31 December 2009

Quote

Had it not been for an obsessive fear of heresy grounded in the traditional understanding of hell, most of the atrocities committed in the name of the Christian religion would never have occurred.

-- Thomas Talbot, The Inescapable Love of God

28 December 2009

Collect for the first Sunday after Christmas

Loving God, you have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Wisdom: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

20 December 2009

Reflection: 11-09

This month’s reflection is taken from Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I must confess that when the book arrived and I saw the size of it, I believed it to be a quick read, what with less than 150 pages. How wrong I was! That little book is a very dense read. I was captivated by the words and found that on more than one occasion I would have to set the book down and reflect on one sentence, one thought, on image.

One such thought is found right at the beginning. On page 17, Bonhoeffer wrote, ‘It is not simply to be taken for granted that the Christian has the privilege of living among other Christians.’ On page 21 he wrote, ‘Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. No Christian community is more or less than this.’ And finally, on page 24 he wrote, ‘Only in Jesus Christ are we one, only through him are we bound together.’ As can be discerned by the page numbers, these quotes all come from the first chapter. I would like to just spend a few moments looking at these statements.

The first statement hit me rather hard given the introduction to this book. As is widely known, Bonhoeffer was living through Nazi Germany and having to wrestle with the questions that this native occupation produced. I state ‘native occupation’ simply because Bonhoeffer and others were passionately against Hitler’s Nazi Germany and were very outspoken against it. So, for him to be given charge over a group of Christian ministers during this time, was paramount to his understanding of the life of Jesus. That is to say, the next few sentences after the initial quote on page 17 talks about how Christ lived among his enemies and how the Christian is called to do the same. I can see this ringing true for Bonhoeffer and those for whom he cared. But it got me thinking about our time. Do we still find it true today? Can we ‘take for granted’ that we can actually go to church and enjoy the company of other Christians while sharing the Office and the Sacraments? At first I was determined to make my case on the affirmative side. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it is probably more of a grace now. I quickly thought of the passage from 1Thessalonians that stated, ‘When people are saying, “Everything is peaceful and secure,” then disaster will fall on them as suddenly as a pregnant woman’s labor pains begin. And there will be no escape.” Are we taking for granted our coming together? If we just think about it for a moment, I think we would conclude that we are doing just that very thing. Just like we do with all of life. We have done it most of our lives. The small child doesn’t even consider such things. When she is running and playing outside, the thought that this could all be taken away at a moments notice doesn’t even enter her mind. The high school student may confront death at some point but it only seems to be a passing time of sorrow for most even if it’s a fellow student or friend. Most of the time the thought is, ‘This will never happen to me. That’s someone else.’ Most don’t think about the finality of life and death. It’s not even on the radar. The same could be stated for a some adults. We seem to go through our lives and not really think about all of the people we come in contact with or just the simple gift of breath that next day. But we are not promised any of this. We are not promised tomorrow as the saying goes.

But, there is a story in Matthew 6 where Jesus says not to worry about tomorrow because there are enough worries for today. What I am now getting from that conversation is being mindful. Being present. Sure, we have to think about our futures and things that must be done tomorrow, but does that distract us from the now? I know that it can. I think that is what Jesus was getting at. And in doing that, of being mindful, we will see (or should see) that we should not even take one breath for granted. It is only by Grace that we even opened our eyes today. We should never forget that.

The next two quotes can be taken together for they form the same type of thought. Again, Bonhoeffer wrote, ‘Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. No Christian community is more or less than this...Only in Jesus Christ are we one, only through him are we bound together.’ My initial thoughts of this was solely for Christian communities. But what happens if we look at those statements as pertaining to a global humanity? What if we push it to include all creation? Does it lessen the truth of what Bonhoeffer was trying to say or strengthen it? I think it strengthen it and it reminds me of 1Timothy where it was stated that Christ is the Savior of ‘all people and particularly of all believers’. That is, the emphasis that Bonhoeffer was pressing can – and in my opinion should – be extended to ‘all people’ and even all creation. Simply put, we are all one. We are all connected. ‘Particularly...all believers’.

But what does this say about those not in the Christian family? Are we putting them in that category? As St Paul stated, the implications of what Christ accomplished was not limited to just the ‘believer’ but for ‘all people’. Therefore, we need to look at how we can see others in the world around us as people who may not yet be in the family but we should see them as on their way. In another of St Paul’s letters, he stated that God had reconciled the whole world to Godself through the work of Christ on the cross (Colossians 1; 2Corinthians 5). However, as we all know, for reconciliation to work it takes all of the parties involved. Paul knew this because right after he stated that God had reconciled all things to Godself, he stated that people needed to ‘come back to God’ (2Corinthians 5.20, NLT). So, to me, what Bonhoeffer was stating was something that has cosmic implications – we should see all creation as reconciled to God from God’s viewpoint and in the processes of being reconciled from our viewpoint. All humanity are our brothers and sisters because of the cross and resurrection – they just might not realize it yet. I think that it is with the conviction in mind that the stoning of Stephen makes the most sense. At his death, he asked, ‘Lord, don’t charge them with this sin’ (Acts 7.60, NLT). To me, if he was looking at those who were stoning him as potential future brothers and sisters, that prayer makes the most sense.

Furthermore, when Bonhoeffer was referring to enemies in the earlier quote, I think this attitude, this intention of seeing all people as potential brothers and sisters is how we can not have fear; how we can look on them (enemies) with compassion. Most certainly we need to be as ‘wise as serpents’ but how do we view others? That, to me, is a very telling question. Do we see those around us as people for whom hell awaits? Or are they brothers and sisters addicted to sin? Do we see them with the eyes and heart of Christ?

As I am writing this, Thanksgiving Day has come and gone. We have met with family and friends and feasted on too much food and drink. Some of us laughed. Some of us cried. Some wounds were healed and some new wounds were inflicted. I know that my mind has been swirling with the thoughts that Bonheoffer wrote. So much so that this reflection has been the hardest to write. How can we live with the ideas I have sketched out here? How can we not fall into the trap of taking life for granted? How can we view the world around us – the chaos, the pain, the loss – as becoming reconciled? It seems too much of a stretch for a lot of us. But recently I read some things that I think may help.

In a blog post someone retold a story about someone being hurt by a relationship that had gone badly. In one of the counseling sessions, the spiritual director gave the hurting person a challenge: ‘Ignatius’ 5 Step Daily Consciousness; or “Awareness Examen”.’ The challenge, as can be guessed, was to pray the steps every night or write them down for a month. The steps are:

* Step One: Be Mindful
* Step Two: Be Thankful
* Step Three: Be Humble
* Step Four: Be Reflective
* Step Five: Be Responsive

The person followed these simple steps and found that her life was changed is a very profound way. She wrote down each step in a notebook and soon filled several volumes. These simple steps so profoundly changed her life that she continues to write each day and hopefully will one day pass them on to her children. While this may seem simple, it is quite challenging. And that is the point. I can so identify with the difficulty of this little exercise. But, if we can just focus on step two – being thankful – for a moment, and write down the littlest things, like breathing or loving or the ability to work, our lives can take on a way of thankfulness. For me, this is an exercise in becoming. We need to ‘become’ those things. That is what Bonhoeffer meant for me. We take too much for granted. Only when we stop and reflect on the simplest things will we truly become.

