Wednesday, November 25, 2009

On Marina Grace and God's Time

From the Gettysburg Seminary President's Office
by Michael L. Cooper-White

Over the years I have made several promises, to avoid patterns and behaviors found annoying in others when repeated to excess. I will seek to avoid waxing eloquent about the “good old days,” in which, of course, I played a major leading role. I will confine to a bare minimum any comments on the state of my health, especially should some dire disease or perilous condition befall me. I won’t even ask friends and associates if they want to see pictures, slides (do these even exist anymore?) or videos of my most recent travel adventures. And, I will avoid excessive bragging about the accomplishments and attributes of my children and grandchildren.

Now I must confess that keeping the latter self-pledge is the most challenging in this moment when our family has just welcomed the birth of Marina Grace Ramirez Cooper to parents Melissa and Aaron, the Chicago contingent of the Cooper-White clan. She is, quite simply, one of the finest little ones God ever created! My recent Chicago trip for the ELCA Church Council meeting afforded me the opportunity to meet and hold this wonderful new baby. As so many other grandparents have testified, it’s a unique and awesome experience embracing a newborn child of one’s children.

In Marina’s name itself—meaning “of the sea—is a reminder of the ever-flowing tides of life, its cycles and seasons. The great Isaac Watts hymn, “Oh God, our Help in Ages Past,” reminds us that time is indeed “an ever-rolling stream,” which far too quickly “bears us all away.” And yet, in every moment of never-ceasing and fast-escaping chronological time, there is the possibility that God’s kairos-time might just break in.

Included in a Bible study I was asked to lead for the Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America was a reminder of this twofold nature of time reflected in the distinct words employed by writers of the New Testament—“chronos” and “kairos.” Chronos—clock time, marches onward and indeed bears us all away. But kairos—often translated as “God’s time” or the “fullness of time”—connects this world with the eternal and unending, with a time-beyond-time where clocks either grind to a halt or are completely irrelevant.

“What time is it?” I invited members of the Church Council, churchwide executives and other advisers to ponder. Amidst their prolonged discussions of budget shortfalls and reactive anxiety abroad in the church as a result of ELCA decisions to allow for the ordination of gay and lesbian baptized brothers and sisters in publicly accountable, monogamous lifelong relationships, council members and others suggested the times are turbulent, filled with anger, and threats to divide the church in some quarters. Others commented that it’s also a time for new opportunities to expand our church’s mission and faithfulness.

Holding the precious gift-bundle of flesh and spirit Marina’s parents and God have bestowed upon us all, my own answers to the question point in the following directions: It’s time to get on with building and being a better, more welcoming church than we have been heretofore. It’s time to get more serious about a “green tomorrow” and steps both large and small, which give hope that a hospitable planet will endure for our children, grandchildren and generations thereafter. It’s time for forward-mission-movement despite the economic challenge of scarcer resources. More than ever, it’s time to be both faithful and fervent in fielding theological education that equips current and future church leaders not to just endure but embrace all the challenges that lie ahead as denominations may reconfigure, congregations find new forms, and the “profession” of ministry grows in directions we can only begin to imagine.

And for now, it’s time for me to carry around the little folio with this granddad’s collection of Marina photos . . . I’ll only show them when asked, and I promise they won’t bore you!

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