Archive for the ‘religion’ category

Karen Armstrong – Religion:A Force for Harmony

September 29, 2008

Karen’s words are so fitting for how we face the uncertainty around us. She begins by shedding light on the birth of the idea of “believing”. She then moves toward the Golden Rule as a global religious effort. She recognizes the desire for people around the world for change. Typically, the established church would rather be right than follow the words of many spiritual sages to “do unto others as you would have them do to you”.

She posits that people want to be religious, and that religion should be a force for harmony; that the Golden Rule should be global: do unto other countries as you would have other countries do unto you. That we should move beyond toleration to appreciation of the other. Listen, really listen and see how we can have a positive impact by living out the Golden Rule. This has incredible impact on how we continue “doing” church, indeed on how we continue living at all.

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Debbie Blue – From Stone to Living Word

September 18, 2008

Had to write a little about this book. From the first line – “I’m not good with answers” – the book is immediately accessible. Blue writes openly and confidently as she weaves through some thoughts that many of us have had but found difficult to articulate.

As a pastor, she talks about wishing to be like Father Zossima in The Brother’s Karamazov.

She quotes Eduard Thurneysen speaking about Father Zossima saying:

 “It [his pastoral approach] is not designed to remove [people’s] burdens, to lead them out of the uncertainties of their lives, but it is intended to lead [people] into them truly and for the first time…for in persevering in the uncertainties of life, he sees the only way of redemption.”

She follows that great quote, about a character in a book that you should read if you haven’t, by stating, “I honestly don’t know what it would even quite mean to straighten a life out.

 

So often we perceive the church as a place to fix things, as God a “fixer”, as life needing to be fixed. Life is meant to be lived fully and that often means it will be messy and loud and unpredictable and wild. When we accept that we are trying to embrace the Unembraceable, know the Unknowable and understand the Incomprehensible, a non-straightened out life seems to be the only kind that would fit.

 

Oh to let go and embrace nothing, knowing that in that futile attempt you have found what you were looking for. He is unembraceable not because he is far and distant, but because he so permeates every inch of our lives that if we were to contain him, he would cease to be himself. He is “in all, above all and through all”. If we can learn to live within the drawing love of God the Other, our lives themselves will transcend understanding and the chaotic will become beautiful and our view of God himself or herself will expand into an ever increasing undulation of love that desires to overwhelm and overtake us.

Wine….and more wine!

September 17, 2008

In lieu of the comments from Sunday’s message I feel compelled to bring up the story of Jesus and the wedding in Cana. In spite of the church’s need to display Jesus as a party pooper, he was nothing of the sort. Jesus was, in fact, the kind of guy you would want around if you were to throw a party.

Jesus’ ability to turn water into wine, although very handy, is not the reason I chose to give my allegiance to him. Jesus embodies hope and gives me a reason to wake up in the morning. He sees all of life as a sacred celebration. This story is full of implications that when life seemingly runs out of joy/hope/peace/meaning (wine) he is there to bring it back. When everything seems lost and the party is doomed, look for Jesus like Mary did and he’ll bring the abundant life back to your party.

The biggest thing this story can teach us is seen as John mentions that it took place on the third day. The third day is typical of resurrection, and if so, the first day would be the wonderful – everything is OK  good Friday. The second day would have to be those liminal spaces where we are anything but settled, but the third day is significantly different. With Jesus’ response, the third day becomes a day filled with expectancy and hope.

For us the significance of this story has to go to the jars of water. Prepared for a sacred service they are transformed into functional jars for the service of the people. How much of our own religious world is filled with sacredness. So much so that we overlook it’s functionality to service. If the service needs to change from Sunday to Thursday let’s change it. If we need to sit on the floor instead of pews, let’s do it. If we need to have a true conversation instead of a talking head let’s do it. Certainly in the church there are issues of practicality, but ultimately everything that we do has the ultimate end of bringing people into the abundant life Christ has given to us. Everything is a means to that end – not an end to itself.

Mary knew that the party didn’t have to end. She knew what resided in Christ -and so do we. As we look toward our future, let our response be that of Jesus. Crank up the music, tell the baby-sitter you’ll be late, smile and grab your partner, this party isn’t near over. The best really is yet to come!

Pillars Part 5

August 31, 2008

This week the focus of our teaching was the discipline of the study of Scripture. One of the key verses mentioned was Prov. 4:20-22. This talked about the words being given to us equating to life for our bodies. This is an analogy echoed by Christ in the New Testament when He proclaimed that “Man cannot live by bread alone”, that man needed to also partake of “the Word of God”.

To me a perspective shift is in order for us to truly understand all that is taking place when we enter into the discipline of study. First, we have mental focus, much the same as during meditation. Our focus for a period of time is on a portion of scripture. Layer after layer we look at what the words mean to our current context in terms of description and action. Secondly, there is a sort of fast going on. Instead of indulging in something else we have chosen to spend time looking into scripture.

