Friday, May 3, 2019

As Your Dear Friend Once Welcomed You - A New Hymn

As Shadyside Presbyterian Church's Director of Music Ministry, Mark A. Anderson, and I were planning worship during this Lenten Season, back on February 21, we were not finding a hymn that we were happy with, to conclude worship on Sunday April 7.  The Gospel lectionary reading for that morning was John 12:1-8, when Jesus shared a meal at Bethany with his treasured friends Martha, Lazarus, and Mary.  

I said to Mark, "Why don't we sing a hymn that you have written?"  His reply, "John, the other option for the first Sunday in April for a closing hymn would be for you to write a text and for me to write the tune. That might be too much, with everything else on your plate, but keep it in mind for future Sundays. It would be great fun to see what we could do."  

What a gracious and great idea!  

So, that is what we did.  I wrote the words; Mark wrote the music.  And the congregation sang our brand new hymn on Sunday, April 7th.  It was a joy to work on the hymn with Mark, and a joy to hear the congregation sing it.  Here's to more collaborations!

Go to this link to the Shadyside Presbyterian Church blog to read more and to listen to the hymn:

New Hymn

Please contact me regarding use in worship.

Do Dogs Go To Heaven?

Do Dogs Go to Heaven?

Recently Pope Francis told a young boy whose dog has died that paradise is open to all of God's creatures.

This is a compassionate response to that boy.  It is also a word of assurance to anyone who has had a pet – particularly a dog – who wonders what happens when that pet dies.
Our dog, Brantley, died this past month, at age 11 ½ and left a big empty hole in our hearts.  We have been grieving for him the way we would grieve for a dear friend and family member.  Anyone who has had a companionable dog who has died, knows exactly how that feels. 

Brantley picked us out, not the other way around.

We had lost our beloved Yorkie, Tuppence, after 17 ½ years.  As she grew into old age, we had agreed together that when the time came, and she died, we would not get another dog.  The reasons were very practical. We both worked, she spent a fair amount of time at home alone.  We liked to travel.  She didn’t travel with us which meant kennels and boarding and the costs that went with it.  Life would be simpler without another dog – when the time came.

And then, sweet Tuppence died.  We reminded ourselves of what we had agreed.  But the house seemed very empty indeed.  We missed that smiling little presence.
I was the weak link.  I lasted a week. And then insisted that we get another dog.  We agreed that it would be either another Yorkie or a Miniature Schnauzer - since both do not shed. We looked at several pet stores and shelters.  We ended up at one particular pet store with lots of puppies, and at least 6 Yorkie puppies.  They were in kennel cages along a long wall, with some at the right end and some at the left end. Lots of other dogs in the cages in-between.

As I walked from one end of the pet shop to the other, a small face with bright eyes and a sweet smile watched me walk by and walk back.  His gaze was locked on my face.  I asked one of the attendants in the shop what kind of a dog it was.  “A Yochon,” was the reply.  Half Yorkshire Terrier and half Bichon Frise.  “We need to see that dog.” Indeed we did.  

The attendant brought him to the get-to-know-you enclosure, he nuzzled his head under Judy’s chin, and that was all it took.  She looked at me and said, “Do they have two of them?”

Our dog Brantley received love and care, affection and attention, treats and trips, from us.  And yet: If we were to try to balance that with what he gave, the scales would tip heavily in his direction.  Because in addition to the love and care and affection and attention he gave us, he served as an example of unconditional love and pure empathy.  I often referred to him as love bundled up in fur.

The Bible is not encouraging when you look in a concordance and are asking what it says about dogs.  It seems the Biblical writers did not have a fondness for them, and even Jesus speaks disparagingly of dogs.  When dog lovers who are also faithful Christians read these passages, they tend to wince.  Maybe there were more stray, rabid, and dangerous dogs in Bible times?  Maybe people then were adverse to dogs, in the same way that they were averse to recreational swimming?  No matter. 

God watches over all of God’s creation.  They experience. They suffer. They grieve. They love.
All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The lord god made them all.

God took such infinite pains to make them, one must feel certain that they will somehow inhabit God’s eternal kingdom.  Even as the animals were drawn to St Francis, so too, we will be surrounded by these good and gentle creatures.  