The second question is a little more difficult to answer. How can we possible believe that the world is in the process of being reconciled when there is so much hurting, so much suffering, so much that is seems against God’s very good creation? Well, that is just the point. The reason for the hurting, suffering, etc., is because those things are still struggling with their addictions. People, I believe, are innately good but have become so addicted to sin that they struggle to go back to their true selves. It is the same with businesses and the economy and the environment. We have become so used to doing things a certain way that we can’t even imagine a world that humanizes their workers, realizes that wealth is for all people, and that sustainable living is actually do-able. But the question comes crashing to the fore: What are we doing to implement those things? Are we just treating symptoms or actually addressing the underlying issues? While there is nothing wrong with working at soup kitchens (we can always use help!), are we asking the tough questions as to why those people are there in the first place? Are we working for changing the policies that force so many families into those situations? Do we feel overwhelmed at the idea? Do we believe that we are too small and the system is too big? Well, how small is our God? Did not the boy David face the giant man Goliath and remove his head? Did Jesus not face the principalities and powers of hell only to be resurrected on the third day? One person can face all of the demons of hell and change the world. That is why we pray. That is why we live, laugh, and love. ‘The cross is the power of God unto salvation’, not just for us, but for the whole creation.



~~~
In the Grace of the Three in One,

Jack

Reflection: 10-09

‘Do you see?’, asked my friend as she pointed in the distance. We were standing on a hill over looking the ocean watching the sun as it started to rise. ‘The sun revolves around the earth.’

‘No’, I replied. ‘As I explained last night, the earth revolves around the sun. It just looks that way from our viewpoint.’
~~~

This is a paraphrase of the story N. T. Wright uses to start his book, Justification. This book is a response to John Piper’s book, The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright. The differences, as can be seen by the story, is a difference of perspective. Both authors claim to have the ‘biblical’ (and, therefore, correct) perspective. Both authors are writing from a pastoral perspective claiming that they are thinking and acting for what’s best for those they shepherd. And, to me, they are both right. There is no question that their hearts are in the right place. However, I feel that Wright does a better job than Piper (though, I must admit, I have not read Piper’s book. I feel I know his view point, however.). Piper is defending the Reformed view of justification. The irony, of course, is that Wright is Anglican, a product of the Reformation! More than once, Wright states that his roots are Calvinistic and that, choosing between Luther and Calvin, he would side with Calvin every time. This isn’t to state that Wright is a Calvinist. Quite the opposite, actually. He emphasizes and agrees with Calvin’s positive view of the Law as opposed to Luther’s negative view.

So, what’s the issue? The issue revolves are a couple of things: 1) Does God ‘impute’ God’s own righteousness (or Christ’s righteousness) to the believer? and 2) What about ‘good works’? Of course, there are much deeper things in the book (not like those aren’t deep already!), but those are the markers we can put down for this reflection.

I have to say that I am a huge fan of Bishop Wright (he’s the Bishop of Durham). He has shed so much light on the New Testament, especially from the historical perspective, of putting Scripture in it’s historical context. The questions of justification are no different. He states that the debate is in three parts. First, ‘The question [about justification] is about the nature and scope of salvation.’ Second, ‘the question is about the means of salvation, how it is accomplished.’ Third, ‘the question is about the meaning of justification, what the term and its cognates refer to’ (pages 10-11; emphasis Wright). He then goes on to state:
Paul’s doctrine of justification is the place where four themes meet....First, Paul’s doctrine of justification is about the work of Jesus the Messiah of Israel....Second, Paul’s doctrine of justification is therefore about what we may call the covenant – the covenant God made with Abraham, the covenant whose purpose was from the beginning the saving call of a worldwide family through whom God’s saving purposes for the world were to be realized....Third, Paul’s doctrine of justification is focused on the divine law-court. God, as judge, “finds in favor of,” and hence acquits from their sin, those who believe in Jesus Christ....Fourth, Paul’s doctrine of justification is bound up with eschatology, that is, his vision of God’s future for the whole world and for his people.
On page 23, glancing back to his story about the sun, Wright summarizes his understanding of the Reformed view (and, by extension, his critique of the Western view):
The theological equivalent of supposing the sun goes around the earth is the belief that the whole of Christian truth is all about me and my salvation....Salvation is hugely important. Of course it is! Knowing God for oneself, as opposed to merely knowing or thinking about [God], is at the heart of Christian living....But we are not the center of the universe....It may look, from our point of view, as though “me and my salvation” are the be-all and end-all of Christianity....But a full reading of Scripture itself tells a different story.
Wright, of course, traces this back to Augustine and his emphasis on the gnostic view of creation. To press the point further, he introduces a simile that illustrates the issue very well – a jigsaw puzzle. For Wright, the issue is that most people are trying to put a jigsaw puzzle together with most of the pieces ‘still in the box’ or, worse, ‘swept off the table’ altogether (pg 33). He states, ‘For too long we have read Scripture with nineteenth-century eyes and sixteenth-century questions. It’s time to get back to reading with first-century eyes and twenty-first-century questions.’

He then goes on to explain that it is through a thoroughly biblical and historical study of the Old Testament which better prepares a person for interpreting Paul’s doctrine of justification.* ‘Most Jews of the [first-century] were not sitting around discussing how to go to heaven...They were hoping and longing for Israel’s God to act, to do what [God] promised, to turn history the right way up once again’ (55-56). And right there, my mind instantly went to the Gospel of Luke and the prayer of Simeon at the presentation of Jesus in the Temple:
Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace, as you have promised. I have seen your salvation, which you have prepared for all people. He is a light to reveal God to the nations, and he is the glory of your people Israel! (Luke 2.29-32, NLT)
Likewise, Anna the prophet, who, being there at the same time, ‘talked about the child to everyone who had been waiting expectantly for God to rescue Jerusalem’ (v 38).

So, the grand story is that God promised that the world would be rescued through Abraham’s family. This promise is the covenant God made with Abraham in Genesis 15. A passage that Paul turns to again and again in his letters. And a point that Wright makes again and again. ‘[Many] first-century Jews thought of themselves as living in a continuing narrative stretching from earliest times, through ancient prophecies, and on toward a climatic moment of deliverance which might come at any moment....this continuing narrative was currently seen, on the basis of Daniel 9, as a long passage through a state of continuing “exile” ’ (pg 59-60). This ‘climatic moment of deliverance’ was specifically noted as ‘God’s righteousness’ or ‘righteous acts’ or ‘the righteousness of God’. This, Wright explains, is best to be understood as God’s faithfulness to the covenant promise to Abraham. That promise was what Paul had in his mind the whole time. That promise was ‘God’s single plan to put the world to rights...through Israel’ (pg 65). That’s what Genesis 15 is all about. The problem, of course, is that ‘God has promised to bless the world through Israel, and Israel has been faithless to that commission’ (pg 67). Israel needed to be rescued too. ‘God has made a plan to save the world; Israel is the linchpin of this plan; but Israel has been unfaithful. What is now required, if the world’s sin is to be dealt with and a worldwide family created for Abraham, is a faithful Israelite’ (pg 68).

