Monday, February 28, 2011

Improvising and reflecting...

I was supposed to head off for New Haven, CT this morning to be with a seminary student as she ponders the halfway point in her time at Yale Divinity School, but the weather is sleeting and raining ice so... I'm sticking close to home. I will miss this valuable time - and look forward to another opportunity - but life is too short to risk nasty roads on a day like today. That said, two early morning reflections are worth sharing - especially as they build upon my message during Sunday worship. The first, from Fr. Richard Rohr, explores a "spirituality of subtraction" born of the insights of Meister Eckhart. He writes:
The notion of a spirituality of subtraction comes from Meister Eckhart (c.1260 -1327), the medieval Dominican mystic. He said the spiritual life has much more to do with subtraction than it does with addition. Yet I think most Christians today are involved in great part in a spirituality of addition.
The capitalist worldview is the only world most of us have ever known. We see reality, experiences, events, other people, and things—in fact, everything—as objects for our personal consumption. Even religion, Scripture, sacraments, worship services, and meritorious deeds become ways to advance ourselves—not necessarily ways to love God or neighbor.
The nature of the capitalist mind is that things (and often people!) are there for me. Finally, even God becomes an object for my consumption. Religion looks good on my resume, and anything deemed “spiritual” is a check on my private worthiness list. Some call it spiritual consumerism. It is not the Gospel.
This was, in essence, the second point  of yesterday's message as we spoke about living as the Body of Christ for our time.  Based upon St. Paul's metaphor of the body I first reminded folk that church is NOT about being a collection of individuals; it is about finding our part in a body.  It is a shared spirituality that we grasp and appreciate only with time and participation.  Then, I suggested that living in a culture like our own, we often come into church as spiritual consumers thinking primarily about "our own needs and feelings."  In fact, more often than not, our pain and wounds are considered so unique (which is rarely true) that we treat the faith community like a spiritual salad bar - picking and choosing whatever our feelings demand - without letting go of our addiction to self.
The sad fact of this consumerist spirituality is, however, the antithesis of the gospel for it turns "religion, Scripture, sacraments, worship and deeds of compassion" into ways of advancing ourselves rather than ways to love God and neighbor.  "The nature of the capitalist mind is that things (and often people!) are there for me (so that) finally, even God becomes an object for my consumption"  That's a hard word - but so liberating - and essential for rebuilding Christ's church in our generation.
My other morning reading hails from William Green at the United Church of Christ in the USA.  He observes that an obsession with our feelings is not the best way to encounter or know the Living God made flesh in Jesus.  Rather, he says, that it is only through being with others that the heart of God is revealed.
It's hard to live with loss. I may have hope and faith, but compared to losing a job, or my health, or someone I love, these are a stretch. God becomes remote. I find it helpful to remember that what's become remote is not God, but me. I've been knocked off balance, sucker punched, broken in body or spirit. All I can see or think of is myself, what's instantly at hand and roiling inside me.

It's the support of others that begins to get me on my feet and make me able to move again, a step at a time. That's God enough for me, since it can be hard to pray alone and experience God's support. I've come to believe that God is not known primarily in terms of my own feelings. My faith comes alive in the give-and-take of the feelings, concerns, and prayers of others, including those at church. Perhaps this is why Jesus said, "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in their midst."

I don't believe God ever wants us to be broken and running on empty. I also believe, as one writer put it, that God's power can only enter where there is a void to receive it — and we no longer try to fill it by ourselves. 
 
So, rather than take a road trip today, I am going to improvise and see what ways I can be connected to the Body.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

And stop it did...

Thanks be to God the snow DID finally stop - and there was sun, too!  What a wild day... as it all came to a close I watched a sweet and inspirational documentary:  Herbie Hancock: Possibilities. OMG you have to check it out.  This jazz giant wants to push HIS limits - and the music's limits, too - so he works with people like Christina Aguilera, Carlos Santana, John Mayer, Annie Lennox,Brian Eno and others.

You have to check out this smokin' set with Sting...

Will it never stop?

Another 4-5 inches of snow fell last night - beautiful - but enough is enough!  (Already there is probably 20+ inches on the ground and this is after last week's thaw and rain.) I got up early to clear out the steep driveway before worship and my neighbor - who loves his beast - beat me to it!  And for this I give thanks to God!!!

It will be interesting to see who is able to make it to worship today:  how often it is true that on the worst days imaginable, the old and infirm find a way into the Sanctuary.  It is always a privilege to lead worship on days like this because the commitment to Christ's community is so alive.  We have one older soul who will walk with snow shoes when the roads are clogged so that she can be present.  I am humbled by such devotion.

The gospel text for this morning cuts to the chase (from Peterson's The Message):

You can't worship two gods at once. Loving one god, you'll end up hating the other. Adoration of one feeds contempt for the other. You can't worship God and Money both. If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don't fuss about what's on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds.

Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fashion—do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them.
If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don't you think he'll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I'm trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God's giving. People who don't know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don't worry about missing out. You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. 

Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.

It is kind of amusing that the snow is going to impact us on the day I talk about the blessings of community - and how it is essential to show up!  (Another reminder that I am clearly not in control, yes?)  With that, let me rest in the Collect for the Eighth Sunday after the Epiphany, which reads:

Most Loving God, whose will it is for us to give thanks for all things, to fear nothing but the loss of you, and to cast all our care on you who care for us:  Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal, and which you have manifested to us in Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Who knows where the time goes...

The old song, "Who Knows Where the Time Goes," by Sandy Denny of Strawbs/Fairport Convention fame, first came my way a la Judy Collins on her break-out album on the same name in 1968.  All the versions of this song - once voted the most popular folk-inspired tune on Radio BBC2 - are sweet, melancholic and moving.

Across the evening sky, all the birds are leaving
But how can they know it's time for them to go?
Before the winter fire, I will still be dreaming
I have no thought of time
For who knows where the time goes?
Who knows where the time goes?

This song has been haunting me of late as I look backwards on my theological changes.  As noted earlier, I am reading a spiritual autobiography of a Russian Orthodox woman who comes to faith during the waning days of communism in the USSR.  And while I love the clarity and simplicity of her growing commitment, I find that I am repelled by the black and white theology of the monks with whom she explores her new Christianity. For while they are saturated in a radical spirituality of God's grace, they also hate the body and fear the world.  In fact, their phobia of sensuality is simultaneously frightening and repulsive to me.

