Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Blogging through The Orthodox Heretic day 36

How do we receive gifts of love and grace? That is the question raised by "The Debt of Love." In this story a holy man, dressed as a beggar, enters the city and sees a barber shaving a wealthy nobleman. He asks for a shave and the barber leaves the nobleman and gives him the shave along with some alms. Touched by the show of charity, the holy man determines to reward the barber. Later in the day, a wealthy pilgrim gives him a bag of gold coins. He returns and offers them to the barber who chases him away with the razor, shouting, "What kind of a holy man are you that you come to reward me for an act of love?"

I struggle with accepting gifts. Many times I have had people offer me a gift born of love and genuine appreciation and have struggled with either turning it down or reciprocating. Now, there re times when gifts are given with inappropriate strings which should be refused, but that just makes it more difficult to perceive and then receive what truly are gifts of love.

It is equally difficult to receive compliments with grace. My/our first inclination is to minimize whatever led to the compliment. "I'm not that good of a player." "Did you hear my mistakes?" or "I've been playing guitar a loooonnnggg time." I have been trying to receive such kind words with a genuine, "thank you."

Blogging through The Orthodox Heretic day 35

The Contented Fisherman is a story that I've heard before... it tells of a man lying in his boat after catching "enough fish" only to be given a life plan by a wealthy industrialist leading to a large business with multiple fishing boats so the fisherman could "enjoy life." To that the fisherman replies, "what do you think I'm doing?"

This story made me remember a statement made to me by one of our church members - "You really have to work like crazy to maintain that laid back California facade." An aphorism also came to mind - "Americans live to work, while Europeans work to live."

There is something in the corruption of the Reformed tradition that is central to the formation of our American cultural mindset that says we must be producing to have value and that production is always measured in economic ways. It is a hard current to swim against.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Blogging through The Orthodox Heretic day 34

This parable begins the parables that are not included in the book but which are available for download from Paraclete Press if you purchase the book directly from them. Unlike the book, these parables do not include commentary... so I'm on my own.

This story tells us of a man who comes upon an injured fox in the forest and sees a tiger approach with fresh game in its mouth. After eating its fill, the tiger gives the rest to the fox. This happens a number of days until the man decides that the lesson to be learned is that God will provide. He goes into the forest and waits... and waits... until he is nearly at death's door from starvation and cries out to God that God has been absent. God speaks - "O you who are in the path of error, open your eyes to the truth. I do not want you to imitate the disabled fox but rather to follow the example of the tiger."

I'm struck by how easy it is to clearly see the actions of God and yet miss them entirely. And at how the history of people of faith so often reflects us learning exactly the wrong lesson because of that. Add to that the hubris that many reflect that they know God's yearnings as clearly as their own and we have a recipe for a mess. We end up with people drawing lines and building walls, claiming privilege and private blessings, turning away from the other... when the lessons we are to learn are exactly the opposite.

I try to be more humble than that... but it is entirely possible that I am blind to my own preconceptions.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Stations of the Cross - Palm Sunday

Twelfth Station:
Jesus Dies

Give me moments to ponder in my heart your supreme love, a love greater than all others, a love for each and every one of your children.

Thirteenth Station:
The Body of Jesus Is Taken from the Cross

It is easy to be kind and to do good when someone is obviously in pain. It is easy to see a way of healing at that time. Grant me sight for those difficult moments when your people are in pain, in longing in much more subtle ways. Give me vision for shades of gray.

Fourteenth Station:
Jesus Is Laid in the Tomb

When I want to keep my resources to myself, even though they would be used better elsewhere, drive me to give. Keep generosity at the foremost of my thoughts, the tip of my tongue and the ends of my fingers. Remind me that the gifts I give now come back one hundred-fold.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Blogging through The Orthodox Heretic day 33

The final parable in the printed version of the book I have is the title parable. In this story a young man is condemned for heresy, a crime for which he is truly guilty. When he is sentenced to death, he does not dispute the charges or beg for his life. He only requests that he be allowed to pick the person to light the flame from among the crowd. On the day of his execution, the judge asks him to choose. As he looks around the crowd, they become more and more uncomfortable as none of them want his death on their conscience. Finally he calls out. "I have held a distorted, muddied and inaccurate view of the divine. I have only one request: that I be set alight by one among you who is innocent of this charge."

