Monday, December 26, 2011

The Arrogance of Fundamentalism

A few years ago, a tee shirt appeared that had Lucy (of Peanuts fame) announcing, “If Everyone Agreed With Me, They’d All Be Right!”  Now, I am not saying that is the definition of a Fundamentalist, but it may describe the attitude of some fundamentalists I have known.

We see the presence of fundamentalism at every level – in religions, nations, and families.  Within Christianity and in each of its denominations there are the biblical fundamentalists, as well as doctrinal fundamentalists and the rigid adherents to Canon Law and/or “tradition.”  Even within the broad strokes of Anglicanism we find proponents of Biblical fundamentalism, anti-intellectualism, and ultra-conservatism.  This particularly has come to the fore within the Anglican Communion with the attempt to develop an “Anglican Covenant” which seeks a uniform conformity to a more conservative tradition.  This has been aimed particularly at the Episcopal Church in the United States because of its move toward inclusiveness, openness, and its presumed liberal views of human behavior and interfaith participation.

The fundamentalists, in every case, seem to convey to the larger church and to the entire community that they have a lock on the truth and there is a ready willingness to condemn others who may differ from them.  Further, the Christian fundamentalists believe that there is no salvation outside of the beliefs of their own faith community. 

I cannot and will not participate in condemning other religions and other faith seekers saying that they are cast out of God’s love and presence.  As a Christian, for me personally, Christ has been the way, the truth, and the life, and I have come to God through Christ.  But, do I believe that Jews, Moslems, Hindus, Buddhists, and other people of faith in God and who seek God’s presence in their lives and in the life of the world are outside of the presence and love of God?  No!  Absolutely not!  I simply do not believe that the loving, redeeming, reconciling, and faithful God believes that way either.  Do I believe that the likes of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, the Dali Lama, or Mahatma Gandhi live or lived outside of the grace of God?  No!  Not for a moment.  I think these holy people have drawn us to God as clearly as the Tutus, the Mertons, the Bonhoeffers, and the Mother Teresas of the world.  Thank God for all people of faith and together let us grow in grace and peace.



The extremism of the fundamentalists of every sort and the self-righteousness of those who are convinced that they are the only saved ones and the sole possessors of the truth leaves little room for discussion.  The popularity of taking a fundamentalist position is, in some part, because accepting a rigid adherence to a given tradition requires so little thought on the part of the adherents.  They are told the narrow confines of what they are to believe and therefore there is no need for real intellectual participation.  And there is no one as quite as “right” as those who are convinced that God has given them the truth and all others are outside of the truth.  Thomas Merton remarked about the rigidity of some Christians who consider themselves to be among the “right:”


. . . [Some] keep turning the Cross to their own purposes.  Yes, it is for them a sign of contradiction: the awful blasphemy of the religious magician who makes the Cross contradict mercy!  This, of course, is the ultimate temptation of Christianity!  To say that Christ has locked all the doors, has given one answer, settled everything and departed, leaving all life enclosed in the frightful consistency of a system outside of which there is damnation, and inside of which there is the intolerable flippancy of the saved—while nowhere is there any place left for the mystery of the freedom of divine mercy, which alone is truly serious and worthy of being taken seriously.

                                                                     Raids on the Unspeakable

Merton did not have much patience with those who thought they had the truth locked up in their law and whose fundamentalism (whether it be to the Bible, the law, the nations, or tradition) blocked humans from freedom, movement of the Spirit, and genuine truth. 


Friday, December 16, 2011

The Incarnation: Liberation and Hope


The secular observation of Christmas that happens once a year, mainly influenced by the likes of Wall-Mart, Penneys, Macy’s, and Sears, along with the ecclesiaastical celebration of the Birth of the Christ, a sacred and wonderful liturgical expression of worship, are both secondary to the understanding that the Incarnation is a year around, lifelong way of living for the Christian. The business about the Birth of Christ is a genuine revolution that we sometimes seem to overlook.  God, by sending the Son into the world, has changed life forever, and we are a part of this radical revolution setting about the business of turning this world upside down.

We are empowered to move beyond thinking about God, and intellectualizing our faith, into knowing God in daily life.  God is real, God lives in us, and God is available to us in the present moment.  It is unfortunate that in many of the distractions of the sentimental customs and the myths that surround Christmas – as much fun as they are and as much joy as they offer – we have lost much of the power of the Incarnation, the knowledge and meaning of “Emmanuel," God with us in our own lives and in the life of the world.   Life with God is all about relationship with God and with one another.
 
 
John and Paul, not to mention the likes of Thomas Merton, taught that all Christian theology is a radical liberation theology.  The basic Christian message is that we have been set free from the limitations of our minds, liberated from the chains of our sins, released from the constraints of the law, and emancipated from the bondage of our fallen nature.  In freedom we are the heirs of the love, grace, and power of God.  Because of this liberation we are not only incorporated into union with God, but we are also placed in a special bond of unity with one another as brothers and sisters.  This moves us far beyond theology into a real, fleshy, mission based life with God in the world in which we live. 

