 disciples, the men who had followed him from Galilee.  What does Luke tell us about the women who had followed him from Galilee?
          “Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod's household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.
The role of women at the very start of Christianity, was a vital role.

WHAT ROLE DOES THE CHURCH HAVE, TODAY? 

We have the role of working to bring about a more equitable society, in which daughters can dare to dream to be whoever they feel called to become.
We can model it ourselves. 
We can see to it that we provide every opportunity for it to happen. 
We can mentor, encourage and open doors for women who are seeking be what they have not yet achieved.
Being free to make decisions for themselves and for the people they care about.

Copyright © 2017, John A. Dalles. All rights reserved.


Friday, May 19, 2017

Lessons from the Underground



Not long ago I came across a reproduction of a vintage poster that was made for the London Underground.  The poster was an attempt by the Underground management to get some feedback from the thousands who rode their cars every day.  Communication and feedback is important and the Underground is famous for anticipating and providing for what their riders need.  So it is no wonder that these posters were created.

I liked the graphics of the poster. Black and white, with red accents—a classic combination.  I liked that the wording was in the wonderful and copyrighted Gil Sans typeface, a typeface created expressly for the London Underground in the 1920's, much imitated but never outdone.  Its crisp clean look also evokes the jazz age and what we call the Art Deco aesthetic.  It is still in use in all of the signage in the Underground, and rightly so.



The poster asks riders to write their suggestions in the big blank white space below the heading.  What could be better?  Immediate feedback.  Instant communication!  A way to know that is inside the heads of those who are the customers and clientele of the Underground.



We all need that kind of feedback because we want to improve our service and meet the needs of our constituents.  So the idea behind the poster appealed to me, ever so much as the look of the poster.
But then, I was drawn to the examples of what people had  actually suggested that “frame” the center panel, these are small illustrations with the actual comments that people made.  When I read the two at the top center, I burst out laughing, and have been laughing about it ever since.



One of the two suggestions says: “Have longer stops at stations.”  And right there next to it the other suggestion says: “Have shorter stops at stations.”  Hilarious!  

Now, I think that the London Underground should make both of those people happy, don’t you? After all they are both loyal riders, who have both offered genuine and heartfelt feedback, of what they both think will improve upon what exists now.  So it behooves the London Underground to make them both happy.

What?  You say that it is impossible to make both of them happy?  You are correct!  And this is a point that extends far beyond the Underground or London or the United Kingdom.  Not every suggestion, no matter how good it may be, can be acted upon. In fact, if you or I or anyone else tried to act on every good suggestion that came our way, we would probably explode or implode.  Or both at the same time.  It cannot be done.  There is no way to satisfy every idea and suggestion – and remember – every person who offers theirs is absolutely certain, without any manner of doubt whatever, that among all the many suggestions, good bad an indifferent, theirs is the ultimate, the best, the sine qua non.


Here’s the thing: If you have ever made a suggestion that has not been acted upon, in any setting, don’t stop riding the Underground – in other words don’t stop being an active part of that organization into which you poured your suggestion.  Or suggestions.  Keep in mind that others are making them too, and many of them are like yours, and many of them are diametrically opposed to yours.  The complete opposite.  Think of the London Underground Suggestions Poster.  Remember those two top panels.  

And then, no matter what, hop on board so that you can get where you are going and on the way you can actually enjoy the ride.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

God says, "Here I Am!"

What current events in the media just now worry you?  I will not seek to bring my personal observations to bear regarding these, but I too have such worries.  I have wondered if Scripture speaks clearly to them.  In my daily devotions, this did…
            “I say, Here I am!  Here I am!  To a nation that did not call upon my name.  I have stretched out my hands all the day to a rebellious people who walk in evil paths and follow their own thoughts—people who provoke me continually to my face.”  (Isaiah 65:1-3)
            God, talking through God’s servant Isaiah thousands of years ago, may have a word for us as well. “I say, Here I am!  Here I am!”  This is a word to boost our spirits and make our conscience free.  It suggests that the number one expectation God has of us is to “call upon God’s name”.  How?  We pray.  We discipline ourselves in private devotions.  But even more important is to worship God.  That is what calling on God’s name is, worshipping God, in God’s house, on God’s day of rest.  When we gather to worship God, not only do we place ourselves in God’s presence, but we allow God’s will and ways to influence our thoughts about the issues of the day, even when they are as complex as our current issues are.  So come to worship.  God calls us to worship.  God says to each and every one of us, “I say, Here I am!  Here I am!”
Next, we hear of God stretching out God’s hands all the day. It tells us God takes the initiative.  If you or I were to try to stretch out our hands all the day long, we could not do it. God has the strength and the tone and whatever else is needed to bridge whatever gap we have allowed to happen between God and us, no matter what path we have wandered down, no matter what kinds of thoughts we have followed.
Picture God stretching out God’s hands to us, as far as God can, all the day long, and not just to us, but to all the people God has made.  Even to those who are walking in truly evil paths, to those who are following only their own thoughts, to those who provoke God continually to God’s face.  To each one, God says, “I say, Here I am!  Here I am!”    God goes to whatever lengths it takes to reach the ones God loves.  And God urges those whom God reaches, to do likewise.
            If you form the mental picture of God extending God’s hands all the day long for all of us, and all of these, then you soon form one particular picture, the mental image of our Lord Jesus Christ, upon the cross, with His arms extended for everyone, everywhere in every time and season. “I say, Here I am!  Here I am!”  Jesus loves the world that much.  Jesus loves those we love that much and Jesus loves those we don’t love that much. By any stretch of the imagination, we find that Jesus is the only One who can reach that far, to everyone for all eternity. “I say, Here I am!  Here I am!”

