Keynote Addresses

Living Together / Our Liberty in Christ

A keynote address by Dr. Blair at the 68th & 69th ConnECtions of Evangelicals Concerned, 2011

On the night before he sacrificed himself for sinners, consuming the cup of wrath with all its debris, decay, death and utter destruc­tion – the forewarned fallout of our fall into sin – Jesus prayed for his followers. He prayed, too, for us who, through their witness, would follow him, just as falteringly as they, but who also, by God’s grace in him, would be just as finally freed.

Father … I’ve revealed you to those you gave me out of the world. … I’ve given them your word and this world has hated them, for they are not of this world as I am not of this world. … Set them apart by your word, the truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For their sake, I consecrate myself to you, that they, also, may be consecrated to you [and] that they all may be one, just as you, Father, are in me and I am in you. … May they, together, be brought into maturity so that the world will know that you sent me and that you have loved them even as you have loved me. … I’ve made you known to them. I will continue to make you known so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them and so that I may be in them. (John 17)

In unfathomable love and irrefutable wisdom, God answers Jesus’ prayer sweated out in blood. And Jesus knew it would be answered with wise love, for he knew the One to Whom he prayed: “Not my will, but thine be done.” Read more →

“Anointed – or just Annoyed?”

Dr. Ralph Blair’s Keynote at the GCN Conference in Seattle, Washington, January 4-7, 2007

At first, they were impressed – a bit surprised, but impressed. But when the guest preacher began to “reinterpret” Scripture, they were confused.  As he went on, they were shocked.  Finally, they were furious.  They knew their Bible.  And, for starters, they knew he’d stopped short in his reading.  They’d wanted to hear that part about God’s vengeance on the gentiles, the goyim, those filthy outsiders.  But he didn’t read that part.  He’d stopped just short of that part. And then things got worse.  He defended the faith of some of the outsiders and he denounced unfaithfulness in insiders. Who did he think he was? What authority did he have to speak this way?  But when he hinted by whose authority he was speaking in assumed Messianic identity, they were outraged.  They got themselves so outraged, they wanted to kill him – literally.  And they tried to kill him.  But somehow, he slipped away.

That was a long time ago, at the synagogue of the Nazarenes.  The guest preacher was a son of the congregation.  But he was also the Son of God!  His name was Yeshua – Jesus – because the angel had told Joseph: “He will save his people from their sins”.  Well he wasn’t going to save them, if they had any say in it!

The Bible reading was from a Messianic passage from Isaiah.  And, by convention, Yeshua read it out loud: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom to people in bondage, sight to those who are blind, release to the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  (Luke 4:18,19; Isaiah 61:1,2)

He stopped just short of that lip-smacking part about God’s alleged vengeance against the goyimRead more →

COMING OUT AHEAD: Disconnecting, Connecting, and Reconnecting for Christ

An expanded version of the Keynote address given by Dr. Ralph Blair at the Eastern and Western connECtions 2003

INTRODUCTION

Earlier this year I was at Wheaton College for the centenary of that brilliant observer of the 20th century, Malcolm Muggeridge. He was the consummate insider who was ever the outsider. In his memoir, Chronicles of Wasted Time, he tells of a recurring scene in his mind, “both sleeping and waking.” He describes “standing in the wings of a theatre waiting for my cue to go on stage. As I stand there I can hear the play proceeding, and suddenly it dawns on me that the lines I have learnt are not in this play at all, but belong to a quite different one. Panic seizes me; I wonder frenziedly what I should do. Then I get my cue. Stumbling, falling over the unfamiliar scenery, I make my way on to the stage, and there look for guidance to the prompter, whose head I can just see rising out of the floor-boards. Alas, he only signals helplessly to me, and I realize that of course his script is different from mine. I begin to speak Read more →

Jesus Christ is Lord! So What!

An expanded version of the Keynote address delivered by Dr. Ralph Blair at the Eastern and Western connECtions 2002.

