Dear Holy Hosts and Hostesses:
It was the early 1970s, and my big brother was getting married in August in Houston, TX. To save on lodging, my father suggested we rent a big RV and make the drive from Omaha in a single vehicle; according to the pamphlet, the Winnebago Chieftain comfortably slept six. There were indeed six places in the land-behemoth to be horizontal, but they lied about comfortably sleeping.
My dad’s brother, Uncle Ken, had moved his family to Dallas a few years before. Uncle Ken had left his position as partner with Peat Marwick and Mitchell and had started his own consulting firm. He was doing well, and he and my Aunt Judy had just built their dream house and were anxious to show it off. Dallas was on the way to Houston, so we decided to visit for a few days before the wedding. The house was impressive, with an in-ground swimming pool, stone fireplace and bedrooms with closets bigger than the entire Winnebago. There was a family room, a living room, a basement rumpus room and a front room. After a brief tour, my mom and aunt went to the kitchen to prepare lunch and I ran back to the RV to dig through my suitcase and find my swimsuit. My father and uncle retired to the front room.
Coming back into the house through the massive front door, I passed my dad and Uncle Ken in the front room, a space decorated in white—all white. We weren’t allowed in the front room during the tour; we were only permitted to gaze at the dazzling furniture and carpet from the doorway. My oldest sister’s husband quietly suggested they install a velvet rope across the entry to keep out the tourists. As I passed, I could hear Aunt Judy admonishing Uncle Ken for using the front room; she explained that it was reserved for special occasions. She also reminded him that they were supposed to remove their shoes. I remember Uncle Ken responding in a rather sharp tone that his brother visiting was a special occasion and he really didn’t understand why there was a room in his house he could never use. Aunt Judy wasn’t pleased. Uncle Ken apologized to Dad and told him to leave his shoes on and stay put!
We all have forbidden spaces, front rooms, you might say, that exist only for show; and while most of us do not have one physically constructed in our homes, we all have areas of our lives available only for display. They convey our most aspirational selves. We invite others to look but not make themselves comfortable. These are the expressions of who we want to be, unstained, untrampled, clean and orderly, exempt from living, walled off from familying, void of rumpus; they exist only as fronts, sometimes even protected from our own brothers.
It’s a problem with church. Not the existence of rooms reserved for special or occasional use—there’s a practical side to not having to clean the Parlor after every pizza party, but the existence of spaces in our lives we do not wish to expose, and our carefulness not to trample those spaces in others. It’s a church problem because the message of the Gospel pertains to every area of our lives. We are called to care deeply for one another and invite others into spaces of purpose and meaning; but instead we keep our invitation cautious, limited, because we want to respect others’ space and fear they may disrespect ours.
This past Wednesday, our Session had a deep discussion regarding invitations. It started with the observation that worship attendance has dropped over the past several months. They agreed that the concern wasn’t for lack of quality; both services are celebratory, joyful, beautiful and meaningful. Still, folks who were attending last year aren’t there this year, and we’re not sure why. Our discussion then entered the difficult territory of invitation. Many, it was surmised, are busy with living, with family, with rumpus, and our front room experience doesn’t fit into busy lives. We also discussed our own awkwardness when people arrive with problems bigger than our capacity to solve and distractions greater than our methods to engage even though they are our brothers and sisters.
I felt that Session members left with a new resolve, a commitment to move beyond those awkward moments and invite folks anyway—an invitation to purpose and meaning, an invitation to the front room with shoes on, an open invitation to share our special occasion and stay put.
Risking mud on the carpet, I remain,
Dear Fellow Translators:
During my years as a pastoral counselor, I recommended one book more than any other: The Five Love Languages by Dr. Gary Chapman. It is a simple, straightforward read in which Chapman suggests that each of us is conditioned to share and receive love in particular ways. When we want to convey our love to our partner, we do so in the love language we understand. We also resonate with love communicated in the language we find familiar. As the book title suggests, Chapman identifies five love languages: 1. Words of Affirmation, 2. Quality Time, 3. Receiving Gifts, 4. Acts of Service, and 5. Physical Touch. The problem, Chapman believes, is not our lack of love, but our failure to translate our love into expressions meaningful to our partner.