Where did it happen that Christians came to hate the body so vehemently?  I know the words of St. Paul have long been interpreted in a dualistic way that favors the spirit over the flesh, but this is an immature and incomplete understanding of the apostle's theology.  And I know that the wisdom of Antioch and the Cappadocian fathers of the 4th century came to dominate and define the ever growing and offical state sponsored Christianity of both East and West.  What's more, I have come to see that my love of Henri Nouwen's treatment of the Desert Fathers and Mothers in The Way of the Heart is born more of Nouwen's generosity and sanitizing the ancients than their original intentions.

But I am continually stunned at how anti-incarnationalism dominates Christianity and remains in the 21st century when the tradition was born of the Word made Flesh.  How mean-spirited, humorless and actually unhealthy it can be, too.  Some examples might include the following:
 
+ Yesterday, the NY Times posted a story about the Vatican's concern that a local Roman Catholic church lets NY Governor Cuomo receive Eucharist even though he is divorced AND living (sometimes) with his unmarried lover.  "This amounts to public concubinage" a Vatican representative declared. (see http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/23/nyregion/23vatican.html)

+ Our new copy of the arts and religion journal, IMAGE, came yesterday. I cherish the intellectual depth and artistic breadth Gregory Wolfe et al share in this beautiful quarterly periodical and find myself waiting in anticipation for each installment.  I have benefited, too, from both collections of his essays - The New Religious Humanists and Intruding Upon the Timeless - as they carefully go beyond the culture wars of the US to explore truth, goodness and beauty.  But I found the opening essay in this IMAGE not only mildly patronizing towards those who call themselves "spiritual but not religious" (something I wrestle with and challenge, too) but also insensitive to the wounds the anti-incarnational institutional church has inflicted upon many of us over the ages. 

To be sure, Wolfe acknowledges that many in our culture associate the word religious with "fanaticism, irrationality, intolerance and close-mindedness" while the word spirituality suggests "something more detached, thoughtful, tolerant and open."  And his insight that "spirituality" is too often a disguised or even deceitful addiction to the consumerist mentality that spiritual people often criticize rings true to me.  After all, I just wrote about how being a part of the community of faith is an absolute necessity for encountering the blessings of Christ.  (Not, however, the only place blessings take place, I should add; just the foundation upon which the presence of Jesus is experienced.)  Still, his critique hints of an either/or vision of the world - and his commitment to a tradition that is SO fearful and harmful to the sensual troubles me.  

Wolfe is right to state, "I am suspicious of spirituality as something ethereal, exotic and otherworldly - something found elsewhere."  But his vaguely arrogant insistence that the institutional  church in its 21st century manifestation is the healthiest alternative, no longer rings true to me.  Rather, I sense the spirituality critique cuts much deeper than he is able to admit.  (Read more of Wolfe's insights and essays @ http://www.gregorywolfe.com/index.html or http://imagejournal.org/)

 + And then there was my recent time with colleagues in an emerging group of prayer, encouragement and accountability.  All was good until someone suggested that part of our time together might include "case studies."  Oh crap, I thought, I don't need another overly clinical and/or professional group to take up my time.  No, what my soul needs is something more profound.  So I said, "You know, I just can't do any more case studies.  I know they have value and have their place in CPE, etc.  But at this point in my life and ministry what I need is more time at the Lord's feast rather than the academy's chalk board."  Which set in motion a fascinating little conversation about breaking bread, sharing tea and hospitality that made my heart sing.


I guess what I am trying to say is that over the years I have really left behind a spirituality that rejects and fears the sensual.  Last night at our jazz gig, my heart was on fire when children - and then adults - got up to dance.  Dancing is embodied prayer in my new theological lexicon.  And when someone said, "There are a LOT of church people in the crowd (as there have been our last 3 gigs and I am seriously grateful, too) and they are GREAT!"  I smiled.  And when 10 year old Ethan got up to do his thing on "Steam Roller Blues" - which brought the house down - I said out loud:  "That's what happens when you come to our church."  Like King David, you shake your booty in prayer.  You don't fear or hate your body.  You understand that there is more to be learned in joy that suffering.  And you find that you are always on the lookout for the Lord's often hidden feast.

Who knows where the time goes...?  All I know is that over the years my spirituality has become a whole lot more incarnational - and like St. James Brown the Broken Soul Man of Augusta, GA said:  Poppa's got a BRAND new bag and... I feel good!

Friday, February 25, 2011

While My Guitar Gently Weeps...

There is SO much to be prayerful about today - from the uprisings in Africa/Middle East to the latest battle of the class wars in the USA - so why am I thinking about the late George Harrison? For the past 20 years, he has become my favorite Beatle:  wounded, spiritually profound, a rock and roller with a love of fast cars, Monty Python humor and everything that is sacred.  His spirituality was very different from mine, but as the gospel of John says:  In my Father's mansions are many rooms... (see Harvey Cox's fascinating treatment of that passage in Many Mansions http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=150)

When the Beatles first broke on the scene, I loved Paul McCartney's bass playing and incredible good looks but was drawn to John Lennon's sarcasm and rock and roll scream.  Man, could that cat make my skin crawl and ass shake when he let loose his voice.  And as he matured - and his brokenness matured in his songs - he was my man.  Whether it is Lennon doing "Money" from the early days, "I'm A Loser/No Reply" or "And Your Bird Can Sing" in the middle period or "Strawberry Fields" towards the end, I was a believer.  And his schtick in "A Hard Day's Night" always puts me over the top...

But as I grew up - how does St. Paul (not McCartney) put it:  when I was a child, I thought and spoke like a child... but as an adult I have put childish things away? - I found that Lennon's sarcasm and narcissism left me empty.  Sure, he was Dada-esque in his bed-ins for peace but so freakin' self-indulgent, too.  After being a pastor to guys returning from Vietnam with PTSD I can't watch that smug protest-stuff of Lennon's anymore without great sorrow - and a bit of anger, too.

