Thursday, September 25, 2008

Marshmallow Moments

I've had a lot of wonderful conversations since this past Sunday about "marshmallow moments." I told a story in my sermon of a vivid memory with my younger brother, sorting out marshmallows two by two to make absolutely sure it's "fair", only to find that my parents gave him some more. I don't always post a link to my sermon, but would like to do that today for anyone who has time to listen. Maybe you've had "marshmallow moments," too, from early childhood to last week at work - moments when you feel shafted, when life seems so unfair. The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard reminds us that grace is not fair. It's a gift. How can we approach life as a gift instead of always comparing ourselves with others? Here's the link to my Sermon Archive and you can click "Turnabout is Fair Pay" from there.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Blessing of St. Teresa

Let nothing disturb you
nothing distress you;
while all things
fade away,
God is unchanging.

Be patient,
for with God
in your heart
nothing is lacking,
God is enough.

As I reflect on this blessing of St. Teresa today, I pray that you give me neither poverty or riches, neither ease or angst, neither notariety or irrelevance. Give me, oh Lord, just what I need to serve you with my whole heart, for your gifts are enough. Nothing is lacking.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Forgiveness is the Attribute of the Strong

I saw this quote today and wanted to share it, since my sermon last week generated several good discussions about forgiveness around the church. The quote is "The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong." Mahatma Gandhi

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Spirituality and Elections

I read a fascinating column on spirituality and elections that we might want to keep in mind as we sort through all the mudslinging this year. My favorite quote is "Yes, we rightly have an institutional separation between church and state in this country. Which is for the protection of both. But on a human level it is much more messy." It has been interesting to watch the intricate weaving of religion and politics during the last few elections cycles, for good and for bad. Another good quote is "I'm sure life might be simpler if we had a clear separation between faith and politics. But we can't divorce the two because we can't be human and not be spiritual. And this connection means that we must make sure that political ideology doesn't run away with our churches and also that our churches don't disconnect from the political sphere. We have to live in this tension, make choices and accept the consequences." I think the idea of living in the tension, and doing our best to integrate faith and life as a voter, is priceless. The full article is at Spirituality and Elections.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Pastor's Spiritual Life

I found an article on the The Pastor's Spiritual Life I encourage you to link to. I really appreciated the article and couldn't agree more!

I have been a pastor for 19 years. About halfway through that journey, a series of experiences cracked open the hard outer shell of my heart and I realized how empty I was on the inside. I was functioning well and doing a good job, but not attentive to the hidden cave of my own soul. I found spiritual formation experiences to be lifegiving water, first through retreats at the monastery and then through the Academy for Spiritual Formation. There was an immense and intense cavern of emptiness within me that I was trying to deny and hide from my own consciousness, yet it was just waiting to be explored. When Christ's healing light began to shine on that hidden space, it became quite a beautiful journey of discovery.

We live in such a functional, success-driven culture that I think pastors unfortunately do not discover this deep truth unless they make it through a time of heartache or struggle and rediscover their thirst for God.

We are so much more prone to "doing" than "being". The key is growing to abide in Christ, the true vine, and trust in him for the fruit. We abide through making time and space for God to do soul work in us.

I would add one thing to what they have written in the article. They note the important disciplines of prayer, scripture meditation, and silence. These are indeed means of grace, but I would add authentic, honest community (through a covenant group, spiritual direction, etc.) as a necessary ingredient. This was the power of the Methodist society, so we should be the first to recognize its importance in our spiritual formation. Our spirituality can not burn brightly when void of relationship and loving, mutual accountability.

There is much focus on effectiveness in ministry, but the article has rightly shown that we define that effectiveness so narrowly, and usually in merely functional ways. Perhaps our lack of fuller vision is a byproduct of our denominational anxiety about institutional loss. For me, it is all about finding my holy center in God.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Dancing in Front of the Casket

I went to a funeral recently that was one of the most wonderful resurrection experiences I've ever had. It was for an outstanding Methodist laywoman and friend, held at a Missionary Baptist Church where some of her family attend. It was so amazing, so energizing to attend a funeral of African American style and spirituality. The singing, the constant improvisation, the musical praying, the dialogue of Word and music, and the wonderful processional and recessional was a rich liturgy, though not in the sense I have usually thought of liturgy. It was so freeing, and so joyful. It opened my heart.

One of the most striking moments was when the choir was singing a selection and a woman near the front, dressed in a pink pants suit, jumped up and started dancing in front of the coffin. I don't mean a "liturgical dance" ... I mean it was a holy boogie! She just danced in joy around our friend's body. I'd never seen anything like it, and since I was sitting to the side (near the piano where I shared a musical selection earlier), I got a full view of her face. In some ways, it was the most beautiful worship moment I've ever seen. I found myself swept away for a moment into the glory of heaven.