Thirdly, and most importantly, we are not on a search for answers to our questions. There is no promise in scripture that we will know every answer for every question. Yes, there are certainties, but these certainties are far fewer than the traditional fundamentalist would like to admit. Let’s face it, if the real answers to all of man’s problems were found in scripture don’t you think things might be just a bit better in the world? We generalize and say that Jesus is the answer, and to many questions He is, but not all.

Often I have been engaged in conversation with someone who has a file for every question and an answer for each question tucked neatly inside. Sometimes I want to be like Dr. Phil and ask, “So how’s that going for you?”.  Christianity is a journey, a process full of unknowns and questions. Somehow this is unsettling to people in church today.

Jesus never said He was the destination, He only said He was the Way. One of the key problems we have in scripture is that it is written in words. Words are concrete and definitive. Following Christ is anything but concrete and definitive. Following Christ is organic and fluid, spur of the moment and transcendent of words. The Buddhists in their search for truth are open and honest about not knowing. We demand a truth stated perfectly in words, but Jesus only said that He was the truth – His being, His presence.

We could go much further, but for now, embrace the path. Become enamored with the insignificant and fleeting. Read scripture and let it become living within you and show you what it is speaking to you. Let go and let the words fall to the ground like seeds and then wait – who knows what wonderful things may arise in your life!

Pillars Part 4

August 23, 2008

This week we talked about prayer as a discipline. For me, during the past few years I have run the gamut between prayer needing to be a fixed point in my schedule to wondering that if God is in control – what is the real point of prayer at all. I’m certain that you’ve thought about the idea of prayer and wondered if “you had it right” or whether you could “do it” at all. Prayer is such an enigmatic topic that many times we chose not to dive into it. We wait for priests, rabbis, imams, pastors or teachers to tell us “what it is”. Here is the interesting point, those guys you are waiting to tell you what prayer is often have the same struggle defining it and practicing it.

Loved the discussion about prayer we had Sunday. If you missed it you can hear it here. One of the aspects I want to just touch on is Centering Prayer. The idea was brought into prominence by Father Thomas Keating several decades ago. In a simple nutshell, centering prayer is about sitting and allowing the thoughts in your mind to pass by unattached to you. Think of sitting by a stream. Carried by the current of the stream are the thoughts that are passing through your mind. Consciously let them pass by. It takes effort. but eventually the number of thoughts will decrease and the static/noise level in your mind will subside.

Doing this for just twenty minutes can have a dramatic difference in your day. I know you may be saying that if I’m praying I should be saying something. This is one of the misconceptions we have with prayer. Think of a situation where you asked an opinion about something and your inner thought was your true feeling, but you said the opposite. Our true self resides within and can be heard when we sift through the myriad of brain chatter that vies for our attention each day.

Try each day to visualize yourself for a few moments at the streams edge and watch the thoughts go by and dissipate. This is the “centering” part of centering prayer. Just like everything else in our lives, practices that have the greatest amount of impact take time and effort to learn and become part of our daily rhythm.

Hauerwas quote

August 22, 2008

Stanley Hauerwas is the Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Theological Ethics at Duke Divinity School. Throughout his career, he has focused emphasis on the importance of virtue and character within the Church. I found this quote and it embodies what I feel the church is to be.

“The work of Jesus was not a new set of ideals or principles for reforming or even revolutionizing society, but the establishment of a new community, a people that embodied forgiveness, sharing and self-sacrificing love in its rituals and discipline. In that sense, the visible church is not to be the bearer of Christ’s message, but to be the message.”

This is such an important ideal to grasp – especially as we near the hard and heavy election season. Christians are best, not when they seek to infiltrate society and bend it to their will, but when they seek to embody the character of Christ.

Unconditional Love

August 19, 2008

I’ve had a question bouncing about in my mind for several months. My point here is not to answer the question or even come close to a few conclusions. What I want to do is offer this question as a beginning place in rethinking what it may mean to be a follower of Christ.

In regard to our proclaiming of a God who loves us with an unconditional love, we seem satisfied to only be able to receive this unconditional love after we have met the condition of (depending on faith) asking, believing, confessing, baptizing, etc. In it’s basic Sunday School representation there appears to be contradiction. Just as one is either pregnant or not (there is no “kind of pregnant”), you either love someone conditionally or unconditionally. In light of this, how does that effect the Biblical narrative we have been offered by previous generations and are offering to the next generation?

After all, this is the basis of our emotional connection with God. If we buy into the concept of a conditional loving God, fear of not measuring up becomes a primary posture in relating to God. If we buy into the concept of an unconditional loving God, performance barriers are gone.

So, what has been the full context of your view of God’s love and how has that colored your perception of God and your own potential? How crucial is a consistent “seeing” of God’s actions and motives?