Like the story of the woman caught in adultery, this story hinges on the audience being both aware and honest. Unfortunately, in my experience, few fundamentalists are either and I would expect that there would have been someone in either crowd to step forward and claim innocence. I like the way Peter puts it though... "we must question the difference between the heresy of orthodoxy, in which we dogmatically claim to have the truth, and orthodox heresy, in which we humbly admit that we are in the dark but still endeavor to live in the way of Christ as best we can."

Friday, March 26, 2010

Blogging through The Orthodox Heretic day 32

The Reward of a Good Life plays on our expectations and notions of justice. Two brothers live very differing lives - one essentially gives up all to help the poor and dies virtually alone and penniless. The other lives the American Dream and dies in the arms of a loving wife, a good family, and comfortable surroundings. They arrive in heaven and receive the same reward. The first brother is surprised, but pleased and turns to the brother who lived the dream and tells him he is glad they will be together. The second brother weeps at the life he wasted.

Again, we are confronted by the radical nature of unconditional love and unmerited grace. Free floaties for all!

Blogging through The Orthodox Heretic day 31

What is a miracle? Today's parable retells the story of a blind man who is healed by Jesus... only he still is physically blind. As the crowd questions him, he keeps telling them that he was blind, but now he sees.

So what constitutes a miracle? And what does it mean "to see?" Some 22 years ago I had a stark confrontation with my own mortality and the limits of the human body. I was diagnosed with heterozygous familial hyperlipidemia and told that they were unsure if the newly developed meds would help and that if they didn't, I should get my affairs in order. After a few months of serious depression, I began to see and experience life in a different way... a wonderful way. Many folk prayed for me. I still have the condition, but the meds work well for me.

Coincidentally, a church member was diagnosed with the same thing within a few months of me. He was about the same age and had a very similar life situation. Many folk prayed for him. He too experienced a new "seeing" of life. He died a few years later from complications of the disorder.

Were there miracles involved here? If so, what were they? And who experienced them?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Blogging through The Orthodox Heretic day 30

The Book of Love tells us of a God who has grown impatient with the struggles f humanity and the disasters we leave in our wake... so God commands the angels to put together a library containing all of the wisdom needed to avert the disasters. But the library is too large. So, God commands the angels to condense the ideas into a single book... but it is still so large that nobody can lift it, let alone read it. Then God called the angels to condense the wisdom into a booklet, but the people were too lazy to read even the short booklet. Finally, the angels condense the entire library to a single word - love.

If only... All too often those who claim to live by the word only use it as a way of justifying their own prejudices and preconceptions.

Blogging through The Orthodox Heretic day 29

The Last Supper examines the character of Judas... an easy target but also a critical character in the story of Jesus and a central one at that. In this parable, Jesus assures Judas that the bread and cup, body and blood are for him.

Again we are confronted by the radical nature of truly unconditional and undeserved love and forgiveness. Lord, have mercy on me... a sinner.

Monday, March 22, 2010

I Know Its Lent

but everything doesn't have to be serious...

yes, this is sexist and exploitative, but it is funny...

Health Care Reform... it begins

I'm not thrilled with this health care reform bill. It is far too conservative for my taste. I would have much preferred a single payer system for all. I think that would be the most efficient and most effective way to address all of the issues we face. As a lesser option, Medicare for any who want it would have been my second choice. I frankly cannot see how a for profit system makes sense either economically or morally when we're talking about health care delivery. A few observations...

I am appalled at the behavior of the Republicans through this debate. As many have observed, they have used fear mongering as a way of clouding the issue and turning people away from the real questions. Some weeks ago I heard a caller on a conservative talk show make what I thought was a brilliant observation. He said, "If health care is a right, then we must pay for it as a government, regardless of what it costs. If it is not a right, then we must not pay for it, regardless of what it costs." So let me say it right out. Adequate health care is a human right and is included in the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Without adequate access to health care, those rights are meaningless.

