Sunday, May 30, 2010

A different Memorial Day

At church today, we prayed for those lost in war, this being Memorial Day weekend.

And the Sunday New York Times reports that 1,000 young American men and women have been killed in the war in Afghanistan thus far. Tens of thousands of civilians have also died in that war.

Meanwhile, we're still at war in Iraq.

Despite the administration's setting dates for withdrawals from both wars, I fear that we're locked in endless wars, with more to follow, perhaps the next one being on the Korean Peninsula.
God must surely get weary of my our prayers for those lost in war, whose number rises every year.

And God must surely wonder why we humans disobey his law of love and fail to outlaw war and violence and work together to eliminate the conditions that lead to war; namely, injustice, poverty, oppression.

It's good that we pray for the war dead, hold memorial events to them, decorate their graves.

Best of all, however, would be national and international resolve to say: No more war ever. No more war dead. Ever. And to mean it and act upon it.

Now that would be a fitting memorial to the dead.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

That new thing

It's easy to become discouraged about the daunting challenges we face as the church: scarce resources for ministry, conflict among members, lack of direction sometimes, the obsession with survival.

And yet, I find hope in a fresh movement of God the Holy Spirit, who is renewing the church, Christ's body at work in service to the world.

That movement is called Emergent Christianity, which was the subject of a recent clergy continuing education conference in the Diocese of West Missouri.

Phyllis Tickle, a nationally known writer and speaker, described Emergent Christianity, which has arisen in response to rapid changes in the world and cultures.

In response to dizzying and disorienting change, many people are returning to the ancient traditions and worship of the church. They're deep connections with God, which enable them to live with faith, hope, joy, and purpose in the present.

Emergent Christianity is one of the works of Holy Spirit, who is God at work in the church and the world today.

I want to learn more about Emergent Christianity and how it might inform Christ Church and our proclamation of the Good News of God's love in Christ to young people. Many 18 to 25 year-olds are seeking the Divine, looking for community, and longing for lives of significance.

This summer, I plan to look carefully at Emergent Christianity.

Penny and I will again spend time at the Iona Community, which is located on an island off the west coast of Scotland.

Even before that first sociologist of religion coined the term Emergent Christianity, Iona was such a community.

It was started during the 1930s by Church of Scotland minister and WWI war hero George MacLeod.

MacLeod, who trained in law at Oxford University, had had a profound conversion experience to Christ during WWI. As a renewed Christian (he had been baptised an Anglican), he was deeply influenced by the ancient traditions of monasticism and Orthodoxy.

After and war, he went to theological college and then served traditional Presbyterian congregations in Scotland for a time.

He later went to Iona and, with other ministers and lay people, began to repair the ancient Benedictine abbey. Slowly, they created a new and dynamic Christian community there.

MacLeod was controversial in his day because of his radical vision of the church and stands on social and political issues. During WW II, for instance, he was an ardent pacifist, which brought the wrath of his countrymen.

George MacLeod is now with the saints in heaven.

And here on earth, the Iona Community is still thriving. With communities in Glasgow and elsewhere, Iona is expressing the life of the Spirit in stirring worship, including beautiful music, prayer and study, loving fellowship, youth work, and the vigorous pursuit of social justice locally and globally.

The Spirit is alive in the church, which gives me hope. More and more people are coming to the Lord, finding new life in him, and sharing his life and love in ministry and mission.

Thanks be to God for those fresh expressions of God among us, including Emergent Christianity.

Monday, May 17, 2010

From weeping to rejoicing

Jesus weeps.

Read or listen to the news and the stories about churches that squabble and splinter over their differences.

In our own Episcopal Church, we’ve divided over prayer book revision, over women in ordained ministry, over gay bishops.

Yes, Jesus weeps

And he also prays, as in John’s gospel account of our Lord’s High Priestly Prayer.

He’s facing his passion and death, and he prays with and for his followers that day in Jerusalem, and in all times and places,

He prays that we’ll be one just as he and his father are one in love for one another. Theirs is a relationship of mutual love.

He says that when his followers love one another, we will be united to God the Father and the Son and with one another.

And love—that’s the only important thing—is shown by his suffering, death, and resurrection for the salvation of all, even for those who persecute and crucify him.

Father may they be one as you and I are one.

Sadly, though, too many Christians today, including in our own denomination, are more interested in being right on issues than right in our relationship with God and our fellow Christians through love.

Jesus weeps not because we have differences; we’re human, and we’ll always disagree. But he weeps because we let differences amputate his earthly Body, the church.

Today, we dismember Christ’s body over gay bishops, but tomorrow it will be something else unless we find another way to be the church.

We can. We must. We are at Christ Episcopal Church.

