23 June 2013

A Grand Promise -- Chapter 1 - Part II: Rescue Mission

As we saw last time, everything that G-d1 created was “supremely good.” We know, though, the “supreme goodness” of creation isn’t the end of the story. Not by a long shot. In fact, that’s just the beginning of the story.

“Sometime”2 after the creation of humanity and G-d’s stamp of approval, everything starts to spin way out of control. G-d gave a rule to the first humans, “Eat your fill from all of the garden’s trees; but don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because on the day you eat from it, you will die!” Well, the first humans ate from that tree and there were dire consequences. Before this, men and women were equals -- both genders were given the same privileges, honor, and responsibilities. But as a consequence of their decision to “eat from the tree,” women were now placed in a “subordinate” place -- they were now “beneath” men. Furthermore, instead of them falling down dead, they suffered a worse fate -- exile. They were driven from their home and their close relationship with each other and with G-d was broken.3

As the story continues to unfold, there’s murder, more lies, more murder, incest, the slaughter of animals for food, the slaughter of peoples for their lands, slavery, etc., etc.

And that’s all in Genesis!

But there’s good things, too. Love. Peace. The building of communities. Nations. Governments. Industry. Architecture. The evolution of humanity.

And the plan to fix it all.

That’s right. At the beginning, with all creation falling apart, G-d puts together a plan to fix everything. And, for some of us, this plan will be somewhat of a shock. The “fix” is not the destruction of everything, visible and invisible. It’s not the annihilation of the cosmos. It’s not the complete decimation of creation.

Not even close.

The plan is a rescue operation. The plan is a reconciliation operation. G-d’s plan is to restore creation.

G-d’s rescue plan all starts with a couple -- Sarah and Abraham, an elderly couple who didn’t have any children. G-d makes a covenant (a special type of agreement) with Sarah and Abraham and thus begins a long and deep relationship with them. Part of the promises that G-d makes with them is that Sarah will conceive and deliver a child. There’s more to this covenant than just Sarah having a child, though. G-d has a special purpose for this family. In Genesis 12, G-d tells Abraham,

I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you” (1-3; NLT4).

In other words, G-d is going to work through Sarah and Abraham’s family, through humanity, to rescue and reconcile and restore creation. It won’t be an easy mission. But, I guess when you’re G-d, you’re used to difficult tasks.

However, there’s a big snag in this plan. I’m sure it didn’t take G-d by surprise,5 but it does take the reader by surprise. The people through whom G-d would restore everything is in need of rescue themselves! It’s like when the coast guard goes out to rescue someone in a hurricane only to find that the hurricane kicks it up a notch and the coast guard finds themselves in trouble. Then the Navy goes in!

So, Sarah and Abraham’s family are part of the problem.

As their story unfolds, we see all of the things I mentioned above unfold -- lies, trafficking (one group of brothers actually sells their brother into slavery6), deceit, incest, and so on. In other words, the story of the Bible shifts from one about the entire cosmos and centers in on this little family.

And rightly so.

Just like in a movie, the story teller paints a broad brush overview -- the basic plotline -- but then zooms in on one aspect of the story to show how the plot line will be carried out. It’s the main point to the rest of the story. It’s how the story will be played out; how it will reach the big climax at the end of the summer blockbuster.

The story of G-d’s promise to Sarah and Abraham is sort of like that. They’re like a microcosm of creation, if you will. They represent humanity and by extension, the whole cosmos. Through a series of ups and downs, ins and outs, we follow the story of the Hebrews (i.e., Israel; Sarah and Abraham’s family) as they move throughout history. There’s times of peace. Times of war. Times of feast. Times of famine. But one of the main themes that comes up again and again is that of exile and return. Just like we saw in the story above, Israel will be driven (or taken) from their homeland, held captive for several years, and finally allowed to return.

