27 February 2010

Reflection: 02-10

This months reflection is on Richard Foster’s book, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth.  I don’t know of anyone who, being on a spiritual journey, doesn’t want to grow.  I believe that there is a deep yearning with us on this path to be deeper people.  We sense there is more going on, more to experience than we ever have dreamed possible.  I know it is true with me and I know it’s true with some of my friends.  I will be bold and state that all people ‘know’ that there is something Other than themselves.  It’s just that, at times, we seem to get trapped in the muck and mire of life that we just go through the motions and can’t really hear that yearning for deepness.  That is where I have been for a while now.  And Foster’s book is like a cup of cool water on a dry, endless desert.

Foster has divided his book into three sections.  Part 1: The Inward Disciples – Meditation, Prayer, Fasting, and Study; Part 2: The Outward Disciplines – Simplicity, Solitude, Submission, and Service; Part 3: The Corporate Disciplines – Confession, Worship, Guidance, and Celebration.  I found that each, while somewhat building upon the previous ones, could be read by themselves and stood up very well by themselves.   Since there is a lot of ground to cover here, I will just hit one a few of the highlights.

In the introduction, Foster stated that it didn’t really matter whom he read ‘they knew God in ways far beyond anything I had experienced’.  I think a lot of us could give a hearty ‘Amen’ to that.  I think that would be the sole purpose of picking up a book like this.  Furthermore, the other book I reflected on before, Finding Our Way Again by Brian McLaren speaks (with a rather broad brush) to the same issues.  It seems that more and more followers of Jesus are seeking ways to make their faith not just a bunch of beliefs that one checks off of a card on the refrigerator but a new way of living.  There are scores of people who are hungering for a deeper experience with God than they have previously known.  One thing that Foster does, and this just came to me, is show that what he is writing about is not a bunch of laws or rules or quick steps to a more mature belief system.  On the contrary, like the title states, Foster is writing about disciplines.  About life changing movements.  About re-ordering ones life to be open to new and deeper experiences with the God who is Love.  And I think he gives a glimpse into what this means: ‘We were in each other’s homes – laughing together, weeping together, learning together, praying together.  Some of the best teaching times grew out of the dynamic of those home settings...’  There is a lot to be said about this setting.  Meeting in homes, we get to know people better.  People are more relaxed.  They are more real.  And one of the things that the world is yearning for, searching for is people who are real.  When we are ‘at church’ we tend to put on masks.  But at home, after a while, if the place is a safe place of love and trust, we stop wearing the masks.  We become honest and open.  It is in just these type of places that we need deep people.  We need to be deep people.  The disciplines guide us in the deepness of God.

In the discipling of meditation, Foster wrote, ‘Christian meditation . . . is the ability to hear God’s voice and obey (God’s) word.’  What’s great about Foster’s book is that he not only give some clear and comprehensive teaching on the disciples but he also offers some very practical guidelines (he is quick to point out that these can turn in to ‘laws’; kind of like a spiritual barometer of sorts and states that we must be aware of this trap).  In meditation, Foster suggests that ‘beginners and experts alike (should) give some part of each day to formal meditation’.  The process is to be at peace throughout the (sometimes) hectic day so that at the appointed time, one’s mind is not fractured by the days events.

To go along with this time of day, Foster suggests and place as well.  In the best case, a retreat of solitude should be sought.  However, as most of us are not able to do this for any given length of time, a quiet place without interruptions will do.  I must admit that this is one of the most difficult things for me.  There just doesn’t seem to be these types of places where I work.  I seek for these places but they are hard to come by.

Next comes what to meditate upon.  For most all followers of Jesus is the meditation of Scripture.  According to Foster, ‘Bonhoeffer recommended spending a whole week on a single text’.  For Lent, I have taken this to task.  I am reading 1Corinthians 13 every day.  It is quite amazing especially when I started to see God in this light.  (I actually did a reverse of something Carl McColman wrote.  When someone was going through a difficult time, they were questioning God’s presence.  He replaced ‘God’ with ‘Love’ to show that Love is always with us even during our most difficult times.  I replaced ‘love’ in some places of 1Cor. 13 with God and it really makes me reflect on God’s nature and character.)

