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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Meditation: On Lord's Prayer

This week we have clergy meetings. We are going to be taught how to do "prophetic preaching." I will be posting again next Friday.

Having looked at the Lord's prayer, I invite us all to a deeper meditation on it. While Luke does not include the word, Matthew does: "Our."

This is one of my major rants so you have heard it before. God is "our" Father, not mine. It does not mean that God does not know us personally. It does not mean that individuals do not matter. What it means is all prayer has a communal element. Ponder this, how does your prayer change when you say "our" versus "my"? In the later 1990's my two little ones were negotiating their new life on planet earth. Madison is twenty one months older than Luke. One of his first words was "mine." I never recall her saying that word, ever. The reason was, of course, she did not have an older sibling taking her stuff.

The me and mine approach to life is isolated. It is self centered.
The us and our approach is communal. It is love centered.
The former is reality, the latter is the kingdom dream. We can NOT ignore the reality of sin and fallen humanity. Taking care of me and mine is the reality in which we live. However, we can work toward the Kingdom ideal even now, as we await its arrival.

Being hopelessly naive and calling it optimism is silliness. Pretending that we can and should trust each other all the time is a bad idea. (Just check out the work of scam artists and child molesters if you want to see the fruit of that "optimistic" approach to life). But 'our' reminds us we are all in this together. At least in prayer we can act like it. We can act with care but pray with abandon. We can keep a wary eye out in our daily dealings, but pray without worry or fear with/for everyone.

"Father" is Jesus' word. Contemporary folk seem hell bent on destroying the word. They make it a dirty, bad, oppressive word. (Seems Jesus was actually a pretty evil guy in their minds.) Fatherhood in God is a revelation. It is significant. Once more, the escape from 'my' helps. Lots of people have bad dads, or absent dads. The word is painful to them. We cannot ignore that, but we must move beyond it. Fatherhood is bigger (and better) than our own personal experience of it. To relate to God as Father changes the perspective. It is a personal relationship. It is not, however, an equal realationship (hence the complaints).

In prayer, one can spend a long time pondering the words "our + Father." How does it change our view of the world? ourselves? our task in life? In prayer, slowly, repeatedly, with mind and heart and imagination, roll those two words around. Think what they do not mean. Think what they do mean. Draw pictures in your head of what it looks like. Enter the reality and let the reality enter you.

Our Father!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Meditation: How Jesus Prayed

Review on Prayer:Goal: Communion with God
Stage 2: Enlightenment, having the mind of Jesus Christ

There is an old saying that married couples begin to look alike over time (same is said of dogs and their owners). I am not sure if it is true. However, I am more than clear that one is influenced by one's company. The way we talk, the way we act, the things we think about, the things we care about; all of these are influenced mightily by the people with whom we spend our time.

Prayer is spending time with God. It slowly (slowly!) makes us more like God (eusebius, in Greek, means godly) It appears four times in the OT and twelve in the NT. The Pauline corpus uses it often and in a sobering way (2Ti 3:12 "...all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution"). The most godly man ever is Jesus. To take on His mind will take us into danger (and eternal life). A good prayer life will both change me/you and disrupt my pleasant life.

It is probably a good idea to look at the prayer life of Jesus at this point. [Some may ask why I did not start here. Answer, a six year old starts with tee-ball, not facing MLB hurlers tossing 96mph.] While Jesus talks about prayer and actually prays in the Gospels, I can think of no better place to start (or stay) than 'The Lord's Prayer.'

A few words of introduction, this prayer is found in three places Matthew 6:9-15, Luke 11:2-4 and in the Didache 8:2 (The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, written between 50-100 AD). One note is that Matthew and the Didache are closer in content than Luke. Luke's version is shorter, leaving out some lines. Luke asks "forgive us our sins."  Matthew includes a variation on Mk 11:25 that God's forgiveness is dependent upon our own willingness to forgive the trespasses of others. [Note, in communal recitation of this prayer, the word trespasses has replaced debts in many churches.]

In 1961 Raymond Brown wrote an article that showed the Lord's Prayer is an eschatological prayer. In other words, it is about the end of the world. I am not going to quote extensively, that level of research is recommended, read the article. Brtown looks at the Greek verbs they are in the aorist imperative. Brown's point is that the aorist imperative is used for a single future action (as oppossed to an ongoing series of actions). The expression "once and for all" would capture his meaning. So for example, "give me the apple" rather than "keep bringing me apples."

So, how then is Jesus telling us to pray?
Father make your name holy (that is what hallowed means; All Hallowed's Eve is the day before All Saints, hallowed=saint=holy). In the OT, God made His name holy by acts of salvation. Another version is glorify your name. Frequently it is expressed as making Your/God's name known. To pray that God will hallow His name is to ask Him, once and for all, to establish His reign.

Your Kingdom come (Mt, Lk, Didache), Your will be done (Mt and Didache). Both mean the same. When God reigns as King His will is done. Remember, this is the ancient world, no democracy is being thought of. If democracy makes for a better society, it does not do much good for Truth and theology. In meditating on this I have come to see that it implies obedience on my part. I frequently pray that God will come and rule, if not the world, at least my heart today. To pray for the Kingdom&Will of God is to hunger for God to rule. And as Jesus reveals in the Garden, this is not a light and sweet prayer, "Father if this cup can pass me, please... but not my will, Your will be done." This prayer binds us to God in deep ways.

The prayer for bread (probably mistranslated 'daily' in Mt) is also in the aorist. What bread will we receive only once and for all? Bread is an ancient term for bread, but also food in general. "I earn my bread by the sweat of my brow" means that one works for everything one has, not just bread but life. So Jesus is telling us, pray for the Heavenly Feast, i.e., the end of the world. It is the "wedding feast" of the parables, the Final Consumation. Obviously, eucharist is a type of the heavenly feast, so this prayer can also become a longing for Jesus present among us in the breaking of bread. Obviously, this parallels manna, the daily food which we need. So there is probably some temporal and immediate implication. However, the main focus is this, "Lord start the Great Feast of the End Times now! Hurry!"

Forgive us our debts.... Debt is a bigger word than sin. Sin is bad stuff we do. Debt is what we owe God. If we were sinless we would still have a huge debt. We owe everything to God. We are dependent beings. (meditate on that) Even the act of saying "thank you" is a gift. we can do nothing on our own. Sins just adds to the debt geometrically. This issue was a huge one for Jesus. He taught on it in His parables. It is the tendency of humans to be unforgiving even as they seek mercy. This petition is scary: "forgive us... AS we forgive..." I wish Jesus told us to pray "forgive us much more easily and completely than we forgive others." The heart of this petition is the final judgment. We call for the mercy of God and His Divine forgiveness. In keeping with the communal nature of church, we recognize that God's forgiveness flows in and through Christ (and therefore, in and through the church=people). Reconciliation with God implies reconciliation with one another. Jesus tells us to love each other as He has loved us. In God's creation our acts of mercy and forgiveness extend His kingdom.