The first, and perhaps biggest, story that sets the pattern for the exilic theme throughout the history of Israel is the story of the Exodus. It’s such a big story that it starts in the second book of the Bible -- aptly named Exodus -- and continues on through three other books until we get to the book of Joshua. It’s a very familiar story. There’s been some great movies made about this event (being a lover of old movies, one of the greatest was the 1956 classic, The Ten Commandments, directed by Cecile B. DeMille and starring Charlton Heston).

In this story, Sarah and Abraham’s descendants, the Hebrews, went to the nation of Egypt because of a famine. The person in charge of all the food in Egypt just happened to be a man that was sold into slavery by his brothers when he was a child (yep, the same one I mentioned above). That man was named Joseph, the child of Rachel and Jacob (who later changed his name to Israel), the grandchild of Rebekah and Isaac (the promised child of Sarah and Abraham). Because of the famine, all of Joseph’s ancestors move to Egypt and live and grow there. They grow so large in fact that the new Pharaoh (or king), who doesn’t know the story about Joseph’s family, decides to enslave them since they out number the Egyptians.7 But no matter how difficult Pharaoh makes it for the Hebrews, their numbers continue to grow.

After a while, the Hebrews started “crying out” to be rescued from their slavery. Upon “hearing” the cries of the people and “remembering” the covenant with them (remember, the promise was made to the entire family), G-d put together another rescue operation. This time, however, it’s on a much smaller scale than before. But, as we mentioned above, -- the story of Israel is the story of the whole cosmos. What G-d does for Israel, G-d does for the whole of creation.