For those who yell that funding this right will bankrupt our country... I say we make decisions regarding the way we spend our money. We spend more on the military than every other nation in the world combined. And beyond direct spending on our military, since 9/11 we have spent obscene amounts of money on mercenaries who make up a significant portion of those deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Add to that the tax breaks that Bush gave to the wealthiest of the wealthy, driving up the deficit to where it was larger than all of the presidents before him combined... and we could have easily paid for health care for all. We make choices. They may not be easy choices but we make choices. Choosing to leave over 40 million citizens without health care is neither moral, economically sensible, or wise.

In the New York Times today, Paul Krugman showed a wonderful contrast between the leaders of the Democratic and Republican Parties. Obama, speaking to the dems said,
“Every once in a while a moment comes where you have a chance to vindicate all those best hopes that you had about yourself, about this country, where you have a chance to make good on those promises that you made ... And this is the time to make true on that promise. We are not bound to win, but we are bound to be true. We are not bound to succeed, but we are bound to let whatever light we have shine.”

He called to their best nature and to the true possibility of making this country a better place, let the political chips fall where they may.

Newt Gingrich he comments had this to say, If Democrats pass health reform,
“They will have destroyed their party much as Lyndon Johnson shattered the Democratic Party for 40 years”

by passing civil rights legislation.

I think Gingrich showed his, and perhaps his party's true colors here. If passing civil rights legislation hurt the democratic party - and it did as racism turned many against that party - they still did the right and noble thing. That Republicans used racism to further their political ends in the 60's is to their shame. If health care reform hurts the Democrats in coming elections, I am proud of them for doing what is right rather than worrying about their political futures. If the Republicans again use peoples' fears, racism, and ignorance to further their political ends... shame on them.

I continue to be amused at the videos I see of tea baggers shouting against the reforms... that many of them, perhaps even most of them are of Medicare age... and receive government health insurance. Going back to the conservative caller, if health care is not a right, then we should do away with Medicare and let those folk try to find affordable medical insurance on the free market. Hey! It would solve the problems with Social Security as well (which according to that line of thought we probably shouldn't have either) because a lot of those folk would be dying a lot sooner. (sorry for the cynicism, but it is true)

I read a conservative Christian board online every now and then and they are actually talking about secession! One of the posts, spoke about the producing states seceding, leaving behind the states that drain resources like CA to fail with a federal government that has lost its way. First, that is the stupidest thing I've ever heard. CA is not a producing state? Come on! Technology all begins here. The vast majority of fruits and vegetables grown in the US are grown here. The one industry - like it or not - that actually exports product from the US - the movie industry - is located here. I could go on. And it is one of the most frightening things I have ever heard. To take up arms because you disagree with decisions made by the properly elected leaders of the country? I don't even know what to say.

Finally, the one piece that I would recommend to Democratic policy makers is to modify the bills to bring the changes into being more quickly. The longer it takes, the more people suffer and the more easy it will be for the Republicans to continue the fear tactics.

Blogging through The Orthodox Heretic day 28

The Empty Exchange is a parable of reconciliation. Two lifelong friends find their relationship damaged when one has an affair with the other's wife. An apology is rejected and they live years without the relationship which had been so important to both. Years later, they find reconciliation when the first rejects a second apology, understanding the pain and brokenness that had opened the door to the betrayal.

In contrast to forgiveness which may come before repentance, Pete says that repentance is a prerequisite for real reconciliation to take place. I'm chewing on this one. I think he is correct. Still, in this story, if the one wronged had made a move sooner, they may have repaired their relationship years sooner.

I find myself thinking about my closest friends and wondering whether there is anything they could do that would cause me to break off my relationship with them... and if so, how I could find reconciliation.

Stations of the Cross Week 5

Tenth Station:
Jesus Is Stripped of His Clothing

When I am tempted to be a follower of societal norms, correct my direction. Allow me to only be a follower of one path, the one of truth. Never allow me to grow so weak that I am a pack member, but only allow me to run with your pack.

