16 August 2012

Different Symbols

Matthew 2.9-12; CEB. When [the magi] heard [Herod] the king, they went; and look, the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stood over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy. They entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother. Falling to their knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Because they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their own country by another route.

This passage was part of my reading this morning. I have seen things today that I hadn’t noticed before. Let me share with you what I saw.

First, this is a very well known story; that of the Magi. We sing their song every Christmas. They’re in every nativity play and scene during the holy day holiday season. The importance of this is that the Magi were not Jews. More about this in a moment.

Second, notice that “the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them.” This is where it starts getting good! That phrase “went ahead of them” sparked my memory. This is the same language used when referring to god leading the children of Israel through the wilderness (see Deuteronomy 1.33; cf. Exodus 13.21).

What’s crucial about this passage, though, is that it’s referring to people outside of the nation of Israel. That means they were (at the least) Gentiles or (at the most) pagans. But the passage shows that god chose and used symbols that they would understand. God didn’t use the same symbols used for the Exodus. God used the appropriate symbols - symbols that meant something to Magi - to lead the people to godself.

What this is saying to me is there’s more than one way to god. The passage clearly shows that god led these people to Christ through a different means, a different way, than others.

But notice the actions were the same. God led and guided them through their own practices, using their own symbols. And their response was the same - they met Christ, they knelt and “honored” him, or as the King James puts it, “they fell down and worshipped him.” This shows that, while the symbols may be different, The Way of a life with god is the same.

In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC

14 August 2012

Ninth Understanding

9. In the Lindisfarne Community gender, sexual orientation, age, race or class are not barriers to service and function. We believe that both men and women may be called by God to the offices of bishop, priest and deacon. In God’s sight we are all equal. In the story of the garden, God gave to Adam and Eve an equal dignity, an equal calling, an equal responsibility and an equal blessing. Yet, at the same time we are called to radical subordination, preferring the other above our self. In this we seek to allow the Spirit to dig deep into our unconscious to remove hidden prejudices; that our attitudes, speech, and actions may be free of discrimination.

Equality has been an issue in the church for such a long time.

And it’s sad.

Of all places that people should be treated as equals, it should be in communities who follow Christ. However, as we are all too aware, it seems that those communities are the last place where equality is seen. Even today, we have some communities that are still putting women in subordinate categories, others looking down on other races and wisdom traditions, and don’t even get me started where others stand on the homosexual issue. Sometimes, all of those unequal positions are from the same group!

Now, I will say, for the most part, people who disagree with us on this Understanding do so because of their own convictions. That is, they pray to the same god, read the same scriptures, and are earnestly seeking god regarding these issues, but have reached different conclusions. Those people should get our respect. They’re our brothers and sisters and we wouldn’t want them to go against their own conscience. To quote St. Paul, “Everything that isn’t based on faith is sin” (Romans 14.23; CEB).

The reason I uphold this Understanding is a little different (I think). As I see it, Christ restored the dignity of all people when he rose from the dead. His life exemplified what that restoration would (and should) look like for people who follow The Way. Let me explain.

God created all that is, seen and unseen. Humanity was the pinnacle of creation and reflected god’s love and mercy into creation as god’s representatives. Humanity rebelled, however, and broke themselves, their relationships with each other, and their relationships with the world. But, god set in motion a plan to fix what was broken; to rescue and reconcile creation. This plan was implemented when god chose Abraham and his family, Israel. However, Israel was also broken and in need of rescue themselves. Time and again, Israel rebelled, were exiled and placed under pagan rule, repented, and were restored to their land. The last time, however, things weren’t quite right. Even though they were restored to their land, many in Israel didn’t feel like they were restored; they still felt like they were in exile. But prophets and poets came and promised of a time when god would return to the land, overthrow the pagans, rule creation, and put things right. The Jewish Scriptures end with this anticipation.

After roughly 400 years of silence, the Gospel writers tell the story of Jesus in such a way as to say that (somehow, mysteriously, mystically) he was fulfilling that anticipation; that he was Israel’s god coming back to the land. However, it didn’t look like they thought it was supposed to look. He challenged their religious institutions and declared a reconciliation of humanity and creation by demonstrating god’s realm in their midst.