In another example, Foster stated that one should put themselves in the stories one read.  For example, when reading a passage from the Gospels, hear the crowds, feel the breeze on your face, smell the sea, see the throngs of people, etc.  Put your self with the disciples as they walked and lived with Christ.  Be present there.  In doing so, I believe, you will open yourself up to the realization that God is present here.

During a conference with John Philip Newell, at the close of each session, he lead us in a brief meditation.  There would be some music playing with a verse sung to the music.  After a few moments of listening to the music and lyrics, he said to think about the first half of the words as you ‘breath down’ and the second half of the words as you ‘breath up’.  This was very powerful for me.  During one of those sessions, I had a very profound experience.

I’m not sure when it started, but I had gained a phobia of fresh water, in a stream of lake, for example.  Once, while walking with my daughter and wife through a stream, I had a panic attack.  My wife’s voice came rushing in from ‘out there’ and I suddenly ‘came to’ and found myself standing upon a large rock in the middle of the stream.  I was shaking all over and my only thought was how was I going to make it back to the car without being in the water.  My wife and daughter came back for me and, holding my hand, led me through the water to the car.

Fast forward several years to a session with John Philip.  We were meditating on the words of Jesus, ‘Do not be afraid.  For I am with you.’  As I was ‘centering down’, as the Quakers call it, I saw light reflecting on water.  I ‘heard’ Jesus tell me those words I was saying.  The light I saw was him in the water.  I began to cry.  I knew that I didn’t have to be afraid of the water anymore.  Since then, I have gone to the lake with my family and been able to wade along the beach, get on the big tube and be pulled behind the boat.

Another discipline is the disciple of prayer.  This seems like it should go without mention.  All followers of Jesus know that one should pray.  But, as we all learn so quickly, no one tells us how to do that!  I remember thinking a long time back about how great it would be if I had some sort of ‘on the job training’ on how to do this stuff.  I wished I could have just followed my pastor around for a month or more so I could learn how to do things.  I still think that this is needed.  And it’s one of the reasons I sought a monastic community.  It’s quite amazing how, even from long distances, the Lindisfarne Community is providing that for me.

As I have stated before, I feel very inadequate at prayer.  Some people have such great prayers and I always seem to be struggling.  Some seem to know just what to say but I always seem to stumble.  While others prayer so effortlessly and smoothly, I fumble and muddle my way through.  My prayers seem so erratic and almost disruptive.  At least that’s how they seem to me.  On the other hand, I’m really excited about prayer books.  There seems to be such great writers within the family and they have such elegant words that it makes prayer beautiful – even when I say them!

But, sometimes, in some situations, I don’t always have a chance to get to a prayer book.  Or, the circumstances need to be more ‘personal’; more from me.  I almost feel like I’m cheating and cheapening the situation when I use ‘someone else’s prayer’.  It is at those times that I have to rely on the Holy Spirit to give me the words to say.  I’m sure she does but it never seems that way to me.  I don’t ever recall anyone ever telling me, ‘That is just what I needed to hear.’  I’m not looking for a pat on the back or anything, just some hint that I did alright.

Service is the last discipline that I’ll brush over.  He really wrote some powerful things in this chapter (chapter 9).  For a long while now, it might have even been the catalyst for my search for becoming a deep person, I have had the impression that my life (at least) should be that of a servant.  I recall on several interviews that every job someone has, she is in the service of another – whether she is the president of a company or janitor or a computer tech.  All jobs are service jobs.  Problems arise when we lose sight of that.