G-d selects Moses, one of their own people, to be the leader -- a stuttering murderer who is also in exile. (Are you starting to see the pattern here?) In one of the most famous scenes in all history, G-d “appears” to Moses on a mountain in a “burning bush” that’s not consumed by the fire. G-d tells Moses that he’s been chosen to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.

~~~
  1. See my note on the first article about why I spell the word “God” in this way.
  2. Again, too much time has been wasted on whether the “days” in the creation stories are “days” in how we in the 21st century understand them, or if they’re some ancient way of understanding them, or if they represent different ages/stages of evolution.
  3. Genesis 2-3.
  4. Passages marked NLT are 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.
  5. Isaiah 46.9-11.
  6. Genesis 37.
  7. Personally, I’ve never understood this point in the story. It seems to me that you wouldn’t want to enslave a group of people that outnumber you. They might decide to revolt and then you’re in trouble. But, I guess that’s why I’m not a national leader.

19 June 2013

2013 Lindisfarne Community Retreat -- A Reflection

Here is my reflection on this year’s retreat. I’ll break this down into three sections. General, People, and Ordination.


General
The focus of this year’s retreat was Serving Others: Seeking Wellbeing. In our first session, we discussed where the Lindisfarne Community (LC from here forward) started, where it is now, and where it is going -- at least in one area. And it’s to that bit I will focus on.


The LC’s “Mother House” (the building overseen by the Abbess and Abbett) is in Ithaca, New York. It’s where LC started and continues to be a place of ministry and support. Over the last year, one of our priests has been cultivating a “Daughter House” (the building overseen by a Prioress or Prior). This is kind of like a “local chapter” of the Mother House, where the Prior follows closely to the model of the Mother House. In this instance, however, New Seeds Priory also adds a Zen Buddhist element. It’s an inter-spiritual, contemplative practice community. This is an exciting new chapter for our community. It sent my little brain percolating! I’ve been trying to do something similar here in Oklahoma but I’m still in the refining process. I have to find the practices that work well for me but also that’s inviting for the community around me. It was great to see the recognition and support of the community for Scott, the Prior of the Daughter House.


The rest of the session dealt with different aspects of Wellness. The wellbeing of others -- how we take care of others -- and wellbeing of ourselves -- how we take care of us. The sessions were quite good, as I have come to expect, with great information as well as practical applications.


One of the highlights for me was the panel conversations. One conversation focused on the medical field. A lot of people in the LC have a vocation in the medical realm, whether it be on-call support or hospice chaplaincy  and/or nursing, or volunteer work. One of the questions posed to this panel was, “How are you Christ in your job?” With some of those positions already mentioned, it seems kind of obvious how those people would answer. But others were not so obvious. But upon reflection, they’re obvious, too. When one does on-call support for crisis types of situations, one has to be compassionate, kind, patient, a deep listener, while feeling for promptings from the Holy Spirit. Some of the examples of that was how a person called frustrated and angry because she had already spoken to several people and “You never listen to me!” The support person was very clear, “Well,” she replied, “you haven’t talked with me.” After a few moments, the caller was calmed down and thanking the support person for being there and listening.


It brought back to my mind something a colleague once said to me after I had been doing some contract work with him. He said, “You should get ‘Minister of IT’ on your business cards. I mean it. I really appreciate how you’ve completely calmed the situation and repaired the relationship between the staff and IT.” I had forgotten that. That panel conversation helped me see that one could be Christ in whatever work environment one is in. The question for us to consider is, “Do we intend that in our places of work? Do we try and exemplify that, no matter what we’re doing?” That panel was a great way of bringing that to the forefront for me. Plus there were some great seeds planted about where one could volunteer in various areas of care. Basically, as I’m sure we’re all aware -- people need help. Who better to bring that aid -- whether it’s just a listening ear or a kind word or a gentle touch -- than people intending to reflect the Love of Christ?


Another aspect of the retreat was on our own wellbeing as givers of care; of giving out all of the time without caring for ourselves. We talked about the various ways this manifests and ways to recognize them beforehand. It seems this is a very widespread problem that goes by many names -- Compassion Fatigue, Secondary Trauma Stress (STS), and Vicarious Trauma. Basically, those are all just other ways of saying “burnout.” You give your support to others, and when you don’t care for yourself, you can lose compassion and empathy until you just come undone yourself. You act out (excessive use of drugs and alcohol, eating and sleep disorders, etc.) until you “hit a wall;” you just don’t care anymore. I’m so thankful to know that there are others who have felt these same types of things I have and found ways of recognizing it and ways of caring for ourselves.


People
While the focus of the retreat was on wellness, it’s also a time of fellowship. It was great seeing my friends and meeting new ones. There was such an overwhelming  kindness and acceptance and companionship and love about getting together with the people from the LC. As Andy our Abbott said, “It’s like a homecoming on one hand and on the other it’s like we never really left.” This sentiment was echoed by many of us.


I thoroughly enjoyed meeting James. He’s been a member for a while but this was the first time I’ve ever met him. He’s such a kind, warm person.


Then there was Beatrice and Timothy Jones. These two were such a hoot! Beatrice’s laugh and spirit really light up a room! And Timothy’s inquisitive, quiet demeanor just seemed to bring a calmness to anyone he was around. I could just set with him for hours!


Yanchy is just a fascinating person. He has so much knowledge and insight to various topics, it’s great for a junky like me to just soak up what he brings to the LC. There’s so much I can learn.


Chris was such a sweet fellow. His quiet Northumberland mannerisms were so...Christlike. A humble and determined man that makes one want to follow his example of service. I was honored to help him find his way around our prayer book, The Way of Living.


Then there was Charlie and Beth. They’re love for each other is so evident. I remember sitting next to Charlie one morning when Beth came over and sat down next to him. After a moment, she leaned over and did something with his hair. “You know,” Charlie said slyly, “I do that on purpose...”