Throughout this discussion, Wright continues to point to the idea of ‘justification’. He ties ‘justification’ with the covenant. That is, justification is best understood by a ‘law-court’ and a law-court is a way of understanding covenant. In his mind, the two go hand-in-hand. The idea is that of being faithful to the covenant. If there is a breach of that covenant, then one most go to the judge and get it settled. The judge hears the case and declares a verdict of ‘not guilty’. That is, the defendant has been ‘justified’ by the court. This verdict has nothing to do with the virtue of the defendant. Nor does this verdict have anything to do with the virtue of the judge. And that is the whole debate. Well, part of it actually. In Piper’s mind (and in the minds of other Reformed thinkers and a lot of the Western world), the defendant is actually given the judge’s righteousness. Wright contests that this is not what the terms mean. Being justified is a status as one relates to the law-court. While the status is ‘received from the judge’ that status is ‘not the judge’s own status’. ‘ “[Righteousness]” and its cognates, in their biblical setting, are in this sense “relational” terms, indicating how things stand with particular people in relation to the court...This works completely, satisfyingly and thoroughly across the entire range of Pauline exegesis and theology’ (pg 69).

So, being ‘justified’ refers neither to the virtue of the person in question nor to the Judge but to the status, the relationship between the person and the Judge. That status is granted by ones faith in the Gospel – ‘Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said’ (1Corinthians 15.4) If one believes that, then one is in a status of justified before God.

But (and this is a sticky wicket) there comes into Paul’s writing and thinking the idea of someone being ‘justified’ by ‘good works’. In Romans 2, Paul wrote that God ‘will judge everyone according to what they have done’ (v 6). Piper et al have a major problem with this (according to Wright) and avoid this passage. According to Wright, they have misunderstood the place of the ‘law’ in the whole story. Moving to Galatians, Wright shows that the law was given to people already in a status of justified before the Judge. That is, the law was given to people already in a ‘right relationship’ with God. It is was not given as a means to get in a right relationship with God. It was given ‘as the way of life for a people already redeemed’. ‘All the “evidence” that the law required would fall under the rubric of “response to God’s saving Grace” ’ (pgs 72-73). To paraphrase James, ‘If you are a child of God, prove it by doing good works!’

All of this is used as a telescope for looking toward the ‘last day’. That is, because one believes that God has raised Jesus from the dead, one lives a life of self-giving, self-denying love, like Jesus lived. All of this is done with the anticipation that God will carry out God’s decision of ‘justified’ in the future. People who are ‘justified’ now live in anticipation of God carrying through that decision on the ‘last day’. See, for Wright (and I would say for Paul) justification is not a synonym for ‘salvation’ as Piper and many other Reformers contend. It is the beginning of a process that encompasses the whole life lived from that point forward. This is how one can make sense of Paul’s words of caution and encouragement. For example, when he told the Corinthians that ‘on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames.’ (3.14-15). This bring in the whole idea of ‘now but not yet’ in the New Testament. People who are justified are people living with God’s ultimate future now. Remember, God’s single-plan-for-the-world-through-the-family-of-Abraham is restoration, redemption, New Creation. People who are justified are people living that ultimate future now. People who work for that future are doing so, not to earn ‘justification’ but to show that they have already been justified; that they are already living in a ‘right relationship’ with God.