That's when I started to revisit the music and wisdom of George Harrison.  His songs have always been a fascinating contrast to the harsh realm of Lennon.  I think of "I Need You" from "Help" as one of the most tender and innocent love songs of that generation.  His work on "Revolver" - from "Taxman" to "Love You To" and the sitar on "Norwegian Wood" - is brilliant and challenging.  And then there is the best anti-war prayer EVER:  "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" from the "White Album."  It rivals another confession-lament, "Isn't It a Pity" as being honest, heart-breaking, hopeful, human and holy at at the same time.  And as I have noted on too many other occasions, when Clapton plays the guitar break in the middle and then over the extended ending... it is as if the Lord were wailing in anguish over the wounds of the world. It remains my favorite song of all time.  

So, I'm thinking a LOT about George Harrison today as the Western world considers sanctions against the mad man Qaddafi.  And the Vatican blusters about Gov. Cuomo's taking holy communion while unmarried.  And the Koch brothers wage class war - again - against the unions of the industrial Midwest (not that they don't needs some changes and reforms.) And the people of New Zealand grieve.  And the US starts to withdraw from the cruel absurdity that has become the war in Afghanistan.  George knew how to put into music what all of this feels like - AND - at the same time bring a measure of encouragement and light into the mix, too.

See if you don't agree with me:  take some time to watch the "Concert for George" when you can.  It is his buddy, Eric Clapton's, homage to his dear friend.  Throughout, Clapton leads a hot band through all of Harrison's greatest songs.  And then, after keeping it together with proper English stoicism and class, the band closes the show with "While My Guitar Gently Weeps."  And Clapton lets out ALL his grief as he beats his guitar - hammers it - makes it scream and cry with all the rage, sorrow, grief, shame and love he feels inside... It is a lament of the highest and most beautiful kind - and always causes me to weep, too. It is the balm in Gilead for my soul...

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Another part of self-care...

Today when I went to the mail, there was a package from my friend in Thunder Bay, Ontario - Peter - or Black Pete for those in the know: check him out at http://redwineandgarlic.blogspot.com/ or http://walkerbyneed.blogspot.com/ during Lent.)  It was a DVD about the Beats and Kerouac (something I'm going to watch tomorrow before our next jazz gig.)  

Peter's gift - and our friendship with he and his beloved Joyce - put this day into perspective as I thought a little more about ministry and self-care.  I gave my evening to a new clergy group - a Berkshire Community of Practice - dedicated to helping clergy stay connected with professional colleagues who will share regular prayer, encouragement and accountability with one another.  

Too often, ministers find themselves feel alone and emotionally/spiritually isolated - and this is when they get into trouble.  In my tradition, because we aren't formally "connectional," no one is required to be a part of such a group - just seriously encouraged.  And the folk I met with tonight - very different in age and experience from me - were wonderful, thoughtful and compassionate colleagues whom I look forward to getting to know better over the course of the next year.  That is part of our covenant:  to be with one another in prayer and accountability for a year.
 These folk are people I can be totally honest with about my ministry - more than friends but not therapists - and all from outside my local church.  I have loving and deep relationships with a variety of people in my congregation - some very profound and loving - but these are all public relationships.  In all of them, even in our small pastor/parish sharing group, it is clear that I am always the minister - not RJ the wounded man searching for grace with lots of questions - but Pastor James.  And I wouldn't have it - nor should it be - any other way. In church, I am a public person and God have mercy on us all should anyone forget this truth.

But RJ still needs colleagues of compassion and confidence, too.  And tonight - in addition to my on-going spiritual friendship with another local clergy person whom I treasure - I took another small step towards self-care.  That and the serious diet Dianne and I have been practicing - plus playing in the jazz band - AND the new Fender bass amp I bought today are all part of the package!  Made me think of this incredible version of a classic...

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Showing up is essential for the blessings...

NOTE:  Here are my worship notes for Sunday, February 27th 2011.  They conclude my series using Ephesians and some of Eugene Peterson's insights from Practice Resurrection.  Next week I will be off to a conference and then a few days in Boston with my honey before the start of Lent. (My good buddy Richard Chrisman will be preaching for me!)  So, please stop by if you are in the area at 10:30 am and join the fun.

This morning’s message is intended PRIMARILY for those who take the way of Jesus seriously. Everyone else may listen in, of course – I promise my words won’t hurt you – but my intention is to speak clearly about the importance of the Church to those who have already made a commitment to Christ in one form or another.

You see, in every age – ours included – there is not only confusion about why God brought the church to birth as the NEW body of Christ in the first place, there is also disagreement as to its continued relevance, right? Someone once said that in any generation there are probably more Christians who have quit going to church – or only show up on Christmas Eve and maybe Easter – than there are believers “who embrace it profoundly, warts and all.” (Eugene Peterson, Practice Resurrection, p. 11)

• That’s why I want to focus my thoughts today for those of us here who have already decided to follow Jesus as the old hymn puts it.

• We need an honest and humble way of comprehending what God is doing in this strange and gentle thing we call “church” not only for our own faith, but also for helping us shape our lives in the wider world.

For as one old salt put it: if you don’t know where you are going, you’ll probably get there! And we have been called to get to someplace that has defined shape, form and meaning. All of our biblical texts today are grounded in these words of Jesus from Matthew 6:

Please, do not be so preoccupied with getting that you can’t respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way God works fuss over things that don’t matter, but you know both God and how God works. So steep your life in this God-reality, God-initiative, God-provision. If you quit worrying about missing out, you will find all of your everyday human concerns will be met.

That is what St. Paul wants us to hear in Ephesians 4:

This is something I insist on – and God backs me up, too – there can be no going along with the crowd – especially the empty-headed, mindless crowd that is so popular. They’ve refused for so long to deal with God that they’ve lost touch not only with God but with true reality itself… So let’s be clear: the old way of life has got to go… for we have made a promise to Christ to take on a new being –a God-fashioned life that is renewed from the inside out. So listen… no more lies, no more pretense, tell your neighbor the truth for in Christ’s body we are all connected to each other.

Same thing in Romans 12, too:

Our new identity is shaped like the various parts of a human body. Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole – not the other way around – that is the old life. If we lived as a chopped-off finger or a cut-off toe, we wouldn’t amount to much, would we? In Christ’s body, let’s go ahead and be what we were made to be without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other or trying to be something we aren’t.

Now I don’t know about you, but what I hear in each of these passages is an invitation to realize that those who follow Jesus have been called into a body. A unique body, to be sure – the body of Christ - that practices the Jesus life and a God-reality that is different from the status quo. Like I told you last week, God always reveals the sacred in a body of one type or another so we ought not try to be more spiritual than God.