Likewise, the writers told their story as to say that Jesus was (somehow, mysteriously, mystically) fulfilling Israel’s vocation. That is, Jesus would personify Israel - he would be and do what Israel was supposed to be and do - the instrument through which god would reconcile the world. The writers declared that, in Jesus, one could see what true humanity looked like; that he embodied the truly Human One.

The writer’s stories proclaim that with the resurrection of Jesus, god’s plan for New Creation began; god’s Realm is fully established “on earth as in heaven.” We see this played out in the book of Acts as well as the rest of the New Testament. Since they had to rethink what the “Realm of God” would be like ( Jesus told stories about it beginning within history instead of the end of history), they had to figure out how to implement god’s Realm within their immediate contexts. They had to work out how various cultures were to live together in one new humanity all the while working toward a fully reconciled creation. That would include the full equality of all people.

In Galatians 3, Paul wrote, “You are all God’s children through faith in Christ Jesus. All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3.26-28; CEB).

While that is true on one hand, Paul is fully aware that on the other hand there are still issues that need to be worked out and worked through. In his day, there were still slaves. There were still cultural divisions in most of the world between Jews and Gentiles (Greeks, non-Jews). And, most certainly, women were not seen as being equal to men. But that was what they were looking toward. That’s what they were working for.

Take, for example, the inclusion of Gentiles in their communities (Acts 15). The “division” between them was removed by the cross (Ephesians 2.11-16). This was a huge step towards the full implementation of the Realm of god “on earth as in heaven.” But there were still some things that needed to be worked out. We see a really good example of that in Romans 14. There, Paul stated that some people think only certain days are holy, while others think all days are the same. Some people think they can eat whatever they want while others think only certain foods can or should be eaten. Paul goes to great lengths to bring these people together without them having to compromise their convictions. And that’s crucial. So much so, in fact, that he says at the end of the chapter, “Blessed are those who don’t feel guilty for doing something they have decided is right. But if you have doubts about whether or not you should [follow your convictions], you are sinning if you go ahead and do it. For you are not following your convictions. If you do anything you believe is not right, you are sinning” (Romans 14.22b-23; NLT1, amended).

Now, turning to the place of women in the New Creation, the apostles had seen the elevation of women to their rightful status as being equal to men. Mary Magdalene has been regarded as “The Apostle to the Apostles” because she told them what she saw. But she wasn’t the only one! Notice Luke’s account of that story. In chapter 24, Luke wrote, “It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles” (verse 10; CEB). This means that the first apostles were all women! Women were the first people to see the resurrected Jesus. Women were then given the mission to tell the others what they saw. Women were the first witnesses. “Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women” were all the “Apostles to the Apostles.” Furthermore, Paul even wrote about the positions of women in his letter to the Romans (see chapter 16). In it, he referred to them as “deacons,” “sponsors,” “coworkers,” and “prominent among the apostles.”

While being fully aware that women in regular society didn’t hold to these same positions, great care needed to be taken when dealing with this issue. I have this in mind when I read the “problem” passages in the New Testament about women “submitting” to men. It’s the same way I read the passages about slaves “obeying” their masters (even if, as one passage states, they’re cruel masters). And what’s most interesting is that the passages that state women are supposed to submit to men are the same passages that state slaves should obey their masters. I don’t hear too many people saying we should return to having slaves because “the Bible says so.”

The context of those passages about women submitting to men is one of an ancient culture that had to work out living in the Realm of god in their ancient context. That meant dealing with issues like slavery and women in subordinate roles. They spoke about how things were at that time, not how things should always be. And, therefore, they don’t speak about “god’s ordained role for women.” They speak about how ancient followers of The Way needed to blend the roles of women in society with following Jesus within their ancient cultures. However, just as we don’t use those same passages for justifying slavery, so too we mustn’t use them to justify women in subordinate roles. Since our culture, our time in history, is different, we must not use those passages to put women “in their proper place.” We must look at the over-arching story of the Bible - a reconciled creation where people submit to each other in loving service by putting others above themselves. That is where the story is heading. That is the vision we must have when moving forward. We must keep that story in mind when we read these passages. Since we are always moving forward, we can not go back to the “old ways” of doing things just because they’re in the Bible. No. We must continue pressing forward (Philippians 3.14) with our focus on the future where all creation “will be full of the knowledge of [god’s] glory, just as water covers the sea” (Habakkuk 2.14; CEB).

