Blog Archives

Yearning To Live God’s Love

This is part of an ongoing series on the Holy Spirit section of the PC(USA) Brief Statement of Faith, Intro found here

  • In a broken and fearful world the Spirit gives us courage to pray without ceasing: here
  • To witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior: here
  • To unmask idolatries in Church and culture: here and here
  • To hear the voices of peoples long silenced: here
  • To work with others for justice, freedom, and peace: here
  • In gratitude to God: here
  • Empowered by the Spirit, we strive to serve Christ in our daily tasks and to live holy and joyful lives: see below
  • Even as we watch for God’s new heaven and new earth, praying, “Come, Lord Jesus!”

Empowered by the Spirit, we strive to serve Christ in our daily tasks and to live holy and joyful lives

As we break this section down I will skip the “empowered by the Spirit… live holy and joyful lives” parts.  Not because they aren’t important, but because I hope that I covered them last time in the “in gratitude to God” reflection (we could always say more but I’m trying for a series of reflections and not a whole book!). So without further ado:

We Strive

I’m a big Yoda fan.  I even have an authenticated life-size Yoda statue (which is a lot easier than the same for Chewbacca).  I am as quick as any to quip, “Do or do not, there is no try.”  But… do I really think that is true? Certainly there places in scripture (and our faith communities) where we draw lines in the sand and make it clear you either do this and you are one of us, or you do not – and you are not.  But to say do or do not is to presume that the task is do-able, and that we are absolutely clear what the task is.  And so I ask: is the way of Jesus something we can do?  Is it helpful to say we will either or not do what Jesus asks of us?  Or do we, rather, try.  We try to serve Christ in all we do… or maybe to say that in a slightly stronger way.  We strive.  We yearn.  Our bodies lean in to the way of Christ.  We crave to live as Christ would have us.  And yet we know we will not perfectly do it.  We will not achieve it.  We will not be “the way of Jesus” we will be the best approximation of that way that we can muster.  In this word, strive, we combine accountability and affirmation, confession and pardon, aspiration and settledness, prophetic calling and gracious inclusion, the way we do not and the way we do.

We strive.  Not “I try” but “we strive.”  It’s stronger than me alone or simply a tacit veneer of hope that something like Jesus will happen in me.  We strive acknowledges the claim Christ’s way has on all that we are, while granting us grace to fall short.  When we “do not” it does not mean that Christ is not still at work in us and through us.  It means that while we set out to live a life that is beyond our ability Christ delights in our efforts no matter how short we come of whatever goal we aspired to live.  As Thomas Mertonsaid, “the desire to please God is in fact pleasing to God.” (loose quote, full quote footnoted below).

Serve Christ

I want to say one and only one thing.  I am convinced that scripture is clear (or as clear as it ever is), if you wish to serve God (through the way of Christ) than to do that we must serve each other.  We love God by loving our neighbors.  We serve Christ by living in service to the whole community of God’s creation

Daily Tasks

What a powerful two words: daily tasks.  We don’t serve God by going to church, by worshiping, by being in Sunday school or a mid-week Bible Study, by going on a mission trip, or…. whatever.  We serve Christ in our daily tasks.  All that stuff we just named that sounds like the programmatic life of the Church – that’s all just practice.  It’s like a homework assignment of writing out spelling words.  But we do not write out spelling words for the sake of busy work.  We do it to make them a part of who we are so that when we go to use those words we can do so naturally, instinctively, and without thought.  They become a part of us for their use in our daily tasks.  We mistake Church as an end (a goal) in itself far too often.  It is simply meant to be a community of formation for the REAL TASK.  Living in service to Christ in our daily tasks.  How are you serving Christ at school?  At work? At play? At home? On the road to these places? At the waiting room for a Dr.’s appointment?

Let us rephrase that question in light of our whole reflection: how are you striving to love the people you encounter each day?