• The “church” is a body and we are part of that body – not the totality – but a living part of Christ’s body in the world, ok?

• And this body is not a collection of individuals each pursuing his or her own agenda because of pain or power; nor a burial society keeping the building open so that we have a place to die; nor a club of like-minded friends nor a museum of out-dated tradition; we are a body working together to give shape and form to Jesus in our generation.

Eugene Peterson put it like this in his commentary on Ephesians:

Church is an appointed gathering of named people in a particular place who practice a life of resurrection in a world in which death gets the biggest headlines: death of nations, death of civilization, death of marriage, death of careers, obituaries without end. Death by war, death by murder, death by accident, death by starvation. Death by electric chair, lethal injection or hanging. The practice of resurrection, however, is an intentional, deliberate decision to believe and participate in the resurrection life of Jesus – a life out of death, a life that rumps death – a life where Jesus’ life as the last word. And this practice is not a vague wish upwards but a number of discrete but interlocking acts that maintain a credible and faithful way of life that is a bold alternative to a world preoccupied with death and the devil. (p. 12)

That’s a mouthful, I know, but what he wants us to wrestle with is that first of all the church is a body committed to living the Jesus life in our generation. I’ll say a little more in just a moment about what he means about the practice of resurrection – the embodiment of the Jesus life – but let’s be sure we’re all on the same page, ok?

• What strikes you – or what is your reaction – to the affirmation that the church is a body rather than a collection of individuals?

• This is the first counter-cultural essential so what does this mean to you?

Ok, now there are two more insights I want to share with you based upon the first that are practical and foundational.

• First nobody can practice the Jesus life all by themselves.

• And second most of us have to get rid of any notions of relevance we hold about the church before it can really matter.

People throughout the ages have always wanted to make the church into their own image rather than being reformed into the image of God made flesh in Jesus Christ. That’s just human nature. So what God chose to do in the church is to give us all a place where we can accept human nature as a given and then slowly and tenderly come into contact with both the Holy Spirit and other individuals who can lure the broken parts of our nature towards something more holy and healthy. In this, the church becomes the place where God’s holiness meets human brokenness with grace and healing.

So it is a place of miracles – although it doesn’t look any more miraculous than the place of Christ’s first birth – or death. There is nothing romantic about a frightened Palestinian mother giving birth in a discarded stable in the middle of nowhere. Nor is there anything attractive about a brown skinned, itinerant preacher being tortured and nailed to a cross by an occupying imperial power after being abandoned and betrayed by his family and friends. Sadly, this is still too ordinary and ugly – and just as easy to miss as the blessing found within the contemporary body of Christ we call the church.

Which is, of course, why you have to show up: only those who spend time with the birth of Jesus can grasp the extraordinary within the ordinary realities of that stable. And only those who expose themselves to the excruciating experience of the crucifixion are drawn beyond their own pain into the grace of the resurrection. So what was true then is true now: if we don’t show up, we will miss what God is doing beyond the obvious.

That’s the second insight that cannot be ignored: if you want the blessings of God in their deepest and most profound, you have to show up as a part of the body. Not as a member – although there is nothing wrong with membership – but as a committed participant. You see, just as you can’t enjoy a feast and be nourished by the food and the company if you don’t show up – or just look at it on the Internet – so, too, with the feast of God’s grace: you have to show up.

• You can’t experience the depth of the cannons at the 1812 Overture at Tanglewood if you don’t show up. Sure, you can listen to CDs – or go onto public radio and listen along – but it is nothing like being there.

• Same in a U2 concert – or dancing – or swimming – or loving your grandbaby: you can look at all the pictures, you can Skype and go on YouTube – but it isn’t that same as being there in the flesh.

And the same is true for the body of Christ: you have to show up as a participant to be opened to the holy and human miracles that take place in the most ordinary ways. So let’s be clear: there are three ways of showing up for church – and each level of participation takes you deeper – and creates more potential for blessing. And let me say right out of the gate that I’m not even going to talk about church members who own paper membership but never show up – except for homebound folks – because that whole thing is a waste of our time.

The first way to show up is public worship: this is literally the front door for most of us and involves bringing our physical bodies into the building. At this level of participation, we sing and pray and listen and respond. We rub shoulders with people we don’t really know and greet them in Christ’s name. So worship is where things start to happen – and that’s a beautiful thing – so tell me why do you come to worship?

The second way to show up in the body of Christ is service: the first is celebration, but the second is service. And it might be study in a small group or supporting a ministry; it might involve reading as a liturgist or singing in the choir; it could be helping out in the office or cleaning up after a supper. This level of participation takes you a little deeper than the celebration so can you say out loud how this is true?

And then there is mission: celebration, service and mission - sharing your life and your resources to advance the values and presence of Christ in the world. Deeper still, right – so what does that look like and mean to you?

Three different ways of showing up that honors the fact that people are at different places at different moments of their lives. Sometimes for a young parent, worship is all we can handle, right? And even that is tough – which is different for someone in retirement – or with a different set of needs. What I want to communicate is that each way of showing up has its own blessings and takes you deeper into the human/holy connection with Jesus. So no delusions or judgments or prolonged infancies among us, ok: Showing up – however it happens – is a good thing.

And here’s one thing more: it is only by showing up that you’ll eventually find the grace to let another help you. Help you receive, help you trust, help you discern and understand what God is asking most deeply of your life. We can’t do this by ourselves. Last week I asked you to write down on a card what you understood to be your gift from God – and I’ve put them up as a display right over there – because they are beautiful and tender and real.

But as I suspected, we could go even deeper by sharing our hunches with a few other trusted and wise souls. Because most of the time we can’t really see what our gifts and blessings are in isolation. We need others to name them for us – to give us eyes to see and ears to hear – before we are fully able to connect our deepest joy with the world’s deepest wound. And that is one of the sweetest miracles that can ever take place by showing up and going deeper: discovering and embracing our calling.

If you play it safe – refuse to show up and go deeper – you get what you’ve given: not much. You stay locked in your immature notions of the church. Maybe you’ve heard someone say – or have said yourself – I’m a spiritual but not a religious person so I don’t do organized religion?” I’ve said those words and on one level affirm them, too. Most of the time they mean: “I want to live in a way that is close to God in Christ but don’t want to be like those mean-spirited church people I see on TV who are more hateful than loving, more judgmental than gracious and more hypocritical than humble.” And let’s face it: there are a lot of harsh, broken, wounded, mean, nasty and ugly people in the church. We know this – maybe we’ve even been one of them.