While I have had this ‘rule of life’ I have not lived it well.  I have lost sight of it several times.  And I didn’t recognize it until Foster’s book.  He pointed out that there is a difference in ‘choosing to serve’ and ‘choosing to be a servant’.  I yearned to be a servant but I was just choosing to serve.  The difference is when one chooses to serve, one is still in charge.  I decide when and where I’m going to serve others.  But when I chose to be a servant, I voluntarily give up my rights to be in charge.  If I am asked to do something, and I get irritated, I am not being a servant.  If I am being a servant, then I must realize that the other is more important than me.  And here is the crazy thing about that.  When I freely give up my rights I become ‘great’.  Jesus said, ‘You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them.  But among you it will be different.  Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave’ (Matthew 20.25-27, NLT).  If I’m getting angry or irritated when asked to do something, it is a shining beacon illuminating my falseness.  It is at those times that I am reminded of what St Paul wrote in 1Cor. 13, ‘Love . . . does not demand its own way.  It is not irritable . . . ’

I have really enjoyed this book.  I can truly feel it’s energy.  It seems like one of those books that can change the world.  ‘May it start with me, dear God.  Amen.’

Collect for the Second Sunday in Lent

O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Wisdom, Jesus Christ your Child; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, on God, forever and ever.  Amen.

21 February 2010

Didache - Chapter 1

I recently purchased a book titled, The Teaching of the 12: Believing and Practicing the Primitive Christianity of the Ancient Didache Community by Tony Jones. It’s a small book and reveals a long hidden document by an ancient Christian community living mid to late first century. According to Jones, it appears that the community didn’t seem to have knowledge of St. Paul or his writings. The book contains the Didache text itself plus commentary from Jones and some insights from a small, organic Christian community living The Way in Missouri who call themselves Cymbrogi -- Celtic for “companions of the heart.” According to most scholars, the Didache “is one of the most important documents in the history of Christianity.”

I finished reading this book today and wanted to post each of the Didache “chapters” on here for us to reflect and discuss. The text of the Didache that I will be using was translated and edited by Tony Jones, and is under the protection of a Creative Commons license, so we won’t get into trouble with copyright infringement and I don't think the original community would have minded anyway. They were all about giving things away. Furthermore, this Didache seems to have been some kind of required reading or training manual for the newly “converted” (I don't particularly like that word).

My plan is to quote each chapter in it’s entirety and then reflect on it and have a conversation on it for a week or two before moving on to the next chapter. Sound good? Alright, let’s begin.


1 There Are Two Ways

1:1 There are two ways, one of life and one of death! and there is a great difference between the two ways.

1:2 The way of life is this: First, you shall love God who made you. And second, love your neighbor as yourself, and do not do to another what you would not want done to you.

1:3 The meaning of these sayings is this: Bless those who curse you, and pray for your enemies, and fast for those who persecute you. For what reward is there for loving those who love you? Do not the heathens do the same? But you should love those who hate you, and then you shall have no enemies.

1:4 Abstain from fleshly and bodily lusts: If someone strikes your right cheek, turn the other also, and be perfect. If someone forces you to go one mile, go two. If someone takes your cloak, give also your coat. If someone takes from you what is yours, don't ask for it back. You really cannot.

1:5 Give to every one who asks you, and don’t ask for it back. The Father wants his blessings shared. Happy is the giver who lives according to this rule, for that one is guiltless. But the receiver must beware; for if one receives who has need, he is guiltless, but if one receives not having need, he shall stand trial, answering why he received and for what use. If he is found guilty he shall not escape until he pays back the last penny.

1:6 However, concerning this, there is a saying: “Let your alms sweat in your hands until you know to whom to give them.”

The day after...

...International Pipe-Smoking Day.

As I posted previously, yesterday was International Pipe-Smoking Day. To commemorate, I purchased some Mac Baren Cube, called up a friend, and we smoked a couple of bowls last night. It was a good time. Of course, the best part about last night was the company.

Cube has a very nice flavor and pleasant room note. I highly recommend it. If you are pipe smoker, and you like Aromatics, you should give Mac Baren's Cube a try. If you live in the neighborhood, drop by sometime and we can share a bowl!

In the Love of the Three in One,


Collect for the first Sunday in Lent

Loving God, whose blessed Child was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weakness of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Child our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

20 February 2010

International Pipe-Smoking Day

Today is International Pipe-Smoking Day! You can read all about it here.