Eleventh Station:
Jesus Is Nailed to the Cross

Peel my prejudice away and open my arms that I may embrace all of my family on this world. It is tempting for me to take my anger out on others. Grant me strength to love and not to lash out. Make my hands those of healing and not those of hate.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Blogging through The Orthodox Heretic day 27

In some Christian (and Muslim) circles, the afterlife is the center of everything and often it is visualized in terms of the rewards of this world - mansions, golden street, crowns encrusted with gems, even beautiful young virgins... The parable, Mansions, tells us of Jesus describing just such a heaven to his disciples as they sit around a fire. One by one they fall asleep until only one poor, old, anonymous disciple and Jesus are left awake.

the poor disciple asks Jesus whether there will be room for such a one as him in such a place. After all, he has never even seen a mansion. Jesus replies that tucked away in a corner is a cramped little stable with nothing to commend it inside or out except that on a clear night the stars can be seen through the cracks... and he will live there. In this little stable, Jesus says, "you can stay with me."

What are the true treasures of faith and faithfulness? Surely they have nothing to do with gold, mansions, jewels...

Friday, March 19, 2010

Blogging through The Orthodox Heretic day 26

Pete continues the theme of transformative love with another retelling of the Prodigal Son. This one is very much like the original with one more detail... while the son returns home, he doesn't truly repent until after his father welcomes him home. After the party, the son weeps for what he had done.

In his commentary, Pete talks about forgiveness coming before repentance rather than the typical formula of repentance then forgiveness. I like it... as we read in A Heretics Guide to Eternity, free floaties for all.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Blogging through The Orthodox Heretic day 25

Overthrowing the Emperor examines power. The emperor rules over a huge empire with an army that inspires fear in the entire world and then he has a dream where he sees his empire in ruins and army destroyed and hears God speak, "There is a power that transcends your earthly power."
He visits the cathedrals and temples. He seeks out all of the leaders of the religions in his empire. He engages in the spiritual practices of the various traditions but experiences nothing. Finally he learns of a holy man who is dying but may have something to teach him. On his death bed, the holy man tells the emperor that the power he seeks is found in the face of the orphan, the poor, the illegal alien, the starving man. God's power is seen in weakness."

God's power is so often misunderstood. Even the scripture that tells us that God's weakness is more powerful than human power is seen as an affirmation that God's weakness is still a power of the same sort humans wield and that the verse is only telling us that the range of God's power is so much above ours that even the lowest edge of it is higher than the highest edge of ours... Pete is telling us that God's power is an entirely different category than ours and truly is found in that which we see as weak. A baby overthrows the principalities and powers of the universe. Peace overcomes violence. The absence of force allows revolutionary change.

I'm currently listening to Jeremy Scahill's book on Blackwater which tells the story of the rise to prominence of his mercenary army but also some of the story of the theocon movement and their quest for power. These are folk who, for the most part, call themselves Christians. As I think of their expression of discipleship, I cannot recognize the Jesus I know. Certainly their lust for power stands at odds with the mission and ministry of Jesus as I understand it.

Blogging through The Orthodox Heretic day 24

The Father's Approval is a story of the transformative power of unconditional love. A father loves his son, who loves the father back, but as long as the father is critical of the son's life choices, no change takes place even though the son is not entirely happy with his direction either. When the father finally is able to say to the son, "I love you exactly as you are and you don't need to change anything," the son begins to change.

It has been those folk who have loved me with out preconditions or expectations who have been most important in my formation... and I am thankful for each of you.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Blogging through The Orthodox Heretic day 23

In Blindness a scribe encounters Jesus and calls out "Have mercy on me!" Jesus stops, lays hands on him, and immediately the man becomes blind and cries in joy. Jesus tells him, "You will be blind for a while," to which he replies, "It does not matter for the moment you touched me, I saw all I ever need to see."

Again, I'll go in a different direction that Peter in his commentary... I was struck by the impossibility of reproducing a mystical experience. For some folk that leaves them lost. They have experienced the holy and when it never happens again in the same way or perhaps with the same intensity, they lose any faith. Perhaps the one experience is enough?

It also had me thinking of faith and doubt. You can read an earlier post to get my thoughts on faith and doubt as fraternal twins. Perhaps a mystical experience opens us in a new way to doubt as well as faith...

Monday, March 15, 2010

Blogging through The Orthodox Heretic day 22

I'm back on schedule!!!

The Believer tells us the story of a man who considers religion irrational yet is seen praying a prayer that many others believe will bring wealth and health. When asked about it, the man states that of course he does not believe it will work... but the priest had assured him that the prayer works even when you don't believe it.