So, like Gandhi said, “If it were just about Jesus, I would be a Christian. Your Jesus I like very much – it’s all those cruel people acting in his name that hurt me.” I get that – and resonate with it – but let’s grow up and go even deeper than Gandhi, ok? Because here’s the thing: the church is NOT God’s advertisement for the Jesus life in the world. That’s one of the romantic illusions we have to give up.

If the church is intended to be God’s advertisement to the world, a utopian community put on display so that people will flock to it clamoring to get in, it has obviously become a piece of failed strategy. And if the church is intended to be a discipline company of men and women charged of getting rid of corruption in government, or cleaning up the world’s morals or convincing people to live chastely and honestly, or teaching them to treat the forests, rivers and air with reverence, and children, the elderly the poor and the hungry with compassion, it hasn’t happened. We’ve been at this for two thousand years and… obviously the church is not an ideal community that people take one look at and ask, “How do I get in?” (Peterson)

The church is a scandal – it is ridiculous – even absurd in the eyes of the world. And yet for some reason, like Christ’s first birth in an abandoned stable or his execution on the Cross, this is where God chooses to lead us from death into life over and over again.

Here, among people I would NEVER invite if it were just up to me – and would never be chosen by others either – is where the Spirit has been called to bring us new life. Here in this body is where God chooses to be revealed:

Here among the broken, hobbled, crippled, sexually and spiritually abused; here among the emotionally unstable, passive and passive-aggressive men and women who have shown up. Men at fifty who have failed a dozen times and know they will never amount to anything. Women who have been ignored and scorned and abused in a marriage in which they have been faithful. People living with children and spouses deep in addictions. Lepers and blind and deaf and dumb sinners. Also new converts and spirited young people who are energetic and eager to be guided into a life of love and compassion and service. Alongside a few seasoned old saints who know how to pray and listen and endure, too… (Peterson)

And you can’t see that on the outside looking in. You don’t get that when you’re trying to solve all your spiritual and emotional questions in isolation or therapy. You can’t grasp this when you think you’re smarter than most of the other people in the pews – or that your pain is unique and special – or whatever.

You only get this blessing – and the most amazing and grace-filled sense of calling, too – when you show up and let the holy and the human take you deeper. I don’t know why God has chosen to work this way, but… that’s up to the Lord.

So, as I ask my holy and human band-mates to come up and share with you one of the callings we have discovered together, I am going to ask you to pray with us about your own sacred calling in the body as we sing this song using the words: Oh, heaven let your light shine down…

Monday, February 21, 2011

A few more clues about entering a Holy Lent in this place...

Right now I'm listening to Pentangle -one of my favorite Celtic/jazz bands of the 60s - and thinking about entering a Holy Lent.  It is snowing - again - and my wife just gave me a fascinating book because she said, "It made me think of you."  Pilgrimage to Dzhvari, is the spiritual biography of a Georgian woman and her son taking up residence in a remote Orthodox monastery in the ebbing days of Soviet communism.  She knows that I have long been fascinated with the monastic life even though I am so thoroughly woven into the web of popular culture and the realm of the arts. A challenging paradox, to be sure!

So all of these things have been swimming around inside me for a while as I try to discern how God might be calling us to enter a Holy Lent this year.  I am particularly concerned with what might be a good way to help the faith community explore and embrace the deeper wisdom of Lent.  We have been experimenting with going beyond the forms for a few years - and many did not even know the forms when we started - but that no longer seems satisfying.  This year we are being called to go deeper...


I started to get some clues during our last two band practices where we spent time talking about Good Friday.  This year it seems like we're going to focus on betrayal stories of the garden before getting to the Cross.  They are so rich - and challenging - and compelling, too.  A few songs have popped up for this emphasis from Queen's "Under Pressure" and Paul Simon's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" to Luka Bloom's "The One" and a jazzy, upside-down look at "What Child Is This?" in the context of Christ's words to his mother from the Cross.  Probably Leonard Cohen's "Anthem" to bring things to a close.

Two other clues came to me this weekend while reviewing the poetry and art for Lent suggested by the "Behold: Arts for the Church Year" series published by Wood Lake Books of Canada.  These quotes from Douglas John Hall and Martin Luther seem to move me towards Lent, too:

+ Douglas John Hall:  God does not meet our need for security only with a refusal and rebuff. God offers us an alternative to certitude. It is called trust. God reveals Godself as one who may be trusted. Sight, or the kind of finality that sight seems to make possible, is not given... Certitude is denied; confidence is made possible. Consider that word - confidence - literally, in the Latin, it means living with (con) faith (fide.)

+ Martin Luther: This life, therefore, is not godliness, but the process of becoming godly, not health but getting well, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise.  We are not now what we shall be, but we are on the way. The process is not yet finished, but it is actively going on. This is not the goal, but it is the right road.

That's when it hit me:  after looking at the arch of the stories in the Common Lectionary for Lent - a collection that takes Jesus from the wilderness of Ash Wednesday to the healing of his friend Lazarus just outside of Jerusalem - this is about the rhythm of feasting and fasting in the shadow of the Cross.  It is, in other words, a spirituality "that teaches us, or has taught most of us, how to deal with failure. We learn at a very young age that failure is the norm in life... errors are part of the game, part of its rigorous truth." (Ernest Kurtz, A Spirituality of Imperfection)

So why not see what the journey and rhythm of Jesus has to say about entering and honoring our failures; specifically, could there be a dialogue between the gospel texts and the five touchstones of wisdom offered in a spirituality of imperfection?  I think so... and it looks like this to me right now.

+ Lent One:  Matthew 4 – the wilderness/temptation corresponds to the insight of release

+ Lent Two:  John 3 – born again corresponds to the insight of humility

+ Lent Three:  John 4 – the Samaritan woman at the well corresponds to the insight of gratitude

+ Lent Four:  John 9 – healing a blind man on the Sabbath corresponds to the insight of forgiveness as the key to our life

+ Lent Five:  John 11 – the healing of Lazarus corresponds to the insight of living out of a deep spiritual home

We'll see how thus unfolds.  I'm already thinking I want to use some similar themes from the Rule of Benedict as unpacked by Joan Chittister in Wisdom Distilled for the Daily. But for right now... a few more of the clues are becoming clearer. Time to chill a bit - practice my bass - and head out for some jazz workouts later tonight. 