To quote their purpose:
On this day we will take a breather and celebrate the noble art of pipe-smoking and the noble spirit which pervades the brother/sisterhood of the briar. We will put into practice the time-honored and ancestral traditions of raising our pipes in toast to each other in the evening in unison and, thus, share a bowl together.
So, of your so inclined, stop for a few moments this evening and join us in sharing a bowl!

16 February 2010

1Timothy and my Daughter

The other evening, my daughter told me she read something in the Bible that really shook her. It was this passage from 1Timothy:
Women should learn quietly and submissively. I do not let women teach men or have authority over them. Let them listen quietly. For God made Adam first, and afterward he made Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived by Satan. The woman was deceived, and sin was the result. But women will be saved through childbearing, assuming they continue to live in faith, love, holiness, and modesty.
As you can imagine, this was really upsetting to her. She has recently had a very profound experience with Jesus and is seeking to serve God with all she can. And then she reads that passage and is really shaken by it.

I reminded her about a recent conversation we had about studying and doing the work of a historian. At the time, she said that she really didn't see the need for such an in-depth study. As I explained it again, I emphasized the importance of just that type of work when reading a passage, especially one that doesn't really seem to fit with the rest of the story as she understands it. I stressed once more the need to understand the context -- to whom the letter was written, when it was written, what was the socio-economical culture, etc. -- to help understand a passage and to see if God is leading you to make something within it applicable.

'So I'm just supposed to pick and choose what to follow?' 'Yes...In a way.' I then gave an example of the Old Testament laws for the Jewish people, the 'sacrificial laws' of the old covenant system, and how they don't apply today. 'That is a passage that has nothing to do with us. Why is that? Because the context has changed.'

We then had a rather lengthy discussion about 'modern' scholars and how a lot of them don't even think Paul wrote that letter, that it was written way after his death. 'Well, if Paul didn't write it, who did? Why is it in the Bible? Who decided what was in and what wasn't and why?' Boy! Talk about major lessons for one conversation!

I did my best to explain how we got the New Testament, and how even after the writings were 'canonized' there was still some discussions as to what should be included (Reformation). 'That's why the Protestant Bible doesn't have some books that the Catholic Bible does'.

The following day, I loaned her Borg's book The Heart of Christianity. I briefly explained how it was helpful to me in understanding the two major views of Christianity and how the 'emerging' way may really help her on her journey.

I posted this to show how much we need to mentor the new followers of Jesus! How much of the pain and suffering I have gone through would have been avoided if only someone was there to be a soul-friend. Someone to talk to me about these types of things before I just blindly started following what I was told. If I had been shown how to study and critically think for myself, a lot of years would not have to be undone. Of course, those years of learning help me to help others, so, I guess it wasn't all for naught.

In the Love of the Three in One,


14 February 2010

Collect for the last Sunday after the Epiphany

O God, who before the passion of your only-begotten Child revealed your glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of your countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into the likeness of Jesus from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen

07 February 2010

Collect for the fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Child our Saviour Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

05 February 2010

Answered Prayer

Yesterday morning, after I had my usual breakfast, I determined that I would not purchase biscuits and gravy from the cafe in my building.

I am working my way through Richard Foster's book Celebration of Disciple this month. It is really good and I can see why it's a classic and must read for all who are yearning for spiritual growth.

With that stated, I just finished the chapter on prayer and said a small little prayer, 'God, please give me "ears to hear" your voice.'

As I walked out of my office, the smell of breakfast cooking from the cafe over-came me. I went in and asked for 'the usual'. I was quickly informed that I couldn't be assisted because they were out of gravy. The offered me something else but I refused. When I was asked why, the first thing that popped in my head was answered prayer! I asked to recognize God speaking to me, and I took the 'out of gravy' to be God telling me that I had stated I wasn't going to buy them this morning.

Sometimes we think God speaks to us in the extraordinary. But I believe that God speaks to us each and every moment of every day. God is not silent. We just aren't listening.

In the Grace of the Three in One,