A long-time pastor to depart: 2-3-14
Reading the Bible sensibly: 2-5-14

Garbage theology and mercy: 2-4-14


Today we pick up the conversation we started yesterday with the Rev. Robert Lee Hill, who has told the congregation he pastors, Community Christian Church (pictured here at 46th and Main), that he'll be leaving there at the end of June next year after nearly 30 years on staff there.

Bob has some ideas in mind (including the publication of a new book about prayer he's written) that he wants to pursue and feels he can't do that and still be a full-time pastor: "One can't have divided energies," is the way he explained it to me. So, as he wrote to his congregation in a recent letter, ". . .it is my firm belief that now is the time to begin a process that will make the way clear for Community to seek out and secure its next lead pastor and head of staff. "

Change is nothing new for pastors, who rarely spend an entire career with one congregation. As Bob thinks back on his career, he is conscious of three times when he's forged his way into the future "without a net" under him, as he says. And one of those times is now.

Our next topic had to do with the core of being a pastor. (The conversation has been edited for length and clarity):

Tammeus: Bob, when you think about pastoral care, dealing with the troubles of people and the joys of people, what has been the most difficult kind of situation to deal with and what has given you the most satisfaction.

Hill: The most satisfaction and joy are those priestly functions. At the beginning of life we say welcome to the world. You are a precious child of God and we include you and enfold you into this family of faith. Easter Sunday baptisms, it almost doesn't get any better than that. Then when two people face each other, hand in hand, and say. . .'let it be known from this time forth and throughout the land that your are married.' And then, 'Earth to Earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.'All those life cycle moments are the absolute sweet spots of ministry. I love it all. To accompany people in their growth and grace in such poignant, tender occasions is a privilege, an absolute blessing.

Tammeus: And the most difficult?

Hill: With regard to the most anguishing moments, when somebody has been swallowed up by darkness and, by their own hand, brings their own life to a close, that's almost the hardest moment to interpret for the remaining family. For those who have been left to our safekeeping, it's a challenge to provide mercy and clarity and a hopeful future. I think the second one is when a family dissolves in divorce and they're all members of the church. That's a difficult part of this job.

Tammeus: When you are helping people to try to understand a disaster or suicide, I assume you have to keep in mind that we're 300 million Americans who seem to believe in 300 million different gods.

Hill: Yeah, yeah.

Tammeus: So the question is what do you say about God in those situations that won't make people think that God caused all of this evil.

Hill: Yeah, the claptrap and garbage theology. It belongs in a garbage heap. We're dealing with a subject you've confronted in your career. It's the issue of theodicy (Tammeus note: Theodicy tries to answer why there is evil in the world if God is good and powerful.) It has no answer ever. It has some attempts at clarification, and that's the best we can do. What I do is talk about how God has given us free will and does not control history or control nature. This has been radically freed, and we are bid to be partners with God. But some of these tragedies will just happen. To quote William Sloan Coffin, of all the hearts that break when tragedies occur, God's is always the first. What God does do is come along side. We feel it and sense it.

Tammeus: What difference has it made that your ministry has been in Kansas City?

Hill: What's the center of the country? It's right here. This is a great place to live. As for Community itself, to the west of us is a symbol of some of the greatest wealth in the country, the Country Club Plaza. To the east here is extraordinary poverty and disenfranchisement. What a great place to be, right at the nexus and the intersection of that. I think that Community Christian Church, not because of its architecture (Tammeus note: It was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright) but because a long time ago it decided it would be future looking, we have been that for a long time. Another thing that's been very interesting has been meeting members of the Jewish community and being exhilarated. (Rabbi) Michael Zedek became one of my best friends in the world and we've done this radio show (Religion on the Line) for going on 21 years. And then the number of wonderful churches of all kinds...all that made for a gumbo of diversity that I like to partake of. This is where God led me. This is where I am. Let's get busy.

* * *


Pope Francis is getting so much mail that the small office designated to handle it is overwhelmed, it's reported. Wonder if it's like our e-mail, half of which is made up of business investment offers from Nigeria.


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