The Greek word for trial and temptation are the same. Hence, Jesus probably told us to pray that we would not be tested/tempted during the Great Tribulation. If we pray for the world's end today then we will pass through "those days" of trial. Asking God to save us from that is something Jesus refers to several times in the Gospels. Matthew and Didache include deliver us from evil/the Evil One. Generic evil and Satan could be implied here. Based on the total theme of the prayer, I think it is the latter. In the final establishment of God's Kingdom, Satan will be active. He will be defeated. We pray for God's hand to protect us as the Prince of this world (i.e. Satan) confronts and is defeated by the True King Who is establishing His reign.

What does it mean that Jesus told us to pray for the end of the world and the beginning of the New Era in His Kingdom? It means all of our prayer is funneled through a different value system. It means our main concerns are shifted from our typical "to do" list for God. It means we ask God (in the Didache Christians were told to pray this way three times a day) to come in our midst.

A final word, I think it most helpful to paraphrase the Lord's prayer (apparently the early church, following ancient Jewish liturgical practice did). You understand the concept, every petition is aimed at God Ruling. SO pray:

Precious, holy God. Make all the world know that you and you alone are God. or
Dear Father, come now, today, in my heart, in my home, in my community, in this world. Come dear Father and establish your Kingdom. or
Father God, throw down those in position of authority, or rule through them. Cast out the Prince of Darkness and rescue your children. Come. NOW. Hurry!
or etc....

You get the point: internalize the desire for the Kingdom. Meditate on the deeper meaning of this outline for prayer and seek the implications of praying this way (like the connection of this prayer to Gethsemane) Consume the Jesus perspective. Learn to hunger and thirst for righteous (God's kingdom) and His justice. Pray for it. Beg for it. Seek it constantly. Who knows, maybe your petition is the tipping point. Maybe we are one voice shy of God hearing, seeing, remembering and finally acting, once and for all, to save the world and reign among us in the New Jerusalem!

Thursday, April 26, 2012


The purpose of prayer is communion with God.
Meditation takes us to a deeper place of reflective knowledge, it has an experiential component.

First step is literally to slow down and focus. Remind yourself that you are trying to pray, that you want to know, love, obey and serve God. Remind yourself that distractions will come so just return focus to God when a distraction does show up. Do not get upset or frustrated. Do not focus on the distraction. Just move on to the primary goal.

I recommend a few deep breaths. I recommend some sort of repetitive prayer like "Lord Jesus mercy" or "We bless you, thank you, praise you Father God." This is the "quieting" process and should last a minute or two. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide your meditation. God is the gift-giver and source.

Now look at the text. Today I took a verse from the most recent passage which I read in my own meditation. Genesis 48:10 (And Israel's eyes were heavy from old age. He was not able to see)

The first connection I make is with Israel/Jacob's deceit as a young man. His father, Isaac, was an old man who could not see. Jacob stole his brother Esau's blessing. There is a tie-in here as Israel is blessing the sons of Joseph and gives the younger a better blessing than the older. Bible stories interpenetrate each other. Words and themes tie the disparate pieces together like molecules. The OT is especially covert in its story telling. People, like Jacob, do terrible things without a negative word of judgment. The narrator refuses to spell it out for us with adjectives. It is tempting to think the Lord is neutral on such things. However, later the seed produces a harvest. Jacob the deceiver is deceived, again and again. No word of judgment is explicitly found in the story, but those with eyes to see are well aware. What goes around comes around.

The word see appears earlier in the text. In chpater 42 we read "Jacob saw that there was grain in Egypt" and he "said to his sons,'why do you look at each other?'" Eyes, seeing, looking have multiple meanings. Jacob sees grain literally means he knows that there is grain in Egypt. This is the connector to Joseph. Jacob's "sight" sets the ball in further motion culminating in the reunion. [Discern the hand of the unseen God here] It is a reminder that things are happening around us with Divine influence. It is not always discerned nor can it be deciphered through wisdom or logic. It appears to simply be good fortune or luck to the unbeliever. Another note, he upbraids the sons for standing around and looking at one another (and donig nothing). To 'see' is not always to 'see.' The boys can physically see but without insight.

Israel/Jacob, now nearly blind, has insight into the destiny of his grandsons (Ephraim and Mannaseh). He has come to this insight having traveled a path of sin, suffering and divine blessing. He has become a great nation, or at least a good start toward one.

What of the meditator? Consider how well you see. What is your blind spot? What is it about your spouse, co-worker, friend you do not understand? What issues plague or threaten you? Do you stand around "looking" or are you seeing the solution (Egypt)? What blessings do you distribute to the young ones in your life? Do you trust God is also at work?

On a different path, how do you accept the deterioration of aging? Can you be comfortable with diminishing powers and capabilities. Can you find new strengths (perhaps increased trust, or patience, or a calmer spirit) as a result from the slow motion dying of your body? What is your legacy? What "nation" are you creating?

On a different path, what are you reaping in life? How is it a function of the seeds sown in previous decisions? How are the curses being broken by new choices? Have you repented and ammended your life? Have you paid the price and moved on?

What then do I do and/or pray for in response to this reading? Perhaps I feel a push to go to volunteer with a retirement home? Maybe I am moved to sit with some youngsters and confer blessing. Maybe God is telling me to donate my eyes for transplant, or collect glasses for the Lion's Club. Maybe I know someone who cannot see well and I call them and say I will come by to read to them. Or I read at the local radio station which provides that service around the clock.

Perhaps I pray for insight. I recognize my limits and ask God's help. Or I see how God has gotten me to a new and happy place (with "my Joseph and grandkids" -- whoever or whatever that is) without my ever seeing it coming. So I spend some time in thanks and more thanks. I realize how wonderfully blessed I am in my circumstance. I look to discern the blessings and focus on them. Instead of complaining about life in a foreign land. So I can pray with thanks. I can pray a declaration of faith: "I know, O Lord, that your hand guides me in ways I do not know. I trust you, Lord, God, Crator and Savior."

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

teach me to pray Progress

I have written about the initial Beginners phase. As I said, this is the place most of us spend all our life. I got a wonderful e-mail from an 80 year old sharing that same sentiment.