Beth was such a delight! She is the “resident Celtic scholar,” as Andy pointed out once. And it’s so true! If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you know whom I wanted to spend all of my time talking with! But, I controlled myself. I think I only corralled her a half-dozen times. (I’m kidding.) (No I’m not.) (Okay, I am.) (Not really.)


Lastly, there was my companions, Emma and Scott. Scott I’ve had the privilege of getting to know for awhile now (he’s another guy I could really spend a lot of time with), but Emma was new to me. And she was a delight! Funny and insightful and warm. I’m so thankful for their hospitality and company; their openness and humor. They really made me feel welcome and were the best traveling companions.


An honorable mention here goes out to little Sam, Jessica’s 18 month old son. Sam was fantastic! He has such a wonderful demeanor. I had the great pleasure of sitting next to him at lunch one day. We played with his trucks (he loves those trucks!) and I got to make him laugh (he would lean his head back and I would lightly tickle his neck. Gosh, is there anything more joy filled than a toddlers laughter? No, I can’t think of anything either!). Jess is such a wonderful Mom, too. She’s so patient and caring. Often she would stand by just enough to let Sam explore...it was great.


Ordination
One of the things we do when we meet is welcome new members (novices and professed) and ordain new ministers. This year’s retreat was no exception. Part of the ordination service was ordaining Scott to the office of Prior. It was a very moving service for him.


We then ordained the deacons and priests. One of those ordained lives in another country and could not make it to the retreat, but with the wonderful use of technology, he was able to participate with us.


One of the things that happens in an ordination service is the “vesting” of the ordinands. That is where the candidates are clothed with the monastic alb, scapula, community cross, and stole. I had the privilege of vesting Timothy. I remember how it felt when Br. Larry did that for me. I hope Timothy had a similar feeling. It was such an honor for me to serve him in this way.


After the service, there was a host of pictures taken on the grounds of Casowasco Retreat Center. You can see the album on my Facebook page.


Closing
In closing, I have to say that I am very proud and humbled to be part of such a wonderful community. The Lindisfarne Community is an open, inclusive, welcoming community as I have never experienced before. Our community motto is, “To love. To serve. To forgive.” Our prayer is, “To be as Christ to those we meet; to find Christ within them.” For more information about us, please see our website. Also, check out our series of books, The Way of Living (our prayer book and liturgy resource), Secular Monasticism (the understandings and personal stories of some of our members), and An Intentional Life (some of the reflections of our Abbott). All of these are available in softback, hardback, and e-book formats.




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

Br. Jack+, LC

10 June 2013

A Grand Promise -- Chapter 1, Part I: Once Upon A Time


“Once upon a time . . .”

Or, if you prefer . . .

“In the beginning . . .”

That’s how the story starts. It’s a familiar story. One that we’ve heard time and time again in the Christian household. I opened with the line, “Once upon a time,” not to offend anyone but to show that we should think about the Genesis story as that, a story. And by “story,” I don’t mean to suggest that it’s not real or truthful. What I’m suggesting is that we shouldn’t get too hung up on what follows the opening lines -- if those were really 24 hour days or if the serpent could really talk or if the first people had belly buttons.1

The point of the story is that the G-d of Israel, YHWH2, created all that is, visible and invisible. Not only did the Jewish people tell this story in this way, they told it with a particular thought in mind -- that their G-d not only created everything but that the people G-d created were the best of all creation. They were given the highest place of honor -- to be G-d’s representative in the world. We see this in the very first chapter of the story --

“Then G-d said, ‘Let us make humanity in our image to resemble us’ . . . ” (Genesis 1.26; CEB3).

There was a purpose for this --

“ . . . so that [humanity] may take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and all the crawling things on the earth. G-d created humanity in G-d’s image, in the divine image G-d created them, male and female, G-d created them” (verses 26-27).

Later on, G-d tells humanity that they and all the animals and “everything that breathes,” have been given a vegetarian diet (verses 29-30). There’s no killing animals for food “once upon a time.”

Finally, when G-d finished creating everything, G-d stepped back with a G-d size step and looked at everything and said that it’s all “supremely good” (verse 31).

This is extremely important. So important in fact that I want to make sure we get it before we proceed. It’s something we have overlooked for at least 500 years. The ancient Celtic Christians understood the creation story as a birthing story. Everything that came into being was birthed by the Spirit of G-d. Therefore, everything is infused with G-d’s DNA (if you will). The Light of creation is at the heart of all life. This proclamation that everything G-d made is “supremely good” includes all of humanity.

You.

Me.

Our families.

The next door neighbor who revs his car engine every time he pulls into the driveway.

The depressed kid who checks us out at the grocery store.

The single dad working every hour he can so he can make enough money to feed his small children.

The deadbeat mom who fails to support those children.

Even our enemies.

Even the Nazis of the Second World War.

Even the Taliban terrorists.

Even the American terrorists.

Even the people who sell children in the sex trade market.

Everyone.

The G-d who created all of us said we are “supremely good.”

But, obviously, something’s not right. Something went wrong somewhere.

True.

But, before we go there, we must remember that this “supreme good[ness]” has been embedded within all creation. The “divine image” has been imprinted in every human being. Whatever comes next, this is the foundation of all creation and every single person.

Do we understand this? Do we grasp this? Do we believe that in our very souls?

Most of the religions of the world hold this to be true. Although it may be buried deep within, covered by layers of “falseness,4” humanity and all of creation is “supremely good.”

Most religions, that is, except for most of the Christian religion.

Most of us in the Christian household don’t believe this. We’ve been taught that, while that may have been the case “in the beginning,” it’s certainly not the case now and hasn’t been the case for a very, very long time.

However, we need to recapture this. Churches everywhere need to add this back to their belief statements. Whatever else happens in the story (and there’s plenty), this is our foundation.

This is where we come from.

This is who we are at the deepest level.

We are all made in the “divine image” and are “supremely good.”

All of us.



