Fading Glory

February 4, 2014

Two weeks ago today I had my last chemotherapy infusion for Round 3. By all accounts, my recovery from its negative effects has been unusually quick and thorough, much more so than Round 2. I am hiking at least two miles a day now to build up my strength and to regain cardio-pulmonary endurance for surgery March 3. God has been very good to squash any queasiness or sleepiness I had in previous rounds, and it is nice to say life is getting back to normal. The drugs continue to create an extremely inhospitable environment for the Beast in my body, if there is any life in it yet, which I doubt.

There is one drug in my infusion protocol that is a mixed bag, so to speak. It is a steroid designed to amp up the effectiveness of the anti-nausea drugs. Its side effects include one of the more frustrating (weight gain) and a serendipitously therapeutic condition (joint pain relief). Just about now, two weeks out, I am feeling my normal joint discomforts come back, a signal that the steroid is finally wearing off. I must pay attention once again to body mechanics and stretching exercises, along with my walking/hiking routine, to maintain physical comfort, especially in that pesky right shoulder. Even though I have a love-hate relationship with the drug, right now I’m sorry to see this one positive side-effect fade.

There is a similar spiritual effect that the people of God experience, simply because of the limitations of our human existence. On this side of Eden, human beings are touched with the healing power of God’s presence and power, but the effects of these close encounters often fade over time. Our eyes grow dim to the glory of God, we slip into bad habits, we come down off the mountain only to trip over something in the valley. It is safe to say that every stellar Bible character, with the possible exception of Joseph (Genesis 37ff) experiences the come-down in one way or another. It is as if we are subject to a spiritual force of gravity that pulls us earthward, away from the freeing effects of God’s love and power.

Moses had his moments of spiritual ecstasy, face-to-face encounters with the living God in the Tent of Meeting. He would go in to meet YHWH on a regular basis, and come out with such a extraordinary glow in his face that he wore a veil to keep from blinding the Israelites (Exodus 34:33f). What the people didn’t know was that the veil also covered up the fading of that glorious light. Moses was enamored with the status symbol that accompanied his special access to the Almighty, so he kept the veil on long after the glory had faded to create the lasting impression that elevated his reputation among the people.  All he was hiding was his humanness, which limits one’s capacity to hold on to the blessings of God. [Paul tells the story in 2 Corinthians 3:7-18.] It’s as if we leak: there are holes in us, making it impossible to stay filled with the glory of God.

The fading glory and the leaking of blessing are evident in my tribe, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). I am sorry to say it, but the data are clear: the glory days of the PC(USA) are over. Its membership is declining, its missionary movement is shrinking, morale is sinking, and its very identity is forgotten (as in the loss of confessional, constitutional, and connectional focus). In its effort to “always reform”—interpreted to mean “keep up with the culture”— the denomination has lost sight of the true meaning of Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda (“The church reformed and always to be reformed”) and strained its connection to secundum verbum Dei, “according to the Word of God” (PCUSA Book of Order, F-2.02). The church’s various presbyteries are attempting to retain the impression of glory by filling their coffers with “exit fees” lobbied against those congregations leaving the denomination over issues of biblical interpretation and mission. A case in point, San Francisco Presbytery’s extortion of $8.9M from Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, which will have the nice effect of filling the presbytery’s coffers for a very long time while members disperse to other places preaching the true gospel of Jesus Christ, leaving a cash-rich but people-poor shell of an organization. As a member of San Francisco Presbytery, I say this with great sadness and shame. The glory has left the temple.

For the day-to-day Christian, the only answer to this problem of spiritual leakage is to continue to trust and rely upon the infilling of the Holy Spirit on a daily basis. What would otherwise fade in us (the faith, hope, and love of our Savior and the glory of Almighty God) is renewed everyday by the power of the Holy Spirit according to the Word of God. Appropriating God’s Spirit keeps us on the path, and his Word is a light unto our feet (Psalm 119:105). Abandoning either one, Word or Spirit, puts us in a perilous position, though it might take a long time to see the full effect of faded glory. Rather, how important it is for us to pay attention to the dynamics of spiritual discipline and daily-manna nourishment in order to retain our strength and spiritual health in the days to come. For all those congregations that strive to foster these spiritual habits, I offer encouragement and prayers for your continued faithfulness to Jesus Christ and the fullness of his Spirit.  For those that do not, the discipline will be painful in the short term, but later will yield “the peaceful fruit of righteousness,” which I urge upon you, for the sake of your own spiritual health and that of the church-at-large.