The struggle with becoming faithful, rooting out sin, mastering desires, establishing a discipline of prayer is ongoing. However, many faithful pray-ers eventually reach a point where they are actually doing the prayer thing regularly and with focus. [Remember, God is also at work. And the goal of prayer is communion with God so it is not about good sounding prayers but sincere prayer seeking God.] At some point a person begins not to simply do but also to understand. This is a special moment.

Enlightenment always feels like a gift. You are working hard and struggling, trying to come to grips with a problem or issue and suddenly all the pieces fall in place and you "get it,"  or get it enough to no longer feel like you are in the dark.

This is not simply the work of reading about or studying spirituality. It is something deeper which comes from being a practioner. It is knowledge in the biblical sense of the word: experience. There are no doubt a hundred different ways of talking about enlightenment. One I really like is 'having the mind of Christ.' One sees and interprets reality from His perspective.

So how do you do it?
Ask God for the gift. In most cases He will give the gift in the midst of your hard efforts.
What are the hard efforts? Here there are numerous techniques. I would like to focus on meditation. In meditation, we mentally enter into serious mind work. For example, analysis. In analysis we pound an idea with endless questions. We draw conclusions. We look for related consequences. We are critical in our thinking, pushing hard to find what assumptions are at work. This is especially helpful in meditating on a virtue (love) or an imperative (have faith in God).

Another is imaginative. We enter into another place and time. We pay attention to detail. We 'look around' and make the event real in our own head. We ask probing questions about others, their thoughts and feelings. This is an excellent way to meditate on Scripture narratives (Jesus heals a blind man).

A third is analogical. It takes a text and tries to dig past the obvious to the underlying, deeper, spiritual meaning. This is a favorite approach of the Ancients, so it is found in our Church Fathers, beginning with St. Paul. I think the Jewish midrash is also another form of this approach. In any case, one grapples with a text by finding types (Mary is Israel or the church) (wood is the cross). One also looks for connections between various texts, some of which are not so obvious.

In the days ahead I plan to do some actual work to illustrate all three. Hopefully (I pray) I will really be of some concrete use to you as I do this. God Bless!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Teach Me to Pray 4 Beginners

All pray-ers are beginners. No one ever "makes it" as a professional. So say the people who  have been best at it and who have spent their lives doing it for long periods of time each day. That said, there are some who are more beginners than others...

Yesterday we touched on the disipline aspect. I want to emphasize again and again that God is doing something even as we are. The active and passive element cannot be forgotten or overlooked.

Weeding out the sin in our life is a step. Taking up the practice of praying is a step. The use of words is the beginning of prayer. Then one moves to meditation. In the end, silence. As I shared earlier, I tried to short circuit the process. I wanted to go right to the end. Not available....

So what is the process for beginners. Speaking words. I think saying prayers is a good idea. In my early stage I used to read the book Prayers  by Michel Quiost. I think he was a French priest. They were modern psalms, filled with humanity and angst and raw honesty. That is the first quest, to me, of a person learning to pray. Cut out the BS. Stop pretending you are something that you aren't. Do not try to manipulate God or impress Him. This is one reason why I hate to be told I said a beautiful prayer. A beautiful prayer is an honest prayer. The words, "Help me Lord" uttered in hope and trust are more beautful than the poetic, multi-syllabic rendering of a disengaged heart. So be honest. Be true.

Prayer is standing naked with God (back in the Garden). It is a return to Adam/Eve in open relation with our God (made available to us by the Blood of the Lamb). I do not think technique enters here. Just honesty. Do not worry about what to say or how to say. Speak into the empty space/darkness/quiet/unknown (i.e. The INVISIBLE GOD). Speak your true thoughts an feelings. Outloud is better than silent in your head.

In addition, pick up the psalms. If Jesus prayed psalms on the cross as He died I have to think there is a place for that practice among us as well. Find psalms that really speak your heart. Learn to say thanks and praise. Find psalms that praise God well and read them outloud, to Him, and focus your attention on the words. And make them your own. Another practice. List things you are thankful for. Articulate it and tell God. Would you miss your fingers? Then thank God for them, each and every one. Do you like ice cream? Then thank God it exists! Do you like breathing? Thank God your lungs work and your heart and your veins and etc.

Remember, the ultimate goal is to abide in Him as He abides in us. Communion. That is where we are headed. Prayer, in the beginning, is striking up the conversation. But be real. Be true. Do not play games with the Lord. And be patient, learning to pray takes time and effort. But it is also a gift of God. Confused, that is fine. Trust Him, He will do it, and get to work!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Teach me to pray 3

Have received some e-mails. One of them challenged me to go deeper and be more helpful. So I have prayed that I could do just that. Thanks, always, for the feedback whether on the blog (hard to negotiate) or to my e-mail.

The core of the complaint was a need for a "methodology" and so, here is my next attempt. It will probably stretch out over several days (or weeks?). I am afraid this is better suited for a book and my blog is not so well planned out as that...

My personal definition of prayer has been (for over thirty years) "communication seeking communion." I would still hold that to be my own understanding, with this caveat, communion is fleeting and will only truly happen on the other side.

So, methodology. There are two aspects to the spiritual life. The passive (what God does) and the active (what we do). The former is in the realm of grace and supernature. We have no control over it. God can do as God sees fit. So God can make things happen fast (e.g. Paul's conversion to Jesus) or slow (e.g. uncle Agnostic coming to faith at age 87). The active aspect is what we call discipleship. That has to do with our disciplines: prayer, work, study, community. It is all about human effort and it is all about our choices and behaviors.

This is quite Biblical. When the Lord delivers Israel in battle, the men still fight (kill and die). When the Lord builds the walls of Jerusalem, the  men still carry bricks and build the walls. When God leads the people out of slavery, the people still have to walk (and walk and walk). You get the point.

So in prayer there is what God is doing and what we are doing. The life of prayer is one long process, but like human development there are stages. A stage is not isolated and complete. You do not wake up one day and say, "I am no longer an infant, I am a toddler!" Or, "Wow, I am glad childhood is over and I am a young adult." And just like the rest of life, things happen to us and our choices impact how quickly we progress. Some of it is under our control and lots of it isn't.

The spiritual life is seen to progress in three stages: the purgative, the illuminative and the unitive. The purgative is the initial process of purification. It has to do with God taking away our satisfaction with the life of the flesh (worldliness). We are no longer happy partying, or acquiring stuff, or playing. We find life less enjoyable and we want "more." God is about the work of releasing us from the purely material and temporary. But there is also another aspect, our work. [Just to introduce: the illuminative is a stage of wisdom, divine insight. This is the holy person who not only does good, but also understands deeply. The unitive is that oneness which transcends our understanding. It is sometimes called Dark Light. It is hard to understand, but don't worry, most of us will not deal with that advanced stage in this life!]