INTRODUCTION

“Jesus Christ is Lord!” So what! There’s no more foolish non sequitur than that. Yet among so many Christians, there’s no more frequent folly. Of course, among non-Christians, this dismissive statement seems no non sequitur. As Paul said: “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ [and really mean it] unless he or she is prompted by God’s Holy Spirit.” (I Cor 12:3)

“So What!” That’s the least of the interjections of indifference. “Yeah, well, so?” “Whatever!” They get rougher, more hostile. “Who cares?” “Who gives a damn?” “Who gives a shit?” Shall I go on? Christians usually don’t go on from there. And, of course, Christians don’t actually say: “Jesus Christ is Lord! So what?” No. With eyes closed and hands aloft, Christians sing the praise chorus, “He is Lord.” And with eyes shut against that truth and a hands-off policy to what is proclaimed, we lead our lives to suit ourselves. For too many, instead of following through on Christ’s Lordship – there’s a flaking out in the fantasies of our own lord- and ladyships. For all practical purposes, it’s not: “Jesus Christ is Lord!” Forever! It’s “Jesus Christ is Lord!” Whatever! Read more →

Enthusiasm

Based on material presented by Dr. Blair at the two 1997 summer conferences of Evangelicals Concerned held in Pennsylvania and California.

“An enthusiastic religion is the perfection of common sense. And to be beside oneself for Christ’s sake is to be beside Christ, which is our chief end for time and eternity.”
– Henry Drummond – The Ideal Life

There’s way too much enthusiasm. And there’s also way too little. That’s because there’s enthusiasm and enthusiasm. So we’d better not be too quick to enthuse over just any enthusiasm.

Enthusiasm is supposed to be enlivening, but much of it is rather short-lived. Remember these words? “Get other names at 100,000 or more, 50,000 or more… . Ready to start overnights right away.” That’s from the White House memo launching Bill Clinton’s bed and breakfast deal. The New York Times headlined: “His Enthusiasm is Made Clear in a Memo.” But his enthusiasm didn’t last. It was dashed by the press’s enthusiasm for scandal — real or imagined. But even the enthusiasm of self-righteous journalists can be sustained by any particular scandal for only so long. Here’s another Times headline of erstwhile enthusiasm: “Addition of Kemp Offers Strength to Dole, Foremost on Tax Policy and Enthusiasm.” The publisher of a talk-radio digest enthused: “For the first time, there’s a lot of energy and enthusiasm about Dole-Kemp.” He might just as well have said it was for the last time. The enthusiasm didn’t last. Read more →

TRUST

Based on an address Dr. Blair gave at the eastern and western connECtions96 in the summer of 1996.

(PDF version available here.)

by Dr. Ralph Blair


INTRODUCTION

Tennessee Williams used to say that “at New York cocktail parties, I drink martinis almost as fast as I can snatch them from the tray.” He said it was at these parties that he “always had a particularly keen and truly awful sense of impermanence” that, he said, haunts all of us. He called “fear and evasion … the two little beasts that chase each other’s tails in the revolving wirecage of our nervous world.”

Fear and Primal Fear aren’t just Marky Mark and Richard Gere movies. They’re our own home videos, channeled through the little amygdala alarm in our brains. Once that alarm goes off, we experience fear, whether or not there’s any good reason to be afraid. Psychiatrist Karl Menninger said that “fear is probably the first emotion experienced” though he added that it’s “so inextricably fused and regularly associated [with anger] that it is difficult to make useful distinctions” between them. Overcoming such fear becomes our “first spiritual duty,” according to philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev. Freud called fear “the fundamental phenomenon and the central problem of neurosis.” According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 23 million Americans suffer from serious anxiety, over twice as many as suffer from depression and other psychiatric disorders.

Cognitively speaking, fears and anxiety can be prompted and sustained by lack of trust. They can also be resolved by trust. Psychologically, trust is an absence of anxiety. Philosopher John Dewey once said: “To me, faith [or trust] means not worrying.” Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr defined trust as “the final triumph over incongruity.” He went on to say that trust is “the final assertion of the meaningfulness of existence.” Read more →

Anger

An expanded version of Dr. Blair’s address on anger at connECtion95, the summer conferences of Evangelicals Concerned at Kirkridge and Mills College, June and July, 1995.

In a promo for New York City’s Lesbian and Gay Community Center, cartoonist Howard Cruse depicts a gay guy asking his lesbian friend: “Where’s the meeting for people who’re mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore?” She consults the Center’s schedule and replies: “Hm — Depends on what night of the week it is.” Gay columnist Bruce Bawer rightly objects to the fact that “many gay leaders and commentators persist in encouraging us to celebrate rage.” Of course, lesbians and gay men are not the only people who are feeling angry these days.