This is way much more that I could talk about here. In all honesty, it would be a series of reflections. So, in the interim of that, I would just suggest getting a copy of Wright’s book. It is a very good and healthy read into a very deep and important subject.



~~~
In the Grace of the Three in One,
Jack


---------
* An interesting note is that he views the differences between the ‘New’ perspective and the ‘Old’ perspective as ‘those who get their faith from the four Gospels, topped up with a few bits of Paul [New - JG], and those who base it on Paul, topped up with a few illustrations from the Gospels [Old - JG]’ (pg 28).

Reflection: 09-09

This month’s reflection is on Esther de Waal’s book The Celtic Way of Prayer: The Recovery of the Religious Imagination. As I stated in a past reflection, this is the second book I have from de Waal. I found it just as refreshing as the other one but a little dry, similar to a dry wine (and I don’t particularly like wine). My mind seemed to wander more in this book than her previous one. This isn’t to say that I didn’t get a lot out of it. Quite the contrary. As before, de Waal offers some great insight into the Celtic world which leaves me thirsting for more.

In her introduction, she stated that with Celtic prayer, one is moved into the natural rhythm of light and dark. ‘The dark and light are themselves symbols of the Celtic refusal to deny darkness, pain, suffering and yet to exult in rejoicing celebration in the fullness and goodness of life’ (pg x). It is to the interlocking and overlapping that I find myself drawn. Recently we were entertaining a friend we hadn’t seen in quite some time and our discussions turned – as they often do – to our spiritual journeys. When he spoke of wanting to meditate but forever failing at finding the time to do so, I reminded him of the Celtic way of prayer; of not separating life into distinct compartments but recognizing that all of life is sacred and he should try prayer and meditation in the middle of the mundane. As de Waal points out, the Celtic Christians were ‘essentially monastic’ and ‘there was no separation of praying and living; praying and working flow into each other, so that life is to be punctuated by prayer, become prayer’ (pg xi). ‘Life is to...become prayer.’ That, to me, should be the essence of life. How far does this way of living reach? De Waal answers this question by stating, ‘I am sure that the exploration of this Celtic world will be prophetic for the future as we try to break down the barriers so that we may reach out to one another...I have found in Celtic understanding nothing of the highly individualistic, competitive, inward-looking approach common in today’s society. Here, instead, everyone sees themselves in relation to one another, and that extends beyond human beings to the wild creature, the birds, and the animals, the earth itself...Here is the promise of a more holistic approach to the world’... (pp xiv, xv). All of this is tied to prayer – of making our prayers so integrated within our lives that the two cannot be separated. I hear this yearning from all around me. Dying are the days of staunch individualism (and good riddance). There is a desperate cry for acceptance of our inter-connectedness. And once more, Celtic Christianity speaks to this.

She begins her book about Journeying. That is, she sees in the Celtic world the idea of the journey, the adventure, and those who embark on it are referred to as peregrini. In one story (that I have heard before and love deeply) she tells of three peregrini on their way to Rome when they are stopped and brought to a local king. When they explain why they are on their way to Rome, the king responds,
To go to Rome
is much of trouble, little of profit;
The King whom thou seekest there,
Unless thou bring him with thee,
thou wilt not find
I love that little poem. It reminds me of a story that John Philip Newell told. When meeting with different religious leaders, he asked what he should bring. ‘Bring your gift. Bring Christ,’ was the response. In other words, we should not be seeking Christ at the end of our journey unless we understand that Christ is with us throughout our journey. We should be seeing Christ every where we go and in every face we see, human or otherwise.

As I have admitted previously, I sometimes feel like such a slacker when it comes to prayer. So often, my prayer life leaves a lot to be desired – compared to some. I’m certain, that compared to others, my life seems to be full of prayer (but I doubt it). I am my own worse critic. I often see all of my faults and never any of my strengths. I was taught, when doing a job interview, that when asked about strengths and weaknesses, that the answer should relate to the job being sought. In keeping that same idea, my strength in prayer is that I always have at least one prayer book with me – often two. It is reassuring to know that I have the prayers of the saints at my finger tips when the time arises. I like having the Daily Office within my reach for I turn to it to remind myself that I want my life to ‘become prayer’ like our Celtic Christian heritage.

Today, on one of the blogs I frequent, this came up:
I have sometimes set aside my prayer book for days and weeks on end, and I find, at the end of those days and weeks on end, that I have lapsed into narcissism. Though meaning to commune with or reverence or at least acknowledge God, I wind up talking to myself about my emotions du jour. I worry about my mother’s health, or I stress about money, or (more happily) I bop up and down with excitement about good news or sunshine or life in general, but I never get much further than that. It is returning to my prayer book that places me: places me in words that ask me to confess my sins, even when I can’t think of any red-letter deeds recently committed; words that ask me to pray for presidents and homeless Charlottesvillians and everyone in between; words that praise God even on the mornings when I wonder if God exists at all. Sure, sometimes it is great when, in prayer, we can express to God just what we feel; but better still when, in the act of praying, our feelings change. Liturgy is not, in the end, open to our emotional whims. It repoints the person praying, taking him somewhere else.

From Mudhouse Sabbath: An Invitation to a Life of Spiritual Discipline by Lauren F. Winner (Brewster, Mass.: Paraclete Press, 2003).
That, to me, is exactly where I am when it comes to prayer and how I feel about a prayer book. Often, I don’t ‘feel’ like praying, but, I do. It helps, too, that I have others to lead in the morning.

Another point that she brings up is that of images. Coming from a Protestant (i.e., non-anglican protestantism) background, the idea of images was always troubling for me. Mostly because, and I think I can speak for everyone in those denominations, I didn’t understand images at all. I instantly thought of them all as idols and one of the Big Ten is that we shouldn’t have anything to do with idols. But, as I began my journey in the Episcopal Church, I began to see images in a different way. Not just icons, but the whole ceremony itself was an image, a symbol. It became clear that there is a danger with images in that we can forget the reason we have them. Images point to something else. While traveling, when we see the sign pointing to the destination, we don’t stop at the sign and claim ‘We’re here!’ We understand that the sign points to something else. The same with all images – whether that’s a photograph or painting or poetry. The photograph of a thunderstorm is not the storm but points one to the storm.

I have come to use many images in my own prayer life. Mostly a ring on my right pointing finger. It is a simplified version of prayer beads. It has be amazing to me how those raised little bumps and cross can focus my thoughts on my prayers.

One of the things she points out is the need to reconnect to the universal elemental things as symbols – fire, wind, bread, water, of light and dark, of the heart. We need to rethink how those elements are images, symbols, pointing beyond themselves. However, and this is just me, one thing that we must guard against is loosing our connection to nature, the goodness of nature. I can see how we might do that. When I was in Full Preterism, that was one thing that we did – we ‘spiritualized’ just about everything. All things natural were ‘only symbols, types and shadows’ of heavenly truths or ‘spiritual realities’. While there is some truth in that, the problem was that we started seeing all natural things as nothing more than a symbol. I do not agree with that any longer. One thing Celtic Christianity has taught me is the ‘very good’-ness of creation. [The big game changer for me was reading N. T. Wright’s book, The Resurrection of the Son of God. I highly recommend it.]

One of the things in Celtic prayer [heck, Celtic Christian culture, actually] that has been most influential in my thoughts, something that de Waal spends an entire chapter on, is that of the Trinity. When I spoke with my friend about meditating during the mundane, that was what I had in my mind. Over and over again we are told that the Irish people prayed constantly. Everything that had a routine, there was a prayer for that. Whether milking the cow, needing dough, stoking the peat fire, there was a prayer for it. I am trying to find ways of incorporating that into my prayer life. I have made progress but it’s been difficult [and some would say rather silly]. When I put on deodorant, I use three swipes and pray ‘In the name of the Father/Mother; and of the Child; and the Holy Spirit’. I do the same thing when stirring my coffee. The point is, however, I want to get to a place where I find my own voice to add to those of our ancestors. I yearn for the day that I can know these by heart and have them pop into my thoughts whenever they are needed.

When she wrote about the Trinity, she used some great words and phrases that reminded me a lot of the novel The Shack by William P Young [I highly recommend this book, also]. She stated that the Trinity speaks of ‘harmony, unity, interrelationship, [and] interdependence’ (pg. 38). And that the Trinity ‘is the God . . . whose very essence is a threefold unity of persons, three person bound in a unity of love’ (pg. 38). This definition reminds me of what St Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1, ‘I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose’ (v 10, New Living Translation). And what was recorded about the early Church in Acts 4, ‘All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had’ (v 32, NLT). It seems to me that the early Church, as well as the Celtic Christians, were on to this thing described as being ‘bound in a unity of love’.

I would like to finish this off with a pretty lengthy quote from chapter 5, ‘The Presence of God’. It reflects the way I want my life to be, the way I want others to remember it:
Everything that [the Celtic Christians] touched, every tool that they handled, was done with respect and reverence; every activity performed with a a sense of the presence of God, indeed done in partnership with [God]. So life was lived at two levels. Each successive task performed seriously, carefully, with attention, and simultaneously becoming the occasion for finding the presence of God, and in particular the three members of the Trinity, since much of the work was routine and it could, therefore, be done rhythmically in the name of the [Father/Mother, Child, and Holy Spirit]. “These are the prayers of a people who have so much to do from dawn to dusk from dark to dark,” says Eleanor Hull, another writer who know the Irish well, “that they had little time for long, formal prayers. Instead throughout the day they make each activity in turn the occasion for prayer, doing what has to be done carefully for its own sake but simultaneously making it into the occasion for prayer. Each thing in turn, however humble, however mundane, can be handed over to God, or preformed in partnership with the cooperation of the Trinity, saints and angels.” What Douglas Hyde saw in the Irish was a people for whom God was “a thing assured, true, intelligible. They feel invisible powers before them, and by their side, and at their back, throughout the day and throughout the night”.
This is how I want my life to be; how I yearn for it to become. I see myself with a long way to go on that journey, but, like those before me, I must take Christ with me and recognize the essence of Christ in everything around me if I am to find Christ at the end of my journey.