In reality, it is all one single process and there are certainly moments or aspects of all three going on. But, in general, the initial stage, purgative, is probably where the vast majority of us spend our entire life. (pause...) [My own ego led me to think (in my 20's) that I would be better than that. I was convinced that I could attain excellence because, well, I am me and I am not satisfied with second best. I have since come to see the error of that!]

[remember that God is at work, too] The purgative way is "purgatory" on earth. It is literally being purified from sin. It is the process of learning to turn from idols (false gods and the demonic/satanic are equated by Paul) to the living God. It includes turning from sin and immorality. It means no more doing evil, doing bad. For example, the basic moral issues found in the ten commandments or various lists of Jesus and Paul. But it continues up the ladder. It is learning to worship God and not myself, or my family, or my country, or my church, or my reputation, or my appetites, or my desires, etc., etc. Go back to the Garden. God lays it out for us, but there are limits. Eat this. Don't eat that. Once we eat that, we are in exile. The world of exile is where we all abide. So we are free to choose what we want. Which means we are enslaved to what we want and choose. In order to pray we have to break the bonds which keep us from God.

So prayer in this initial stage is going to be different than in later stages. There is discipline involved. We have to sit down and be quiet. It takes effort to say the words, to read the books, to try to think about God and not be distracted by our life pursuits. We have to be brutally honest in self assessment. You can't be sleeping around, or ripping people off, or drinking/drugging yourself half conscious and have a good prayer life. You can't be a liar, cheat or thief. You can't be violent, angry, destructive. You can't. You can't. You can't.... Which, of course, leads many to give up the enterprise. Too many rules. Too much negativity! But that is the nature of ground work. You can't fix up the house if it is cluttered and dirty. Gotta clean before you paint, right? Gotta pick up the debris before you put down a new floor.

So 'to begin' in prayer is to turn from blatant sins. Over time you will be free from most of them. Then you look to less obvious sins, the subtle things which you never thought of as being bad. And while you do this, you look "up" (figuratively) to the Father God Whom you seek. You acknowledge a need for Him. You admit your brokeness. You even admit you don't love Him all that much and sometimes you would prefer to do the bad things you are trying not to do. But always, the first and central goal, is to meet with HIM! The practices of morality will stir up a hunger for the Good, the Beautiful, the Holy.

For the early beginner, much of prayer is a foreign land. It is a place where one sometimes goes through the motions without a firm grasp of the reality. And it can be frustrating. I would also add that when we slide back into more grievous sins, we can also return to this state of spirit, mind and heart. So one part of the methodology is morality.  Another is the knowledge that this is a discipline. It is something we must do every day. And it is a long process. Just like blogging on this is going to be a long process. Please be patient. Feedback is welcome. God bless

Thursday, April 19, 2012

teach me to pray 2

Yesterday I shared my belief that prayer begins with communal and liturgical prayer. This provides a language system for listening to God and a model for talking. I think that the former is the most vital aspect of prayer. We are to LISTEN to God in prayer. Most of us are not great listeners so that means prayer will be hard. (God also tends to whisper much of the time) In seminary I heard once that prayer is "wasting time with God" and I think that is a helpful thing to keep in mind. When we pray the most important thing we can do is be present for God and open to Him. It is time spent "with" in much the same way that we sit with a friend or family member. Sometimes the silence speaks more eloquently than any words.

My understanding of Jesus' spirituality is that He was an active Jew, quite at home with prayer formulas and 'liturgy.' This is foreign to many Christians. Some even frown on it. That is fine. I have actively sought to integrate the catholic spirituality (found in Roman and Anglican churches in the west) and over the years I have come to see the wisdom of such prayer. However, I do not want to rehash yesterday, so today I want to move onto other prayer forms.

First a word about "personal" prayer. Personal does not mean individual. I can read a prayer, "the Lord is my shepherd" and just say the words, or make the words my own. In reality, I would NEVER come up with those words on my own. However, there are few words more powerful to me when talking about God. So to read the word and integrate it into my own spirituality is an act of personalizing. Nothing can be more beautiful or powerful.

While ALL prayer is done as a member of the church (the body of believers) not all prayer is communal. Sometimes we pray alone. Thomas Merton wrote about this fifty years ago. He was a hermit who in his isolation found himself more actively and consciously aware that his prayer was in the church (and with & for the church). It was hard for me to understand as a young man. Today it is clearer.

Because I pray as a member of  the church I use the words "our" and "us" frequently. In my private prayer I try to be quiet. I do not hear voices or receive messages. I often times struggle with wandering thoughts. I sometimes fall asleep (recently more often, babies have a way of disrupting a night's sleep). Whatever challenges I face or failures I experience, I remind myself that prayer is NOT a task for which I get a grade. Prayer is not ranked according to beauty or creativity. Prayer is availing myself for the Lord. If The Father decides to make that contact amazing, so be it. It is not in my control. Good prayer is not always emotional. A 'high' is no proof that God was around. I can manipulate my feelings so they are not a safe measure of self investment. God is the judge of my prayer. So it is in His hands.

Take a few breaths. Ask the Holy Spirit to make your prayer time real prayer. Ask Jesus to offer you in Himself to the Father. Thank God that the CREATOR of the WHOLE UNIVERSE will take time to be with a tiny, insignificant person like me/you. (ponder that one) Thank the Lord endlessly, a dozen, two dozen, fifty times. List things for which you are greatful. Your finger nails. Your liver. Your eyes. The laughter of a child. The lined face of your grandma. The sun. The rain. Cottage cheese and yogurt. Ballet and music. (you get the point). Focus on thanks leads easily to praise. Praise and worship are the primary task of the church. When I am alone I am entitled to continue that work. Having thanked and praised for an extended time, I calm and quiet. I breath. I ask God to talk to me ("Speak Lord your servant is listening). Then I read the bible. Usually a chapter. I ask questions: who, what, when, where, how....why? I ask what I should know from the reading. I ask what I should pray for from the reading. I ask what I should do from the reading. This exchange or conversation between me and the Bible, God's word, is my prefered way to listen.

Bible & quiet time are a perfect match with thanks and praise. It can take five minutes or five hours. It can be awesome or mundane. It does not matter. What matters is it is time with God, time for God. If the Bible is hard to understand, find parts that are easy. Or just read and sit there and see what God does. And be PATIENT. It is a work of a lifetime and preparation for eternity.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Teach me to pray 1

I saw a question in a blog recently which gave me pause: "Is your parish the kind of place where someone could teach me to pray?"