This is what we commit our lives to look like: God’s love being poured out in chance and intentional encounters every day of our life.  All the other things we do in God’s name? They live in service to that goal and not the other way around.  The goal is to live the love of God and the way of Christ towards our neighbors in our daily tasks, and whatever it takes to keep us directed toward that goal… is church (intentional community of faith).  And anything else?  Is probably either a distraction or directly counter to who we believe ourselves to be called to be.

Empowered by the Spirit, we strive to serve Christ in our daily tasks and to live holy and joyful lives.

Thanks be to God.


This prayer is a great gift, these words sit – among others – above my desk as a constant reminder:

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.” -Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude

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A Prayer – of sorts – of Lament in Search of Hope for the World

Creator? Redeemer? Sustainer?

I do not know what name to lift up to you God. Not in this moment of prayer. Not to get your attention at this time. Will a pleasant name give my plea a greater hearing?

God who is – I AM. God who claims naught but existence… and hearing – for you heard the cries of your people. God who claims naught but existence and hearing and yet also responds through broken vessels like Moses and Paul, in prophets like Elijah and Jesus, in poets and priests and prostitutes and peons and… and whatever you can lay eye on. God who is, hear our prayers – our cries – our lamentations – our bafflement and our despair, and respond. Because we need you.

“In the beginning… the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep.” (Genesis 1:1)

Our world knows much of formlessness, void, and darkness. Our world – your world I might remind you – is swirling out of control. (Are there controls on this thing?) Madness seems to have taken over. We are killing each other at obsessive rates. Killing over land, over long held hatred, out of neglect, self-interest… or for no reason at all. God… we are killing. We are killing ourselves.

“Your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!” (Genesis 4:10)

So much hate. I do not know what to do in the face of hate. I feel overwhelmed by it all. I do not know how to look into the eyes of one who sees another human being as unworthy of life. I do not know how to stare deeply into those eyes… with love. I do not know how to love the hate-filled other. To love them in such a way that the only death is the hate and not the other.

“Forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 22:34)

We lack the strength Lord to be a gracious people. We are consumed by a need for personal safety. We are consumed by a need to protect our own. We are consumed by our self. We are literally consuming ourselves in the name of our own glory. And the victims of our hunger are legion.

“But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the royal rations of food and wine.” (Daniel 1:8)

Our hearts are empty. We care not. Certainly not enough to deprive ourselves. Besides, we cannot get beyond our own hurts, for they are real and true and hardship abounds. We cannot be moved to care for another when we cannot care for ourselves. Where do we go when everyone is a patient and no doctor will come to work? Is there balm for the wounded soul?

“I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” (Matthew 23:37)

But our children are scattered and dying. Hungry and homeless and… what future does this world hold when schools are warzones and warzones are shielded in their bodies?
“A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” (Matthew 2:18)
Our leaders are as scared as we are – perhaps even more because they can see farther than we can, for all their short-sightedness, from their elevated lofts of luxury. What does a disciple do when then master is aimless, absent, apathetic or amorally removed from the plight?

“I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, so that they may not be food for them.” (Ezekiel 34:10)

Them too – but maybe you are not hearing me, where are you, O God…. How long O Lord… if we die in this wilderness of hate and indifference who shall be left to you of your creations? My God… my GOD… why have you forgotten us… forsaken us…. Whither shall we go – shall we look to the hills? Shall we find you in the shadow of death? The demons have overturned the furniture and made a mess of the homes in our heads… the bleeding will not be stopped… the death-throws of the Beast – if death throws they are – are far too much for our little lives to stand. If you are Alpha and Omega.. we need you in the middle too – where are you, O Lord… my God?

“Be still… know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)

I find myself almost out of breath… that is – out of God, out of you. Molded and breathed into and given life, it is death now that I see, that I breathe, that I live. Justice isn’t rolling down, Habakkuk is no more pleased today, does he still stand his watch tower? Do I stand in his place? Do I have it in me? I am out of breath, and our world feels out of time. Oh Ancient of Days – it’s time to appear on scene. At least a little late I might say. Where do we go from here – when just to stand seem more than I am able?