Tomorrow, Dani and I celebrate eight years of marriage, initiated eight years and three months ago by my proposal
Dear Commandment Keepers:
The study guide for the 2019-2020 Presbyterian Women (PW) will lead participants on an in-depth journey through the Ten Commandments. The guide, Love Carved in Stone: A Fresh Look at the Ten Commandments, accomplishes this task in nine lessons by combining the first and second laws in the first study; subsequent lessons take them one at a time. As has become a tradition, Darlene Aniolowski, one of FPCLG's PW Moderators, invited me to provide an overview of the curriculum at the first Presbyterian Women’s gathering on September 5. I know I had best arrive prepared, so I’ve been thinking a great deal about ‘God’s Top Ten’.
Of course, when Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment, he stepped outside of the Decalogue (ten laws) and suggested the twin commandments to love God and neighbor. Regarding this, I stumbled on a
Dear Time Takers:
Well, the fourth annual “All Together Under the Son” ecumenical worship service is now in the books. It has been my privilege to have participated in all of them. This year lacked commemorative T-shirts, but I don’t think we really missed them.
Years ago, I was part of a clergy group planning an ecumenical worship service on the south side of Chicago. There were about 30 congregations who had agreed to participate; they represented nearly every Christian theological, ethnic, racial and socioeconomic slice of our community pie. Of course, those groups who felt
Dear VBS Voyagers:
2019 Vacation Bible School (VBS) is now in the congregational rear view mirror. Once the songs are out of our heads and we’ve cleared up the glitter and glue from Fellowship Hall, we will start thinking about children’s programming for next summer; but before we pull forward to the TUXIS mission trip and Vacation Cross Trainers (VCT) coming up next month, I think it would be useful to muse over the experience. By the numbers, we were able to provide VBS without charge. Participant families were invited to contribute in any amount through the online registration process, and most did, but the bulk of the expenses were covered by generous VBS-designated gifts from FPCLG members.
Dear Space Racers:
With this year’s VBS program—To Mars and Beyond—reverberating in our church this week, I’ve been reminded of how much space junk clutters my brain, and the brains of my generation. Space Food Sticks were a thing, developed by Pillsbury’s chief food technologist, Howard Bauman, who was working on a nutritionally balanced snack food for astronauts. The first version was space food cubes consumed by Scott Carpenter on Aurora 7 in 1962. The later version, sold to the public beginning in 1972, came 14 to a pack in peanut butter, caramel and chocolate flavors. (The commercials used to bother me because they featured child astronauts eating the Tootsie Roll-like snack through a hole in the front of their space helmets.
Dear Pride Preparers:
During my first year in college I attempted to join the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) that held a weekly campus meeting, but after three or four gatherings, I stopped attending. It was no crisis of faith; I just found their meetings and Bible studies too saccharine and a little paranoid. Their focus—near obsession—was how, because we were Evangelicals, we were persecuted by the academic world hostile to our existence. I just didn’t buy it. While the University of Chicago community provided little encouragement for a Christian Evangelical worldview, at worst I found the environment indifferent, not hostile.
From those IVCF Friday night gatherings, however, I did make friends.
Dear Sabbath Seekers,
I was home from college on winter break many decades ago when I stopped by the Fishkins' for a visit. Art and Jane Fishkin were the parents of my high school classmate Charlie, and I had been a guest at their Passover table for many years. Charlie was my former debate partner; we both left for the University of Chicago and were sharing an apartment on Ellis Avenue in Hyde Park with a third roommate, Jim Smither (Hinsdale Central, '78). Art and Jane rushed to greet me. Hellos at the Fishkin household were not for the faint at heart; they involved hugs and backslaps that left the greeted
Dear Fellow Joint Pain Sufferers:
About 12 years ago I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid arthritis, abbreviated RA. When it’s not annoying or painful I find the condition to be quite fascinating. RA is an autoimmune disease, a condition where my own immune system has somehow determined that the tissue in my joints is an enemy of my body, so it unleashes its disease-fighting strength against healthy tissue. What makes my body decide that parts of itself must be attacked? Rheumatological research continues to seek an answer to that question.