First of all, I am somewhat doubtful that the world is full of sincere searchers trying to find an authentic spirituality. I do believe that such people exist. I just think that there is a (false) romantic idea that churches fail the vast population which is hungry for real spirituality. Throughout my ministry (stretching over thirty years) there has rarely been more than a handful who seemed interested enough to pursue it. On the other hand, I do think that most people, at least sometimes, would like to improve their prayer life. I have seen dozens of people regularly give up a day or a weekend in order to attend a retreat. SO there here hope!

How would a church teach someone to pray? Our approach is pretty basic. First of all, I would invite this  searcher to a disicpline. I would explain to him/her that prayer is a wonderful gift and a heavy task. Prayer is something which anyone can do without a bit of instruction and prayer is the most difficult task imaginable. I would warn them that prayer is often dry, monotonous, empty and feels futile. I would promise them that prayer was sublime, amazing and life-giving. I would exhort them to pray (and pray and pray) with little regard for how it felt or how successful it seemed. I would tell them that this side of glory prayer will be like all human endeavor, fraught with struggle yet blessed by God and holy.

What would the discipline I invite them into look like?
(some will not like this. they will point out that it is not available to everyone. many Christians come from a different vantage point. I do not see this as the only way, but I do see it as the best and most faithful. It is why I do what I do, after all!)
1. Daily liturgical prayer. We have Morning Prayer Monday through Friday. It serves two purposes. One, it requires effort and travel. The act of doing this and the fact of the inconvenience make it an overt act of worship. It also brings a person into a place and time set aside for God (sacred space/time) which is consistent with the Scriptures. It signals a person that there is encounter to be had with the Creator-Savior Father. Secondly, it is done in community. The us-ness of church is a vital lesson in our spiritual growth. We are called to be His People. Praying with others is a sacramental realization of the real world of prayer. It needs to be done as often as possible (and that is hard for most people).
2. Weekly eucharist. The Sunday gathering around Word and Altar/Table has long been preferred Christian mode of worship. It should be God centered (not audience) and should include prayer of praise, thanks (lots) as well as confession of sin and petition/intercession. The heart of worship should focus on God's gift of salvation in Jesus and Jesus' sacrifice of Himself on the cross. It should include resurrection, ascension and the promise of return. Once again, a communal gathering.
3. Bible study in a class. Learning to pray is helped by the Bible. The Bible reveals the prayers of others. It shows us the foundational experiences of God'd people. It also gives us insight into God's plan and how He works. It contains hundreds of prayers (psalms, obviously, but also prayers abound in all the other books)

These three provide us with a language and mental models for prayer. Our unconscious mind is shaped by the terms and the frequent encounter with the Scriptures slowly shape and form us. This then is the foundation. It is the discipline. One can pray liturgically without feeling anything. Or one can be transported into another realm of insight and awe. I know this to be a fact because I have personally experienced both. One can make the words personal by submission. It saves the pray-er from the task of being creative. It is the way that historically the holiest Christians have done it.

As we are slowly (and it is dang slow!!!) shaped and formed by the common prayer and study in community; we also have to engage in our own personal times of prayer and study. We turn to that next, tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Politics and Faith

I am an information consumer. I like to read. I like to learn new things. I am not sure I am terribly disciplined or refined in my consumption. At times I am not very deep in my reflection. I am a child of my age, I guess. Even so, I do try to think about things and I do try to break out of my demographic and think through things. So today is some scatter shot thoughts.
  • News people really shape and form a story. The way they use content is astounding. For example, in the Sanford shooting, when did Hispanics become White? Keep an eye out to see the next time someone is identified as a White Hispanic. I think the shooting in Sanford is a sad tragedy. I do not know what happened, but I am thinking it was avoidable. However, the large number of reported break-ins in the area have certainly seemed to fade from the story. The gun use is a huge problem, but the crime issue drives the reality, too.
  • Being against abortion is a war on women? I really do not get this line of reasoning. A "war"? Last I checked the only ones dying in the abortion issue are babies. If there is a war it is on unborn children. We are long passed any discussions of this issue. If someone thinks being against killing babies is evil then I think their minds are warped.
  • Speaking of the war on women, what is going on with the attacks on stay at home moms? I have often heard that 'talking points' are intended to advance an agenda without revealing it. Perhaps we have progressed enough with a certain agenda that people feel free to say what they think about stay at home moms. There really are two cultures which do not see eye to eye.
  • Every week there is a new story about iminent world threatening crises in Israel or Korea. Eventually, something is going to happen. Yet, I do wonder. I am a worry wart and the endless stories for years have kept me quite agitated! On the other hand, like the boy who cried wolf, the stories are beginning to appear unreliable.
  • Why would a candidate who is being vilified for his wealth and caricatured as 'out of touch' with real people decide it was a good time to build an expensive elavator for his garage in a vacation home? I do not doubt he has the right to, but the choice to do so is not a proof that he is a good decision maker.
  • Speaking of out of touch, why would the President say that he and his wife did not have the luxury of her staying at home when he was making $100,000+? Was it because his wife was making $300,000?
  • The GSA scandal is an illustration of why many of us have qualms about government. The rap videos of government employees laughing about all the money thay have (from us) just did not seem so funny to me. Of course, now the spin masters of the two parties will go to work, making sure we never solve the problem, "just elect us!"
  • All of which reminds me why I pray each day, "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done." Our country is a better place to live than most of the world. There are lots of good people trying to do good things. Even so, we are a mess and we need a Savior to deliver us. In the meantime, we live in conflict in the world of politics. Come Lord Jesus!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Thomas the Apostle

I have shared before the experience of reading actual dialogue from real people engaged in real conversations. The first thing you notice is people rarely speak in complete sentences. They tend to combine phrases, drop off words, pause and sputter. It is not uncommon for them to include a number of 'space fillers' ("um" or "like" or "um, like"). Conversations also tend to speed out of control in different directions. Lastly, people rarely have thirty second conversations consisting of a few words each, back and forth. When we talk, we tend to say much more than a sentence.

When you read a novel, by comparison, people speak in sentences. There tends to be a flow which is easy to follow (transcripts are often times very hard to follow). The conversations tend to carry the story along to a point.

This makes me think that the Bible does not contain actual transcripts. For example, typically we preach 12-18 minutes here on a Sunday. Sometimes it can be twenty or more. In classes we teach for forty-five minutes to an hour. I have heard that years ago the preachers went on much, much longer. So the little snippets we find in the Gospel are certainly only a very small part of what took place. They also reflect a writer's hand. People speak clearly and concisely. There is little doubt that the author is doing a great deal of summarizing (and focusing) for the benefit of a clear communication to the reader/hearer (most people listened because they could not read in Ancient times).