~~~
  1. You would be surprised how much time is  wasted on arguing about such things.
  2. Pronounced “Yahwey (yaw-way).” It’s often translated as “the LORD” in most English Bibles.
  3. Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Common English Bible. © 2011 Common English Bible. All rights reserved. www.commonenglishbible.com.
  4. Christ of the Celts, John Philip Newell. Copyright © 2008 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved. Published by Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Imprint, 989 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94103-1741 -- www.josseybass.com.

09 June 2013

A Grand Promise -- Introduction


This series is about something lost. Something hidden. Something that has been staring us in the face for quite a while and we’ve been taught not to see it. We can catch glimpses of it out of the corner of our eye. Sometimes we see it in the faces of our coworkers, local shop owners, bank tellers, mail carriers, neighbors. Occasionally we see it on television. From time to time we glance quick flashes of it in the great stories and poems throughout the history of the common era (CE).

For many of us, though, that’s all that it is -- a story.

A fairy tale.

A crutch for simple people in desperate times.

But actually, that last bit has been the fairy tale. More like the slight of hand from a very impressive illusionist, we get so caught up in watching what the illusionist wants us to see, that we don’t perceive what’s really going on. And if we do sense it, we’re told just to ignore it. Taught to ignore it. That it’s nothing more than our imagination.

I’m here to tell you, though, that those flashes are the real world. Those glimpses are what’s really going on. They’re the flicker of a grand promise that the world is heading in a better direction than we’ve been lead to believe. Better, in fact, that we would dare dream. Better than I’ll be able to convey in this series. And that’s okay. Because this is G-d’s* dream.

The focus of this series will be on that dream and its implication and  implementation today.

Here.

Now.

Right where we live.

That dream -- G-d’s dream -- tells a story. It’s a story about love. It’s a story about sacrifice. It’s a story about a cosmic event from the distant past that forever changed the course of the world. It’s about the present and how that event radically transforms the way we interact with those around us -- human or non-human. And, ultimately, it’s about the future; about where we’re headed. It’s a story about turning things upside down (or, perhaps, right-side up). It’s a story about the reconciliation of all things “in heaven, on earth, and under the earth” (Philippians 2).

But this story, this dream, G-d’s dream, is one that we can participate in. In fact, it’s up to us --
everyone of us -- to help bring that dream to fruition. And it’s already started.