Saturday, February 19, 2011

What I am is what I am...

Back when my daughters were in high school there was a totally rockin' song by Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians:  What I Am.  Damn, if I STILL don't love that song...

This tune came back to me earlier today as I was cleaning up my blog site. You know, over time some sites simply  go dormant while others become boring, right?  So, I've started to weed out those that are either stagnant or just dead in one way or another and replace them with others that grab me right now. Like Edie sings, that's just "what I am!" Let me call your attention to a few others that are I currently find fascinating.

+ My wife, Dianne, turned me on to: Jamie the Very Worst Missionary - a totally insightful blog about one woman's incarnational work in Costa Rica.  Having been in Costa Rica myself - and digging her theology - I look forward to where she's going to take us.  Check it out @
http://www.theveryworstmissionary.com/2011/02/dog-piles.html

+ My daughter does some work here - a pretty interesting group of folk - and I have come to value the monthly on-line newsletter of the North  East Organic Farmers Association @
http://campaign.r20.constantcontact.com/render?llr=tfyau9bab&v=001uhMSa17EQAe6ZQSjup6OP2g9-aNyv2OwiWaPjBk0avvKwtXnEbjUg0iS4SHybY4a6HPQK4flmzrGQQE_JtmhL1FGXNoHsCZqGeeMIuzDpmmftfvZlRpllpTtcJLKRVQTvGctOeSk2gE%3D

+ Then there is the Good Heart @ http://thegoodheart.blogspot.com/ an often insightful reflection on things that are important to me.

Finally, I am aware that so much of the news in the USA is filtered through the perspective and need of corporate profit making that sometimes I need a different blast of reality.  Here are three sits that make it happen for me:

+ The Independent Media Center (my journalist/organizer/organic farmer daughter turned me onto this when she was at UMASS):  http://www.indymedia.org/en/index.shtml

+ The network former VP Al Gore works on is another great resource for another pespective @ http://current.com/

+ And let's not forget the ever credible and always fascinating work of Al Jazeera @ http://english.aljazeera.net/watch_now/

Better close now... with something from Radiohead, yeah?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Feelin' alright...

Yesterday I spent the morning in the hospital as a patient - the first time in 50 years - as I had to do that "old guy" thing and have my insides explored.  Robin Williams does a freakin' brilliant bit about this that is worth the price of admission - and he is so right - and I am grateful that all is well inside and out.  No need for another "procedure" for a long time.

That said, three things linger with me from the ordeal.  First, I must have really responded well to those drugs because I don't remember a thing!  Nothing - including an in-depth conversation with the doctor and my wife after wards.  All of which is good, but a little unnerving - rather like a science fiction novel where you KNOW something happened - and have some faint recollection that you were there - but nothing of the experience remains in your memory.


Second, man am I wiped-out today.  The pros weren't kidding when they told me not to operate heavy machinery or make any major decisions for 24 hours; given my reaction, I would up that to 48 hours because life is still running at about half speed inside me. And I slept for over 12 hours last night!  Still, given my family's history with cancer, I'll take the blessing to receive a clean bill of health no matter how tired or uncomfortable I feel today.
 

And third, what a wonderful, skilled and compassionate set of caregivers I was graced with throughout the whole thing: my doc was wise and helpful, the hospital administrative folk were kind and informative and the nurses were angels of mercy.  Everyone made my anxiety float away with their attention to little details along with their very authentic bed-side manner. This IS one of those times when thank you notes are in order.

I have always believed that even when I can't change much of the wider world - and I can't - I can share a bit of compassion.  That's one of the reasons I entered into local church ministry almost 30 years ago - and I was reminded of how important compassion is to everyone yesterday in a very incarnational way.  So... like Dave Mason said so well in his Traffic days...

Thursday, February 17, 2011

On-line prayer...

There are four on-line prayer resources that I have used with varying frequency over the years - and find myself returning to again.

+ The first is "Pray-As-You-Go" @ http://www.pray-as-you-go.org/ a resource of the Jesuits of England.  With a refreshing collection of contemporary and ancient music, the heart of Ignatian spirituality is practiced in a very accessible way.

+ The second is "Sacred Space" @ http://sacredspace.ie/ another Jesuit website but this time hailing from Ireland.  It is silent but interactive as it leads you through a quiet 10 minute reflection each day.

+ The third is from the Community of Taize in France @ www.taize.fr/en_article5806.html. A complete Taize liturgy - with Psalms and Lessons - is offered each day along with prayers of petition and often something from the writings of Brother Roger.
+ And fourth, from my own tradition (United Church of Christ), is the eclectic and creative  "Feed Your Spirit" link @ http://www.ucc.org/feed-your-spirit/.I was blessed early this morning - as I prepare to go to the hospital for a brief procedure - to find the following style of prayer.  I often teach it to my own congregants as they prepare for hospital and surgery - and now I find it as a gentle affirmation for myself.

The rediscovery of ancient spiritual practices in the postmodern church has revived interest in the “Jesus Prayer” or “Prayer of the Heart.” Many 21st-century Christians have found in this simple method of prayer a discipline that can lead beyond words to silent contemplation of God's loving presence.

First practiced by the Desert Fathers (and Mothers) in the fifth century, the Jesus Prayer spread rapidly in the Eastern churches. The Jesus Prayer is often called a “breath prayer” because repetition of a sacred text is coordinated with the body's natural rhythm of breathing, a practice that slows the metabolism and helps to focus the mind and heart. “Let the memory of Jesus combine with your breathing,” wrote St. John Climacus in the sixth century, “then you will know the profit of silence.” As a “technique,” breath prayer superficially resembles meditative practices in Buddhism, Islam and other religions, but the Jesus Prayer is uniquely Christian because it centers on Jesus Christ as Savior.

The words most often associated with the Prayer of the Heart are based on the Christian confession that “Jesus Christ is Lord” and the prayer of the tax collector in Luke 18:13: "But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’” 

The most common formula is
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, * have mercy on me, a sinner.
The text can be simplified to
Jesus, Son of God, * have mercy on me.
Or simplified further to
Jesus * mercy.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Walter Brueggemann and more for Lent...