In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC

1 Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

06 August 2012

Morning Star Talk

Thank you, Sara for inviting me to speak this morning. And thank you all for having me. I’ve actually been here a few times before and really enjoyed it.

I’d like to start off by telling you about a dream I once had. I used to live in Chickasha and we had a small but prominent Mennonite community there. The men can be identified by their attire and their...beardiness. In my dream, I’m standing in a farmhouse with a Mennonite man. We’re looking out a window into a field. I turn to him because we’re having a conversation yet there’s no sound. When I look back out the window, I see a huge tornado coming right at us. There’s no way out. When I turn to my companion, he has transformed into a monster. I woke up.

I told a friend of mine about my dream. She said that it was obvious enough to her what it meant. The Mennonite man represented the church. I represented a challenge to the church. The storm and the monster represented the trouble that would come from both outside and inside the church. This dream has been proven to be true time and time again. More so now that I’m part of the Lindisfarne Community.

My life in the empirical Christian religion was normal enough for quite some time. Like a lot of us, I think, when I was a child, I didn’t really realize what was going on in the world or my connection and impact with it. And my adult spiritual life was pretty much the same as when I was in grade school, except that I studied a lot about doctrine, theology, and church history. And I mean a lot. But even when I changed denominations, the worldview, that is, the way of seeing, was pretty much the same. Certainly, there would be tweaks to this or that doctrine, but, overall, things were the same. It wasn’t until I was going through some life-changing issues a number of years ago, that I realized the faith of my youth would not carry me forward.

While going through those issues, I had to re-evaluate long held beliefs - including Christianity as the only “true” religion; that only the “chosen” people would be “saved” to escape this “godless,” miserable world and go to “heaven;” and that “god” was angry with everyone else and “he” would torture them for eternity. Yes, “god” in that worldview is always “male.” After much of what I had grown up believing was now shattered beneath my feet, I started the painful process of rebuilding my faith.

You see, I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was not losing faith in Jesus. I was losing faith in the “church,” the institutional religious business that took the place of the way of living that Jesus embodied and inaugurated.

During this reconstruction process, I started reading and learning about the Celtic Christian traditions from the 4th to 9th centuries in England, Ireland, and Scotland. What I discovered was a way of following Jesus that was unlike anything I had known.

One of the things that set the Celtic Christians apart from others was they were arranged around a family unit. They had a shared community within a monastery led by an abbess or abbott. This was not a top down, hierarchy like most churches but a community built around brothers and sisters led by a parent figure.

While the ancient Celtic Christians were “catholic” in the sense that they were part of the universal church, their way of seeing was vastly different. For example, they saw no difference between “profane” and “sacred.” Since they believed that god birthed all that is, they saw the Light of god within all creation. The milking of cows, the stoking of fires, and the washing of clothing were considered just as sacred as baptism or the Eucharist.

Likewise, because they believed that Jesus demonstrated what god was really like and what true humanity was like, they saw people differently, too. They believed that the light of god was still deep within everyone even if people had forgotten what it meant to be human. Even if that light was covered with layers of falseness. When I read about those people, something deep within me began to wake up.

Reading through the Gospels again, I saw some of those same things. For example, in my old way of seeing, the reason ‘god’ was angry with humanity was because of the sin of Adam and Eve. Therefore, the Light of god was completely gone. But, in the Gospel of John, right there in the first chapter, the writer stated that Jesus was the Word and Light of god through whom all things came into being. That this Light and Life was for “everyone.” And, there in verse 5, ‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it’ (John 1.5; NLT). Seeing these things gave me the confidence that I was on the right path.

Because I was starting to see things differently, I began looking for a local community with whom I could explore these themes. My search led me to the Lindisfarne Community, an ecumenical neo-monastic religious order dedicated to deep spirituality and service. When I went to their website, though, I almost lost hope. They’re based in Ithaca, New York! (So much for local.) But the more I read about this group, the more excited I got! They had drawn a lot of the same conclusions I was drawing from my studies - equality, social justice, non-violence, and so on. Here was a group of people trying to follow Jesus in a deeper way - a way that I was yearning for.