“At the beginning of your supplications a word went out, and I have come to declare it, for you are greatly beloved.” (Daniel 9:23)

That’s nice.
I was looking for a little more Revelation.
I am stirred to anger and I am ready for an angry God. We are past the point of words… we need action. Oh God – DON’T YOU SEE IT?!?!

“Hear, O Israel-” (Deuteronomy 6:4)

YOU DON’T GET IT – I’M DONE LISTENING. I NEED YOU TO FIX THIS!

“Jesus, looking at him, loved him.” (Mark 10:21)

I’m not sure I know what to do with that. Is that an answer? Why won’t you answer me – don’t you know I have your life in my hands…..

“Jesus began to weep.” (John 11:35)

I didn’t mean it, God I didn’t mean it. I’m just frustrated. More than a little lost. More than a little heart-sick for all those whose lives have been thrown to the wind. More than little despairing that we just can’t get this love thing. I’m tired… God knows, you must be too.

“My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.” (Hosea 11:8)

God may our hearts be broken… broken open to one another. Broken up by you and for you and with you. May our hearts be kindled and may our anger be healthy. Angry at killing, not killing angry. Angry at systems of homelessness, violence, power and dominance, ignoring the widow and orphan, at imagining there is no room in the inn… But not angry at the homeless, the violated, the least and the lost. May our hearts be kindled. May our compassion grow warm, yes, and tender. May seedlings of hope be scattered in the wilderness and the rocks and roads and the urban slums and the rooftops of palace and stable and may the sprout up. May we protect them for them are a hard won and precious gift. May we honor them for their roots go deep into the marrow of the earth connecting pole to pole – person to person, and their leaves are absorbing the starlight of different worlds and in their veins lies the life blood of heaven and hell.

“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Just help me see the hope… for all the rest is all too easy to be consumed by.

“And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” (I Corinthians 13:13)

Make it so. So be it. Amen

Preaching Good News as the Great Perhaps

I have read a LOT of articles about the actions of the recent Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly.  I have read a lot, I have seen even more posted.  I hit my limit last night; I’m not clicking on them anymore.  (So yes, if I were you I would not be reading this right now.)  I made that call last night and thought to myself, “back to preaching the Good News!”

…And then I stopped short.  Because that wasn’t at all fair.

What I love about my church is that we are willing to speak out loud what we believe.  We are willing to imagine that the gospel does in fact meddle with our lives and views, be they social, political, or theological.  And we are willing to be wrong.

I love that and I have to recognize that for a great many people preaching the Good News is EXACTLY what the General Assembly was, is, and will be doing.  We are preaching liberation from injustice, and seeking to offer blessings and forgiveness and dialogue towards a worldview more God-open to the many ways God is at work.  Many would view this work as evangelism: preaching the good news of the Gospel which embraces those who have been marginalized and oppressed.

But…

Many others hear that news as bad.  Many hear it as a departure from the established patterns.  Many hear it as an affront to their faith, their politics, their attempts to love their neighbors – our neighbors.

And you know what?  That has always been true of Good News.  It sounds so easy.  Oh – preach good news.  Okay, I got that.  But it’s hardly so easy.  The Pharisees were an incredibly faithful group of people.  They helped sustain Jewish faith for centuries of tough times.  They had good news.  But they differed with Jesus about what that is, or how we live that Good News.  The conflict between Jesus and the Jewish authorities in his faith (for he was a Jew too) isn’t because one of them was unfaithful and the other was faithful, the conflict was about two radically faithful people with a different understanding of what is good, or how to live that good.

And the issues compound.  Paul preaches to Philemon that he cannot own a Christian slave and so he must free Onesimus.  Is that Good News?  I bet it was to Onesimus… not so much to Philemon.  And Paul isn’t very gentle with him; in fact he is rhetorically manipulative.

