Wednesday, March 31, 2010

An invitation

Penny told me about a fellow student who had arrived in the painting studio happy. Why her happiness? Someone had invited her to church. That person, she said, thought enough of her and enough of the church to invite her to Sunday worship.

Sadly, many of us Christians are hesitant about inviting people to our churches. I'm not sure why. Perhaps we don't want to be thought pushy. Or we don't want to be told no. Or --could it be?--we don't want others to think of us as evangelicals, as if that were a bad thing.

Thank God, Mary Magdalene, the first witness to the resurrection, was eagerly evangelical, telling the disciples, "I have seen the Lord."

In our hesitancy, we fail in our baptismal call to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ--to tell others, in our own words, how our relationship with him helps us overcome fear, stress, suffering and live in confidence, hope, joy.

As a consequence, people who are hungry for Christ and for a connection with him through the church--sometimes without even knowing it--go away unfed, and our churches are poorer for their absence.

No wonder many mainline churches are declining in membership, including the Episcopal Church, while evangelical churches--whose members are excited and articulate about the saving power of Jesus Christ and of his life-changing love--are exploding?

This Holy Week, why not let someone know that you care about him or her and that you care about your church? Invite that person to attend worship with you this Sunday, Easter Sunday, properly called the the Sunday of the Resurrection.

Together, you'll hear the proclamation of the Good News in word, sacrament, and fellowship:
God raises Jesus from the grave, defeats death, and opens up life to us in its fullness now and forever.

That's the Good News that Mary Magdalene shares with the disciples, news that disciples have shared with others for more than two-thousand years, news that Christ calls us--evangelicals, all--to share with others.

And that sharing can begin with a simple invitation to church this Sunday, which says: "I care about Christ. I care about my church. And I care about you."

Thursday, March 25, 2010


A friend told me of a recent trip out of town with a companion. All the way up to their destination and all the way back, the companion, mobile phone in hand, texted people.

From what I hear and see--including drivers thumbing the keys on their mobile phones while their cars are in motion--my friend's companion is a typical--and sad--captive in this hyper-connected 21st century.

Increasingly, the I-Phone and the Black Berry are as essential for many people as an oxygen tank and tube are for a person with emphysema.

Many regard the mobile as a lifeline to the larger world, which can be good and necessary. But it can also be a way to ignore others. It can distract the user from life that's happening right now. And some users might even think that it's the one thing keeping them from disappearing into silence and nothingness.

I text; therefore, I am.

I read recently of a rabbi in Brooklyn who knows the dangers of hyper-connectivity and who's doing something about it.

He's calling on the members of his congregation to observe an Unplugged Sabbath, one day a week, Saturday for Jews, to turn off mobile phones (and what about laptops like this one I'm using?) and observe a day of rest and worship of God, the original intention of God's instituting the sabbath, according to Genesis.

God took a break, the Bible says, and so why don't we humans do the same thing? For a day, be it Saturday or Sunday, the Christian sabbath, let's unplug from the satellite network (and that primitive land line). Shut down the home internet. Go silent and still.

And with hands freed from slavery to our mobiles--and weary thumbs relaxed and rested for a full 24 hours--we can them fold them in prayer to God and lift them up in praise of him who gives life, joy, peace.

Ah, yes, peace. Remember it?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Pub crawls and calls

It's St. Patrick's Day.

In a few hours, downtown Springfield will fill up with green-clad visitors, making their boozy processions from pub to pub to pub....which will be good news for the bars, taverns, and restaurants, and the city's sales tax revenue, but bad news to the revelers tomorrow morning.

Ouch! My aching head.

I wonder what St. Patrick would think about what his feast day has become.

Being zealous in prayer--he writes in his Confessions about how he'd pray a hundred times or more a night as a teenage shepherd/slave--and being passionate about the Good News of God's love in Jesus Christ, he'd rise from knee-bent prayer, I imagine, and take to the wet and dreary streets of center city tonight.

As he did on the green, sheep-trodden hills and in the poor villages of Ireland during the 5th century, he'd share with anyone who'd listen not a harangue about demon alcohol (including green beer), but a passionate and compassionate message about the Lord of Love.

He'd tell of the God who loves, forgives, welcomes, and blesses his beloved with eternal, overflowing life--life that foams--up, up, up--until it runs over, like that beer stein under the tap at the local pub.

Blessed Patrick knew God's love personally, thanks to his rich devotional life, and God's love overflowed from inside him in the proclamation of the Good News and in deeds of love of the Irish people.

Patrick is known in church history as "the apostle to the Irish." He spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ and converted not only the five great Irish chieftans, but also the whole island. In doing so, as God's representative, he drove out evil, sin, and death, but probably not snakes.