I know that some hate the thought that Lent is just two and a half weeks away:  not me!  I not only love to honor this complicated and nuanced season of inner reflection and outward service, but want to keep discovering ways to keep it fresh and liberating.  So far this year we've started distributing a worship brochure to highlight the ways to enter a Holy Lent.  I found that during Advent, a whole lot of new folk - without much of a background in liturgical theology or aesthetics - just didn't get what was going on.  So... we have realized that there is a ton of interpretive work to be done for both Advent and Lent. To date, we've nailed down the following:

Sunday mornings will start with a deep survey of the Hebrew Bible.  I have one of New England's true scholars and saints in a retired clergy person who will guide this conversation.On both Monday evening and Wednesdays at 12 noon, a team of leaders will join me as we explore the Living the Questions DVD of Walter Brueggemann's lecture:  Countering Pharaoh's Production-Consumption Society for Today.  He says of this series, "It is a journey from slavery to covenant that we must keep making over and over again... because Pharaoh has an immense power to draw us back into slavery." And we've started work on Ash Wednesday as well as the Maundy Thursday and Good Friday liturgies - with a special tenderness for the themes of betrayal and desertion in all.

I think this year I will simply follow the wisdom and strangeness of the Common Lectionary and see where this leads us.  It looks like the rhythm of the readings begins in the wilderness (of course) with an invitation to change directions.  Then, using the gospel of John, we will be asked to be "born again" or "opened to the spirit from above," as well as consider sharing living water, being healed of blindness and leaving behind death in all its forms.

It looks like there will be a lot of jazz performances, too, plus a trip to Maryland to see my sister who continues to need assistance in healing from a host of stomach, kidney and internal organ complications.  And just for my own self I think I'll be working my way through Barbara Brown Taylor's slim volume:  When God Is Silent.  It may also be time to revisit either the Rule of Benedict with Joan Chittister's commentary or A Spirituality of Imperfection by Ernest Kurtz.

Hmmm... I wonder how all three might help shape and inform the Lenten lessons this year?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Naming, claiming and sharing our gifts as part of practicing resurrection...

NOTE:  Here are my worship notes for Sunday, February 20, 2011 in our on-going exploration of Ephesians for 21st century believers.  This week we look carefully at our collective gift to share with the world as well as our personal gifts.  Next week we'll consider how hard it is to discern God's gift to us all by ourselves - and how we need help.  If you are in town for worship at 10:30 am, please join us.

This morning I want to be very serious AND extremely playful with you as we consider what it means to claim, share and own God’s call upon your life.


+ I say serious because God’s calling on your life is not only a matter of life and death for you, but it has implications for all creation, too. Like the gentle but ever expanding ripples made by a stone in still water, God’s calling on your life moves out from you and into the world in profound and mysterious ways. So, Jesus says in today’s gospel: You are kingdom subject so grow up and live like it. Live out your God-created identity – your calling – which empowers you to live generously and graciously toward others just the way God lives toward you."

+ At the same time I have to speak of this calling in a playful way, too, because, well… our take on spirituality is more about the feast than the fast. We have been called to celebrate the joy, not the guilt – a life of gratitude rather than obligation – the gift of God’s grace, not judgment. St. Paul puts it like this in our other lesson for today: “…with humility and discipline —not fits and starts – but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love… travel on the same road and in the same direction (towards the calling given to you by the Lord.) And remember:


He handed out gifts above and below, filled heaven with his gifts, filled earth with his gifts. (What’s more, God has) handed out gifts (to the church) with some being called to be an apostle, prophet or evangelist, and others to be the pastor-teachers (sent) to train Christ's followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ's body, the church, until we're all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God's Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ. So, come on, no prolonged infancies among us, please.

I have come to believe that our charism – our unique gift of the Holy Spirit to the world and our community at this moment in time – is to clearly embody a faithful alternative to both the popular entertainment-obsessed churches of this era as well as the rule and tradition-bound ones. Do you hear what I’m saying?

Our gift by faith is to be such a clear and joyful alternative to other church traditions that everyday people come to realize – and experience – something of God’s good news in the world in addition to all the pain and suffering and fear. We have been commissioned – let me go so far as to say called by God – not only to celebrate our God-created identity as kingdom people committed to Christ and his Cross, but to do so with humility, humor and hope.

+ You see, we have been called to be an alternative to the status quo – even when it comes to religion.

+ We are clearly the minority report when it comes to Christianity in America – other traditions and theologies are much bigger and more popular than our type of church – but this is really a blessing because it frees us to live openly and enthusiastically as one of God’s grace-filled alternatives.

And please hear me clearly: I am not slamming nor denigrating those traditions that emphasize the rules and dogma and getting all the words right about who’s an insider and who is out. Let’s be honest: there will always be spiritual traditions that are top-down and rule bound. Apparently many people need this type of religion for it has been in existence since the beginning of time and isn’t going anywhere fast.

That is part of what I hear from our first reading for today, ok? There’s no ambiguity – no poetry – no nuance: just the facts, ma’am and a clear-cut articulation of the rules.

You shall each revere your mother and father, and you shall keep my Sabbaths: I am the LORD your God. Do not turn to idols or make cast images for yourselves: I am the LORD your God… You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the LORD

The old timers used to say: God said it, I believe it and that’s the end of it! And that is one way of doing it… But I have to tell you, that way of being faithful to the Lord doesn’t do anything for me. It obviously works for some, but I have experienced God’s grace as bigger than a one size fits all religion. I mean, come on…

+ A God who has brought to birth jazz and classical music – rap and soul – rock and roll – world music, folk music, the cooing of babies at their momma’s breast and the sweet sounds that make women and men weep and lay down their swords…

+ A God who has inspired the poetry of Allen Ginsberg AND T.S. Elliot – to say nothing of Anna Ahkmatova, Emily Dickinson, Mary Oliver, Robert Bly and Rumi…


+ Or Picasso and Degas – Michelangelo and Rothko – Alberto Giacometti and Rodin – Rembrandt, Maya Lin and Georgia O’Keefe…

Come on: this God and God’s creation is just too vast and intricate for only one way of living into our vocation and calling as kingdom citizens. That’s why I am certain that the Lord has called us to be that serious but oh so playful, creative and faithful alternative to what so often passes for religion and church. We have a vocation – a minority vocation, to be sure – but a real vocation to give shape, form and expression to Christ’s joy.

