25 July 2010

Collect for the Ninth Sunday After Pentecost

O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy; increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

18 July 2010

Collect for the Eighth Sunday After Pentecost

Loving God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in our asking: Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Child Jesus Christ our Saviour, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

11 July 2010

Collect for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

O God, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives with you and the Holy Spirit, on God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Enslaved

While preparing for this month’s reflection, I had a ‘light bulb’ moment.  For a large part of Western Christian history, people have equated that all people are ‘dead in the sins’ ‘separated from God’ and, therefore, ‘enemies of God’ and destined for ‘hell’ (see various Christian thinkers on this, including, but not limited to, Augustine, Calvin, Luther, and most likely your local pastor and probably yourself).  Furthermore, St Paul states the same thing (Romans 6.13; Ephesians 2.1, etc.).


But, ‘death’ isn’t the only metaphor that Paul uses for the human condition.  In fact, it’s not even close to the one he uses most of the time.  The problem comes when we try to fit all of Paul’s metaphors under one umbrella.  He uses many - lost, blind, slave, dead, etc.  It does us no good to just pick one.  The situation is much more complex than that.  Saying everyone is ‘dead’ (while neither Paul nor Jesus limited it to just that one image) is to misunderstand what is trying to be communicated.  Each ‘condition’ requires different ‘fixes’.   A blind person needs her sight restored.  A lost person needs to find his way again.  And, yes, a dead person needs to live again.  However, the metaphor that Paul uses most of the time to explain the human condition is ‘slavery’ (Romans 6.17ff; Galatians 4.3ff, etc.).


Slavery indicates one of two things from a biblical standpoint.  First, someone was forced to be a slave against her will (whether through enemy capture and/or being sold into slavery or through owing a debt).  Second, one could be a ‘love’ slave (one who stays with the master either because he loves the master or because he would have to leave his family).  Either way, the person is a slave not of her choosing.  That is, she is being, acting, or doing something she would rather not.  She is being held against her will.  If all things were equal, she would not be a slave.  She would be free.


As I stated above, St Paul taught that people are enslaved to sin.  That is, that is who they have become.  People are not truly, deeply sinners!  If a ‘sinner’ is what a person is at the deepest level, if that is who he truly is, then he can not be enslaved to sin.  He is just being who he is.  But Paul doesn’t tell us that.  Again, his most used image for the human condition was people are ‘slaves to sin’.  Perhaps my phrase of ‘sin addicts’ would help.  We understand addicts.  They have lost who they truly are and are addicted (enslaved) to alcohol, drugs, food, sex, or whatever.  They are truly enslaved to their drug of choice.  And, certainly, some (most) are addicts of their own choosing.  But that is not who they truly are.  They are people who have become addicts.  They have become enslaved.


It is the same with all ‘sinners’.  We find the road wide and more traveled.  Therefore it is easier.  It takes little effort.  For example, if we had a meeting on the 30th floor of an office building and could choose between either the elevator or the stairs, most (all!) of us would take the elevator.  In the same way, it is much easier to be selfish and violent.  It is far easier to be concerned with my own wants and desires than those of others.  If I do that long enough, I will lose all concern for others.  I will become a jerk (or worse).  I will become enslaved to myself.


And just like other addicts, the more one uses, the more one gets lost as to who one really is.  It may look like there is no difference between the ‘junkie’ and the person.  And some would have us believe that there really isn’t.  But there is.  In the Celtic Christian world, Jesus was known as ‘the Great Remembrance’.  That is, when the ancient Celts looked at Jesus, they remembered what humanity really was like.  They remembered what they really were at the deepest level.  Without Christ, they, like all people, are addicted, enslaved to sin.   But a slave can’t free herself.  She needs someone to set her free.


And thank God that Christ didn’t only come to remind us of our true selves.  Christ came to set us free!  He has broken the chains that held us captive to sin.  And if Christ has set us free, then we are truly free.