At my Confirmation in the Roman Catholic Church as a grade-schooler, I chose Patrick's name as my special confirmation name--I thought the snake legend was cool; and this saint of the church has inspired me ever since.

Patrick has made me want to draw closer and closer to God in prayer and worsip and study and to reach out to others with the Good News of God who loves us all and in whose love we find life in all its richness.

St. Patrick's feast day, for me, doesn't celebrate the pub crawl, but a saint of prayer and proclamation.

And if you're making the pub crawl tonight, enjoy your revelry--but be safe--and how about raising a pint to the saint and answering God's call, telling someone about how you've known the God of love?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A little lectio this Lent

In our Lenten class at church on Wednesday, we continued our discussion of a book called "Longing for God: the Seven Paths of Christian Devotion" by Richard Foster and Gayle Beebe.

We looked at the ancient practice of lectio divina, or divine reading, which is also a subject in the book.

This meditative reading of Holy Scripture is an excellent way of receiving God the Holy Spirit's needed direction for one's life. It also allows the Spirit to continue forming our souls in the image of Jesus Christ.

With my lectio--which, alas, is occasional, not daily--I'll take a passage of Scripture from the readings for the Daily Office in "The Book of Common Prayer," read it over carefully a time or two, and then open my journal and start writing.

Often, writing enables me to receive the Word, God's Living Presence, which feeds my soul just as the Holy Eucharist feeds my soul with the Body and Blood of the Risen Christ.

Tuesday, I read Mark 4. 1-20, the familiar parable of the sower and the seed. I thought, "Oh, that one again. Is there really anything here for me?"Yes, there was, as I found in my writing. Here's what I wrote, my lectio:

"I hear the Spirit saying that God sows the seed, which is his word for the life of us, but that seed only takes root, grows, thrives in us when we put our faith in God the Sower. Then, there is growth. Then there is life in us that is unimaginable--beyond expectation.

"And faith is not only that consent of our wills--that, 'Yes, Lord, I believe....'--but it is also that, 'Yes, Lord, Lord I believe and now here is how I'm going to behave as a consequence.' I'm going to sow that seed of your word in what I say and do, that the whole world might burst forth with the abundance of your kingdom, your presence."

With holy reading, let the Spirit move over the words and within you, bringing forth meaning and the life God intends for you.

This Lent, try a little lectio for the good of your soul.

The hope called Yunus

Penny came home from a lecture on Tuesday night full of excitement.

The lecture, before a capacity crowd at Hammons Hall, was delivered by 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Muhammad Yunus. Dr. Yunus is an economist and university lecturer who pioneered microcredit in his home country of Bangladesh.

Penny said Dr. Yunus was more a storyteller than lecturer. He talked about discovering that poor people in a village close to his university were in debt to local money lenders, with little hope of ever escaping. He learned that the sum total of the villagers' indebtedness was $27. He lent them the money, which they eventually repaid.

And thus began his experience with microcredit. Dr. Yunus went on to set up a microcredit bank, the Grammen Bank, which has opened branches in the developing world and in the United States.

Microlenders make small loans, usually a few hundred dollars, to establish or expand businesses. Microcredit lifts people out of poverty and promotes economic growth and a higher standard of living.

A few years ago, "60 Minutes"profiled Dr. Yunus. It told the story of a man who used a microloan to buy a telephone and install a phone line at his small shop. This phone linked the villagers and their family members scattered around the world. The man provided a service, increased his revenues, and repaid his loan.

In his lecture here, Dr. Yunus also spoke about "social business," whereby a company applies its capital and know-how, creating products that solve social problems and help people, especially the poor.

In one country, he said, poor people were developing foot diseases because they couldn't afford shoes. They had to go without them, which exposed their bare feet to injury and infections.

Dr. Yunus approached Adidas with the problem, and the company responded. It built one plant and then others to manufacture low-cost shoes, making footwear affordable for the poor. Likely,
Adidas made only a small profit on the shoes, but it did earn a huge, social profit: the satisfaction that it had done something to help the poor live better lives.

What excites me about Dr. Yunus is that he's a man of action. He isn't letting despair keep him from solving problems. He's showing that human ingenuity, compassion, and the resolve to push past "No, we can't" to "Yes, we can" are powerful drivers for creating a better world.

Yes, we humans face huge problems of global pollution and climate warming, rampant disease and famine, too few schools and jobs, political corruption and oppression, war and violence, and more. And, yes, some people say these problems are insoluble, that it's better to wait for Jesus to return and take care of everything for us.

And they're right. Partially. Jesus, the Christ, will return and will take care of everything for us--every time we act in faith and hope, letting him work in and through us for that new creation.

Thank God for Dr. Mohammad Yunus and leaders like him. They're showing me the way and inspiring me to act.