A few Saturdays ago, more than 60 people, mostly Episcopalians, including 15 from Christ Church, spent the day with Dr. Peter Browning of Drury University. Dr. Browning is professor of religion and ethics there.

Dr. Browning led a workshop on homosexuality and the church, and he called it a “collaborative” approach.

We gathered in the parish hall at round tables--people with different views on the subject and different experiences. And we did something different. We didn’t debate or dispute.

No, we listened to Dr. Browning deal thoroughly and objectively with the arguments on homosexuality and the church, pro and con.

He looked at the Biblical passages often cited in the debate, along with scientific data and studies. We heard gay and straight people, in video testimonials, describe their experiences of being Christian.

And we talked—and listened—at our tables. Ours was a conversation. We acknowledged differences, sought understanding, and looked for what unites us—the love of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ—and ways we could work together for his kingdom of love.

We were collaborating.

This workshop was not about changing minds, but changing hearts—not about right and wrong, but about right relationships that were grounded in active, self-giving love for all people.

And for those five hours in the parish hall, we were the answer to Jesus’ prayer for unity within his earthly body.

The important thing is not being right in our opinions, or theology, or interpretation of the Bible, but right in our love of God and love for one another.

And when we are right about the right thing, Jesus rejoices.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Making the adjustment

"Ahh," said a barista friend of mine at Starbucks as she stretched out her back and got ready for the next order.

She said she'd been hurting, but now was feeling better. She'd been to her chiropractor for an adjustment. Her neck and spine were now aligned properly.

If you've ever hurt yourself and then received treatment from a therapist, you know how good you feel, perhaps even immediately.

Worship is like that. On Sundays, we go to church for a weekly adjustment--not a physical one, but a spiritual one.

Monday through Saturday, we're barraged by voices that call out: Do more. Be more. Acquire more.

We're battered by the stresses of work, school, home, problems of all kinds.

We bend and break before temptations and are burdened by sin and guilt.

Like the medieval Italian poet Dante, writing in his Divine Comedy, we soon find ourselves lost in a dark wood. We're hurting psychologically, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.

It's time for an adjustment, which God provides in corporate worship.

When we worship God, we take a break from the craziness, the emptiness, and the pressures of daily living, and we make time for the praise and adoration of the one true God.

We reject the deadly idols of the world and embrace the One who alone gives us the fullness of life.

In the Holy Eucharist, we turn from the internal and external noise and enter into the silence in which the Spirit speaks to us.

We listen to music and anthems and sing hymns, which uplift us and unite our hearts with God.

We pray in the ancient words of The Book of Common Prayer and in our own words and join ourselves to God.

In the Holy Scriptures and sermon, when we pay attention and eagerly seek him, we hear God address us personally with the Word that is meant for us, and our souls quicken with new life.

And in the Holy Communion, as we kneel before God and reach out to him and for him, we receive the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

The sacrament is not just bread and wine, but it's also Christ giving himself to us. It's his real presence, which meets our needs and heals our hurts.

When we worship God regularly, we're fully alive. We overflow with hope, joy--and that precious, although scarce reality in these anxious times: Christ's peace that passes all understanding.

Worship is our weekly adjustment, aligning us with God and keeping us healthy in our relationships with him and one another.

It's that "ahh" experience to start our week.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Graduation is only the beginning

My nephew Connor is being graduated next weekend from Southern Methodist University, and today I sent him a card with my congratulations.

Among the treasures of avuncular wisdom I shared with him is that he make his education a lifelong enterprise, regarding his bachelor's degree in economics as only the beginning of learning.

In 1976 when I was graduated from university, I thought I knew nearly everything, or at least more than those who hadn't been blessed enough to go to college or university. How wrong I was. I quickly learned that I was ignorant--that I had so much yet to learn, and even when I had learned it, I would have much more to learn. And learn. And learn.

Learning is my passion, or at least one of them, and not just learning about history, literature, economics, and other secular disciplines, but also about the Christian faith.

I have so much to learn about the risen and living Jesus Christ and my life in relationship to him and to my fellow believers and to this world for which Jesus died.

In John's Gospel, Jesus promises his followers that he will send them the Holy Spirit, who will lead them into all truth. I often pray, "Come Holy Spirit." Just that. Nothing more.

And I trust that God the Holy Spirit will lead me into a deeper knowledge and experience of God and myself and others and the kingdom.

When I look back on my graduation from university, I see it was just the beginning of my education, as Connor's graduation from SMU will be just the beginning for his. Or so I hope and pray it wil be.

Baptism and confirmation and ordination--graduations of a kind--were just beginnings for me, for God the Holy Spirit is still teaching me, leading me into the fullness of truth.