I’ve been quite fortunate to have avoided the kind of flare-up that merits the use of a class of medications called biologics; these suppress the immune system more generally, dialing back the body’s disease-
Dear Fellow Travelers:
About 10 years ago, my 1995 Cutlass Ciera was stolen from the street two blocks from my apartment in Hyde Park. I did get it back a week or so later, and how that happened can be an illustration for another musing, but today’s focus is on that bizarre moment when I believed something was going to be there and it wasn’t.
I can’t remember where I was planning to go, but I do know from the police report it was August 17, 2009. Relying on a Google search, I can affirm now that it was a Monday. From memory I can only recall my sense of disorientation. What I believed--that my car would be on the west side of Lake Park Boulevard between 55th and 54th Streets--was not confirmed by experience.
Dear Sibling Rivals:
What do we do when our sacrifice is disregarded? When the work of our hands, the sweat of our brow, our calculation, labor and execution are ignored, how do we respond? The question becomes even more intense when we see others respected, regarded and rewarded for their work. To us the adulation, the mobility, the affirmation received by others seems unwarranted. That their effort leads to still waters and green pastures of success angers us, while we remain in the valley of the shadows, stumbling along an ever more treacherous path.
The human response, the one easily at hand, is to flip the script, rewriting our circumstance as a competition
Dear Planet Partners:
“The highest heavens are God’s, but the earth has been given to humanity.” Psalm 115.16
The son and grandson of Pentecostal ministers, John McConnell Jr. was born in Davis City, IA, on March 22, 1915. Not long after his birth, his father, John Sr., became a traveling evangelist, preaching in tent meetings, churches, chapels and street corners from New York to San Francisco. His brand of fervent preaching was much in demand. One news clipping advertising a revival at the Portland Rose Tabernacle in New York City proclaimed his sermons as “scorching, scathing, liquid lumps of burning truth to meet present need.” (Assemblies of God Heritage magazine, 2010, volume 30) McConnell Sr. had received his call to ministry while attending the Stone Church in Chicago in 1911.
Dear Patrons of Beauty,
On Saturday morning it was my privilege to participate in the memorial service for Elizabeth Gottlieb, a child of our church who grew to be a soprano of significant renown. A few months ago she received a cancer diagnosis, and her life ended just 10 days ago. Because so much of her love was lived through music, her choirmates from the Chicago Symphony Chorus, the Grant Park Chorus and Music of the Baroque came to the memorial service to offer tribute through song. Our sanctuary resonated with majestic music.
For my musing today, I wish to share with you the words of my homily. I trust they bring solace to those bereaved and inspiration for those who must carry on.
Dear Fellow Tulip Tiptoers,
For those of you who have not been able to join us on Wednesday nights for our TULIP study of Calvinism, allow me to catch you up on what you’ve missed. (*Note: All are welcome to join for the final two weeks, April 3 and 10, 7:30-8:30 p.m. in the Parlor following our 7:00 Lenten Communion service in the Chapel). Historically, John Calvin (1509-1564) was a French attorney who became fascinated with the writings of the early Reformers like Martin Luther (1483-1546). Calvin published many articles and a multi-volume commentary on the whole Bible, except for the book of Revelation, which he said he just didn’t understand. His major work was Institutes of the Christian Religion, which underwent several drafts and translations after its first publication in 1536, when Calvin was 27 years old. (It’s difficult to feel like I’ve accomplished very much in my life when I realize that by the time John Calvin was my age, he had been dead five years.)
Greetings Participating Partners in Prayer:
Following the attack on mosques in Christchurch New Zealand, I wrote a letter of solidarity to the Administrative Assistant and congregation of the Orland Park Prayer Center. FPPLC’s confirmation class received a gracious welcome and tour of the facility and were given the opportunity to observe Asr, afternoon daily prayer, of the community. The following is an open letter to the Administrator and congregation.
I grew up among people who held a paradoxical relationship with Jews. On the one hand, most of the adult men in my childhood congregation were veterans of World War II, and many found great meaning for their service in the liberation of the Jewish people from the brutal tyranny of anti-Semitic Nazism. On the other hand, because the Jews had rejected Jesus, we were confident they were going to hell. There was also a third hand that colored our understanding of Jewish-Christian relations, and that was a reading of Biblical prophecy that insisted the formation of the nation of Israel was a prerequisite for the second coming of Jesus, something we were weekly enjoined to hasten.