According to the Billy Graham Professor of Evangelism at Southern [Baptist] Seminary: “The whole Christian Right movement feeds off of a ‘theology of resentment.'” [Ken Chafin] A prominent evangelical journalist reports that “Moods of … anger dominate the conservative evangelical subculture.” [Rodney Clapp] Evangelist Luis Palau warns: “I fear the Age of the Angry Evangelical is upon us. That we are getting to be an angry bunch isn’t merely a caricature created by the so-called ‘secular humanist media elite.’ Evangelicals are getting far too angry about far too many things, … we American evangelicals are now known nationally (and internationally) by our anger.” Read more →

Temptation & The Truly Alternative Lifestyle

This booklet is an expanded version of Dr. Blair’s keynote address at connECtion 1992, the summer conferences of Evangelicals Concerned, at Kirkridge in the eastern Pennsylvania mountains and at Chapman University in Orange, California.

(PDF version available here.)
(PDF of book format available here.)

by Dr. Ralph Blair

“Though vine nor fig-tree neither
Their wonted fruit shall bear;
Though all the field should wither
Nor flocks nor herds be there:
Yet God the same abiding,
His praise shall tune my voice;
For while in Him confiding
I cannot but rejoice.”
Habakkuk 3:17-18


Oscar Wilde could not resist it. In Lady Windemere’s Fan he couldn’t resist saying “I can resist everything except temptation.” And I couldn’t resist repeating it.

Temptation. What do we get out of getting into it? How do we get into getting out of it? We face it every day. Think of the temptations we’ve faced just in the past 24 hours, or just so far this morning, or just at this very moment.

Are we tempted to act unjustly, to be unkind, to reject God’s will? (Micah 6:8)

Are we tempted to disguise our motives? To gossip? To trespass into another person’s private space? Are we tempted to neglect conferees we don’t find attractive? To join in as a friend is nasty about someone else behind her back? Are we tempted to behave seductively? Are we tempted to make excuses for ourselves while giving little or no benefit of the doubt to anyone else? Are we tempted to be discouragingly critical? To gloat over somebody else’s troubles? To ignore those troubles? To free-load? To spend ourselves into debt on ourselves while withholding money from others who really do need some? Are we tempted to be Madonna’s “material girls?” To be perfectionistic? To be lax? To condemn? To manipulate and exploit someone who finds us sexy? To exploit others by renting or viewing pornography? To engage in phone sex? To break promises? To rush unwisely and unlovingly into romantic relationships? To steal? To lash out? To hold a grudge? To procrastinate? To avoid pulling our own weight? To withhold forgiveness? To neglect family and friends? To pout? To gripe about the food? To be ungrateful? To neglect opportunities to encourage others? To claim we have a right to do whatever we want to do with our bodies, our money, our time, our talents? Are we tempted to apply these thoughts on temptation to anyone but ourselves? To focus on a disagreement over something I’ve said so as not to see that most of what else I’ve said easily applies to us all—individually and collectively? Am I tempted to pretend I’m a stranger to all these temptations? Are you tempted to believe me? Are we tempted to think that God is not ready and willing to forgive us? Are we tempted to take God’s forgiveness for granted? How seriously do we want to resist these temptations?

How selectively? How soon? What do we get out of getting into temptation? How do we get out of getting into temptation? Our presence here this weekend probably indicates that we want to resist temptation better than we do. But why not go beyond mere resistance, to a seriously heroic discipleship? Read more →

The Lord’s Prayer

Ralph Blair is a psychotherapist in private practice in New York City. He founded Evangelicals Concerned in 197 6. This booklet is based on Dr. Blair’s keynote at connECtion1990, the summer conferences of Evangelicals Concerned, at Kirkridge and at San Francisco State University.
(PDF version available here.)

By Dr. Ralph Blair


An unknown gloss adds a word at the end of one of Jesus’s sayings: “When you pray, don’t be like hypocrites who love to pray in the synagogues and on the broad street corners to be seen by People magazine.” But there he was, in People magazine: Jerry Falwell tableau vivant—bent over a bed, on his knees, hands velcroed together on top of a Bible, eyes shut, piously beseeching a disinterested French poodle on the bed beside the Bible. People magazine’s a pretty big street corner! Now maybe the posturing wasn’t Falwell’s idea. Maybe it was People’s. But why did he stoop to play the part?