~~~
In The Grace of the Three in One,

Jack

Reflection: 08-09

For this month’s reflection, I ordered two books, Feminist Theology: A Reader edited by Ann Loades, and The Celtic Way of Prayer by Esther de Waal. I determined that I would read and reflect upon whichever one came in first (since they were coming from different sources). Personally, I didn’t really want to deal with Loades’ book because of my previous experience with other feminist books. Most of my exposure to feminist material (and most feminists) left a lot to be desired. They were not very supportive of males. In fact, a lot of them have basically painted the white male as the incarnation of the devil. So I was really hoping that de Waal’s book would come in first. I have her book Every Earthly Blessing and was looking forward to a second dose from de Waal. Besides, by watching the shipping orders, it sure looked like her book would arrive first. However, God seems to have had other ideas. When I arrived home and noticed the package on the table, I quickly opened it full of excitement. My heart sank a little. The first book to arrive was Loades’ (de Waal’s came in the following day). Since I had made a vow to read and reflect on the first book, I put aside my prejudices and starting reading Feminist Theology: A Reader. And is that old proverb ever true, ‘Never judge a book by it’s cover’. In my case, it was never judge a book by it’s subject. So far, this book has been incredible! (I’m about 3/4 of the way through.) Very eye-opening. It has made me want to start a Bible study of women and men, just so we can hear what the others are saying about the issues. I might even see if I can attend the Women’s Bible study group (if they’ll have me – what with being a guy and all).

The book can best be summed up by a line from the Introduction to Part One. In fact, it should be the mantra for all feminists, whether female or male. It is simply this: ‘[Woman] is man’s equal – was intended to be so by the Creator, and the highest good of the race demands that she should be recognized as such.’

The first section is on the interpretation and exegesis of Scripture. This was truly fascinating. I liked how not only the various writers dealt with the text but talked about what the text inferred. One thing that this book did for me was reinforce what I have been saying for some time now and that is that some (most) of what we read in the biblical story reflects how things were not how things should be. Some seem to be of the belief that if it’s in the Bible then ‘god’ approves of it and even sanctions it. Therefore, they feel that they could never be part of the biblical story. As Phyllis Trible put it, ‘Some people denounce biblical faith as hopelessly misogynous, although this judgment usually fails to evaluate the evidence in terms of Israelite culture’ (pg 24; emphasis added).

Another interesting point about interpretation, and one that I made while talking with a young woman on the bus the other day, is that the church really faltered when it came to biblical equality. That is, too much of the church today only goes back to Genesis 3 – they see the ‘roles’ established there as the model for all time. I have believed (and this book has reinforced my belief) that the resurrection of Christ took us all the way back to Genesis 1. That is, at the resurrection, God’s New Creation Project began. If that is so, and the rest of the New Testament seems to be fleshing that out, then we should be living each and every day implementing that Project. And that project is nothing short of ‘returning to the garden’ before the ‘fall’. This seems to be St Paul’s take on it as well when he wrote that there was now no difference between females and males in Christ. The trouble is that it has been from those ‘outside Christ’ where most advances for equality have taken place. The Church continues to squabble on the inclusion of women in it’s highest offices. As I told the young woman the other day, young girls are told that they can be anything they want – even president of the United States. But then the Church comes back and says that they can’t be bishops of priests or hold other high leadership positions. My stance now has more ammunition because of the statements of Rosemary Raford Ruether. On pages140 and 141, she is quoted as stating, ‘[If] women cannot represent Christ, then Christ cannot represent women. Or, as the women’s ordination movement has put it, “either ordain women or stop baptizing them”.’ To which I give a hearty ‘Amen’!

Some of the historical stuff was just astounding. Karen Armstrong and Genevieve Lloyd had essays regarding the teachings of the early church. And the views they highlighted were appalling. They show all too well how we need to think afresh our theologies and ideologies. Each generation needs to go back and wrestle with the questions of justice. The quotes that they supplied from the early church prove the point. For example, Jerome is quoted as stating,
As long as a woman is for birth and children, she is different from man as body is from soul. But when she wishes to serve Christ more than the world, then she will cease to be a woman and will be called man (pg 87).
Ambrose was just a clear when he wrote, ‘...she who does not believe is a woman and should be designated by the name of her sex, whereas she who believes progresses to perfect manhood’ (pg 87). What I find interestingly disturbing about this is that this was the very same take on things by the Jesus of the ‘Gospel of Thomas’. As I’m sure you are aware, there we have this conversation between Peter and Jesus:
Simon Peter said to them, ‘Make Mary leave us, for females don’t deserve life.’ Jesus said, ‘Look, I will guide her to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every female who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of Heaven.’
Both of these views (and the view of a lot still in the Church today) espouse the view of Genesis 3 as being firmly planted as the ‘sanctioned way’. But, as I stated previously, if Jesus really did start the restoration of all creation, the New Creation Project, if he really did reconcile all things back to God (2Corinthians 5), then we need to go back to Genesis 1 where men and women are God’s image-bearers. It seems today that society has grasped this much better than the Church. It’s as if God is stating, ‘Since the Church has lost it’s mission of reconciliation, I will turn to the societies of the world and bring justice and reconciliation through there.’ The Church should have been the ones who supported this throughout it’s history. (As an important aside, for me anyway, is that there wasn’t too much from the Celtic tradition in these articles. If the comparison was made between the two, the differences would be very illuminating.)

I found Merry Weisner’s article on Luther very intriguing. She raised some good thoughts which lead me to my own questions. To over-simplify, Luther, like most of the other theologians (and other males) of his day, didn’t have a good view of women. In the medieval period, this view was countered somewhat by the lifting up of Mary the Mother of Jesus (and others). But in Luther, he didn’t like what he thought of as ‘Mary worship’ so there was nothing to balance out his (mis)understanding of women. As she stated:
The God of medieval piety was a Mother/Father, Sister/Brother, Lover/Child, a God of demanding and accepting love, a God who is born within each one of us and who bears us into life as a travailing mother. Women could thus not only identify with and emulate Mary, but could directly identify with the feminine of God.

For Luther and most other Protestant theologians, this was impossible. God and Christ were male and transcendent, not androgynous and immanent
(pg 132).
But this lead me to my questions: Was Luther’s view of Mary based on his view of women in general? Or, was his view of women based on his dislike of ‘Mary worship’? I’m not really certain that one can ever find the answer but there is no doubt in my mind that the two are related.

There were very few points of contention. For example, general statements like women are characterized by their relationships to men – daughters, wives, widows. But nothing is stated regarding how men are also characterized by their relationships to women – sons, husbands, widowers. One that was really difficult was the essay by Mary Daly. As Beverly Wildung Harrison noted, her piece was ‘very angry’ and some of the imagery was ‘misguided’. Daly’s article was more in tune with what I have encountered with most of the other feminist material I have read and some of the feminists I have met. It seems that the only way forward for some is through anger and hostility. While we should not ignore what has happened before, we can not change the past. The best we can do is learn from it and make certain we don’t repeat it.

Most males believe that the problems that Daly addressed can easily (!) be brushed aside because of her anger. It takes some doing to read past the anger and hurt and hear what is actually being said. A lot of the article, to me, seemed irrelevant. She referred to how things were done (or not done) and how she perceived the way God was being imagined. Now, granted, this may be the way in which she experienced things (similar to Sue Monk Kidd’s experience in The Dance of the Dissident Daughter), but to state that this is the way of all of Christendom is an over-simplified generalization. Which, if a male had made – or makes – a similar reference to feminism, he would be labeled as a misogynist.