Therefore, the narrative of Thomas is more than a remembrance of one 'doubter.' It would seem safe to assume that Thomas is used as a foil for all of us who later hear the story. The disciples' doubts I wrote about in Matthew's Gospel a few days ago occur here, only they are localized now in a single man. The main concern of the author is not to share some inside info on Thomas, it is to confront the hearer. So all of the events which occurred over the period of time that Jesus appeared to the disciples finds voice in a few stories. What does it mean?

1. Thomas demands proof. He wants to touch the wounds and probe them. He wants concrete evidence. So, ancient people are alot like us. They do not want to be duped. The early church is not a group of incredulous simpletons. They are people with minds and expectations.
2. Remarkable things (like resurrection) are hard to believe. Now, on the other hand, Thomas is also making a value judgment about the others who told them what he saw. His refusal is, in a sense, an insult to them. The witness matters.
3. The proof Thomas got, Jesus in the (risen) flesh, is not going to be available to everyone. Sadly, this includes you and I. We have to trust in the words of others.
4. Jesus is less impressed by those who cling to physical proof. So you and I have a special place in His heart.

For all his reputation as "Doubting Thomas" in the end he articulates the mst radical affirmation of Jesus' identity: "My Lord and my God." We, too, can say the same thing (and do). We will see Jesus some day. Until then, the mission of the church is to be about the task of forgiving sins (at least in this story in John 20:19-31). There is no shame in wishing for concrete evidence or struggling with doubts. There is shame in failing to do the work He calls us to. Thomas' proof must serve us as well. Jesus says, "Believe. Trust." He also says, "Forvie sins..." Our task is before us and in the Easter season we need to witness to His death and resurrection. We need to preach and declare forgiveness. We need to unbind sinners. We need to act like people who have seen and touched the risen Lord Jesus (even if we haven't).

Friday, April 13, 2012

though some doubted

"Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw Him, they worshipped Him; but some doubted."

There you have it, ladies and gentlemen. Even if Jesus appeared to you it is still possible that you could doubt. Some of the disciples did. We are not told which of the eleven still harbored doubts. The word some seems to imply at minimum three. Nor are we told exactly what it is they are doubting. Is it that Jesus is alive? Is it that they are reconciled? Is it that He is Lord? Is it that they are really seeing what they are seeing? It is a most peculiar toss away line and there is no clear indication exactly what they doubted.
Perhaps there is a message here...

They worship. One assumes the doubters were worshipping as well. Therein lies the beauty (and agony) of the church. We assemble to fall on our knees before Jesus. We cry out to Him in prayer. We thank Him and praise Him. And some of us doubt....

While I continue to struggle with understanding the two dimensions of causality (God does it//we do it) I am very certain that there are two dimensions. I do not believe that "God does it" means that we do not have to do anything. I have blogged on this extensively in the past. Yet, I do think God's activity means we are NOT left to our own devices for everything. We do not save ourselves. [Hence, I am even careful about saying we are saved by faith, because at times that faith can sound like something we do.]

Do our doubts mean we do not have faith? Is our doubt a sufficient cause for damnation? Will doubts always all go away if you are a true Christian, or is it possible to worship and believe, all the while having those nagging doubts linger? Matthew does not tell us. Perhaps some of the disciples lived their entire lives haunted by doubts. I personally think that there are different kinds of personalities. Some people are emotional and eruptive. Others are calm and placid. Some are intellectually curious. Others live in bliss. Some trust without pause, while others question and ponder. There were eleven disciples; eleven different men. The church is much larger today and we are all different. Yet you can divide us up. All worship. Some doubt.

The best advice I can give is to do what Matthew has done in his Gospel: do not focus on the doubt. Focus on worship. Focus on mission. Focus on the message. Focus on obedience. Focus on His promise: "I am with you always" even if from time to time you are not sure. God can take care of the rest.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Falling Walls and Dropping Numbers

The numbers are in from last year. We averaged 235 folks each Sunday last year, which was up from the year before. Of course, having Christmas fall on Sunday provided us with an additional bump so the improvement was a bit inflated. This year we are behind last year. Easter was lower, too. I assume we will see the gains erode and we will slip back to the previous year.

The congregation during Holy Week was significantly lower. Palm Sunday and Easter were also lower. Not huge drops, but twenty or so. The problem is, over the last six years, those drops add up. I am not complaining, by any measure we are still a healthy parish where people are growing in knowledge and faith and sharing their time, talent and treasure in service of the Kingdom. It is just I remember a time when we were crammed full.....

When I arrive here in 2001 there were 4536 folks in church each Sunday in this diocese. Some 190 of them were at our little church. For a while we grew (topping out at 270) while the wider diocese decreased each year. In 2010 the diocese was at 3351. One would think 2011 will not buck that trend. Aging, shrinking churches tend to get smaller.

In Ezra and Nehemiah we read the story of the returning exiles. The Jews had lost their homeland and temple. The city of Jerusalem was in ruins. The people were reluctant to return. The challenges they faced were monumental. Not only were they faced with poverty, but they had armed enemies nearby who threatened them with annihilation. The work crews consisted of local people. Some groups are identified (goldsmiths and perfumers) and they are not a construction firm! The workers carried stones with one hand and a sword in the other. It was hard work made all the harder because of the situation.

Nehemiah says the people said, "The strength of the basket carrier has failed, and there is so much rubble; we are not able ourselves to rebuild the wall." One can hear the weariness of the actual voices, "...there is so much rubble..." So much rubble.

There is so much rubble in the church today. We read in the NT that we, the people of the church, are living stones. Today there is less and less life in many of those stones. Who can wake them up? Who can inspire them to mission and ministry? Who can draw them into the heart of God and send them into a broken world with a message of salvation? Who?

"...we are not able ourselves to rebuild the wall." In truth the Liberal Church is dying. It diminishes rather quickly. There were 200,000 fewer Epsicopalians in church in the last ten years, roughly 23%. The walls are fallen down. It is not all bad. Churches which talk about global warming instead of Jesus really have no good reason to exist. The problem is that the situation is not terribly different for churches which hold on to the faith once delivered. While the orthodox crow about the demise of the Liberals we see the same type of losses there, too.

So what is the good news?  Nehemiah 4:8 "Do not be afraid of them! Think of the great and awesome God..." and Nehemiah 4:14 "When you hear a trumpet call, gather yourselves to me at that place; our God will fight for us!" A word of hope. A challenge to courage. A reminder that it is a battle, a mighty struggle, a conflict in which we carry stones in one hand (broken people) and a sword in the other (the word of God). The environs are not pleasant (kiss the prosperity Gospel good bye) and the victory, while assured, is hard won. We cling to the promise: God with us. The good news, death is not the final word, even agonzing death. Resurrection is the last word. God's faithfulness is the last word. Hope and Joy are the last word. (Come Lord Jesus!)