“Believe me,” said Jesus, “they have had all the reward they’re going to get. But when you pray, go into a room by yourself,” he said, “shut the door and pray to your Father privately. Your Father who sees everything will reward you.” That’s how Cardinal Newman could reflect: “I am never less alone than when I am all alone.”

Jesus continued: “When you pray, don’t rattle off long prayers like the pagans who think they will be heard because they use so many words.” But there they were, in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, led by Cardinal O’Connor, in vanity and in vain, rattling off the lines of The Lord’s Prayer in a shouting match with ACT-UP invaders. “They think they will be heard?”

After a federal district court ruled against spoken prayers at public school ceremonies, there he was, an Iowa preacher protesting that the ruling violated his constitutional right to free speech. To whom did he intend to speak?

And there he was on 60 Minutes, a U.S. Marine drill instructor, barking orders at his young recruit.

“Get ’em up!” He meant: put your hands together as if in prayer. “Yes, sir.” “Pray! Ya’ got 30 seconds. Go!” “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, … ” Evel Knievel says he can do it in 10 seconds.

After a court of appeals ruling against public school-sponsored spoken prayers at football games, protesting fans throughout the South chanted The Lord’s Prayer across the field before kickoff. They think they will be heard. Does God really have to listen to all this crap? God listens and weeps.

Standing on the 50-yard line, the mayor of Montgomery, Alabama began his protest prayer session by boasting that “Football and prayer are a tradition in Montgomery and in Alabama and in America.” One can think of other traditions in Montgomery and Alabama and America. Read more →

Nevertheless, Joy!

NEVERTHELESS, JOY! is Ralph Blair’s keynote address at the connECtion89 summer conferences of Evangelicals Concerned held in the states of Pennsylvania, Washington, and Wisconsin. Dr. Blair has been practicing psychotherapy for twenty years. He founded Evangelicals Concerned in 1976.
(PDF version available here.)

by Dr. Ralph Blair


During the Great Depression, one of the hit songs on Broadway was “Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries.” Rodney Dangerfield rebuts: “Life is just a bowl of pits.” A rational therapist might caution: Well now, isn’t life really rather a mixed bowl of cherries and pits? After all, even Woody Allen says life’s divided into two parts: “the horrible and the miserable.” All these opinions are really the same. All except the rational therapist’s. Each is cynicism about life. Tallulah Bankhead expressed cynicism when she said: “If I had to live my life again, I’d make the same mistakes, only sooner.” Two hundred fifty years ago, playwright John Gay wrote for his own epitaph: “Life is a jest; and all things show it. I thought so once; but now I know it.” Gay’s cynical descendants put the same sentiment crassly: “Life sucks and then you die.”

Hearing these ideas, maybe we don’t know whether to feign a knowing smile or cluck our tongues and wag our heads. Like hearing a sick joke that resonates with our own warped wit, we’re torn between emotions. We find the pessimism both uncomfortably funny and sad because it reflects our own defensively cynical hostility when we, too, so desperately desire something so much better to be true, but experience no real hope that it can be true. We want to live the pretensions of irrational optimism but we’re stuck in the disappointment of irrational pessimism. And so we try to protect ourselves by concluding with Gay that life’s a dirty little joke and with the songwriters, “Don’t take it serious … just live and laugh at it all.” But as a writer of Proverbs knew long ago: “Even in laughter, the heart may be aching.” (14:13)

There was a lot of laughter on Fire Island in the 1970s. Gay people were courageously emerging from dark closets of isolating fear to the relief of promised companionship. But poppers, pill punch, and parties that lasted all night did not really liberate the oppressed from the pain of isolation, insecurity, rejection and meaninglessness. Popular T-shirts of those summers read: “So many men, so little time.” Oscar Levant put it: “So little time, so little to do.” What was there really left to do with so many men? That lifestyle was conceived and delivered in boredom while basic sexual needs went unmet. No one seemed to notice that, in the words of Edna St. Vincent Millay: “It is not true that life is one damn thing after another—it is one damn thing over and over.” And then as Malcolm Forbes laments: “By the time we’ve made it, we’ve had it.” Read more →

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