I'm not entirely sure I understand where Pete is taking this but it made me remember back to a time when I was very ill and the prognosis was not clear. I remember not wanting to pray. It wasn't that I stopped believing in God, I just didn't believe God would do answer in a positive way. I later found out that a large number of people, some of whom I didn't get along with, were praying for me. I believe it was those prayers that got me through. I'm glad that when I didn't believe, someone else did.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Stations of the Cross - week 4

Eighth Station:
Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem

My own reflection clouds my judgment. Break my mirror so that I can see beyond it. Squeeze out my ego when I have become too self absorbed. The world is larger than me or mine. I can do more with you.

Ninth Station:
Jesus Falls a Third Time

Grant me strength to be crazy. Help me to jump off cliffs and to crawl into dark places. Keep my talk and step in time together.

Blogging through The Orthodox Heretic day 21

Betrayal... in this little story the wise old teacher is coming to the end of his life and struggling with a faithful disciple who has never gone quite far enough. Finally, after challenging the disciple, the teacher hears the response that the disciple ever has and never will betray his master by questioning the master's teaching or deviating from his path. The teacher responds that in not deviating, the disciple has already betrayed the master.

As a musician this one rings true immediately. It is the ones who see things with new eyes and hear things in new ways that move the traditions forward. I think of Jimi Hendrix who made an electric guitar do things nobody had ever imagined before. Likewise, Michael Hedges took acoustic guitars to places nobody had ever been. If both had just continued to follow their mentors, music would be much less rich today. The same is true in our spiritual lives. I like Karen Armstrong's image of real religion as an art rather than a science... it is only as we push boundaries where they never were meant to go that the art becomes better.

Blogging through The Orthodox Heretic day 20

Day 20 hooks a lot of my issues from the very beginning. The title is "God Joins the Army." A significant part of my formation took place in one of the historic peace churches - The Church of the Brethren. I believe that a follower of Jesus should not ever engage in violence and must not serve in the military. When we lived in Pennsylvania, a hotbed of historic peace churches, there was a popular bumper sticker that said, "Loving One's Enemies Probably Begins with Not Killing Them." Makes sense to me.

From the title you can see this involves the military and indeed, a war with the central question being, "whose side is God on?" The answer in the parable is that when God is involved, the "oppressed always win."

I certainly believe that God always sides with the oppressed but to say they always win is naive at best... which raises questions regarding the weakness of God.

Blogging through The Orthodox Heretic day 19

One of my oldest and closest friends sent me an e-mail the other day after I mentioned how difficult it has been to stay with this little discipline. Tom told me that the commitment is the good part and to keep at it as best as I can...

that was before I got three days behind.

So... I actually read day 19 on day 19 but didn't get around to writing. The title is the Agnostic who became an Atheist. The story tells us that the agnostic spent years trying to definitively prove the non-existence of God to no avail. He made it his life's work until in his ate 50's he began to despair that he would never succeed. One evening in his study, he was surrounded by a deep stillness. Then he heard a voice speak, "Dear friend, I do not exist."

Pete says that to say one does not believe in God or that "God" does not exist implies a definition of God... one does not believe in a certain conception of who God is and likewise to say one does also implies a certain conception of who God is. You can run with tat one.

The story made me think of a long discussion I had on an airplane with a staunch Calvinist. She told me that God had created her brother, gay... so that God could condemn him to hell. As we talked she looked at me and said, "You and I do not worship the same Jesus." She was absolutely right. If anyone was to ask me whether her god exists, I could easily say, "no." Indeed, if her god is the only option... then I think I'm an atheist.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Blogging through The Orthodox Heretic day 18

The Mission of Judas is a thought provoking take on the disciple we love to hate. This story tells us of a dream Judas had that showed him everything that would happen, beginning with his betrayal of Jesus and going all the way through history with the church condemning him. He awakes knowing what he must do as without his betrayal the work of Jesus could not be completed.

Pete asks whether certain acts that appear to be fundamentally against God might actually be gestures of fidelity to God? Is it possible that Judas was also sacrificing himself to the mission of God's grace?

At the very least we must read this story and the scriptural text and wonder whether things are always or even ever as clear as they seem. And we must look at our own hearts and ask the same questions regarding our motivations and our fidelity to the call placed upon our lives.