Now in order to this, we have to understand that our vocation is bigger than a job. Literally the word vocation, from the Latin vocare, means “to call” - to be summoned to your essence in the world by God – ok? I love how the writer, Fredrick Buechner, puts it in his little book, Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC. “There are all different kinds of voices calling you to all different kinds of work,” he writes, “and the problem is to find out which is the voice of God rather than of society, say, or the superego, or self interest.”

The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need to do and (b) that the world needs to have done. If you find your work rewarding, you have presumably met requirement (a), but if your work does not benefit others, the chances are you have missed requirement (b). On the other hand, if your work does benefit others, you have probably met requirement (b), but if most of the time you are unhappy with it, the chances are you have not only bypassed (a) but probably aren’t helping your customers much either.… The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.

Isn’t that perfect? Our calling – as a congregation – has to do with that place where our deep gladness and the world’s deepest hunger meet. But we have to go one step deeper into this quest so that we know how to blend our calling as individuals within this place into the body of Christ. You see, our calling ALWAYS leads us beyond ourselves and into the Body of Christ. I think that is part of what the Lord’s playful words in today’s gospel are telling us. In Peterson’s translation, Jesus tells us:

You're familiar with the old written law, 'Love your friend,' and its unwritten companion, 'Hate your enemy.' I'm challenging that. I'm telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that. In a word, what I'm saying is, grow up. You're kingdom subjects. Now live like it.

And our old buddy Paul gives us a tool to help us go deeper. He, too, wants us to grow up into God’s grace so that we can be serious but playful servants of Christ in the real world. In Ephesians 4, he tells us something many have never considered: not only has God given gifts to creation and the entire world, but God has given each of US gifts, too, to be used to strengthen the Body of Christ.

So Paul makes a list – as the old apostle is want to do – and highlights four key gifts that every church needs if it is to mature and grow up to practice resurrection: God handed out the gift of being an apostle, a prophet, and evangelist and a pastor-teacher to train the congregation in the way of being skilled servants of Jesus. So let’s be clear about what each of these four gifts is all about, ok?
What is an apostle? Literally it is one who is sent out from the body through a direct and historic relationship to Jesus in order to share the serious/playful love of God with the world. That means that an apostle is not only distinct from a disciple – somebody who follows Jesus – but also is limited to a small and discrete group of people in time, right? Namely, those who personally knew Jesus and were sent out into the world at his command. In Paul’s day there were still apostles alive who had known Jesus intimately, but those days are over.

Next is the prophet; so what’s going on here? Let’s be clear that a prophet doe NOT read the future or tell fortunes, ok? No a prophet is someone who listens for the Holy Spirit within a culture and helps God’s people listen to what God is saying to our generation. Prophets are creative and culturally sensitive interpreters of what our still speaking God is saying in history – so do you have any thoughts or clues about this?

Then there is the evangelist – a word that has gotten a bum rap for some very good reasons in our generation – but what do you think it really means? It comes from the Greek word, euangelion, meaning “good news,” so an evangelist is someone who helps others both understand the good news of God in Jesus and how to put it into practice. A true evangelist is NOT a revival preacher – or someone who works on your emotions – but rather a trained disciple who has been called by God to public and gives Jesus some shape and form in the wider culture outside of the church. The term evangelist replaces that of the ancient apostle and allows every generation to participate in the good news. So what comes to your mind about some of the playful and creative ways this gift or calling is taking place here?

And fourth there is the pastor/teacher – the trainer in the ways of discipleship – who has been called to build up the body of Christ from childish thoughts to maturity. One of the old translations puts it like this: God has also called pastor-teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry. This is not two callings – pastor and teacher – but both together: the pastor is one who cares for and protects the flock; the teacher is the one who trains the flock in the way of discipleship so that they can practice resurrection as adults. That is, so the flock – not the pastor-teacher – but the body can do the work of ministry.

+ Did you get that distinction? Somehow contemporary culture has turned that back-ass-wards so we think it normative for the pastor to do the work of ministry while the people become spectators.

+ But ministry – the whole Christian life – is not a spectator sport where only the minister ministers and the congregation congregates! No, the pastor-teacher equips the saints – you and you and you and all of us – for the work of ministry.

Now, one quick aside: I hope you noticed that not everyone is called to be a pastor-teacher or a prophet or an evangelist. SOME are so called, but not everyone. That doesn’t mean if you don’t find your name on this list you are exempt and called to be passive. Not at all because if you know St. Paul at all, you know that if you name isn’t on this list you can be sure he’s got another list just waiting for you – and he does.

If Ephesians 4 speaks only of apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor teachers, don’t forget that there is:
+ I Corinthians 12: God's various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God's Spirit. God's various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God is behind it all and each person is given something to do that shows who God is and the variety is wonderful: some have been called to offer wise counsel, others to teach the gospel clearly; some are given the gift of simple trust while others are to heal the sick; some can share in miracles, others in proclamation, some speak in tongues and others make God’s worship real for all people.

+ To say nothing of Romans 12: We are like the various parts of a human body. Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole, not the other way around. So let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other or trying to be something we aren't. If you preach, just preach God's Message, nothing else; if you help, just help, don't take over; if you teach, stick to your teaching; if you give encouraging guidance, be careful that you don't get bossy; if you're put in charge, don't manipulate; if you're called to give aid to people in distress, keep your eyes open and be quick to respond; if you work with the disadvantaged, don't let yourself get irritated with them or depressed by them. Keep a smile on your face. Love from the center of who you are; don't fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.

Ours is a playful/serious tradition called to be about grace and joy in the world. We have ALL been given gifts by God to share in the healing of the world. And like Buechner said, “When our deepest gladness meets the world’s deepest hunger…we’ve got it.”

So, as we share one of our deepest joys – music – I’m going to ask you to see if you can name one of your deepest gifts. Try to name it, claim it and share it in one or two words. Write it down on the back of the card you received in today’s bulletin and put it in the offering plate. No names – just the card with your gift – and I’ll share it with you next week in a display. Let’s see what comes up for you as we share a song called “Praise God for the Body.”

(NOTE:  as you can tell I adore the work of the late Mark Rothko and give thanks to God for his creative and meditative genius.)

finding jesus in a wheelchair...

When I travel north to L'Arche Ottawa, I have an extended time of solitude in the car. The visuals are lovely - rock cliffs, rushing riv...