We have been given a great responsibility.  We are forgiven and we are reconciled with God, so we are called to forgive those around us and be agents of reconciliation in a world where many have become alienated from God and from each other.  Not only is our life changed but we are empowered to proclaim a Gospel of liberation and hope to all people who desperately need the good news that they are loved, forgiven, fed and cared for, as well as, offered eternal life.  Gifted people must employ their gifts for the good of all.  We are the gifted ones, people who "have seen a great light . . . for to us a child is born, to us a son is given." [Isaiah 9:2] 
 
 
We who have seen the light of Christ are obliged, by the greatness of the grace that has been given us, to make God’s presence known to the ends of the earth, beginning in our own churches, within our own families, and in our own community. 

"We do not understand that this business about the crib is the real revolution that once and for all turned everything upside down, so that nothing has ever been, or ever can be, the same again."  ---Thomas Merton, Road to Joy


Friday, December 9, 2011

Advent and the Incarnation

The season of Advent, according to the tradition and wisdom of the Church, is intended to be a time of quiet preparation of our hearts and souls to meet the Incarnate God. It is intended as a period of watchful anticipation, repentance, prayer, and special devotion, preparing us for the miracle of the birth of the Son of God. Advent is meant to allow the turbulence of our harried lives to settle (wholly in contradiction to the message given by society), and be a time to move into an inner stillness where we encounter the Christ within and discover peace and hope. Is that the way this Advent is for you? For whatever good intentions and design of the Church Year, very few of us, I suspect, actually experienced Advent in the way in which it was intended.

We live in extremely anxious and troubled times.  Nationally and around the world there is a fierce anger, frustration, self-centeredness and attitude of greed and lust for power. There is an genuine of fear of job loss, homelessness, poverty, and, for many, there is a prevailing sense of hopelessness. This is all in addition to the usual seasonal anxiety of too much activity, too many tasks to accomplish, all producing too much stress in our lives, and too much distress in the lives of those around us.  We are left with questions of where are we now with all of this and what is next, not to mention the ongoing everyday demands of family, church, friends, and our own inner drivenness to accomplish, to succeed, or to simply survive.  This is all enough to wear down the most well disciplined and committed saint. We can lament the loss of the real meaning of Advent. I complain about this every year, but I doubt seriously that we can make it any different than it is. As much as we would like to be able to ignore the realities of secular living they are not going to disappear. So, how are we to live out the contemplative part of our relationship to God and with one another?

It is now, in the reality of the present moment, that the hush of grace descends upon us. This is the time to acknowledge every anxiety, every fear, every sadness, every pain of unreconciled relationships, every unresolved crisis, every need to understand, every desire to control, and then turn them over to God and simply be still. It is in stillness and grace that we are able to recognize and to receive the greatest gift of all — the incarnation of God in Christ. What this means is not simply some theological theory, but it means that God is one with us. God is participating in the life of creation. God is directly a part of our life -- not only in a text book, not just in the Bible, not hypothetically in the words of some preacher, but, in fact, in as real a way as possible. God is in our daily life and the Holy One lives in us and with us. Now, I want you to understand that I really believe this — we live in the sure hope of the reality of the presence of God  personally and directly in the present moment.

"This is not God in a cloud, or God in a sunset, or God in tablets of stone, or God as a moral force, or God as a theological concept. Not God in a sermon or in a sacrament. But the humanization of God. The naturalness of God. The simplicity of God. The unprecedented self-communication of God."
---- H. King Oehmig

Monday, November 7, 2011

Pray for Peace



This photo was taken October 28, 2011, of the leaders of three great branches of the Church (Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Anglican), along with others, who gathered in Assisi for reflection, dialogue, and prayer for peace. This was a very significant, yet mainly overlooked, event that should have had world-wide impact.

In all of the noise and insanity of today's world, let us not forget the responsibility we have to pray and work for the peace and well-being of all of God's creation and all the nations and peoples.  As people of faith, the task before us is to look for and expect to discover God in those around us -- in everyone -- not only those who claim to be Christian, but for all people everywhere.  We spend so much time and energy criticizing, judging, and alienating those around us and we ignore that we are, in fact, all children of God.  It is our responsibility, as a people of faith, to see the Holy in all of our brothers and sisters and to rejoice with them in our common heritage as creatures of God. 

We cannot set limits or boundaries on our love and respect for others anymore than God's love is limited, earned, or qualified.  In God there are no outcasts.  Among us are the poor and the rich, those who morn and those who rejoice, the meek and the not so meek, the hungry and the satisfied, the merciful and the not so nice, the pure and the not so pure, the peacemakers and, yes, even the troublemakers, and we are all part of the family of God.

In the face of all, we must pray for peace, strive for the well-being of all creation, and work for justice for all peoples of the world.  Living in God's creation we are all standing on "holy ground" where the boundaries between the sacred and the secular disappear and we are all one -- "spiritual beings," said Teilhard de Chardin, "having a human experience."