In 2015 what will I be writing? Will my parishioners be re-energized and return to active service? Will they continue to drift? I do not know. I do know this. There is much rubble, but God will fight for us.
(please note, if you wanted to read more, the scripture quotations are from The Jewish Study Bible which has different numbering on verses)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

They said nothing

Mark tells us that the women at the tomb did not tell anyone because they were afraid. Of course, this raises the issue, how do we know that? (Obviously the eventually told!) The other Gospels do not present us with this sort of dilemma. They spell out the appearances and trace some of the communication. The radical differences between these Gospel accounts is far beyond an simple "difference in persepctive." The accounts are jarringly different.

Earthquakes, angels rolling rocks, quaking soldiers (the details in today's Morning Prayer from Matthew) and the women leaving in fear and joy cannot be easily reconciled with Mark's dark vision.  For Mark it ends in silence and fear.

I do not always know what to do with such things. I think it is fair to say (Divine inspiration included) that the amazing events of that Sunday (and the days that followed) are not being conveyed simply as historical facts. The authors are also trying to convey meaning. I think that this is the normal way that humans communicate. We always give truncated summaries, change some details to make an emphasis, sometimes conflate different events into one, etc. After all, there were numerous appearances of Jesus and in the decades following attention to details ("hey, He said that the third time He appeared!") probably was not the first priority. The limited space and the incredible demands of the writing process also must be factored in.

NT Wright suggests that perhaps Mark is offering an explanation for why more people in Jerusalem did not know about the resurrection. The women kept it quiet. Obviously, many in the early church who were there already knew. What Mark is conveying to his audience is less clear. We do not know why he wrote, to whom he wrote or what reason motivated his writing.

The women are a challenge to us, whatever the answers are to the other questions above. The remind us of our tendency to be unfaithful because of fear. They remind us that there is a mission. And they provide us with hope that Jesus will be able to do His work with today's church (fearful and unfaithful as it is) just as He did with those cowering first believers.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Easter Reflections

Thursday night, having just finished the Holy (Maundy) Thursday service, we walked out in silence. The church had been "stripped" and emptied. The Bread and Wine (Christ's Body and Blood, the sacramental signs of His on-going presence) are consumed. There is nothing left. He is gone...

As I walked I looked high in the sky, just above the roof line on our church, to see the full moon, patially touched by a few wayward clouds. As I looked up I was reminded of the opening scene of The Passion of the Christ. I was instantly transported to that night. I paused to think of the numerous followers of Jesus. While the disciples were there, many weren't. I imagined the chain of communication. The horror and confusion (although He had repeatedly told them what was coming). The words echoed in my mind:

"They arrested Him!"
A shocked look, a mumbled response, "what? who?"
Eyes blank and fearful, "The Lord. They arrested the Lord Jesus!"

The humanity of the entire episode is so often lost on us. We weren't there. Pious paintings and incarnation denying spiritualities have robbed us of the flesh and blood closeness of it all to our own experiences. And the mundaneness. Within moments of the arrest, that same garden, a place of noise and crowds (and even a sword separating ear from head) was quiet. The only proof of what transpired the trampled grass.

Good Friday is more concrete, dusty and bloody, not hidden from sight. That hot day, a naked man, one among at least three (perhaps more?) expired. His body had been beaten, the skin shredded by the Roman whip, an especially cruel, effective and inventive tool of torture. Nature reacted to the sight with darkness and earthquakes, while others stood around to mock. Reports vary about who was there, but only a few of those whom He loved gathered.

The silence of Saturday. Dead dreams. Dead hopes. Shattered identities. Questions about what comes next. Fear and worry. The impulse to self preservation leads to efforts to remain hidden. The city, usually numbering less than forty thousand, had swollen to three times that. A few dozen pilgrims could no doubt hide in plain sight, but there is still that gnawing terror. Crucifixion is a most awful way to die and none of His followers desired to follow Him in that.

With breaking morning there is the discovery. An empty tomb, someone(s) there to announce His resurrection. He goes ahead to Galilee. No, He appears to them in Jerusalem. Peter comes alone. Not really, the Beloved Disciple was there. An impromptu breakfast for guys fishing. Two travelers recongnize Him in the breaking of bread. Peter is reinstituted with a triple declaration of love. Somewhere He met James. Another time five hundred. Last of all, much, much later, as to one untimely born, Paul.

The resurrection accounts are a jumbled mess. The historically minded  sense there is a core fact (empty tomb, resurrection appearances) which unfolded in a series of events.  Yet, the written accounts betray the variety of traditions; no doubt a direct result of the confusion such an event produces. It is not every day that dead people appear. It is simply not the norm. One can imagine that the confusion of Thursday night, as word spread of the arrest, would appear quite sensible in the face of the new story circulating of the resurrection.

What happened that morning? The trustworthy Word of God is not clear. Our Bible points with many fingers in a general direction. BUT, the end result is very clear. Jesus is not dead but ALIVE. Jesus is not the same as before. His body is somehow possessing new qualities. He can appear and disappear. Eat food yet pass through doors. He looks the same, but different, different enough that they are not sure it is Him.

I envy those men and women; those who gazed on Him in the days of His appearances. However, I have no illusions that they have any advantage over me/us. We know what they know. We know He is Lord. We know He is risen. WE know.... We know.

So I ponder this Easter Good News. He is risen. God has walked in our midst and done a wonderful thing. And I pray that my  heart might burn with fire as I listen to Him talk to me on the way.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Friday

I was told by the Messianic Rabbi to read Torah through each year. It is the foundation book of the Old Testament (i.e., what the early Christians meant when they said 'Scripture'). One of the verses that jumped out at me retold a story of Israel's sin and punishment. They "reaped what they sowed" and so they were in a bad way. The people cried out to God in the bad situation, less out of repentance than of need. Concepts of grace were formulated in my mind as I read. The language was especially impactful. This is a rough paraphrase of what it said.

God saw what they suffered
God heard their cry
God remembered His covenant
God knew.

Ever since then that fourfold explication of God's interaction with His people has stuck with me. God sees, He hears, He remembers, He knows.  This fourfold  description of God also resonates with our own call. When we celebrate the Good Friday service (in sacred space and time) we are transported and participants in the cross. Our celebration becomes a venue to particate with Christ. The power of the service is palpable. Our acolyte who held a wooden cross at the veneration told me, "I will never be the same." Holding that cross as the 100 or participants came forward was profound and deep for her. I know that feeling, I have had it myself. Words are useless to capture it.

