Monday, July 27, 2009

Tokens of Trust

Tokens of Trust by Rowan Williams is an imaginative exploration of the foundations of Christian faith. Using the most ancient creeds, The Apostles and Nicene, the book is based on the series of talks Williams made at the Canterbury Cathedral Holy Week, 2005.

Central to the book is the connection of faith with trust. Christianity is not a set of beliefs ascribed to but a living, breathing, ongoing relationship to God, and engagement within the world and the community, the church. The theme of trusting relationship is continued as Williams presents Jesus Christ as the difference-maker, the one who brings peace to a shattered world, and a peace, realized in part, through the dynamic process of the community of Christians.

Thus the resurrection is the fulfillment of the one God who alone is faithful and trustworthy. In this, he defines hell as our decision not God's, using the image where God is eternally knocking on a closed door that we ourselves keep shut. "Eternity," says Williams, "requires contemplation." And he means bringing ourselves into the light, choosing to "acclimatize" to love.

One of the features of this book is its beautiful visuals of paintings, photography, and architecture from around the world to enrich Williams' text. The writing itself is easy to read, non-technical, and full of helpful, relevant illustrations. Those looking for a line-by- line exegesis of these historic creeds, or even a how-they-came-to be- explanation will need to turn to other studies.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Learn from the UMC how to be PC

I noticed that, according to a United Methodist portal headline, most UM clergy support traditional marriage. Was this supposed to smooth over our rifts? Why do I ask?

Because the article also states in confusing fashion that while only a quarter of UMC clergy surveyed supported same-sex marriages, 51% of UMC clergy supported the rights of married or covenanted same-sex couples. ?!?!? How can we support the rights of a married or covenanted couple but not their same-sex marriage? We 're saying: "I support your right to do that, but I don't support your doing it." Talk about doublespeak and contradiction.

Getting back to the headline that most clergy support traditional marriage: golly, maybe that has something to do with a denominational BAN on same-sex weddings and ordination of GLBT people? For UMC's this survey is as useless as a 1980 Discipline! Does it really matter what we think?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Just Wondering- On Memorials

Why the total disconnect of the past ten days- between visual media (especially national cable T.V.), which have been covering Michael Jackson's death ad nauseum and the local radio stations, where he and the Jackson Five have been totally absent in the same time frame.

What the Jackson family was thinking and feeling- especially Michael's children- when Stevie Wonder, whose music I love, said that God needed Michael more than we did. For me, this confirms that musicians should focus on their art and refrain from theologizing. I think this is also true of church musicians who sometimes can end up opinion- sharing and distancing the congregation instead of leading worship and bringing together.

When people are in grief, we can say some interesting and also weird things. One marked change over the last 25 years, I believe, has been the number of close friends, especially family, who are speaking at memorials and funerals in our churches. This is sometimes good in that the service can be more individualized, and a little less formalized.

On the other hand, you don't want these same folks, who are also in grief, to feel pressured or to be too anxious about breaking down in the middle of their talk. Normally, a person can determine if they will be able to speak or not. However, in grief we can't always know or say what we'll be up to doing.

Then there's the time factor. As officiating pastor, I offer to read comments written by a family member. I remember wanting to say a few words at my brother's memorial a few years back, but I just couldn't put it into words of a short duration, so I refrained. Then, a few years later at my Dad's memorial, I managed to share a few memories just fine.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

On not grabbing

While the appeal to greater control is very attractive and a cultural idol of sorts, the wisdom of letting go, though it's counter-cultural, is neglected. This sets people up for greater, not less, disappointment and loss.

If we let go we would be freer--freer of the illusion of control, the lie that life's about getting first and then, second, clutching what's ours. Ethicist Waldo Beach long taught that biblical freedom has two sides: freedom and deliverance from bondage and freedom for responding to God and neighbor.

Where are you stuck, and don't even know it? From what do you need to be freed? How will you surrender and let God love and heal you, even the parts you've always gripped so tightly? What do you need in order to be free for God and the people with whom you work and live?

In what ways will you "choose life" and open a closed fist today?

Monday, July 6, 2009

July 6 John Hus Festival*

The Moravian Church, our spiritual mothers and fathers, celebrates July 6 as a watershed event in their heritage and history.

John Wesley's spiritual director and mentor, Peter Bohler, was a Moravian pastor. On a ship destined for Wesley's new mission field of Georgia, Wesley wrote of the faith of the Moravians on board as they sang Psalms through the most dangerous and threatening of seas. Wesley, terrified, was not singing, but looked on in amazement.

And then it was at a Moravian meeting that Wesley heard the words of Luther's Preface to Romans, and as he did, his heart was strangely warmed with the knowledge and newly found assurance that Jesus had died for him, forgiven him, and freed him from the law of sin and death.

In speaking of her sons Charles' and John's new experience of assurance and God's love in Jesus, Susanna stated that it wasn't about having faith, it was more about the "uniting of head and heart," and an encounter for which they had been searching for some time.

Is your faith something that others are drawn to, attracted to, or repulsed by? Or, do others at least find your faith the least bit interesting? Somehow whatever John Wesley witnessed on a ship made him both seeker of and searched by the One whose name is Love.

*On July 6, 1415, John Hus was martyred at the Council of Constance.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Is all Scripture Equal?

An Old Testament professor called attention to the pejorative use of "old," the term Christians use in referring to that part of the Hebrew Bible that is Christian Canon. His own efforts were aimed at encouraging me and my fellow divinity classmates to remove the blinders, the New Testament lenses, that prevent us from seeing the whole of Scripture as Canon, "old" or "new."

The question regarding the equality of Scripture is a good one. Do I as pastor or even participant, omit parts of a reading because of the needs of the situation? For example, there's a reading from the funeral liturgy in the Episcopal church from Lamentations 3, and verses 31 and 32 were the ones I once omitted as family member not as officiating clergy: 'For the Lord will not reject forever. Although he causes grief..."

So the idea of the Lord rejecting us (even though not forever), and God causing grief is tough to proclaim or suggest to a room filled with mourners. But this question brings others: Should we bend the reading to be pastoral and if so, when? Most of us choose from already selected texts what to read at a service based on the appropriateness of the text.

But is that the easy way out? In omitting parts of the reading for the needs of the situation, do I take away others' gift to hear the whole text, to struggle over it for themselves, and to make their own conclusions? Should discomfort with the apparent dissonances be something we expect others to handle for themselves, or should we make it easier by not dealing with that issue in a time of grief and bewilderment, a time that is already difficult enough. There are no easy, black and white answers.

With Lamentations, the cries of grief are written for us to read and hear. They represent the gut-wrenching, illogical, messy, angry, confusing process that grief is. In all our mental confusion, is it sometimes comforting, in a mysterious way, to know there is someone to blame: God? That's a cry to the One who created us to grieve. That's different than claiming God causes suffering, which many would hear mistakenly (in my opinion) as representative of an authentic Christian faith and theology.

How to Live with-and without- Anger: The Words of Jesus

You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder”; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgement.” But I...