Thursday, November 3, 2011

FOR ALL THE SAINTS

As Christians, the task for us is to first both expect and look for Christ in those around us — in everyone– not just those who claim Christianity, but all people of faith, all of God’s creation.  We spend so much energy criticizing, judging, and alienating those around us that we often fail to realize that we are, in fact, in the presence of a saint, a child of God, a bearer of God's image and a carrier of God's grace.  Trevor Huddleston, CR, one of the great Twentieth Century missionaries to Africa (and priest and mentor to a young Desmond Tutu), said:

My responsibility is always and everywhere the same: to see in my brothers and sisters more even than the personality and humanity that are theirs.  My task is always and everywhere the same: to see Christ himself in them.
            --- Naught for Your Comfort

That is the responsibility of every one of us – to see God in our brothers and sisters, to rejoice with them in our common heritage, and to celebrate that we are living together in the grace of the Holy Spirit.  Within this Christian fellowship of ours is where we begin but we cannot end there nor set limits or boundaries to our love and respect anymore than God’s love is limited or qualified.  Among us are the poor and the rich, those who mourn and those who rejoice, the meek and the proud, the hungry and the satisfied, the merciful and the not so nice, the pure and the not so pure, the peacemakers and the troublemakers, but at the core we are all a part of the family of God. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Contemplative Living and Corporate Liturgy

I have mentioned before Martin Laird's, Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation. I re-read this portion the other day and it seemed to fit in with some significant thoughts and discussions I have had recently:

"With so much focus on contemplative practice and interior stillness, what about other forms of prayer? Do they simply disappear? This does happen. But it is simply because a deeper discovery has been made. By the sheer grace of God our very being itself is prayer. . . Community prayer remains important, but how you participate in it changes. Liturgical prayer has a way of becoming a fountain of grace. The flow of this sourceless source is nothing other than the visible form of the great self-emptying sacramental flow of the ground of being. In former times it was common to speak of the liturgy on earth as a reflection of the liturgy in heaven. We don't speak of liturgy this way anymore, but this point of view makes more and more sense. For when we enter these doorways of silence the simplest truths of the liturgy are unveiled: liturgy, like creation itself, is the shimmering of eternity in time. Even in the most dismal of liturgies (and these are in no short supply) Christ is and has always been the only presider.

"However, just because we come to intuit this as the simplest truth about liturgical prayer, this does not necessarily mean that it is easy to cope with large doses of liturgy. The Benedictine monk John Chapman, has something rather sobering to say about this. In his classic Spiritual Letters he says, 'It is common enough for those who have any touch "mysticism" . . . to be absolutely unable to find any meaning in vocal prayers.' Chapman is not devaluing prayers we say privately or in common. He is putting his finger on a problem many contemplatives face. We find it difficult to pray with words. Communal prayer itself is not the issue. Contemplative prayer is the prayer of just being. Sadly much liturgical prayer is often hopelessly cerebral, self-conscious, verbose, and distracted (to say nothing of all those bits of paper waved in your face). This is no environment in which simplicity can easily flower. Each will have to negotiate these tensions for oneself."

As one who has always desired to grow ever more into a deeper contemplative space in the heart, but one who was called to a life-time as a liturgical leader, I have lived with and have sought to negotiate these tensions over the years. Increasingly, however, I find I am more and more desirous of the wordless silence and solitude of contemplative prayer. All the while, I remain convinced of the importance of liturgy (and the hope that it is "done" well) as the manner in which the community of faith can touch into the power, grace, and reality of the presence of the Holy One in the midst of our corporate life -- that sacred place where heaven and earth (the sacred and the secular) touch and we are placed in joyous harmony with God and one another.

I am convinced that it is in this way that the shell of this body, whether my body or the body of the church, is filled with the inner substance of that which is Holy and this inner substance is the very stuff of life that makes any sense out of our lives and the life of this strange and mysterious beast we call the institutional church.

NOTE: There is a new work by Martin Laird, A Sunlit Absence: Silence, Awareness, and Contemplation which I have purchased and I am looking forward to reading.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

17 Pentecost - Proper 23 A

The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
October 9, 2011
(Proper 23 -- Year A) 

The Very Reverend Donald W. Krickbaum


Exodus 32:1-14 – Psalm 106 – Philippians 4:1-9 – Matthew 22:1-14

“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son” and those invited did not come . . .  Then the folks off the street – everyone – were all invited, but still some just did not get it.  Sometimes, we just do not get it.  We either do not show up, or even if we do we simply don’t get the point, and just mush on with our grim little lives having missed the wonderful opportunity the King has offered us.  Just too sad!

There is a story of a poor family in Europe about a century ago who planned to emigrate to the United States.  They spent their entire savings to purchase the passage for all of them on the ship to the new world.  The night before their departure from their small village their friends and neighbors brought them gifts of bread and cheese so that they would have something to eat during the long voyage.  They got to the ship the next day and found their small cabin, being the cheapest available, on the lowest deck.  For days they remained in their quarters, having only their bread and cheese to eat.  The teenage son had finally had about all of the dry bread and cheese he could stand and begged his father to do something.  He gave his son a quarter and told him he could go above to try to find an apple to buy to have something fresh to eat.  The boy was gone for such a long time the father got worried and went looking for him everywhere on the ship.  Finally, he came to the ship’s huge dining room and much to his surprise and horror there was his son in the middle of this beautiful dining room, sitting at a table with piles of fabulous food in front of him.  He rushed over to the boy admonishing him sternly, saying that they could never afford that lavish dinner and they now they would all be in deep trouble.  The boy looked at him and said, “Oh, no, Father, it is okay.  You see, this entire banquet, all of this food, is all included in the price of the ticket!”