When we gather in worship we see, we hear, we remember and we know. A sacramental worldview allows one to enter the mystery. Being a liturgical Christian in this area, as I have said before, is a double pain. So many are not believers. So many believers are not liturgical. So as we gather to remember the cross and death of Jesus, around the corner a major Easter Egg hunt and party was going on. All manner of folk gathered for that, more than we saw in our church.

One of our children, a seven year old was quite taken aback. As he walked into the church he told me that it made no sense. Why would someone hunts Easter eggs when Jesus is dying today? Why indeed... I wonder how many lie minded folks there will be in his future?

The cross of Jesus is horrible. It is all the worse because so many thousands of others shared in this form of death. The brutality and the 'every-day-ness' are hard to fathom in our world. I pray it will remain so.

Why did Jesus have to die? I do not really know. I have heard the theories and read endless books. I have never heard an explanation which made me say, "I get it now!" My own explanation is the one which makes most sense to me, it is something inherent in the world we live. Not the hypothetical world of what 'could be' but the actual world of what is. Incarnation, love and mercy are connected in the cross. I do not know how it works. I know that it is the way things are. I am comfortable with that. My world is full of things (cell phones, cars, radios, tv) which I trust and know, without understanding. My world is full of people whom I trust and know, without understanding. My world is full of a God whom I trust and know, without understanding.

All that said, the cross makes me cry. It challenges me to be brave and faithful. It inspires and befuddles at the same time. I find it easy to say "thank you" to Jesus, over and over. I appreciate what He did. I understand that any explanation of reality must be cross centered. Good Friday makes one long for Easter. There is pain and hope mixed together this day.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Holy Thursday

I frequently visit Fr. Bryan Owen's blog. Today he is posting on another blog by a young priest bemoaning the sorry state of the Episcopal church. You can see it here:

Last week Bryan blogged on the Presiding Bishop's Easter address. (To spill the beans early, she does not mention Jesus.)

I do not know Bryan although I once did a wedding at the Cathedral in Jackson. His view point seems similar to mine on many issues. I bring up his posts because he is worth reading and these deal with two issues which bother many of us in the Episcopal Church. One is the sense of doom as we see a growing intolerance for the ancient faith. (There is nothing less tolerant than Tolerance, after all.) The other is the Presiding Bishop's absolute failure to make a stirring witness to the Christian faith. I told her this to her face when she visited Memphis some years ago. She obviously has ignored me...

We live in a post-church age. It probably began some time ago, and we are now waiting for the demographics to catch up. The younger generation is in full flower. Older folks are increasingly the bulk of the local parish. I am not a statistician, but I do think we will see a huge drop off in a dozen years or so when large numbers of the elderly become homebound or die.

But even among the not-so-young there is a sense of dissatisfaction with the church. A retired church administrator shared with me yesterday that he (a Catholic) and his friend (a Presbyterian) were both turned off by the politics (and meanness) of church people. There is a general negativity about the church which extends beyond any particular age group.

So why be a member (or a priest!) in a church which is headed in a direction which is best labeled heresy? Why remain in a church whose leading bishop insists, over and again, on talking about ecology while resolutely ignoring the Lord and Savior? Why be part of any church, when loving Jesus is so much simpler in the privacy of one's own heart and soul?

The answer, for me, a struggling, oft confused and frequently disheartened, old-time priest in a "new-time" "church" is found tonight.

Eucharist. At the first eucharist, Jesus gathered with the leaders. He told them they would abandon Him, that one would betray Him, that the premier apostle would deny Him. That all flee Him, every stinking one of them. And then He broke bread and shared the cup; this is My Body, this is My Blood---given for you, broken and shed for you, destroyed and killed for you.

I cannot do eucharist alone. I cannot sit alone and say, "Peace be with you" or "The Lord be with you" or any of the other prayers alone. It takes a community, a church community, to celebrate eucharist. The church filled with a bunch of messed up people is not terribly different from the group around the table with Jesus. We betray, deny and desert Him on a regular basis. And I am one of them. And tonight I will take His Body and eat it, I will drink His blood, I will stand against the errors of my church and her leaders, but I will recognize that I am like them in my failures. Sometimes we forget that. We get so fired up seeing the sins of others that we ignore our own. Tonight I sit next to Peter. I love Jesus, but I will still betray Him (over and over). The point is, He knows it and He still feeds me His flesh and blood. He does this because He is better than I am. He is faithful. He truly loves. He knows how to make a self-gift.

So I hang on and hope, some day, He will transform me. Until then, I go to eucharist. I pray and eat. And I wait!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Revisiting The Problem with Contemporary Church

A year ago yesterday I wrote my most viewed blog. It did not go viral, but it was passed around in various circles and it continues to be looked at. The readership went far beyond my normal viewers. It made me feel like blogging was of value for my service of the Lord. While it probably needs a bit of editing, in the end what it says is still true.

The error of "contemporanity" is that change is too quick. By the time you are "today" it  has become "tomorrow." In the year since I wrote it, the latest change has been the continued decrease in church members and attendance in our "with it" episcopal church. You can see it here:

It is Holy Week. Tomorrow we begin the 3day celebration of the mystery of Jesus' Passion, Death and Resurrection. I know that fewer people will be in my church, because the last few years we  have had fewer people. I know that, in general, this is true for most churches (including the traditional ones). What seems to be happening is a loss of faith in the church, contemporary or not.

As much as Jesus is the center of Holy Week, there is not a doubt in my mind that the church is, too. Jesus came as King to claim a People. We, with all our faults, are that people. The constant failure in this mission is not new. I am preaching Sunday on Mark's view of the church. Suffice to say he was not overly impressed. Yet that failure is not cause to toss away the enterprise. Jesus demands mission and community from His followers. We are in the world, but for witness. Singing Lady Gaga songs in church will not make us appealing to the young. And if it did, it would only be because of Lady Gaga, not Jesus.

To toss out the historic faith eventually requires that one toss Jesus under the bus as well. It is unavoidable. He called God Father (paternalstic), He called twelve men as apostles (sexist), He spoke of marriage as man and woman (homophobic), He challenged us to a stricter morality (law based oppression). He said we should worship (insitutional religion) and use our resources to serve others (anti-capitalist). He told us to embrace non-violence (anti-gun rights). The list goes on and on. Trying to make Jesus fit into the "next new thing" is just an invitation to trouble.

On the other hand, if we follow Jesus as Lord and acknowledge Him as Judge, then all our contemporary issues can be put into perspective. I wish I were better at it. I remind myself that Jesus will deliever me from myself and the urge to be "relevant" and "new and improved." Come Lord Jesus! Set us free!