8For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, 9yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love… 14b in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced… 21Confident of your obedience… 22One thing more—prepare a guest room for me.

I love that last part… oh yah, and I’m coming to check on you too.  Paul gets what Paul wants.  But this dilemma doesn’t just involve Paul or Jesus, the cases abound.  Look at the Biblical mandate for Jubilee.  Jubilee is radically good news to the dispossessed who will get their lands back, but not so much the people who have accumulated those lands and slaves and worth… by the work of my hands and intellect and good management I obtained these lands and now I just have to give them back???  Is Jubilee good news to most of us in Presbyterian Church which, while not exclusively so, tends to be privileged and wealthy?

There is a struggle with this word good.  Part of why I am always hesitant to use it for God (read that here).  Good news rocks the boat.  Good news unsettles established tradition.  Good News breaks the rod of the oppressor, the yoke we carry, but also the structure and institutions we are invested and empowered by.  This is hardly Good News for all people.

Did the General Assembly do Good News work this week?  Will time tell us that we were out in front on justice, or off the path?  I do not know.  I have my passionate thoughts on the subject but that wasn’t was this line of thought is about.  What this is about is recognizing that our call to preach Good News is rarely comfortable, and if it feels comfortable to you (or me) – we are probably doing it wrong.  It wasn’t comfortable to Jesus.  It wasn’t comfortable to God.  It wasn’t comfortable to Paul.  It wasn’t ever meant to be comfortable… it was meant to liberate us from the structures that comfort some at the expense of others.  Maybe we acted rightly.  Maybe we acted errantly.  What I am grateful for is a church that is willing to be wrong.  I am grateful for a church that will to go on record for justice at the risk of its own life.  I am grateful for willingness to stand in the tradition of prophets, apostles, and reformers.  And I am grateful for the humility to understand that we will yet need reform.

Yesterday I learned a phrase for the first time, “I go to seek a Great Perhaps.” (attributed with some dispute to the last will of writer François Rabelais.)  I think there is something very reformed about this.  I think as we preach good news we are always (as those who see through a glass dimly) at best those who are seeking something of a great perhaps.  Those willing to dare that we might just be approximating God’s will and God’s good news for the world.  But are also doing so through human understanding, with limited language, social baggage, and our interpretational lenses seeing and hearing what we want to see and hear.  We dare to act, because otherwise what good are we?  We act with humility, because we know we have erred and will err again. We seek a great perhaps endeavoring to be Good News.

So… preach the Good News?  I’m trying.  You are trying.  We are trying together – thanks be to God.

Working Together for Peace?

This is part of an ongoing series on the Holy Spirit section of the PC(USA) Brief Statement of Faith.  Today’s installment:

“To work with others for justice, freedom, and peace”

Doesn’t that sound so nice?  It’s almost like the combination of a group project in school with the wishes of the stereotypical Miss USA, “I wish for world peace.”

But when the rubber meets the road we struggle to play well with each other, and peace isn’t any easier.  What is peace?  What gets us toward peace?  And what do we do when two or more groups are at odds with each other cannot agree on who gets peace and at whose expense?

These are timely questions as right now the 221st General Assembly is happening in Detroit as the Presbyterian Church (USA) discerns matters of policy and polity.  The elected commissioners are quite literally trying to work together for justice, freedom, and peace.  But there are some very challenging questions before them: particularly the matters of the definition of marriage and justice for same gender peoples who have been denied the right to marry, and in the matter of potential divestment of three companies deemed to be have no interest in being in dialogue with us about their continued profit from the illegal occupation of Palestinian lands by the state of Israel.

On both these subjects we have strong disagreements about what is justice and what is peace.  We struggle with freedom in the midst of unity, and how to work together with such strongly held and opposing views.