So many Christians tend to be like that family – we just do not get it.  We struggle along trying to be good church folk, but we find it all to be a bit difficult and, at times, sort of grim, like trying to exist on dry, stale cheese sandwiches, when all the while there is laid out for us a wonderful feast which is all included in the cost of discipleship – the price of the ticket.  I am often reminded of the very severe young evangelist who stood up and declared with the most sad face, “I have been so happy since I found Jesus!”  

Jesus has called us to take up the cross and follow him, but this journey takes us always toward God and God’s great banquet.  We are invited to feast with Christ now, the Kingdom is already begun, and we are guests at this great banquet where we, along with each other, are nourished by the extravagant grace of God.  We can so easily get focused only on the price we think we must pay, the sacrifices that we have to make, the struggles we have with our own inadequacies, and the sense that we are all alone on this difficult journey of faith, that we fail to see and delight in the marvelous grace of God and the joy of being a member of this great fellowship of faith.  We are not called to be some poor band of brothers and sisters who have to earn our way into heaven, but, rather, we are a community of the faithful and redeemed sinners who have accepted the power and grace of God in our lives and now want to share that joy with the world around us.

God’s grace – God’s love – is really amazing!  David Hope, the former Archbishop of York, wrote:

"I dare to venture that in spite of all we may say, teach, or preach, all of us are to a very large extent caught up in “self-justifying works,” so that “amazing grace” is almost a stranger to us.  Yet it is in and through “amazing grace” that the Lord has laid his hands upon us, to call us out and into a ministry in his church . . . and it is only in and through amazing grace that our ministry is nurtured, encouraged and enabled, and ourselves built into a holy temple to the Lord."

Yet, we so often plow our way through the business of the church, through the struggle to do the right thing, trying to get it right, that we miss the joy and, yes, the outright fun and delight, of being a part of this fellowship, the church.  I remember going to a clergy conference some years ago put on by the Church Insurance Corporation about all the dangers of being sued and the limitations the Church Insurance wanted to put on us about counseling and spiritual direction because of the monetary liabilities.  One of our number declared, “This just isn’t much fun anymore!”  How terribly sad – more than sad, it is tragic!  When the joy and wonder of ministry and worship are gone from the church, the joy and wonder of serving God and one another soon disappears from among the faithful.  When the church is joyless and hope is gone, then we are no longer the true Body of Christ, but only an empty shell of who God intends us to be.  Archbishop Hope went on to say:

        "There is, therefore, an urgent need in our church for the renewal of all of our lives in the power  of the Holy Spirit . . . to allow the transforming power of the Holy Spirit to be at work in every part of us . . . so that we may prove what the will of God is, what is good, acceptable and perfect."

What does this spirit of renewal require of us today?  I firmly believe that it means that we are prepared to accept the gracious invitation of our Lord to joyfully participate in the celebration of our life together.  It means that we vigorously seek a change of heart and a new direction in our lives and the life of the church.  This spirit of renewal says something of the kind of priorities we set for ourselves and our congregation.  It says that we not only accept the invitation to this banquet, but that we come prepared to celebrate with joy all that is given to us and to offer that abundance to everyone around us.  Unlike the king in today’s story, Jesus is not concerned with the actual clothes we wear, but rather with what attitude and spirit we clothe ourselves when we come together.  If we are going to try to be a part of the Kingdom without a genuine willingness to enter fully into the spirit of the community and be open to accept the power, grace, beauty, joy, and love of God in our midst, then Jesus is saying we have no business in the banquet hall.

We are all called to clothe ourselves with the Holy Spirit, seeking first the renewal of our own lives by turning to God in repentance and prayer and with open hands and hearts be filled with a sense of joy and peace that comes only by God’s grace.  We “frozen chosen” (as Episcopalians have sometimes been called) can be critical of some of the excesses of our more charismatic brothers and sisters, but folks, say what you will about the hand-raising, happy clappy, praise-shouting atmosphere of their worship, they certainly sound like they are having more fun that we are.  (I fear that sometimes the church may have come down with terminal boredom!)  I am not necessarily suggesting that we get into anything wild, but I am suggesting that we open ourselves sufficiently to the presence of the Holy Spirit that our hearts can be set afire with the power of God and that our life together will be a living celebration of God’s love for us and all those who are a part of our fellowship.

Out of our life together, I pray that our joy will be so energized that our ministry will be one of love and hope for all the seekers of a better and more meaningful, godly, and happy life.  It is in that spirit that we then care for the hungry and the homeless, the poor and the dispossessed, the sick and lonely, the fearful and fainthearted; to teach the children, tend to the elderly, and seek the gracious presence of God in our hearts and the heart of our church, and discover the heart of God in every person – no exceptions.  This is what is all included in the price of this ticket we have been given to the heavenly banquet.

Saint Paul reminded us, “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice. . .  The Lord is near.”