Edward Hicks’ many paintings of The Peaceable Kingdom – an eschatological state inferred from texts such as the Book of Isaiah, the Book of Hosea, and the Sermon on the Mount – will one day become the everlasting reality.  Dogs will be in heaven.  It warms my heart to trust it to be true. 

"The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea."

Morning at the Phipps

Monday we spent the morning at Phipps Conservatory, one of the loveliest places to visit if you love gorgeous gardens.  Here is a small sampling of what we saw when we were there.

Pittsburgh at Dusk

Here is another look at Downtown Pittsburgh from Mt. Washington, taken from roughly the same spot as the previous post.  In this photo, the sun has gone down, and the city is starting to light up the night. 

Mt. Washington has long been a magnet for those who want a great view of the city.  Perhaps the second best view - the best being when the whole Downtown bursts into sight as you emerge from the Ft. Pitt Tunnel.

Do people who get to have this view every day ever get tired of it?  I doubt it.  I certainly don't. 

Pittsburgh Afternoon

One of the joys of being back in my hometown is seeing it in all of its glory, which we had a chance to do this past weekend.  

From high atop Mt. Washington, you get a good look at the city, and can talk about everything from its early origins at the Point, with the footprint of Fort Duquesne and Fort Pitt, to the modern landmarks such as PNC Park and Heinz Field.  All of them, spread out before you like the very best train layout ever.  

I was glad to be able to catch the city on a blue sky afternoon, with sunshine and clouds behaving very well indeed.  If you love this city as I do, you will want to zoom the photo and look at some of the details.  

If you are a friend and follower who is not familiar with Pittsburgh, suffice to say that if you follow the Allegheny River (the river to the left of the photo) as it recedes into the background, we are living "upriver" and to the left, in Indiana Township.  And Shadyside Presbyterian Church is also upriver but to the right - slightly - of the water tower you see on the tallest nearby hillside (the water tower is in the the Garfield neighborhood).

Friday, April 12, 2019

At Shadyside Presbyterian Church

This is my first post while serving Shadyside Presbyterian Church.

Today marks my 8 week anniversary as the Interim Senior Pastor and Head of Staff of Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

This has been a wonderful season of new beginnings.  Indeed, within my first week here, I experienced my first Session meeting, first worship service, and first meeting of Pittsburgh Presbytery.  I also discovered what a warm and welcoming congregation this is, and what wonderful church staff members are here.

Shadyside Presbyterian Church dates back to its founding in the mid 1860's, and has an illustrious history of innovation and excellence in ministry.

As time progresses, I will be saying more.  But for now, I will say that I am delighted to be serving here, and have felt God's guiding hand each step of the way.

Friday, November 16, 2018

The Meaning of the Campanile Windows

The Meaning of the Campanile Windows

This serves as my last post during my pastorate at Wekiva Presbyterian Church.

The Campanile Windows serve as an artistic interpretation of the central symbols in the Seal of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

The Celtic Cross – The cross is our reminder of the unmerited love and grace of Jesus Christ, as his life was given for us upon the cross.  Because it is empty, it also reminds us that death could not hold Jesus, that he vanquished death and sin and in him, we are promised life eternal.  The circle around the cross helps us remember that the Lord our God is One God – the Celtic cross has long been a symbol treasured by Presbyterians.

            The Descending Dove – We think of the Holy Spirit wherever we read of a dove in Scripture.  The olive branch points us to the salvation of Noah and his family at the time of the flood.  When John baptized Jesus in the River Jordan, Jesus saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove—and a voice from heaven, “Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.” – Mark 1:10 & 11

            The Open Bible – is central to our worship and the Christian life.  We look to God’s written word, believing all Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness.  – 2 Timothy 3:16

            The Chalice of Communion – Points us toward the Upper Room, where Jesus took the cup, and after giving thanks, gave it to his disciples.  As we share the cup, we remember Christ, are blessed by His self-oblation, and look to the heavenly banquet He promises.

            The Burning Bush with Tongues of Fire – When God spoke to Moses from the burning bush, he commissioned Moses to go and act according to God’s Word.  Throughout the history of the church, the burning bush has come to represent the ardor of the faithful, as they commit themselves to doing the Lord’s ministry and mission.

The Campanile Windows are an original design by Piercey Studios, Orlando, Florida