‘See you in church,


John A. Dalles, Pastor

Faith of the Presidents: Grover Cleveland

Did you know that U.S. President Grover Cleveland (1837-1901, 22nd and 24th President) was a Presbyterian and the son of a Presbyterian minister?  Like many other ministers, the Rev. Mr. Cleveland supported a large family on a small salary. His children went to work as soon as they were able. Grover worked in a store in Fayetteville, N.Y., where his father served his final church before his death.
            Later, Grover went to New York City, where he taught for a while in a school for the blind. Here he became acquainted with Fanny Crosby, the noted hymn writer. He moved from New York City to Buffalo, where he studied law and was admitted to the bar.  While in Buffalo, he remained on the roll of his father's old church in Fayetteville.
            After Grover Cleveland entered the White House, he gave more attention to the Church, he also married Miss Frances Folsom, a lady of great personal charm.  Duirng his second term, he became prominently religious. In a Thanksgiving Proclamation, Cleveland recognized the Lordship of Jesus Christ, something no other President had ever done in a presidential proclamation.
            Cleveland was an advocate of "practical Christianity" that is, putting the ideals of Christianity into action in one’s daily life.  Perhaps the most poignant moment to try his faith was when the Cleveland’s daughter Ruth died (the “Baby Ruth” candy bar was named for her).  On January 7, 1904, after Ruth’s death, Cleveland wrote to a friend:
"I had a season of great trouble in keeping out of my mind the idea that Ruth was in the cold, cheerless grave instead of in the arms of her Savior. It seems to me I mourn our darling Ruth's death more and more. So much of the time I can only think of her as dead, not joyfully living in heaven. God has come to my help and I have felt able to adjust my thought to dear Ruth's death with as much comfort as selfish humanity will permit. One thing I can say: not for a moment since she left us has a rebellious thought entered my mind."
            Later, his sister was heard to say that she knew "his boyhood's faith brightened his dying hours." 
            Being a faithful Christian is a life long journey.  We draw upon our beginnings in the faith every day thereafter.  Some days, the way is challenging, and we are burdened by grief.  Yet, God comes to our help, just as he did to President Cleveland.  God helps us adjust our thoughts, even in our bleakest hours.  God offers us comfort, and shields us from rebellious thoughts.  Just as boyhood faith served Grover Cleveland all his life long, may your faith in Christ brighten all of your hours.

Blessings,



John A. Dalles, Pastor

Faith of the Presidents: James Buchanan


           
Lancaster, County Pennsylvania, where I grew up, is filled with history and in addtion to the beautiful farms that are so neatly kept, such as the one shown here, one of the other high spots of Lancaster is "Wheatland", the home of James Buchanan (1791-1868) the 15th President of the United States.  

James Buchanan was Secretary of State and Minister to England. The only President born in Pennsylvania and the only bachelor President, Buchanan was a Presbyterian by family background. All of his life, he worshiped regularly and gave to many different denominations.  Yet, Buchanan did not join the Presbyterian Church until he retired to private life. Here is how it happened:

In August of 1860, Buchanan’s last year in the White House, he was vacationing at the Bedford Springs Hotel, a fashionable summer resort in the Pennsylvania mountains.  There, the Rev. Dr. William M. Paxton, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of New York City, was a guest at the same time. Buchanan knew the pastor, and so one day he invited Paxton to the Presidential suite, where he opened his heart. The President confessed, 

"I think I may say that for 12 years I have been in the habit of reading the Bible and praying daily. I have never had any one with whom I have felt disposed to converse, and now that I find you here I have thought you would understand my feelings, and that I would venture to open my mind to you upon this important subject, and ask for an explanation of some things I do not clearly understand."
           
The President then asked Dr. Paxton what a religious experience is, and how a man might know he was a Christian.  The minister gave responses that led Buchanan to say,

            "Well, sir, I thank you. My mind is now made up. I hope I am a Christian. I think I have had some of the experience which you describe, and as soon as I retire from my office as President, I will unite with the Presbyterian Church."

Soon thereafter, on the 4th of March, 1861, President Buchanan kept his promise and was received into membership at First Presbyterian Church of Lancaster.

