Monday, September 27, 2010

Blessing the Dark Places

Lord, you bless the dark places.

For years now, I have from time to time been led to a visual prayer experience, when Christ meets me in the ancient hallways of my soul with candle in hand. I invite him, in the end, to descend beyond the hidden doorway I am blocking from both him and my own perception. He gently nods and descends the staircase into my hidden darkness.

For years, I allowed him to go to that place and share the light of healing with no need to go there myself. I simply trusted Christ to heal and bring the light. Then for a while, I went along to that dark place behind him and saw there a pier with shimmering waters in the darkness surrounding his light.

Now I wonder, Lord. Lately I've realized this dark place may be a place you call me to explore with Christ as my holy light.

It's not an evil or bad place. It's just a hidden place. There are good things that come from this dark place - the desire to succeed, the yearning to make a difference, the longing for justice. It is a place of passion. Yet there is a dark side to this deep place of primordial urges to protect and defend - the desire to make a name for myself, the weariness of the same old roadblocks I experience in the personalities of others, the resentment that builds over time.

In short, it's the crusader in me who lives in this vast place. Sometimes he expresses himself in hidden ways, sometimes in ways openly related to a project or an agenda I'm working on.

Lord, why I have I spent years afraid to explore this place? Perhaps you are calling me to journey into Holy Darkness, to a courageous and loving confrontation of the shadow side of my humanity. Perhaps you are beckoning me to celebrate the beauty and the alchemy of vitality that arises from my awareness of this mysterious shadow land. Perhaps then I can truly know the healing and cleansing power of Christ's light, which I have invited to that place.

It is a mid-life spirituality, Lord.


Holy darkness, Blessed night,
Heaven’s answer hidden from our sight.
As we await you, O God of silence,
We embrace your holy night.

- Daniel Schutte

Thursday, September 16, 2010

My Distant Uncle's Beautiful Gravestone

A few weeks ago, I described my ancestor's grave at Taylor Memorial UMC near Trussville, Alabama. He was one of a trio of brothers who were Methodist circuit riders, coming out of a Methodist Society in central Alabama starting in the 1820's, long before it was Alabama (it was the Mississippi Conference).

It wrote about how inspiring it is for me to consider that I am walking and driving on hallowed ground where they walked and rode on horseback to spread the gospel.

I included in the blog post my Great, Great, Great Grandfather's grave marker. But my Great, Great, Great, Great Uncle's marker is even more stunning in its eloquent remembrance of his ministry. A picture is attached and the words are below. I hope it blesses you as it blesses me.

Rev. William Taylor
Born August 3, 1799
Embraced religion at 21 years of age
Soon thereof, he commenced to prea
ch the immeasurable riches of Christ and continued to do so until his decease, which took place December 14, 1867

Next to him is buried my great, great, great, great aunt. This is how her marker reads:

Martha, wife of Rev. William Taylor
Born August 7, 1812
Died September 28, 1884
Sleep on loving mother sleep,
This marble shall thy memory keep.
But deeper in my heart is given
The hope that we shall meet in heaven.

Here are all three graves together. Martha Taylor's body is on the left, William Taylor's is in the center, and my direct ancestor Isaac Taylor's is on the right.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

First Hymnal for Atheists?

I saw this YouTube video on Facebook recently and I couldn't resist sharing it on my blog. A nice comic bit from good old Steve Martin for all you lovers of music and liturgy out there!

Monday, September 6, 2010

A Church Burning the Koran on 9/11 ?

This weekend is the ninth anniversary of 9/11. It is a time to remember those that lost their lives in a terrible attack in New York nine years ago by terrorists. This is also a time to be very grateful for those who give of their lives so that violations like this will not happen in the future.

Yet I was deeply disappointed to hear that there is a non-denominational church in Gainsville, Florida that will be burning the Koran in a public ceremony on 9/11. Their logic is that it is because Islam is of the devil, and Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil, then Christians should burn the Koran. On a YouTube video, the pastor asks "why wait" and burns a Koran on film. He squirts lighter fluid on it as it goes up in flames. How offensive.

This is not only a highly inflammatory way of dealing with pain, it is Christianity reshaped into some other image. I'm afraid their logic is not only flawed but dangerous, because it is simply issuing hate repackaged with a Christian label.

There is nothing Christian about hate. Christ came to show us that self-giving love is stronger than hatred, that his very presence (and his presence in the love of Christian community) is enough to change the world. Christ taught to love our enemies and pray for those that persecute us (not that Islam caused 9/11, extremist terrorists did). He proclaimed that others will know we are Christians by our love, and that the new command he would give us is that we must love one another as he has loved us. In short, Christianity's answer to hate is radical love, not more hate. The church is called to give witness to the love of God in this world.

I do believe it's important to stand for what you believe. But this church in Florida is living out of brokenness instead of out of the Spirit. I preached about this as well as the more general tendency we have to reshape religion into our own image, rather than being willing to be continually shaped by it. I addressed it in a sermon entitled "Life in the Potter's House" on the subject of spiritual formation.

My sermon may be accessed by clicking Life in the Potter’s House if you would like to have a listen.

I realize these are very deep and painful issues and there are complex things to work out in the world. But if we throw away the very essence of our own faith, all in the name of defending it, have we not truly become lost?