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


Jack+

06 July 2010

Quote

It is better to eat meat and drink wine that to eat the flesh of the brothers (and sisters) by disparaging them.
~ Sisois

04 July 2010

Collect for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor:  Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

01 July 2010

Reflection: 06-10

This month’s reflection is from Reading the Bible Again for the First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously but not Literally by Marcus Borg. I have read another of Borg’s books before, and this one is similar yet different. In both books, Borg sets out to show two very different ways of seeing. In this book, his focus is on seeing the Bible in a new way (but it could very easily be shown to be an “ancient” way).

I have to say that I really enjoy this book! It is very engaging and empowering. It helps pour fuel on the fire of the Holy Spirit as she guides us in a new direction. I could probably write something on every page of this book! But I won’t. Instead I’m going to focus on the idea of two different ways of seeing.

The “old” way of seeing, according to Borg, is one that is “literalistic,” “doctrinal,” “moralistic,” “patriarchal,” and “afterlife-oriented” (pg. 11-12). This was all based on “believing” -- believing all of the events and stories to be factually, literally true. He goes on to say:

It is important to note that this older vision is often seen as traditional Christianity by both Christians and non-Christians, and by both conservatives (who defend it) and liberals (who reject it). But this older way of seeing the Bible and Christianity is not “the Christian tradition.” Rather, it is a historically conditioned way of seeing the tradition (including the Bible) that has been shaped by the circumstances of the past few centuries. This the issue is not whether to keep or abandon the Christian tradition, but a transition from one way of seeing it to another. The question concerns the lenses through which we see and read the Bible and the Christian tradition as a whole...Given who we have become, one of the imperative needs of our time is a re-visioning of the Bible and Christianity...[The] older form of Christianity is not “traditional Christianity” but was an earlier way of seeing the Bible and the Christian tradition’ (pg 11-12, 18).

There are a couple of great things in this paragraph that I want to focus on. The first is the idea of “transition[ing] from one way of seeing to another.” It’s been my experience that this transitional phase can be very painful. I remember, quite vividly, when my old way of seeing was no longer working for me. 

For me, the old way of seeing included the “literal” reading of John 14.6, where Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” This meant that Christianity was the only “true” religion and that a person could only “go to heaven” by believing in Jesus. The problem was that my wife was being led onto a different path and it scared me. I thought, if she has abandoned Jesus, the she isn’t “going to heaven” when she dies. She will go to “hell.” As one can imagine, this troubled me deeply. I struggled with this for quite awhile. I couldn’t reconcile the way things had been with the way things were happening. Furthermore, I couldn’t see G-d taking someone down a path that led one away from G-d. That didn’t (and still doesn’t) seem too loving. 

Further, why would this loving G-d bring two people together in this life if they were to be separated in eternal life? That wasn’t loving either. It was downright cruel. The anguish I was experiencing was almost more than I could bear. So, I was desperate for a new way of seeing. However, I didn’t even know there was another way of seeing and still be a follower of Jesus. I only knew of one way of seeing the Bible, and that was the literal way (even though I already had been studying for several years by this time). Perhaps a diagram would be useful at this point (I owe these to Brian McLaren from his book Finding Faith, I think, and they were tremendously helpful).


In this diagram, the circle represents G-d or Christianity and the dots represent people. In this old way of seeing, it was very clear who was “in” and who was “out” and those “out” were on their way to “hell.” And I was taught, and Borg would say that most of Western Christianity held (and many still hold) to this way of seeing. But, what happens if we add some direction to the dots?


Now, what are we to do? It appears that some are getting closer to G-d or deeper in the faith while others are moving further and further away. I realized that I couldn’t see into the hearts of people. I was deceiving myself if I thought I could ever know who was “in” and who was “out.” I didn’t know their stories or their journeys.

But the next diagram was even better. And it forever changed the way I see things.

The big circle here represents “truth.” And if we think that we have all truth, then we are sadly mistaken. And I was sadly mistaken. The little circles represents those of other traditions or they could even be people within the same parish or temple or synagogue. The point is that we all have things that are within the realm of “truth” and a lot that is not. Furthermore, we have things that overlap with others around us. This, I believe, is the “new way” of seeing that Borg is talking about. And it brings me to my next point.