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9 Responses to “Fading Glory”


  1. Don’t like to go all the way with you about the demise of the PCUSA, still hope it’s a trough and not a ski-jump we’re in — but you’re right persuasive. And not negative or vindictive as a consequence, thanks.

  2. emd5542 Says:

    RevMary, this message is so perfect I am brought to silence–almost. Must admit to smiling at your capture of Moses’ probable vanity. And “…we come down off the mountain only to trip over something in the valley” brings a picture for constant awareness of anyone’s tendency to be uppity. Perhaps PC(USA) will receive this crack upside its head as a loving disciplinary word from God and grab hold of “eternity is a long time to be wrong” [attributed to Beth Moore] I miss your daily feeding but understand your preparation for March 3 must be the priority for now. Besides, you have years and years yet to Bring the Word to Life. And that you do eloquently. Thanks be to God. Cheering you on, Eleanor

  3. Jodie Says:

    Mary,

    I think the main problem with the PCUSA is that we, and I mean all of us, keep looking in all the wrong places for an explanation, and fighting over all the wrong issues. Those that stay and those that go. As I’ve said before, I see no reason a Menlo Park needs to leave in order to be all that it can be, but I do see that being at a loss to explain what has happened to the denomination, or to be able to reverse it, they think they must do something anyway, even if that something is to leave. Even if leaving is ineffective by inspection and merely moves money around, with the lawyers siphoning off their fees as it does.

    (Leaving surely does not further empower them; nor does it arrest the decline of the PCUSA. It’s just cosmetic surgery. Expensive cosmetic surgery. Maybe it makes them feel better when they look in the mirror, if all they see is the surface and they think its some how ugly or lacking. But Jesus was never impressed with how things appear on the outside).

    The sad thing is, until folks really figure out what is going on, and find the root cause of their discontent, it will continue to go on.

    Jodie

    PS Best wishes for the next stage of your treatment. (Is 55:12)

  4. Steve Frank Says:

    Mary,
    Thank you for another good word. Well put.

    I rejoice with you in your healing and grieve with you re the state of “our tribe.” Over the years I’ve been tempted to join Elijah in failing to notice “all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” (1 Ki 19:18)

    Giving thanks for you and for your healing,
    Steve

  5. dweidlich Says:

    Mary,
    I haven’t visited your blog for several months, so I was surprised to read of your cancer. I am so sorry. I spent a few hours reading previous posts and found them tremendously nourishing. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings with your readers.

    May God bless you with courage and health.

  6. WillowsRes Says:

    Hardly fair to use the word “extortion” for an agree-upon procedure for dismissal. There’s an underlying bitterness evident in your post (“coffers”?). Certainly there are people on both sides who could complain about the conditions (if they wish to). This split weakens both parties, and is certainly a time for sadness. It is doubly important and difficult to show grace at such times.

    • revmary Says:

      Hello friend, thank you for writing. I must clarify one thing, which probably wouldn’t change your advice much but sets the context. The point is that San Francisco Presbytery did NOT follow its agreed-upon procedure for dismissal in the MPPC case. The original deal, forged in August according to the policy established by the Presbytery, was jettisoned in September by the Presbytery and renegotiated on the basis of a legally indefensible claim. MPPC showed lots of grace by originally offering 2.5 times what the Presbytery’s guidelines suggested; and they continue to show grace in an impossible situation. For the rest of us remaining in the Presbytery, it is hard to know whether we have “an agreed-upon procedure” any longer.

      • WillowsRes Says:

        The issue was as prosaic as a dispute over whether the Church of Pioneers Foundation should be counted as an asset of MPPC (right?). The church considered all options and was unlikely to prevail in litigation (IOW, presbytery’s claim was quite possible defensible). It’s hard to see much grace in adamantly defending either side of this issue.

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