And why not dance in front of the casket? Do we not believe in resurrection and new life? Do we not believe our friend had been ushered into heaven? How can we hold back this joy?

Monday, September 8, 2008

A Little Humor About Prosperity Spirituality

I love this lighthearted look at a contemporary American spirituality that I find quite troubling.

All humor aside, I find prosperity teaching to be lurking around our religious climate. Ultimately it's a dead-end street. Christ did not come to help us get rich, achieve great things, be successful, or win friends and influence people. He came to save, which (Biblically) means to make whole that which is broken, to heal. Jesus is not a tool I keep in my pocket to pull out and use when I want something. He is the Way, and he is an entirely new way, the way of opening my heart to the bigger picture of God's grace rather than focusing on the little picture of myself and what I want and desire. Faith is about taking up a cross that leads to new life. It's about abiding in the true vine, and trusting that our lives will bear fruit God has designed for us. This is the greatest abundance of life, not that God showers us with all the blessings we desire and it trickles down to others, but that we become part of the great picture of what God is blessing. Even our problems, struggles, and pain are not so much things to get rid of but part of the context of a bigger picture. I prefer to think not that Christ gives us all things, but that all things draw us to Christ.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Thoughts After the Political Conventions

I don't normally write about politics on my blog, in part because one thing I love about Christian faith, and about contemplative spirituality in particular, is that it is a journey that transcends the things that divide. I do think it's important to vote and be involved in social action and transformational ministry as a part of our Christian call, but I also believe that faithful Christians who prayerfully consider what is best will vote in different ways and believe in different views on complex issues. If we do not believe this (and claim there is only one "Christian" way to look at things), we not only do a grave disservice to the theory of the democratic process, but to the exercise of Christian ethics!

Well, both the Democratic and Republican conventions are over and the darker side of politics (i.e. mud slinging) has certainly begun. I always struggle during elections because it seems like we give into taking the low road. I see too much posturing and not enough intelligent discussion. Those of us who are committed to prayerfulness, and to the principle of practicing the presence of God as a radical alternative to "us and them" thinking, can also slip into the anxious bantering.

Not me. I invite you to join me in refraining from labeling, categorizing, and generalizing and trust the process. I want to encourage all of us prayerfully consider who we will vote for and trust that if others do the same, the outcome is probably going to be generally best for us. If not, the journey will teach us something.

As a Christian, I have thought a lot about a variety of social issues. I do not believe either major party is completely right or completely wrong. Both parties need to grow, to improve, to consider and reconsider their positions. I believe with one major party's platform about some important matters and with the other party's platform about other matters. So I vote based on what I think is best overall in terms of being faithful to what I believe is most important. And all of this is trumped by my spirituality of the kingdom of God, which I believe is not of this world but is breaking in by waves of the Spirit.

Let me add that no matter what the outcome of the election in November, this is going to be a historical, barrier breaking experience we should all be very proud of! Talk to your children about this and reflect on what this means. Either the first African American or the first woman will be elected. Either way, we are witnessing history and social change, and one important step of healing for a long history of brokenness. I have longed for this day.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Meditation on Our Anniversary

This weekend, Sandy and I retreated to Atlanta and Stone Mountain for our 20th anniversary. We ate at Everybody's Pizza, the first place we ever went out to eat together. We replayed our first date at the Stone Mountain Laser Show. What a wonderful trip down memory lane.

It is amazing to reflect on what marriage means to me. What a beautiful design God laid down for our lives. God so ordered our lives that we would become one flesh and create a family. Sandy and I participate in the picture God pressed into the fabric of creation, and there is great blessing in being part of something much bigger than we are. It's not that marriage is an institution, though our culture is built around that assumption. No, it's that marriage is a form of completion, a way of being made whole. It's not the only way, and there are certainly those called to the single life. But for us, it is an integral part of our spirituality. Marriage is companionship, it is togetherness that brings our loneliness into a sense of wholeness. It is both solitude and communion. It is oneness for our brokenness.

My wife does not complete me in the sense that Christ completes me. But together, Sandy and I journey in love. We are not alone on this lone quest for God. There is great wisdom in the vows of marriage. There has been better and worse, there has been richer and poorer, there has been sickness and health. But we honor each other with all of who we are.

I'm thankful for 20 years of finding great joy in the stuff of life. It's a joy that comes not because every moment is "happy," but because we are finding it together. Marriage ushers our spirits into the great joy and praise of creation. We were made for one another.