And then I went today to my preachers bible study where we read about Hagar having a covenant from God (Genesis 21) to be God’s people also: none of us has unique status in the eyes of God, or maybe it’s that we aren’t uniquely chosen by virtue of the fact that we all are uniquely chosen.  So how do we check our privilege at the door?  A question made harder by the fact that most of us get defensive at the suggestion that we even have privilege.  And how do we help our neighbors check their privilege at the door… particularly when that is an offensive enterprise.

Then Jesus walked in for the Gospel text in Matthew and announced that he comes not to bring peace but a sword… to set us against each other… and that to gain our life we must lose it. (Matthew 10)

How do we work together for justice, freedom, and peace?

I don’t know… but I have some ideas.

We have to let go of our life.  We have to let go of our self-interest both as individuals and as corporate entities.  We have to let go of the idea that we should secure our safety and well-being at the expense of others.

We have to be humble.  We need (I think I heard this somewhere) to love our neighbors just as much as we love ourselves… and vice-versa.  And… we have to have the humility to imagine that we are at least as wrong in some of our ideas as the people we disagree with.  No-one is really setting out to be mean.  No-one is seeking the badwill of all other people.  Our disagreements are heated exactly because we each think we are seeking what is good and right.  For a moment… let’s imagine that about half of what we think is wrong, and about half of what “the other” is saying is right.

We have to be willing to be offensive.  This is hard because I don’t think that means offending people for the sake of it.  We ought not to SEEK to be offensive, but we cannot be afraid of it either.  Seeking peace as a ‘not rocking the boat’ is not in fact peace, it is asking those who are not currently protected by the dominant narrative to be quiet so we can pretend that all is well.

We have to trust each other.  We have to trust each other enough to stick in relationship long enough to get past the offense, the defensiveness, and the monologue-slinging to actually listen, hear, and relate to each other… for it is only if we can stay in conversation this long that we begin to actually do the work together towards peace part.

We have to admit that we won’t succeed.  We are seeing through a glass dimly.  We all are.  We will not achieve peace, or perfect justice, or grant pure freedom to all people.  We just won’t.  These are guiding lights – like the North Star.  We pursue them, not in the idea that we are capable of reaching them, but in the hope that we move ever towards them… and that in our fractious discernment and yearning for goodness the Spirit of the Lord is actually present.

“In a broken and fearful world the Spirit gives us courage… to work with others for justice, freedom and peace.”

Thanks be to God.

—————————————————————————————————————————

This is part of an ongoing series on the Holy Spirit section of the PC(USA) Brief Statement of Faith, Intro found here

  • In a broken and fearful world the Spirit gives us courage to pray without ceasing: here
  • To witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior: here
  • To unmask idolatries in Church and culture: here and here
  • To hear the voices of peoples long silenced: here
  • To work with others for justice, freedom, and peace: see below
  • In gratitude to God, empowered by the Spirit, we strive: forthcoming
  • To serve Christ in our daily tasks and to live holy and joyful lives: forthcoming
  • Even as we watch for God’s new heaven and new earth, praying, “Come, Lord Jesus!”

Speaking Ourselves into a New Reality

Many people, wise and experienced, will tell you that we actually act ourselves into new ways of thinking more successfully than we can think ourselves into new ways of acting.  This is to say we can’t theorize ourselves into being better people and no amount of “the Think System” (sorry Music Man) actually makes you grow and improve.

I like the thought – I agree with the thought – and yet…. words are important.  Thoughts are powerful.  And our imagination shapes the way we see the world.  It was many many moons ago that I first remember saying, “rhetoric shapes reality.”  The way we speak and think about the world can alter what is real for us.  Perception is more powerful than fact.  And we need to acknowledge this as true, without abandoning the wisdom that we need to act our way into new ways of thinking, and hold these two ideas together as if they aren’t some tidy Either/Or but more a symbiotic process of reflection and practice that together transforms who we are and HOW WE ARE in the world.