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

From Father Paul Bresnahan

I have lifted this good prayer directly from my friend Paul's blog.  It is worth sharing:

A Prayer of Self Dedication

by Paul Bresnahan

St. Francis Day 2011

Now in the quiet of the day, I beckon to my soul and listen.

There is only silence

It is a silence I love to return to.

Because I am not alone there.

In that silence I come to my heart of hearts.

The silence becomes a Presence.

And comes to life in a way that invites me to love.

The Presence wants to love me.

I resist that.

But the silent Presence insists.

I look again into the mirror of my soul and see the mystery

It wells up within me to gratitude.

I search for a name for the mystery.

And then do I remember God.

I discover that God is there within my heart.

And God’s heart beats within me and among us.

There is a love that speaks to me.

And extends its Heart toward me and fills me.

I find myself aware and awake.

To the joy of life and sorrow of suffering; the ugliness of hateful violence.

The noble beauty of creative art,

The sin that destroys the self and seeks to destroy others.

God's heart moves in mine and dispels the fear.

Hear the Word of God and listen

God requires justice, love, mercy and compassion

And Jesus reaches out his arms to the farthest ends of every human heart.

Here and now I dedicate myself to Jesus.

In the poor and the homeless, the hungry and those who suffer.

The heart of Jesus moves in me, and the love of God

Knows no bounds.

Monday, October 3, 2011

A Blessing of the Animals

The Blessing of the Animals -- This blessing is from an order of service put together by Bill Hopper for the use of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Miami.  Bill was at the time, the organist and choir master at Trinity, and, as you can tell, a lover of animals.  During the service of the Blessing of the Animals, I would go to each animal present and give this blessing.  It always filled me with emotion and joy.  (If any would like a copy of the entire service, let me know by email and I will send you a copy.)

Officiant: The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. 

People: They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. 

The officiant will then bless the animals, saying 

May your days be full of sunshine and good things to eat. May your owners and companions treat you always with respect and kindness.  And may you continue to praise God, your Creator, each in your own way and kind, by simply being what you are. And the blessing of God: Father,+ Son,+ and Holy Spirit+ be always with you. Amen. 

After all have been blessed, the officiant continues:

Almighty God, who made everything good, teach us to love what You have made. Help us to see You in the stars and planets, in rocks and rivers, in trees and flowers, and especially in all our fellow animals which You have entrusted to our loving care. Amen.

Soul Friends

My heart is captured by the wonderful Siberian Huskies that have been in my life. Niska died this past July -- a very sad time. He was 13 which is a good long life for a Husky and he was doing very well up to the last few days.  Niska was a truly marvelous dog.


Nikki is doing very well and, while she is 11, she acts and moves like a three year old. I had two other Huskies in my life: Kree, when I was a teenager, and Grey Wolf, who was with us when our girls were small.  They were all wonderful companions and Nikki joyfully carries on her part as a faithful and dear friend. 

Matthew Fox referred to his Golden Retriever as his "spiritual director."  I do not claim that my Huskies have been my spiritual directors, but they are certainly my soul friends.  In them one can truly see the essence of the Holy.

I found this wonderful piece which seems fitting as we come to Saint Francis' Day and the blessing and thanksgiving for our animals and all creatures and creation:

MY HEART BELONGS TO A SIBERIAN HUSKY

The Husky is a beauty,
Magnificent and smart.
It wasn't long before I knew
That the dog had won my heart.

Powerful yet graceful,
With eyes that pierce your soul--
A gentle wolf-like spirit,
And a heart of purest gold.

Affectionate and loving,
Devoted to the end--
I can't imagine life without
My Husky--my best friend.

Saint Francis Day -- October 4

Richard Rohr on Saith Francis:
"Francis’ first sermon was not to humans, but to birds. At the end of the sermon, he told the birds, “Now, go off, because I’ve told you who you are.” And he was addressing them as equals in creation, calling them “brother” and “sister,” as no one recorded had ever done before!
"Throughout his life in his interactions with creatures—including a wolf, a lamb, worms, fish and bees—Francis is always telling them that by their very existence they are inherently giving glory to God. All things should be who they truly are, and that is enough. Every animal must simply “do itself.” Each creature has a unique thing to do in the circle of life, and in that simple performance it is giving glory to a unique aspect of God and making us happy besides—at least I hope so.
"I wonder if Francis preached to birds, to wolves, and to sheep because he knew they would believe him and act on their true identity more easily than we humans."







Thursday, September 29, 2011

Thoughts on the "Vineyard"


Fairchild Gardens, Miami, Florida


Some passing thoughts on the "Vineyard" as I prepare for Sunday's sermon. . .

Isaiah understood so deeply the joy and wonder of God and God's gift as he sang his love-song. The Garden of the Beloved was a place that good fruit would be produced, not sour grapes; where justice not bloodshed was to be expected; where righteousness was found in place of cries from the oppressed. A beautiful garden of good works, justice, and righteousness.

. . . a place of good works where there are the hungry to feed, the homeless to shelter, the sick to heal, the lonely to comfort, the frightened to hold, the outcasts to bring in, the children to teach, and the elderly to care for. . . .