Blogging through The Orthodox Heretic day 17

Day 17 (again, a day late) is the title parable The Orthodox Heretic. In this story a man enters a town seeking asylum. He is running from his home where the authorities want to arrest him for criticizing the state and the church. The caretaker of the church takes him in and offers him protection. Upon learning this, the leaders of the town search the scriptures and decide that the man should be handed over to the authorities. They should respect their leaders and not place their town in danger. The caretaker refuses, saying that the scriptures demand he care for this man. Then the leaders pray for God to speak aloud to all of them and convince the caretaker to do the expedient thing. Finally God speaks and tells the caretaker to turn over the man. He again refuses, saying that in order to remain faithful to God, he must disobey.

Peter again talks about the tradition of arguing with God. More importantly, he gives a foundation for ethics as followers of Jesus. He says, "It is in the face of the suffering child or the flesh of a tortured man that the ethical demand of God is written."

Yesterday I was listening to a video of Marc Thiessen defending "enhanced interrogation." Elsewhere he has appeared on "Christian" television shows doing the same and justifies it as an act that reflects his Christian faith. He has missed the picture altogether.

As an aside, I am struck by the difficulty I'm having keeping this little discipline of blogging on this book each day...

Monday, March 08, 2010

Blogging through The Orthodox Heretic day 16

The Sins of the Father takes place at Judgment day. All of the souls of all of humanity are gathered before the angel who holds the book of judgment. The first to be judged stands and all of humanity cries out - "when we were hungry, you gave us nothing..." And then we discover that the accused is God.

Pete takes the direction of our wrestling with God. For me, it raises questions regarding the absence of God and the presence of evil. But, I like where he goes. He picks up the tradition in the Bible of wrestling with and even accusing God and sees that as a foundational part of our faith tradition. That works for me.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Stations of the Cross, week 3

Sixth Station:
Veronica Wipes Jesus' Face

O Creator, remind me that though I am small, though I am insignificant in this vast universe, everything I do makes a difference. Show me that when I so much as smile to a person who is burdened, I can change the path of fate.

Seventh Station:
Jesus Falls a Second Time

Give me knowledge that I have strengths and weaknesses. Do not allow me to shy away from this fact. Make me strong enough to recognize that I cannot do everything well or correctly the first time, but do not permit me to give up. Keep me stubborn so that I will never stop trying.

Blogging through The Orthodox Heretic day 15

Again, I'm late in posting this...

The Last Trial posits a question in an interesting format. The main character has died and is found standing in front of Lucifer who declares that he has cast out God and the Christ from heaven and holds the keys in his hand to either eternal life or eternal death... all the deceased need do is bow down and worship him. Which would you do?

The question raised is whether we follow Jesus for some kind of reward or if there is something in the following that gives it vale above all else? The story brings to mind the temptation stories of Jesus who likewise must decide whether he will worship Satan and take the easy way out or if he will struggle with his call, knowing the difficulty of the path and being unsure of the end. What would you choose? What would I?

Blogging through The Orthodox Heretic day 14

The parable for day 14 is appropriate in some ways since I'm two days late in posting my thoughts. Life got in the way.

The title is Awaiting the Messiah. One day the Messiah decides to return to a large city. After a few days of working there, the Messiah reveals himself to a small group of faithful followers, praying for his return. When they realize who is there, they embrace him, bear witness to what they have been doing, and then ask one question... "Tell us, when will you arrive?" The Christ is said to still be there with that little group, praying with them for his return.

This one took me a while to get, especially once I read Pete's commentary. I expected that e was seeing the parable in the actions of the Church and was looking for a real incarnation. He takes it in a different direction, that of relationship, arguing that the desire for the other is born out of their presence, not their absence. It made me think of a reminder that I often give in wedding sermons to the couple... that they never cease to find delight and surprise in the other because they will never know the other completely.

Come, Lord Jesus... and continue to come as I see you just a little more clearly and know you a little more deeply each day.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Blogging through the Orthodox Heretic, day 13

Today's parable is a subversion of the Prodigal Son. In this story it is the father who runs off and one of the sons waits each day by the gate with robe in hand, calf ready for the slaughter, hoping for the return of the Prodigal Father.