Dear Penitent People:
As we approach the season of Lent, it is important to note that the day before Ash Wednesday in much of the world is known as Fat Tuesday, owing to the historic tradition of not eating fats and sugars during the season of penance. While the celebration known as Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras, is a ten-month tourist celebration in New Orleans, in many countries the days of Carnival begin the Thursday before Lent and culminate on Tuesday, the eve of Ash Wednesday.
Dear Broken Brethren:
As Pope Francis gathers with Roman Catholic bishops in the Vatican this week in a summit designed to address clergy sexual abuse of minors, I have had several conversations with individuals suggesting that the Catholics have a big problem. While I hope the magisterium experiences some breakthroughs in discipline and oversight through an event largely organized by Chicago’s Cardinal Blase Cupich, it would be a serious mistake to suggest this is somehow an issue confined to the ranks of Roman Rite clergy.
Clergy sexual abuse of minors is not a problem that will be resolved by permitting priests the stability of marriage. To be sure, the recent revelations of the Southern Baptist Convention regarding their own clergy…
Dear President Party Participators:
Here we are with another three-day weekend.
In 1968, the United States 90th Congress passed H.R. 15951 An Act to provide for uniform annual observances of certain legal public holidays on Mondays, and for other purposes, usually abbreviated as the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. The original bill stipulated that several holidays be moved to Mondays, but the one commemorating Washington’s birthday remain fixed on the 22nd of February, a date set as a federal holiday by President Rutherford B. Hayes. However, Illinois House Representative and Judiciary Committee member Robert McClory of Lake Bluff had lost his bid to make Lincoln’s birthday, February 12, a federal holiday. The amendment failed in committee due to staunch opposition by the Virginia delegation. In response to his amendment’s defeat, McClory successfully amended the
Dear Service Selectors:
It’s been a few months now since our Sanctuary Choir Director, Jason Fahrenbach, expanded his repertoire to include leadership of our Praise and Worship Team and became FPCLG’s Director of Music Ministry. The response from both the musicians and the Community Service attendees has been enthusiastically positive, and to my knowledge, the Sanctuary Choir has not felt older child neglect in the transition. To my ear the music in both services is beyond magnificent; we are blessed with many gifted volunteers and professionals who inspire our voices and hearts in divine worship.
There are now two of us who weekly experience both Sunday morning services
Dear Confirming Congregants:
This coming Saturday will be our second annual Confirmation Rally, where we invite Confirmation-aged young people from the greater La Grange community to celebrate our common faith and our unity in Christ. There will be snacks, music, conversation, dinner, games and a few special guests. We hope to link our young people in the knowledge that they are members of a church fellowship that extends well beyond the walls of FPCLG, a common faith, a common heritage, a body of Christ with many expressions of tradition, doctrine and practice. In the same way that we do not baptize our children as Presbyterians, we do not confirm our young people as Presbyterians, but in both rites we announce their covenant relationship with Christians,
Dear Winter Warriors,
As the snow accumulates on our back deck, I’m musing how snowstorms have this amazing quality of timelessness. While we are taught that no two snowflakes are alike, snowstorms, in my memory, are all aligned as one big contiguous accumulation of white wonder. Briefly, I suspend all knowledge of snow’s intrusion into my routine, the repetitious weight of the shovel, the crunchy scraping of a windshield, spinning tires rocking from a drift, and I am lost in the anticipation of flapping arms of an angel, the careful engineering of a fort, red runners cutting into the side of a great hill.
The following remarks were delivered by The Reverend Jonathan Krogh, Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of La Grange, IL for the 2019 Dr. Martin Luther King Day prayer breakfast held on January 21, 10 AM, sponsored by the Caring Place for Kids, Lincoln & Washington Streets, La Grange, Illinois.
In preparation for this morning’s remarks I read the following words in a December 26 New Yorker article by Eliza Griswold entitled “Evangelicals of Color Fight Back Against the Religious Right.” Quoting social activist Sharon Harper: “The whole Bible and evangelical faith, along with Protestant faith and Catholic faith, has all been interpreted through the lens of empire. All of it. All of it has been interpreted through the lens of Caesar. And Caesar killed Jesus. And Jesus was an indigenous, brown, colonized man.”