But this, I’m sure, is how I see things from a male point of view. I didn’t hear the same things because I’m a guy and, as amply supplied, the Bible is full of ‘guy’ language. But my questions would be, did these women ask the questions in their churches? Did they go to other women (and to the men) and asked how God is viewed? Did they seek to be understood and heard? Where they actually told to ‘be silent’ in the Church and not ask such silly questions? Perhaps some of them were. Maybe even most of them were. But, to generalize all Church as this way is to go too far in the other direction. It is to become exactly the thing that needs to be changed. And this is the critique that some of the articles address and address very well. This conversation is important and needs to continue without going to extremes.

And, speaking of extremes, another take on the exclusive biblical language, one that women haven’t taken, is that the problems seem to be with men only. That is, the Bible is forever talking about the sin of ‘man’, the depravity of ‘man’, that the heart of ‘man’ is full of evil, etc. In other words, women may not be addressed as equals to men in the biblical story (again, reflecting how things were/are and not how things should be), but that also means that women aren’t seen as the problem, either. Feminists should grab those passages and say, ‘See? The problem really is with you men! We women don’t seem to have any issues at all!’

Seriously though, I know that for me, Feminist Theology: A Reader has really made me aware of several things, not least of which is the use of masculine language. I find myself counting how many times ‘he’ or ‘Father’ is used when referring to God. Of how many times biblical texts use ‘he’ when referring to individuals. Of how, if one were to replace that ‘he’ with ‘she’, the men would be uncomfortable and yet the men don’t even think about if ‘he’ makes the women uncomfortable because it’s the norm. These are pieces of an ongoing conversation that needs, nay, must continue, for the sake of ‘the highest good of the race’. The Church, the Body of Christ, needs to be a place of egalitarianism. A place where people are seen as equal human beings. A place where all people are seen as ‘...children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.’


~~~
In the Grace of the Three in One,

Jack

06 December 2009

Reflection: 07-09

Something about the island and its history connected with a deep longing within me, and brought together many different strands of my own faith...I discovered a burning and evangelical love for the Bible; a radical commitment to the poor and to God’s creation; and I discovered the most attractive expression of charismatic life that I had yet encountered. Not only this, but I felt connected with my roots for the first time.

So goes the introduction of Michael Mitton’s little book, The Soul of Celtic Spirituality: In the Lives of Its Saints. I could have written those words. Heck, I did write them. Not exactly, of course. But I have stated on more than one occasion how Celtic Christianity was the last link that connected all of my faith together. What I thought was a mis-match of unrelated ‘stuff’ in my own walk, was found within early Celtic Christianity. I was so moved by this book that I even highlighted parts of the introduction! A great treasure is found in this quote:

It is my deep conviction that the Celtic Church challenges us to rediscover the strands of our faith and find ways of weaving them together in our personal lives and the life of the church. We need a strong cord with many strands, and we need the weaving to take place in our own lives.

It is that challenge that I found resonating within my life and reverberating off my view of calling. It reminds me of the dream I had about challenging tradition from within and without, whether it be my personal theology or the Western Christian tradition in my own community. I have found an ally in Mitton.

At another part in the introduction, he wrote, ‘The Christianity that came from the Roman legions seems to have had little effect on the local population’ (pg. 3). This is a relevant commentary of our own communities. The Christianity that ‘won’ at Whitby seems to have little effect in the 21st century. So many of the people I know see that way of being Christian as, well, ‘problematic’, to put it nicely. For me, Celtic Christianity speaks directly to the problems of our day in a very refreshing, Christ-centered way.

Mitton offers glimpses into early Celtic Christianity by giving stories about a number of it’s Saints – Aidan, Cuthbert, David, Brenden, etc. – that relate to the topic of the chapter. While focusing mainly on the saints that evangelized Britain, he does mention Patrick and Columba and others. Since there is so much from which to glean, I could possibly write a book lengthier than his just for my reflection! However, I won’t bore you with that. I will just select some pieces that spoke deeper than others (though, honestly, that is a hard decision to make).

The first piece I want to share is that of community. To me, the established church today is missing a lot of what the first century was trying to accomplish (although, there have been movements in the late 20th century that address this). Specifically, I don’t feel that Jesus, nor the early followers, set out to craft a new religious experience. Clearly, they were of the mind to usher in the Realm of God within the Realm of humanity. They saw themselves as the fulfillment of most of the promises of God. The Celtic Saints seemed to have taken that same Spirit and made it their own. In chapter four, Mitton describes three things that were the foundation of the Celtic Church’s commitment to community life. The first was it’s pre-Christian society. The second was it’s major influence from the Desert Fathers and Mothers. The third influence was the Trinity. Each one of these seems to be a layer built upon the other. Or perhaps this is just the influence I get from the way Mitton wrote it. Either way, I think it speaks directly to our world today. Perhaps, world is too great a term; maybe the US is better suited. It seems to me that we in the US are more ‘at home’ with staunch individualism than we are in community. From what I have gathered, a lot of the rest of the world is more about community. It knows that it takes all of the people working together to accomplish something. A lot of people in the US seem more focused upon themselves than others. The Celtic Church spoke directly to this with it’s monasteries. While Mitton focused chapter four on community, it really breathed throughout the whole book. It seems in every chapter he described some Saint going off and starting a new monastery. What he described as a Celtic spirit of adventure (more or less), I see as more of a planting of God’s Realm in creation, of healing creation in those places that were most hurt and in need of the ‘Balm of Gilead’. Where can we do that in our world today? I’m certain that our minds probably think first of places of war and extreme poverty. But what about our own communities? I remember Jesus telling his followers that they would start where they lived and then, slowly, expand their influence to the rest of the world. Too often, the Church seems to be focused more on the rest of the world and (almost) turns a blind eye to the hurts in it’s own backyard.

But what if we took the example of the Celtic Church as our model? What kind of ways could we influence our local communities? Not in some domineering way; but in a spirit of humility that reflects the importance and (dare I say it) value of community. Over and again Mitton brings up Aidan, the ‘evangelist of England’. He wrote that what set Aidan (and the whole Celtic Church, actually) apart from those of the Roman mission, was the ability to live among the people in the different – to be in their world, but not a part of it. It reminds me a lot of St Paul, ‘I become all things to all people, that I may save some of them by whatever means are possible.’ (1Cor 9.22, GNT). Aidan was never seen as a ‘pushy’ type of person. He listened to the people in the communities. He heard deeply. That is, he heard past the surface of what they were saying to what they were meaning and turned that into a lesson about what they were needing. An opposing example of this in the US is the way government is seen as the entity to take care of the outcast and ‘sinners’. But my Bible tells me that this is the vocation of the body of Christ in the realm of humanity. Mitton, quoting Ian Bradley, wrote,
The dominant institution of Celtic Christianity was...the monastery, which...often grew to become a combination of commune, retreat house, mission station, hotel, hospital, school, university, arts center, and power-house for the local community – a source not just of spiritual energy but also of hospitality, learning, and cultural enlightenment.

I think that the world today needs this type of ‘church’, this type of Christianity. Too often the established Church lives in a dualism where its chief focus is the spirit or soul of people. Society is supposed to be concerned with the external things like housing, food, health care, etc. I’m thinking of a local food and shelter establishment here as an example. Certainly, from time to time, local churches help out at these establishments; but my question is why wasn’t the church the first one to address these needs within the community and search for ways to help instead of supporting other organizations? Too often we seem to let someone else do the work. At least, this is my experience and the experience of a lot of the people with whom I meet. But what if we took the model of Celtic Christianity and acted prophetically and reorganized ‘church’ to see all of life as sacred? There seems to be a lot here that can change the way humanity thinks of ‘church’. The Celtic Church silently screams this type of ‘community-ism’ to our culture today.

Next, and tied closely to the previous point, is the idea of being missional. When the Celtic Saints moved into a community and established a monastery, they didn’t condone everything and neither did they condemn everything. But one thing was certain, they knew that the people needed Christ. In some sectors of the Church today one thing that seems to be growing is the idea that God can be found in other faith traditions. That they are just as valid as Christianity. I agree with this in part. However, we would not be here today if it weren’t for the efforts of the apostles (the first century ones and the Irish ones) and the millions of other people who went around the world preaching the Gospel. If I’m to understand the story correctly, Jesus told his followers, ‘I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples: baptize them in the name of the Father-Mother, the Child, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And I will be with you always, to the end of the age’ (Matthew 28.18-20, GNT; adapted). This really wouldn’t have worked if all faiths are good and valid. The book of Acts wouldn’t have been written and the rest of the letters of the New Testament wouldn’t have been collected. I’m not stating that others faiths aren’t valid and good. I’m stating that there is something unique about Christianity. Unique enough for untold millions to give their lives over to Christ. While I will admit that the Church has gone too far one direction, it seems to me that lately it is going too far in the opposite direction. The waters are dangerous here and we need to make sure we are being guided by the Wild Goose. Mitton’s book is chock full of stories about the realities of evil in the world and other traditions (granted, they are also found in Christianity). Ireland would not have been changed and civilization would not have been saved if the pagan religions were seen just as valid as Christianity.

Mitton tells a story of how Christianity came to his part of the world. He wrote,
When [the Celtic Church] began to evangelize my home county of Derbyshire, for example, they discovered the custom in a village of worshiping water divinities at the rivers and wells. Various divinities were honored at these water places. When the Christians came they did not attack these customs. They did not do dazzling exorcisms and engage in glorious victories over the enemy, as would happen in some charismatic circles today where any whiff of the demonic is attacked with great gusto. Such battles can often be due to our own needs for power, rather than to the presence of spiritual conflict, and the Celtic communities were deeply suspicious of Christian power games. Rather, they would listen carefully to the community’s deep need to give thanks for the gift of water; and so they would bless their need to give thanks and honor the gift of water, while at the same time, proclaiming the cross of Christ over the place and making clear the need for redemption. I am sure in some cases, where they discerned the site had been spoiled in some way by dark powers, this would have involved some kind of exorcistic ministry with fasting and prayer. ~ pp. 79-80

This is exactly the type of evangelism that we need – not to hold that all wisdom traditions are good, but to look and listen deeply for the good within them and ‘baptize’ them with the Gospel. We need to listen deeply to the other persons faith and show how it points to Christ (if it does). But we also need to have the strength to state when things are false – within and without of the Christian tradition. I don’t like the idea any more than the next person, but part of our way of living is to show where areas are broken in the lives and communities around us.

It’s like the old saying, ‘Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater’. To me, that’s the way the Church has been in the past. But, on the other side, we don’t want to say that all water’s good just because it’s water. It may be contaminated with all kinds of stuff that will make one sick or worse. Sometimes, the water needs to be ‘cleaned’ in order for one to drink it. This is how I am seeing wisdom traditions – my own included. I just want to make certain that I am listening to the Spirit. I don’t want to label something as harmful just because I feel threatened by it. I want to be guided by the Spirit and discern where things need to be ‘cleaned’.

Lastly, another point that effected me deeply was in the area of the ‘gifts of the Spirit’. As I have stated previously, I attend a few of the Word of Faith churches back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. While we had some good experiences, it was in those places that we felt the most hurt. But from Mitton’s book I can see where those places were broken. He wrote about how the church down through the ages has ‘discovered’ different threads within the Celtic Church and incorporated them without the rest of the cord. This reminds me of what Jesus said, ‘No one patches up an old coat with a piece of new cloth, for the new patch will shrink and make an even bigger hole in the coat’ (Matthew 9.16 GNT). What Mitton shows is that it is not necessarily the individual threads that are important, but the whole tapestry – or, to use Jesus’ metaphor, the WoF church focuses on the new cloth without realizing that it needs to get a new coat.

I have to be honest here. I have reservations with the whole ‘gifts of the Spirit’ thing. Mostly because the abuse of power was so prevalent. Granted, I have never been part of a community that was structured around the monastic life where the gifts of the Spirit were encouraged, so the experience may be better (I certainly hope so!). However, there were a couple of time in chapters 9 and 12 that I wrote things like, ‘Lord let this be me!’ and ‘Amen!’ Not so I could make some name for myself but so that more people would come to know God in Christ. I have often thought that the world needs this type of ‘energy’ in it’s midst. I know that my community needs it. Not in isolation like the local prisons we call church (the imagery here is that we can only find and experience God in the church building), but in the ‘wild’, out in the homes, restaurants, libraries, bookstores, pubs, offices, etc. God is to be found in those places where creation is in pain. That is where the gifts of the Spirit need to be. ‘Lord let it be through me.’