So I contacted the Abbott, Dr Andy Fitz-Gibbon, and we started talking about the Community and seeing if we would be a good fit for each other. After a few weeks, we agreed that I should enter into an official enquiry process. I was introduced to the Community through their email list and then invited to another list with a few clergy where we talked about a lot of things including several doctrines of the church, women in ordained ministry, and the care of the planet. We talked about why the community refers to god as ‘Father-Mother.’ We talked about how the community views “all truth as god’s truth” and, therefore, truth can be found in other faith traditions. We talk about other things as well all the while maintaining that there was something special, something world changing about Jesus of Nazareth. And let me just say, those were some fantastic conversations!

One of the things that I was very interested in was their ability to ordain clergy. Ever since I was in college, I had felt that I was called to ordained ministry but I just didn’t fit in anywhere. Looking back now, I can see why. I wasn’t supposed to.

The Lindisfarne Community can ordain clergy because of Apostolic Succession. That is, they’re tied to the ancient followers of Jesus through a continuous succession of bishops. In fact, their lines of succession connect to all three major branches of the universal church - Anglican, Catholic, and Orthodox. When I read about what was required for ordained ministry, and how they did that, I felt like I finally found a place where I belonged. The feeling was mutual from the others of the community, as well. So, after about two and a half years of intense study, I was ordained as a priest last summer at our annual retreat.

The Lindisfarne Community was started by our Abbess and Abbott, Bishops Jane and Andy Fitz-Gibbon. They’re from northern England and came to this country years ago. Through various encounters and experiences, they felt called to start something linked to the ancient practices of the church but in a fresh new way.

One of those encounters came from a book by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In it he wrote,

The restoration of the church will surely come from a new kind of monasticism, which will have nothing in common with the old but a life of uncompromising adherence to the Sermon on the Mount in imitation of Christ. I believe the time has come to rally people together for this.

This, and another quote from him about a “religionless Christianity” had a profound impact on Jane and Andy. Since Bonhoeffer was executed before he could put these ideas into practice, it’s been left up to others to do so. These two quotes were part of the framework for what later became the Lindisfarne Community.

Unlike the monasteries of old, we are a global community with professed members from Germany, Indonesia, New Zealand, South Africa, the UK, and the US. We seek to live out our calling, not in a walled community away from the world, but in the world. We’re a secular monastic community with ontological bishops, deacons, and priests. That is, we see that the calling to ordained ministry is not something we do but who we are. Like the Celtic Mothers and Fathers, we see that all of life is connected and not divided into profane and sacred categories. Since we’re all over the world, we connect through our Facebook page, email groups, and Skype. Once a year, we have a retreat in New York.

Like other monastic communities, we have a Rule of Life. In it we encourage things like mindfulness and meditation. We talk about a balanced life. We speak about daily practices and soul friendship. Our Rule can be summarized as “To love; to serve; to forgive.” Part of our Rule is to take the Understandings of the Community and make them our own. I want to briefly mention a facet of this.

Our first Understanding states that, “We seek above all else to be as Christ to those we meet - to find Christ within them.” This means that we are to be Jesus to the world. We are to love as Jesus loves. We are to live as Jesus lives. This means that our lives are to be lived in self-sacrificing love for all people. Jesus said that “everyone will recognize that you’re my disciples - when they see the love you have for each other.”

As an extension of this, we search for Christ within others, especially those whom would be considered our enemies. For me, this was life changing. This means that I don’t automatically expect the worse of others like I used to. I’ve learned not to think that people have a “hidden agenda.” I expect people to be the best of humanity. I expect them to treat me fairly and equally. I expect that we’ll treat each other they way we wish to be treated ourselves. And when they don’t? I forgive them and continue to seek Christ within them fully expecting to find him. I hope that they do the same for me.

The Lindisfarne Community has been a great for me. They have been a gift. They’ve allowed me to grow in my life with god in ways I hadn’t even thought of and realize that following Jesus is not about religious systems, but about a way of living. To go back to my dream for a moment, the empirical religious systems of our day don’t like that. At their best, they divide humanity into “us” and “them” categories. But at their worst, they have become places of control, fear, and power. I believe that the Lindisfarne Community pushes back against such things. We’re focused on loving god, loving our neighbors (including the non-human ones), and loving our enemies. We’re committed to lives of non-violence. We’re dedicated to acts of kindness. We recognise the equality and dignity of everyone, regardless of class, color, gender, or sexual orientation. And we know that the only way forward for creation, for us as a global family, is to put others before ourselves in loving service.

Thank you.