Jesus was an indigenous, brown, colonized man.
Dear Courageous Contributors:
I’m musing this Monday morning about money. My Friday ended like an old joke: “An accountant, a treasurer and a Presbyterian minister walk into an office...,” except it wasn’t a joke; we were talking about FPCLG’s 2019 budget. You’ll see everything in mind-numbing detail in the Annual Report distributed at the end of February, but in the meantime, I thought you would like some highlights.
Dear Fellow Word Wonderers:
Carved into the oak pulpit desktop of my first church were these words from John 12.21: “Sir, we would see Jesus.” In the context of scripture, several Greeks had come to Jerusalem during the Passover festival, and because of Jesus’ reputation following the raising of Lazarus, they desired to meet the celebrity face-to-face. Assuming Philip to be one of Jesus’ advance men, they put in a scheduling request with the disciple. Philip brought the request to Andrew, and Andrew and Philip came to Jesus, who responded with a Johannian riddle about wheat falling in the ground and dying. We never know if the Greeks got an appointment.
Whiling away the hours surfing the web under the guise of sermon preparation, I tripped over a research study from which behavioral economists had calculated a monetary value for prayer. Ever since reading Thinking, Fast and Slow by Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman, I’ve become quite fond of the insights generated by this hybrid discipline, so I explored the study’s findings.
The research was performed by University of Wyoming Assistant Professor of Economics Linda Thunström, who designed a simple test to compare the impact of prayer on people’s generosity. The study participants were divided into three groups. One group read a few paragraphs regarding the impact of Hurricane Harvey three months after the storm and were invited to contribute any or all of five dollars they had received through an online account. The second group, all self-identified Christians, were invited to spend a few moments in prayer for the storm victims, then also invited to contribute from their five-dollar allotment. The final group were asked to quietly reflect on the devastation and how victims might feel who had suffered from the storm’s devastation, and after a few moments of reflection, they, too, were asked to contribute.
Please enjoy this Christmas Musing rerun from a collection of Pastor Krogh’s essays first posted in 2010,
Dear Advent Audience:
Through Facebook and other forms of social media, we’re connected almost immediately with all the accumulated wisdom of the moment. (We're also connected to a bunch of meaningless drivel, but I’m not going to dwell on that right now.) A while back, one of my Facebook friends posted “21 mistakes I made as a Senior Pastor”; they were pretty good and include things like, “Putting numbers over faces," "Putting church over community," "Putting accountability over acceptance” and “Putting holiness over humanity.”
Dear Faithful Viewers:
Turning off the TV used to be magical. I don’t mean in a sociological sense, where shutting off the television was followed by a command to play outside; I mean in the technical electronic sense. With the old cathode-ray tube there was that haunting glow of a white dot in the center of the old Philco that lingered for several minutes after the set was disempowered. The focusing magnetic coil was still active even after the power was cut, so that a small beam of rays was still striking the phosphor-coated screen; as a child I remember thinking that was as interesting as the show that had just ended.
I thought about that white dot the other day when I received word that my friend Bruce Pangborn had
I’ve been somewhat amused over the past several years as stores have told their employees they should not say "Merry Christmas," but instead greet customers with "Happy Holidays." This, of course, ignores the fact that the derivation of "holiday" is a linguistic mash-up of "Holy Days"; but because the name of Christ is in "Christmas Tree," for a brief while some stores called them "Holiday Trees," as if shifting the name will maximize sales among Christ haters while not jeopardizing robust receipts from traditional Christians. Perhaps we are all generically Holians?
Last week I had a little extra time between clients at the Evergreen Park Care and Counseling Center and our satellite office at Calvary Reformed Church in Orland Park. 159th Street west of La Grange Road has been under construction for the past year or so, making a left turn onto 104th Avenue impossible, so I drive south to 167th and turn back north on 104th. I provide these directions because, if you’re in the area, there is an unintended tri-faith experience stretching from 165th to 159th on 104th Avenue created by the alignment of a domed Islamic mosque, a Roman Catholic cemetery and Calvary Reformed Church, all constructed in the past 15 years. I’ll leave it for you to determine who wins the architectural prize.