Before we get to that, though, we need to see what’s happened to get us to that place. So, let’s start at the beginning...


~~~
* I write "G-d" this way not to offend other people and to let the casual reader know that the way I view G-d is probably different from the way they view G-d. When we see the word "God," generally we automatically (subconsciously) think that we are in agreement on what we mean by that. So I do it out of respect for other people's views. It's a recognition that all of us are at different stages of development.

The Feast Day of Columcille -- 2013

Today marks the Feast Day of Columcille (or Columba as he’s more widely known). He’s another one of my favorite Celtic Saints. Unbeknownst to a lot of people, he’s one of the patron saint of Ireland (along with Brigid and Patrick). He’s also one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland.


He’s an Irish monk who lived in the 6th century and started the most important monastery in the world -- Iona (Scotland). In my estimation, he’s responsible for the rise of civilization throughout Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire (see the great book How the Irish Saved Civilization, by Cahill).


There’s a story about how he founded a church in Derry (also known as Londonderry) in the midst of a Druidic sacred oak grove. The story goes that he changed to original plans of the oratory so that none of the trees would be cut down. This should not be seen as a sign of fear on Colmcille’s behalf. On the contrary. It should be seen as a sign of respect and tolerance. In fact, in a poem attributed to Columcille, he wrote:


I do not hold to the voice of birds, or any luck on the earthly world, or chance or a son or a woman. Christ the Son of God is my druid; Christ the Son of Mary, the great Abbot; the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit. My estates are with the King of Kings; my order is at Cenacles and Moen.


Here we see that Columcille had no trouble recognizing Christ in the Other; adapting and adopting other ways of understanding Christ in his own walk. A lesson that many of us need to learn today.


Another great story is about Columcille and the Loch Ness monster! The story goes that Columcille had to cross the river Ness. When he approached the bank, he saw a group of men burying a man. When Columcille asked about this, he was told that the man was killed by a giant monster that lived in the river. Upon hearing the story, he told one of his companions, Lugne Mocumin, to swim to the other side and get the cable for the ferry. Lugne obeyed at once. While he was swimming, the beast rose to the surface and plunged after Lugne, it’s mouth wide open ready to devour him.


When Columcille saw this, he raised his hand and made the sign of the cross. Invoking the name of Christ, he commanded the monster saying, “You will go no further! Do not touch the man; go back with all speed.” The monster raced away terrified at the voice of the saint.


Lastly, there a great story about the end of his life. This story goes that on his way back from visiting others, the aged Columcille rested beside the road. A white pack horse, who used to carry the milk to the monastery, came up to him and laid his head upon Columcille’s chest. Knowing that the saint was about to die, the horse started crying and neighing plaintively, as huge tears fell upon Columcille’s chest.


When his attendant, Diormit, saw what was happening, he tried to shew the horse away. Columcille said, “Let it be, Diormit. Since it’s so fond of me, let it shed its tears of grief on my chest. Consider this: since you’re human and have a rational soul, you can’t know anything about my departure, except what I have just told you. But to this humble beast, devoid of reason, the Creator has evidently in some way revealed that its master is about to leave it.” Columcille then blessed the horse and it turned away in sorrow.


The last words attributed to St. Columcille are:


These, O my children, are the last words I address to you: be at peace, and have genuine charity among yourselves. If you follow the example of the holy fathers, God, the Comforter of all good, will be your Helper, and I, abiding with Him, will intercede for you. He will not only give you enough to supply the needs of this present life, but will also bestow on you the good and eternal rewards which are laid up for those that keep His commandments.



I now leave you with a simple prayer:


O God, by the example of your blessed servant Columba you caused the light of the Gospel to shine: Grant, we pray, that, having his life and labors in remembrance, we may show our thankfulness to you by following the example of his zeal and patience; through Jesus the Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, the One in Three, the Three in One, unto ages of ages. Amen.




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

Br. Jack+, LC