In discussing religious pluralism, Borg wrote, “We are aware of religious pluralism. We are aware of the world’s religions in  a way that most people have not been for most of human history, even as recently as a century ago.” I disagree with this in a general way. Even while seeing the Bible in a new way, one is quite aware of religious pluralism in the stories presented there. The Jewish Scriptures state quite clearly that YHWH was to be seen as the true god and the gods of the other nations were nothing more than idols. Take a look at the confrontation between Moses and the magicians of Pharaoh in Exodus 7. Or the confrontation between Elijah and the Baal prophets in 1Kings 18. In the New Testament, we need to look no further than St. Paul’s sermon in Acts 17 where he referred to the many “gods” of the Greeks. My point is that all religions have known of other religions. We have all known religious pluralism. For the longest time, however, most religions saw their religion as the only true religion -- similar to the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal.

Now, I say all of that to say this, while I disagree with his general premise, I do agree with his assessment that we are aware of religious pluralism “in a way that most people have not been for the most of human history.” The reason for this is because, we are at a different place than the rest of human history! No one has been we we are in the whole process. I think that what he is getting at is what is shown in the third diagram. We are recognizing that there are some differences, yes, but similarities and even some “truth” in other religious traditions. It is because of this that we can actually meet together with those of other faiths and have a conversation with them and even learn from them without trying to “convert” the other to our way of seeing things. 

Therefore, how do we do this? That is, how do we address the different ways of seeing that Borg talks about? How do we have a conversation with those in the Christian family that view things the “traditional” way? In a men’s group I led, I explained that we would no longer be debating between if something happened or not. One person in particular got a little upset! “You mean this [event] didn’t really happen?!” “Well,” I responded, “some people don’t think so. And smarter people than us have been debating ‘facts’ of the Bible for a long time. Instead, we’re going to discuss a couple of questions, ‘What was the writer’s purpose in telling this story?’ and ‘Why did the writer tell it this way?’ In other words, we’re going to ask what is the story telling us.” I have to say, this has lead to an overall better conversation and group study.

So, the “two ways of seeing” can work together to find common ground. However, I think that the issue will continue to be a tense one. One of the reasons for this is because of the pain of transition, like I stated earlier. People may not be able (or willing) to let go of their old way of seeing. It’s comfortable and G-d may still be guiding them and teaching them in that way. For others of us, however, that way just will no longer work. G-d is moving us to discover this “new/ancient” way of seeing. We sense that G-d is doing something deep within all creation. And because of this “We hold our convictions (which are few) without wavering, but hold our opinions (which are many) lightly” (A Way of Living, Understanding 15 of the Lindisfarne Community).