~~~
As I took my place with the monks on my left, I felt the tension rise. I could here the shouts from the other side and, quite frankly, they frightened me more than a little. The abbot of the monastery, Columcille, approached me and spoke softly to me. His words, though few, penetrated the fear and spoke deeply to me, easing my spirit. At once, scales from eyes began to fall and I could see creation entombed in the darkness. ‘Speak,’ whispered Columcille. I closed my eyes and opened my mouth. ‘Open your eyes’, he whispered. I opened them. The words I spoke shot from my mouth like a beam of light, shattering the darkness like glass. All around me, I could see the rest of the monks where encased in light. It emanating from every part of them. As I looked, I could see pockets of light shooting upward all over creation. Deep in the darkness, I could see the amber glow of Light, churning eagerly for release.


~~~
In the Grace of the Three in One,

Jack

Reflection: 06-09

The road was quiet and dark. Well, that’s an understatement. This place was desolate of all sound and light. I just knew that I was walking on a dirt road in the deep woods. I did not know what lay ahead, whether further along or at the next step. I didn’t even know what the destination would be precisely. I had been given some clues, but nothing exact. I just trusted the Guide.

Suddenly, out of no where in particular and every where all at once, sounds and flashes of light started to bombard me. Confusion and fear started to grip me. ‘Am I on the right road? Am I going the right way?’ I was overwhelmed and dropped to the ground with my heads at the sides of my head trying to keep the sound and images out. I was almost completely terrified to move another muscle.

‘What was that?’ I thought to myself. ‘I swore I just heard someone call my name as if in a whisper.’

I spun in all directions trying to hone in on the Voice. ‘There it is again’. I could barely make it out from all the noise, but it was stronger this time. Just as I began to realize that the Voice was coming from deep within me, a great light shone ahead of me. The distracting sounds and other images scurried to the shadows. ‘Come this way,’ the Voice called from within and without. ‘I will show you the way.’