Today, expect to find people in your life who want to know if they are a Christian, and who are eager to hear Jesus’ words of life, from YOU!

Blessings,



John A. Dalles, Pastor

Your Assist is Needed!


Recently a concept has come my way in conversations with members of our congregation and other faithful Christians.  In a sentence, it is this:

The task of our church and every church
is to assist people of all ages
become full-fledged disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The idea of assisting people is entirely Biblical.  The commandment from Galatians that we are to bear one another’s burdens to fulfill the law of Christ is the best example but there are many others.  We know that God is at work in people’s lives, so of course the primary “assist” comes from the Holy Spirit.  People have their own insights, gifts and abilities, but no one can “go it alone”.  Every person needs that inner drive that comes from God.  Also, they need fellow believers.  That’s where our “assist” comes in.
Think about it in basketball terms. An assist is a pass to a teammate who then scores.   When someone “assists”, they themselves do not score.  But without the “assist” it might never happen.  We are all called to that for one another.  We set up the shot, as it were; we help those around us.
How have you been “assisting” others to become full-fledged disciples?  Make a list of at least ten things you have done in the past month that have been “assists” to others.  Look over that list, and then say to yourself, “How will I do the same, in the month ahead?”  Make a new list and keep it before you these next 30 days.  And as you answer that question, here are twelve practical applications of the concept for you to consider for your upcoming month’s list:  I will…

1.     Have a living relationship with God and others, in Christ. – John 14:6
2.     Develop my own and other’s spiritual discernment. – I Cor. 3:2
3.     Put faith in action daily: learn, pray, relate with and serve others. – I. Cor. 12;27
4.     Take the Word of Jesus with me wherever I go. - Col. 3:16
5.     Celebrate and share the glory of God in worship every Sunday. – Ps. 95:6
6.     Make people glad to be with me, offering holy welcome to everyone. – Rom. 12:13
7.     Study the Bible’s Christian ideals and use them in my life. – Ps. 119:105
8.     Value every person for who they could be in Christ. – I Thes. 5:14-22
9.     Apply my best energies for those who need mercy and justice. – Matt. 5:7
10.  Pray alone, pray with others, pray for others, pray unceasingly.  – I Thes. 5:17
11.  Bring my friends to church. – Ps. 122:1
12.  Be joyful and enthusiastic in all that I do. – Phil. 4:4

Your pastor and your friend,



Dr. John A. Dalles

What Must I Do to Be Saved?

In one of the most telling encounters in the New Testament, a terrified jailer, whose prison had been reduced to rubble by the power of prayer, knelt before Paul and Silas and asked them this question:  “What must I do to be saved?”

As recorded in Acts 16:31, they responded, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved; you and your household.”  The answer Paul and Silas gave the jailer was clear.  Then, it was the jailer’ turn to decide.  “Will I believe, or not?  Will I act upon that belief, or not?  Will I live as I have ever lived, imprisoned within the walls of the jail I oversee, or will I accept the freedom Christ brings?  Will I stay the same, or will I be changed by the power of the Living God?  Will I throw myself upon my sword, fearful of those who seem to have power over me, or will I choose life abundant and eternal?”  All of these questions, and others much like them, flashed through the jailer’s mind as quickly as the first frightening tremors of the earthquake, and with even more force.  Sometimes it takes an earth-shaking event to move us from complacency to conviction.  Then, by the grace of God, we may begin to live reconfigured lives.

What is remarkable is this: The jailer asked the right question.  Notice, he did not ask:  “What must I do to be lost?  It is fair to say the jailer knew the answer to that.  “What must I do to be lost?”  “Nothing at all.”  The jailer had been there; he had done that.  He understood that to become lost, to be lost, to stay lost, all one must do is nothing at all. One cannot be healthy, one cannot be happy, one cannot be prosperous if one does nothing at all.  To remain lost, is to remain sulky, or surly, or cynical, or superior, or defeatist, or fearful.  But to be saved, one must believe in the turned-around limitless-love and grace of Christ Jesus. 

God wishes your life to be worthwhile.  This is a truth we know; yet, a truth we need reminded of every day.  God went to infinite pains—even death on the cross—for your life to be worthwhile.  God is still seeking, moving heaven and earth, for your life to be worthwhile.  If you want what God wants—if you want your life to be worthwhile, you must start now, to train yourself in the daily exercise of believing in Jesus Christ.  Do not allow yourself to dwell on anything that is not good.  Believe God’s will for you is good.  Let no thought of failure, disappointment, trouble, criticism, spite, jealousy, or condemnation of yourself or others have any place in your life.  Believe God’s purposes for you are positive, constructive, and kind.  

Give yourself a week of unbroken, mental discipline to get your mind set in this new direction.  See what a difference a week makes. Then, make that difference the guiding force of the rest of your life, if you want what God wants.

Faithfully yours,



Dr. John A. Dalles

Pastor