I share this here because it gets right to the heart about why I said a fond farewell to weekly reciting of the Apostle’s Creed.  I am a Presbyterian and we are a creedal/confessional people.  We love our statements and affirmations of faith.  We love to acknowledge that contextual people of God speak a gospel word to the world that is time sensitive and context bound and yet somehow simultaneously shared with the larger covenant people across space and time.  And a time in worship of speaking together our faith lies at the heart of the Reformed Worship Tradition of which we are a part.  We speak our faith as reminders to ourselves of what our foundation of faith is, as a proclamation of that faith to the larger community in which we are called to speak truth to power, and as commitment to this way of Christ as we have, are, and will experience it through the guidance of the Spirit and in our corporate witness as the Body of Christ.

The Apostle’s Creed is the most traditional of statements to use in worship.  It was formed as liturgy (baptismal), it is known (nearly universal to the Western Church), and it reads just about the right length (after all worship has to be 59 minutes and 59 seconds or less).

But most of us realize in study of the document is that it misses a lot.  It skips most of Jesus’ ministry for instance jumping from his birth to his death with a single comma representing everything in between.  And it covers our life of faith with only the ambiguous words of “communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting,”  It is clearly Trinitarian and its structure and formula has been very formative of many (most) of our faith statements since its adoption over a thousand years ago.  I don’t suggest getting rid of it.  I like it because its familiar and its solid and it has guided many generations of believer faithfully.

But it is only one voice in a chorus.  That is what made me start to move around – to use the wealth of our Book of Confessions in our place of Affirmation during our worship service… until I settled in a new home.  It’s not the most comfortable of homes.  It’s not a nice solid foundation like the Apostle’s Creed.  It’s challenging and prophetic and it spends as much time holding us accountable as affirming us… that is to say, it’s a lot like Jesus.  What I have come to use almost every week and what our community proclaims together is a portion of the Presbyterian Church (USA) Brief Statement of Faith:

In a broken and fearful world the Spirit gives us courage to pray without ceasing, to witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior, to unmask idolatries in Church and culture, to hear the voices of peoples long silenced, and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace.  In gratitude to God, empowered by the Spirit, we strive to serve Christ in our daily tasks and to live holy and joyful lives, even as we watch for God’s new heaven and new earth, praying, “Come, Lord Jesus!”

If the words we speak shape our reality, could there be better words?  Jesus proclaimed of himself that “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  And again three chapters later to John the Baptists query if he was in fact the one to come, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them.” (Luke 4 and 7)

This is the reality to which we are called.  Not an affirmation of the Lordship or Messiahship or Divinity of Christ (not that these are a problem, but they are a jumping off place, not a destination).  For what we are called to, what we affirm and commit to, is joining the work of the one whom we name Lord, Messiah, and Christ. So we speak these words, these words that are probably rarely true of the way we lead our lives.  And yet, we speak them as a calling of accountability and in the hopes of living more into making them a reality: we endeavor to live this life, the life of the one who was, and is, life itself.  And somewhere in the speaking and the hearing and the endeavoring and the imagining… it will become so.  And it will be very good in-deed.

So I hope you will join me in journeying over the next couple of weeks (I’m out of town for 4 days next week so I won’t get to it as quickly as I’d like) in going through these creedal lines one at a time. We will spend time wrestling with its calls on our life, and absorbing its proclamation into the marrow of our bones that the Spirit might “make it so” in our life together.

Thanks be to God, Amen.

 

Blogposts to come in this trajectory:

In a broken and fearful world the Spirit gives us courage to pray without ceasing,

To witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior

To unmask idolatries in Church and culture

To hear the voices of peoples long silence

To work with others for justice, freedom, and peace.

In gratitude to God, empowered by the Spirit, we strive

To serve Christ in our daily tasks and to live holy and joyful lives

Even as we watch for God’s new heaven and new earth, praying, “Come, Lord Jesus!”