This vineyard is also designed to be a place of justice where we shall not turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to the crying needs of the world around us, but rather be the eyes, the ears, and the voices of peace and what is right for all. We dare not be complacent about the inequities of our society. In this Garden of the Beloved, this world (nation and church) in which we live and which God has given us to care for, we are called to bring all of the energy and influence we have to stop wars, to end prejudice, to heal hatred, and to bring about a cessation of the social infirmities which demean and destroy the creatures of God. Here we are called to reclaim our prophetic voices, to speak in the name of the Beloved, to proclaim justice, to call to task the leaders of the nations and the communities in which we live to provide for the dignity and well-being of all people and all of creation. . . .

Called to be a community of righteousness, not the smugness or the arrogance of the self-proclaimed "saved," but to be numbered with those who accept the need of God's forgiveness and the forgiveness of one another and who, then, live as forgiven people in an intimate, living, loving, dynamic, growing relationship with God and one another. . . .

Only in a covenant relationship with God and with one another can this community in which we live be who God would have us be, and do what God would have us do.

This is only possible to the extent to which we are prepared not to be conformed to the things of this world but rather to allow the transforming power of the Holy Spirit to be at work in every part of us--in every aspect of our lives so that we may live into the will of the Holy One and seek to express what is good, acceptable, perfect. . . .

Blessings and peace,

Donald

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Active Life?

I must say, I really love this quote from Merton.  I suppose it speaks deeply to my desire and/or attitude, at least at this point in my life -- a time when I am seeking to recover my "right mind."  Most certainly, we all need to find something of this balance and harmony between the active life and the inner life to find wholeness and maybe even a smattering of holiness . . .

From The Way of Chuang Tzu:

"Those who are caught in the machinery of power take no joy except in activity and change--the whirring of the machine!  Whenever an occasion for action presents itself, they are compelled to act.  They cannot help themselves.  They are inexorably moved, like the machine of which they are a part.  Prisoner in the world of objects, they have no choice but to submit to the demands of matter.  They are pressed down and crushed by external forces, fashion, the market, events, public opinion.  Never in a whole lifetime do they recover their right mind!  The active life!  What a pity."

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Sign of Contradiction

Thomas Merton spoke decades ago of the arrogance ("flippancy") of some Christians which make the sign of the Cross a sign of exclusiveness and damnation, which contradicts everything that the Gospels tell us of the true nature and intention of Christ.  This is especially apparent in many parts of contemporary, fundamentalist, "conservative" Christian groups which are having a huge impact on some areas of today's politcal world in this country.  Merton wrote in Raids on the Unspeakable:

"The Cross is the sign of contradiction . . . but the magicians keep turning the Cross to their own purposes.  Yes, it is for them, too, a sign of contradiction: the awful blasphemy of the religious magician who makes the Cross contradict mercy!  This, of course, is the ultimate temptation of Christianity!  To say that Christ has locked all the doors, given one answer, settled everything and departed, leaving all life enclosed in the frightful consistency of a system outside of which there is seriousness and damnation, inside of which there is the intolerable flippancy of the saved--while nowhere is there any place left for the mystery of the freedom of divine mercy, which alone is truly serious and worthy of being taken seriously."

I am convinced that the sign of the Cross is a direct contradiction of the self-righteous smugness and exclusiveness of some who claim to be Christian.  For me, the Cross is the sign of God's all inclusive love and forgiveness -- the sign under which we can choose to live as a worshipping community of those who seek to live in the awareness of God's love for all of us, where there are no outcasts. 

The sign and symbol of the Cross should point to our willingness to let God be at the heart of our life together, forming all of our actions, our decisions, the use of our resources, how we vote, and our care, not only for one another and those we like, but even our enemies, not allowing evil or revengefulness to rule our hearts, but to conquer evil with mercy and kindness.

Those who live under the sign of the Cross are those who are together called to be a people of radical hospitality and inclusive love and mercy -- a sacred community where all are welcome and invited to enter and find God.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Running From God


The following comment on Jonah 1:3 is from the Pastor of a local congregation here in Shannondale that I thought worth repeating:
Running from God is the dumbest thing you could ever do. But have you ever done it? The funny thing is after you run as far as you can and you finally turn around and look, He’s still right there! The Psalmist said, “Where can I flee from your presence?” The answer is Nowhere! Why do we try to run from God? Well, in Jonah’s case it was because he was afraid. He was afraid of what he had to do, where he had to go, how it might turn out. He was afraid of God’s kindness. Why would he be afraid of God’s kindness? Well he was afraid that God was kinder than he was. And on that point Jonah was right. I’m afraid that God may want me to show more compassion, more patience, more sensitivity, more understanding, more love than I have to give. I’d rather run away from that, then get choked by the reality of what it means to die to my self and be a servant to others. Love my enemies? Bless those that curse me? Turn the other cheek? That’s just not in my nature. And God says, “I know it’s not. That’s part of the problem. You’ve got a sinful nature.” The solution isn’t to run from God, as if somehow that will make things better. The solution is to run to God, to run right into his will and if the reality of God’s will chokes the life out of your self centered, me oriented, sinful nature, well… all the better. The bible says it this way in Colossians 3, “Put to death whatever belongs to your earthly nature.” Jonah was afraid of God’s kindness. What he didn’t count on was that God was too kind to let him go. Just when he thought he had outrun God, he ran right into Him. The longer you try to run from God, the longer the process will take. You may find yourself in a storm. You may find yourself in a boatload of trouble. But, Jonah 4 says that God is "gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love." Our Father desires our attitudes to be in alignment with his attributes. The longer you run, the longer it takes. So let me encourage you, Whatever assignment God has placed before you don’t run from it, run to it. And let the transforming work of God's Spirit begin in you.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Dana Buchanan 1960 - 2011