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

Br. Jack+, LC

Reflection: 05-10

I recently discovered that I had not sent in last month's reflection to my abbott nor did I post it here. So, here it is a month late.


~~~
Celtic Spirituality (Classics of Western Spirituality)
For this month’s reflection, I turned to Celtic Spirituality, from the ‘Classics of Western Spirituality’ series edited by Oliver Davies and Thomas O’Loughlin. My selection from this wonderful resource is ‘The Rule for Monks by Columbanus’. While I’ve read this entire book before, I didn’t think it would be advisable for a monthly reflection on the whole book so I just picked one of the articles (it was a toss-up between this and Pelagius’ letter).

A little background here is in order. Columbanus was an Irish monk who lived roughly between 540 and 615 CE. His feast day is 23 November. He is said to have founded many monasteries, most notably
Luxeuil in France and Bobbio in Italy. Some scholars have suggested that St Francis stayed at Bobbio for a time and was heavily influenced by the Celtic Christian way of seeing.

One of the things that is most repetitious in the research of Columbanus and his monks is their strict simplicity were even their food often consisted of ‘nothing but forest herbs, berries, and the bark of young trees’. It is this simplicity that is captured in his ‘Rule for Monks’ as collected in
Celtic Spirituality.

In his section
On Obedience, Abbott Columbanus quotes John 12.26, “Whoever serves me, must follow me, and my servant will be with me wherever I am.” So then, the question that comes rushing forward is, ‘Where was Jesus while he was on earth?’ Was he not with the ‘outcasts and sinners’? Was he not with the ‘prostitutes and tax collectors’? In other words, was Jesus not with those who were marginalized and all-but-forgotten in the social and religious world of his time? Undoubtedly yes. So, our question then would be where is Jesus now? I suspect that we will still find him with the ‘outcast and sinners’; with the ‘prostitutes and tax collectors’; with the marginalized and all-but-forgotten in the social and religious world of our time. And this is where we are to be as well if we say we are his followers.

In the section
On Silence, Abbott Columbanus quotes Isaiah 32.17, ‘The product of righteousness will be peace, the effect of righteousness being quiet and security for ever.’ My initial reaction is, ‘How unrighteous I am!’ I have such a long way to go to ‘be peace’. I struggle constantly with irritation. And ‘quiet’ or ‘silence’ is so hard for me. Times of quiet are just that – times. And those times are few and far between.

Of course I could just overlook this because I live in a different time than Columbanus. But this will not do! Isaiah stated that ‘being peace’ was the ‘effect’ or the result of righteousness! That means that it is beyond time and seasons. It is to be manifest in whatever time or season one finds oneself in.
If one is indeed righteous. And, therefore, I most certainly am not.

In his section
On the Choir: Goodness! They sure sang a lot of Psalms! At one point, he wrote, ‘ . . . [More], as I have already said, are always ordained for the night of the Lord’s Day and Sabbath vigil, on which seventy-five are sung individually in the course of one Office’.

I guess I just don’t get it.
Seventy-five Psalms. I feel that three is a lot! I suppose, again, it depends on the time period. We are so much busier than they were. Or, perhaps, distracted is a better term. In other words, let’s put it this way. Suppose someone from another time were to visit us, what would she say is the most important thing to us? Work? Family? Entertainment – whether in the form of sports, music, movies, television, etc.? Eating? What would it be?

Now suppose our time-traveler went to Columbanus’ time, what would she claim was the most important thing to them? Would it be the Psalms? Prayer? The Gospels? Work? Not eating? What would it be?

What I get from this section on the choir (and something I have heard time and time again) is that the churches hymn book was the Psalms. When was the last time we sang or chanted only the Psalms in our worship? What would happen to us if we did this for a week? A month? A year? How would it change us?

In our men’s group, we were challenged one time to read through the Psalms. I don’t know if anyone of us ever did. It has been suggested that we do that after we finish our current course of study. I’m beginning to think it’s a wonderful idea. In fact, one of the men in our group is also in the choir and chants very well. Perhaps I’ll ask him if he would lead us in a chant of a Psalm for those meetings.

At
St Michael’s Episcopal Church, where I am now attending community worship, the Psalm is chanted. And it’s wonderful! I wonder what seventy-five Psalms would be like?

Concerning the section
On Discernment, Columbanus stated that ‘evil’ is ‘the corruption of the good’ and ‘that which departs from its original goodness and innocence’. Do we find this to be true? Surely we can see that in some situations there is a direct correlation. Sex slaves, pornography, going from one partner to another, the objectification and of people, adultery, etc., are clearly ‘corruptions of the good’ or ‘departures from the original goodness and innocence’ of the expressions (some would say the ultimate expression) of love between partners in a committed, monogamous relationship.