Pete is reflecting on the very human experience of the absence of God and the deep tradition in both Judaism and Christianity of remaining faithful even in the midst of the dark night of the soul. I couldn't help but think of Mother Theresa who struggled with a sense of the absence of God and yet continued to give of herself in service of those beyond the margins. How easy it is to abandon God when we cannot feel God's presence... And how to make sense of experience that tells us that God has abandoned us...

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Blogging through the Orthodox Heretic, day 12

Being the Resurrection imagines the story of a small band of disciples who witness the crucifixion and then in their grief they flee Jerusalem, seeking a place where they can live the way Jesus had taught them. They build a small community of simplicity, love, and forgiveness... all with no knowledge of the resurrection.

After 100 years, a group of missionaries finds them. The missionaries were amazed at the community they had found and tell them the good news. That evening they celebrated, but one of the missionaries noticed that the leader was not present and sought him out. The elder spoke, "Each day we have forsaken our very lives for him because we judged him worthy of the sacrifice, wholly worthy of our being. But now, following your news, I am concerned that my children and my children's children may follow him, not because of his radical life and supreme sacrifice, but selfishly, because his sacrifice will ensure their personal salvation and eternal life."

How many times have we heard promises of eternal life filled with all of the good things we didn't experience in life? Would we follow Jesus if the promise was only suffering and an end... Are his words enough? Is the example he lived enough? What are we willing to give... and do we have to receive some kind of reward or is following enough?

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Blogging through the Orthodox Heretic, day 11

This parable is the first one I heard from this book as a friend read it aloud in a small group called Exiting Christianity. The story tells of a preacher who learns that whenever he prays for someone, they lose all faith. So, the preacher decides never to pray for anyone. Once, on a trip he finds himself seated next to a very successful banker who does business in as cutthroat a manner as any other, rationalizing that it is the way business is done. Still, the businessman says, "that is not me. I am a man of faith and my experience in church confirms that." The preacher realizes what he must do... he prays for the man who loses his faith immediately. Soon he finds he is no longer able to justify his business practices, quits his job, gives away his possessions, and proceeds to use his talents on behalf of the poor. One day he sees the preacher across the street, runs to him, and thanks the preacher for helping him discover his faith.

One of the questions swirling around these days is whether religion gets in the way of faith and what to do when the institutional church impedes the good news of the gospel by working to buttress the status quo. As a pastor committed to and working within the institutional church these are difficult questions. They are doubly difficult fr me as I do not believe it is possible to really follow Jesus outside of a community of faith.

I have no answers... only more questions... but it is Lent and struggling is good.

Rube Goldberg video


New Favorite

As much as I love music, I find that I don't listen that much... Part of it is the dearth of good material on the radio - while there certainly is some god pop music, much of it leaves me cold. I find I don't have that much time to listen at home and I find that I usually don't have the CD I want to listen to with me when I'm driving (I don't have mp3 capabilities in my car). And my life situation doesn't expose me to as much new and under-the-radar music as I'd like.

Every once in a while though, I come across a song that clicks for me. Recently I got a mailing of a retreat sponsored by the Alliance of Baptists, the most progressive group in Baptist circles. Carrie Newcomer is slated to do the music. I knew her name but wasn't real familiar with her music and I hadn't known that she had any kind of faith commitment so I went to her website and listened to some tunes.

One song really caught my attention... The Clean Edge of Change The lyrics are wonderful... a sublime performance... just a great song in every way.

First there is the folding in,
To gather light and dark to you.
The journey down so far that it,
Has nowhere else to go but through.
I thought if I tried hard enough,
With endless motion like a bribe,
As if by this the will of God,
Could be bent to my version of right.
Chorus: What happens next is nearly weightless,
The opening where we stand breathless,
On the clean edge of change.
She cannot live beneath my wings,
No more with he see seventy.
How many mornings did I wake,
And wished that it would be you I'd see?
Bridge: And who am I, who makes this sound,
Who rode the shadow all the way down?
In that clear space of knowing there's
As many names for dark as for light,
I am choosing mostly now to speak
The names that get me through the night.
But always, with humility,
With a worn out but grateful heart.
Having sang so recently,
Full-throated In the dark.
First there is the folding in,
To gather light and dark to you,
The journey down so far that it,
Has nowhere else to go but through.

I love this song and find myself going back to it again and again.