THE REVEREND DANA E. BUCHANAN, 51, died on September 15, 2001, after a long battle with cancer.  Dana was ordained a Deacon in the Diocese of Virginia in February.  She was a faithful, valiant, and compassionate servant of God and God's people in the church and the world.  There was a wonderful "Celebration of the Resurrection" for her at Saint James' Church in Leesburg, Virginia, on September 24, 2011.  Dana had planned most of the details of her service over a year ago.  Included was a piece she had written and had been set to music which was one of the Communion anthems:

"Embrace Us"

We are yours, be with us now and ever;
we take the cup, we take the bread this table offers.
Bitter sweet is the taste, love so deep your heart breaks;
Touch our souls, you long for us; tears we shed you wipe them dry.

Living God, draw us to thee, three yet one.
Make us servants dwell within, hear our prayer.
Your breath we feel, we take it in. Your Spirit come to us again.
At your feet we lay our sins; mercy flows, then life begins.

Silent conversation flows between us.  Walk with us, live in us, remember.
Anoint us, embrace us, fill our hearts with your love.
Anoint us, embrace us, gift of love, gift of God's grace.


Give rest, O Christ, to your servant with your saints,
where sorrow and pain are no more,
neither sighing, but life everlasting.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Kenneth Leech


I have only recently become aware of a collection of Kenneth Leech's writings entitled, "Prayer and Prophecy: The Essential Kenneth Leech," edited [2009] by David Bunch and Angus Ritchie. This is a great collection for those who admire Leech's work and a helpful introduction to his teaching for those who have not read him.

Many of us were captured by him in his great book, "Soul Friend." He has over the years written other really good works on spirituality, prayer, theology, prophetic ministry, justice, and religious action in the public arena. As much as any contemporary writer, Leech has carefully and firmly made the connection between the inner life of prayer and contemplation and the vitally important place of the prophetic voice in contemporary Christianity, writing that these "are not two alternative ways of Christian witness: they are inseparable in a healthy Christian life, and history shows that where they are not held together, both decay."

 The inner life of prayer and deep spirituality is the only genuine foundation for the active prophetic ministry to which we are called as the church and as individuals. Prayer and radical action are two sides of the same person of faith who longs for the wholeness and the well being of God's people, the proclamation of the Gospel; and for their own desire to continue on this marvelous, mystical journey towards the Holy.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Silence and the Sabbath

St. Augustine of Hippo, in his "Sermon 8" on the Third Commandment -- keeping the Sabbath holy -- wrote about stopping, being still, and listening:

"The third commandment enjoins quietness of heart, tranquility of mind.  This is holiness.  Because here is the Spirit of God.  This is what a true holiday means, quietness and rest.  Unquiet people recoil from the Holy Spirit.  They love quarrelling.  They love argument.  In their restlessness they do not allow the silence of the Lord's Sabbath to enter their lives.  Against such restlessness we are offered a kind of Sabbath in the heart. As if God were saying, 'Stop being so restless, quieten the uproar in your minds.  Let go of the idle fantasies that fly around in your head.'  God is saying, 'Be still and see that I am God' (Ps. 46)."

This quote was discovered in Martin Laird's book, Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation (Oxford Press 2006).   I recommend this book to give to those who are seeking to live with more of a contemplative awareness and practice in the midst of their busy and active lives.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Contemplation and Action


To Be or To Do?
By Joan Chittister, OSB.

If there is a temptation in the Christian life, it is probably contemplation. Physicians talk to us about “stress”; psychologists talk to us about “burnout”; sociologists talk to us about achieving “space”; educators talk to us about reflection and “process.” And we all come lusting for a cave to crawl into to do it, or at least a little cottage on a hill overlooking the water, or even a small log cabin in the woods. Any place as long as it’s someplace appropriate; some place not here; some place simple but comfortable, of course. A place for my books, my typewriter, my tape recorder. Just me and my God. Or is it me and the gods I’ve made?

If there is a sin in the Christian life it is probably action. We talk about “strategizing” and “mobilizing” and “lobbying” and “renewing” and “aligning” and “reforming” as if it were all up to structures; as if action were enough. We do and do and do. And there’s the problem. We set out to do something that the world needs, instead of to be something that the world needs. We set out to change instead of to illuminate. And we wonder why, with all the changes, nothing ever changes. After all the changes come, there is still the fighting, still the poverty, still the greed, still the exploitation.

Why? Because deep down inside where it counts, there is still the anger, still the arrogance, still the attitudes of control. Except that now I’m the one in control. The Chinese wrote: “Now people exploit people but after the revolution it will be just the opposite.”