Another example would be the torture and terrorism and slaughter of those who are different – whether that difference is color, gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation. The deeper one looks it seems that we discriminate others because we don’t really see them as legitimate image-bearers of the Creator.

This could also be seen in environmental concerns – whether that is manifested in what we eat or how we treat the planet. The deeper one looks here we can perceive a skewered view of creation and our responsibilities to it.

But can we think of any ‘evil’ that is not ‘the corruption of the good’? I confess that I can not. I think that the wisdom of the Holy Spirit manifested in St Columbanus is spot on here. However, as with the change of times, we forget the sacredness of all that is around us. What can be more sacred than the kiss of your lover? The laugh of a babe? The play of a calf? The loyalty of a dog? The chant of the Psalms? The reading of the Gospel? The stiffness of a hard day’s work? Nothing, beloved. Nothing.

In section 9,
On Mortification, St Columbanus wrote, ‘monks must everywhere beware of a proud independence...’. This was an epiphany. In a couple of words, St Columbanus stated what I believe is the primary sin of the United States. Perhaps even the West. Far too often in the U.S .we hear the emphasis on being independent, of not needing anyone else.

Yes, beloved, this is a sin. Our Savior makes it clear that we are dependent upon him. ‘I am the vine’, he said, ‘you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit.
For apart from me you can do nothing’ (John 15.5 Emphasis mine).

And St Paul makes it clear that we are not just dependent on Christ but we are dependent upon each other as well when he wrote that we all make up the mystical body of Christ. ‘The human body has many parts’, he wrote, ‘but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free (and we could add, ‘some are female, some are male, some are gay, and some straight’). But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit.’ And later, ‘Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part . . . So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad. All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it’ (
1Corinthians 12.12-14, 24-27).

Therefore, both scripture and experience show us that we are not independent beings but dependent beings. It takes all of us working together to more forward. This, in turn, reflects how we see our mission within the wider world. So often in the church, the focus has been on the ‘individual’ but scripture is more concerned about the community. The individual may be singled out but it’s for the purpose of the betterment of the community. Abraham was called so that through him and his family ‘all nations’ would be blessed. Therefore, I believe St Columbanus’ statement here is, once more, spot on.

While the overall Rule of the Monks is quite hard, I believe that St Columbanus gave us some very good instructions that we can adapt in our time. Obviously, there are still things that need to be addressed. We still don’t spend time with those whom society has all but forgotten. We are still too quickly provoked into violence and really don’t like it when things are silent. We still are too quick to judge others as ‘evil’ while ignoring our own falseness. We still discriminate (and worse) people who are different from us. We still don’t see all people as image-bearers of Christ. We still don’t take into consideration our effects on the planet. We still prefer our way of doing things. And we still believe that we don’t need anyone else.

But that is changing. More and more of us are finding ways of implementing God’s Reign in our every day lives. Whether that’s serving at a local soup kitchen, or having inter-faith dialogue at a local pub, or starting a recycling drive in our areas, or becoming a vegetarian, or becoming more involved with social justice issues through our local governments. More and more of us are looking for ways of implementing God’s Reign now through living a simple life in the hectic life around us. And, in the process, encouraging others to join us in the peace-keeping movement that is the Dream of God. True, not all of us are called to be a monk and live an ascetic lifestyle. But we are called to do our best at being Christ for those around us and help in implementing God’s Reign now.





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


Jack+

Priestly Dream

Last night (or early this morning, whichever you prefer), I had an interesting dream.  I dreamt that I was in a clerical shirt and talking to a woman who had just lost her husband.  I told her that I was there for her is she needed.  She said she would like that so we went to a room and sat down.  I remember, in my dream, thinking, 'Just listen.  Don't try to fix it.'

The next scene was a mail carrier dropping off mail to a mailbox on a rural road.  She pulled up in her vehicle and put mail in the box.

The next scene was in a small, dark-ish 'office'.  There were about three women there and one, taking a piece of mail, said something like, 'I wonder what it is?'  Another one said, 'I wonder if he will tell us what she said?' - meaning the widow.  I came in and took the envelope from the first woman and stated, 'This is addressed to me.  And,' looking at the other woman, 'concerning what she said', the widow, who was sitting in a chair in the office, looked up at me, 'is confidential'.  The widow gently smiled and looked down at her hands.

And the alarm went off and I woke up.