~~~

Calling . . .
I have some issues with that term. To me, when someone tells me they feel ‘called’ – it comes across as elitist, arrogant. Not the person, mind you. But the process in my head. In a very sarcastic voice, I think, ‘Oh. Sure. Okay.’ On another side, however, I know that this is not the case the majority of the time. This ‘other side’ of looking at things is where I am right now and where I hope to continue to go.

Throughout my life, I have been on that dark, quiet dirt road. Most of the time, however, I am at the point of the endless noise and flashing images that confuse and toss me about like a small boat upon the rough, open sea in the middle of the darkest night. But, ever so often, once in a while, I hear that Voice. The Voice that I had forgotten. And, from time to time, continue to forget. I know, however, that the Voice has spoken deep within me. It started a long time ago...

When I was in college, I was attending a Charismatic church. The desire to study the Bible was released deep within me. After attending there for a few years, I remember standing in my Mother’s kitchen one night. She had already sensed something different about me (that I didn’t see) and she asked me, ‘Why don’t you go to seminary?’

‘A couple of reasons’, I replied. ‘When Jesus called the disciples, he didn’t tell them to go become Pharisees first and then follow him. Besides, most seminaries teach their way of seeing as the only way of seeing.’

At another time, I had a dream. This dream was so real. It was a dream about challenging the Christian tradition within myself and the Christian tradition in American culture. From that point forward, even though I have that dream tucked away, I found that my journey down the ‘dark road’ has done just that. I have gone through so many spiritual upheavals within and challenged so many of the traditions of my friends and family. But one thing has remained constant – my desire to study the Bible and teach others to study Bible.

Further on the journey, I was sitting with my wife in the office of the singles pastor of the church we were attending. We were part of his ‘inner circle’ – or just staring that process. After a few minutes of conversation, he looked me square in the eye, pointed his finger at me, and said, ‘You see yourself teaching thousands of people, don’t you?’ I did. I was afraid to admit it, but I did. I don’t like the weight of such a calling. The burden seems too heavy. So, once more, I followed the distractions of sound and light.

Years later, at another point along this way, I started doing some writing. The writing had to do with the implications of Full Preterism, the view that the Second Coming of Christ took place in 70CE. I wrote four or five articles on this and posted them on a web site. I found out later that some people were using those very articles for a defense of their views. Furthermore, I started self publishing a newsletter entitled Odyssey that spoke directly to the issues of implementing the views of Full Preterism. I had about 40 or 50 subscribers from all over the world. It was an interesting time. I didn’t realize it then, but I was really teaching a lot of people. Maybe not thousands, but, more than I had ever imagined. While I no longer hold to this view of eschatology, I find merit in a lot of it.

Later on, we found ourselves leading a home Bible study with about six or seven people attending. The point was that I wanted to teach people how to study the Bible for themselves. I wanted to show them that they didn’t need someone ‘over them’ telling them what the Bible says. The just needed the tools to learn for themselves. It was there that I really began to realize what ‘church’ was supposed to be and could be again. Little did I realize the impact that had on a number of the people there. One man in particular still dreams of those times. He wishes that he could have them back.

Further still, while attending an Episcopal church, one of my fellow parishioners and good friends told me, quite unexpectedly, ‘You know...you should be a priest. You really have what it takes. I think you would make a good one.’ Once more, I pushed it aside.

I made a couple of good friends along this path and we have been friends for a number of years. Over our vast amounts of conversation and a few spirits along the way, they have told me on more than one occasion that the things I have said to them have led to deep changes in their thinking, worship, and practice. All of this comes as a shock to me. I just see myself as a guy with no special talents or gifts (other than artistic). I’m just a person who loves the Three in One and the Scriptures. I have always thought that everyone could be just like me, if they just had the same tools that I had – the same desire. All it took was someone giving those things to them. But I have come to realize that this is not really the case. Recently, I confessed this out loud. Others have been telling me it for years and when I confessed to them my plans of ordination, their response was ‘It’s about time.’ However, my confession brought an outcome I was not expecting.

~~~
I am standing at a crossroads. To my right, I can see the blaze of the fires and hear the cries of the armies. I can smell the scorched earth and see the great stone cathedrals being erected.

To my left, I could see the faint outlines of the monks and barely hear their chants and prayers. I can smell the dark soil and see the simple wooden structure next to the standing stone in the middle of the holy oak grove. The monks lives are simple with a deep devotion to all of life; to the Life within all life. To them, all life is Sacred and they are pointers to the Sacred.

From where I stand, it seems that most of those on the right are concerned with control and power and containing and controlling; of subduing and dominating all of life. To them, they are the containers of the Sacred.

These two groups are clashing against each other and I am in the middle.

~~~

This is where I have been lately. The more and more I examine my calling now, of where I feel that the Three in One is leading me, it seems that I am caught in the middle of my own personal Synod of Whitby. I don’t want to be part of an institution that speaks of inclusion and acceptance but only seems to practice it when it’s ‘politically correct’. I want to help be part of an organism that actually births that into existence. I had a glimpse of that just recently.

I had stopped by a local outdoors shop looking to exchange a bag I had recently purchased. While there looking through the other bags and catalogs, I had the privilege of talking with a young man. He was helping me locate a bag that better suited my needs. He asked about what I used the bag for; where I worked; etc., trying to get a better understanding of what I was wanting. When I explained that I led Celtic Morning Prayer, the conversation turned to that. ‘When do you meet? How often do you meet? What time do you meet? What do you mean by “Celtic” Morning Prayer? What’s the difference?’ We had a semi-discreet conversation about these things. I explained a little about them and he was very interested. I gave him a copy of the Office we have been using lately and invited to join us. It was during this conversation that I realized here was a person that was looking for the very thing I was feeling called to do.

On the way home, my memory flashed back to the days of our home Bible study. I felt that there could be a place for this type of thing in my own community. I even had a conversation with a friend of mine (who used to be an atheist) who wanted to know when I got something like that going so he could participate. All of this is surprising to me. While I may acknowledge that the Three in One has called me to this vocation, I still feel so inadequate and unworthy. I can think of a handful of people who would be better suited for this. But, on another side, I see that I am thinking in terms of what a priest would mean in the Episcopal Church. I believe that creation is yearning for a fresh expression of what it means to be Christian. I think that the Lindisfarne Community is addressing that need in a way that resonates within me and within a lot of other people I know. I am excited about being a part of this type of Christianity. What I lack, however, is how to get the word out, to let people know that it exists. On the other hand, I realize that it is not up to me. That is up to the Wild Goose, the Holy Spirit, to lead others along this path. All throughout the history of the church, it has be the laity that seems more attuned (at times) to the way the Wind is blowing. So I am confident that, when the time is right, the Way will be opened and, while I may not feel ready now, I will be then.


~~~

In The Grace of the Three in One,

Jack