The contemplative questions for people of action in our day are: Who will be and also do? How can we do and also be? The problem of this culture is that we make natural enemies out of prayer and transforming action when the two are really Siamese twins: either without the other is incomplete.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Prayer of Oscar Romero

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.  Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us.  No statement says all that could be said.  No prayer fully expresses our faith.  No confession brings perfection.  No pastoral visit brings wholeness.  No program accomplishes the church’s mission.  No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about.  We plant the seeds that one day will grow.  We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. 
We lay foundations that will need further development.  We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.  We are prophets of a future not our own.

Richard Rohr On Prayer


Prayer is getting in touch with reality, letting it speak in us, and incarnating the word which comes to us.  We let it happen in our lives.  Saying yes to God in prayer . . . means changing our lives in accordance with what we have heard.  It means engaging that word with our whole being, and letting it alter our existence.  For prayer is a dialogue between life and life, between divine life and human life, between life of the Spirit, and the life of the flesh.  Unless we enflesh the work of God and let it become incarnate in us, it cannot become real in the world.

Richard Rohr

Monday, September 19, 2011

Perfect Love Casts Out Fear



From Gandhi the Man: How One Man Changed Himself to Change the World by Eknath Easwaran:

"Perfect love," the Bible says, "casts our fear."  Ahimsa [in the Hindu and Buddhist tradition, the principle of nonviolence toward all living things] is perfect love.  It is the farthest thing from mere sentimentality; it is a lifelong challenge, a lifelong battle within oneself, full of challenges and trial so severe that those who tread the path of love in every religious tradition have called it sharper than a razor's edge.  Gandhi used to put the matter bluntly: When another person's welfare means more to you than your own, when even his life means more to you than your own, only then can you say you love.  Anything else is just business, give-and-take.  To extend this love even to those who hate you is the farthest limit of ahimsa.  It pushes at the boundaries of consciousness itself.

Loneliness Vs. Solitude


Henri J.M. Nouwen, in Reaching Out, which I believe is one of his greatest books, spoke to the very important distinction between "loneliness" and "solitude" which is often confused in the minds of many who take seriously their quest of the inner life.  Many run from seeking an encounter with the Holy within, out of fear of being alone and coming face-to-face with themselves, or that which they may not understand.  By being willing to live only in the active, outer world, deprives one of the riches of the soul which we discover in the inner quiet, while on this mysterious, mystical journey towards God.

Godly living is not a matter of "either/or" -- active life or contemplative life -- but rather to live in a balance of action and prayer.  Each nurtures the other and, as the liberation theologian, Segundo Galilea, writes: "Authentic Christian contemplation, passing through the desert, transforms contemplatives into prophets, and heroes of commitment and militants into mystics."

Nouwen wrote: "To live a spiritual life we must first find the courage to enter into the desert of our loneliness and to change it by gentle and persistent efforts into a garden of solitude. This requires not only courage but a strong faith. As hard as it is to believe that the dry desolate desert can yield endless varieties of flowers, it is equally hard to imagine that our loneliness is hiding unknown beauty. The movement from loneliness to solitude, however, is the beginning of any spiritual life because it is the movement from the restless senses to the restful spirit, from the outward-reaching cravings to the inward-reaching search, from the fearful clinging to the fearless play."



Friday, September 16, 2011

Merton on Solitude

The Gift of Solitude
Today, more than ever, we need to recognize that the gift of solitude is not ordered to the acquisition of strange contemplative powers, but, first of all, to the recovery of one’s deep self, and to the renewal of an authenticity which is presently twisted out of shape by the pretentious routines of a disordered togetherness.
Thomas Merton, Contemplation in a World of Action

From The Dark Night of the Soul by Jerry May


DESIRE – PRAYER – HOPE

If there was such a thing as a divine suggestion box, I’d suggest that God make things easier.  Or if not easier, at least clearer.  I would love to close this book with something more substantial than empty faith, unattached love, and hopeless hope.  I would love to be able to make practical suggestions about how to identify and claim the transformative qualities of the dark night in your own life.  I yearn to offer something that would really make the hard times easier and bring a definite sense of meaning to the unavoidable sufferings of life.  It would be so wonderful to be able to prescribe effective methods or understandings that could help us get a grip on our destinies.  But the nature of the dark night does not permit that.  It comes as gift and in obscurity, as and when it will, taking us where we would not and could not go on our own.  And though in truth we say yes to it, we have little or no control over it.  The reason for the obscurity, John says, is to keep us safe, so we don’t stumble because we think we know where we’re going.  I do want to trust that.

All we have in our own hands is our desire, which is at once our prayer, our yes, and our hope.  For me, in the good times, hope is synonymous with trust.  I move into the next moment with confidence and an expectations of goodness.  In the hard times, hope takes on an increasing feeling of risk.  I hope for the best, but the next moment feels uncertain, even scary.  And in the worst of times, the hope and desire may be reduced to a bare ember, so faint as to be almost undetectable.  But it is always there, and sooner or later we are drawn to it.  I believe that with repeated experiences of touching that desire, we do learn to recognize it, claim it, and know it as who we really are.  Maybe, in a way, that is a kind of progress.

Gerald G. May, M.D., The Dark Night of the Soul.