Thursday, December 31, 2009

The December 31 Moravian

Let all those rejoice who put their trust in you. Psalm 5:11 (NKJV)

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe. John 20:29

Why is it that, in struggling for a word of hope, we fall into the trap of choosing the better over the best? Of worshiping the effect or result of God's transforming grace instead of fixing ourselves on The One and Only? Something works well one time and we codify it into a regular tradition. This is about our preferring the penultimate instead of the Ultimate.

The words for the new portal of time called 2010 are about us, God's people, trusting in God's goodness and grace even though we do not see what's ahead. We are free to rejoice in the not-yet-certain because God in Jesus is ahead of us.

Today is a foggy day in South Texas. Living by faith is similar to driving in the fog with real fog lights. We can see better, maybe not any farther, because the reflection of the brights against the fog is gone. The distractions are not as annoying and difficult to screen. We can see God's love best with the eyes of faith. And it's about trust not certainty.

God, deliver us from the temptation of doubting your love for us. Regardless of what we can or can't see ahead, free our spirits to hear Your words of love and power reclaiming and recreating us in this moment of new time. We surrender to Your will and way in Christ's name.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

UM Questions and Answers 2009-2010

  1. If it works in Kansas does it work in No Trees? Yes, if it's the UMC Publishing House.
  2. What's the obsession with discipleship? It's measurable and safe. And our version stops short of getting into trouble like Jesus did.
  3. Why are there so many church consultants? See #1 above.
  4. Are younger clergy just more fodder for the pension system? Not all all. How cynical.
  5. Why are clergy pensions being re-evaluated? Pensions?
  6. Why the glass ceiling for women mega- church senior pastors but not for women bishops? The UMC wants to look more progressive than it actually is.
  7. How can UMC's be for the civil rights of GLBT persons and against holy unions? See number #6.
  8. How much does the name "Methodist" cost? Ask the trustees of Southern [methodist] University.
  9. What is fruitless? Probably lecturing on fruitfulness. Or hearing a lecture on it.
  10. What's a mission-based appointment? Too early to tell; maybe it's new code for a "challenge."

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

On Nullifying God's Grace

Week of 12/27/09 watchword:

Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven. Psalm 148:13

The New Testament for 12/28/09:

I do not nullify the grace of God. Galatians 2:21

Part of the doctrinal heritage of the Reformation is "irresistible grace." Who are we, it goes, to resist God's sovereign will, to block the movement of God's grace? It's about God getting God's way; not our will be done, but God's.

When Paul speaks of "nullifying" God's grace, could he be suggesting that we create ways to void God's offer of love and grace? We do so by not believing the best about God and ourselves, that we are made in God's image and created in love. We choose to use our precious time in a way that does not lead to life. We do it as a species, to each other- and to earth, our home.

So Paul's personal statement about not nullifying the grace of God is not about God's grace, but rather our pugnacious spirit of denying, resisting, rejecting the movement of God's grace in and beyond us. If you want a community based on merit, then join the Boy Scouts or Rotary. Or the Optimists (my favorite civic club). Many churches, in their own way, resist the movement of God's grace in their shared life. Many clergy too.

In this last week of 2009, the confession proves helpful:

God, your life is within us, but our selfishness has hindered you. We have not lived by faith. We have resisted your Spirit. We have neglected your inspirations. Deliver us, loving God, from nullifying your grace this day, this moment. Amen.

Christ's peace to you and yours!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

An After-Christmas Prayer, 12/27/09

Lord, if we were to sum it all up, we are filled with so many good things but today it's enough to appreciate the gift of life itself! And the gift of a morning so clean and crisp and beautiful that we can see blue sky everywhere! We offer our worship, our gifts, ourselves. You alone are God, you alone are the Lord. You alone are holy.

Forgive us for the words spoken in anger, for our actions that have hurt or harmed another. And we pray for those who hurt us, in the name of the one who said from the cross, "Forgive them- they don't know what they're doing." Free us, we pray, to make it easier for others to believe in you because they have known us. Help us to lighten the load that others are carrying, to cut some slack for others, knowing how we appreciate it when someone is patient and understanding with us.

We praise and glory and delight in your loving presence. The glow of that Holy Night still lingers...the simplicity and surrender of people giving themselves to each other and ultimately to you... Mary, Joseph, shepherds, wise men, all making their unplanned journeys. So teach us to walk with you in the happenstance. That if you are anywhere, you are where we are afraid and uncertain. Teach us anew that courage is not the absence of fear, but the presence of love- your love and grace. Teach us what it means to be loved unconditionally, and to trust in you even though we don't know what tomorrow will bring.

Help us to hear in Jesus our invitation to live and to be fully alive! That surrendering to you is an invitation to know joy and peace and gentleness deep within and where we live. It's our gain and we're so grateful. Renew and restrain us and our world in your love. Renew our hope and adventure and willingness to risk and serve. Deliver those who are in pain or who suffer from the violence of others. Heal us and hold us all, Lord. And equip us not only to know what our ministry is, but to do it! In the name of the One who saves us and loves, Jesus. Amen.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Day Moravian

Nativity of the Lord (Christmas Day)

Today's Watchword:

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the
glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.
John 1:14


Send the memory of your child Jesus, that we may know the joy of being loved
without condition. As you took human form and walked among us, may we let the
light of you shine through our lives.
In Jesus' name. Amen.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Monday Moravian, 12/21/09

Watchword for the Week of December 20:
God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly.
Luke 1:52

Monday's New Testament text:
Christ says, "If you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you."
John 16:23

This season's expectations may include that we will be sweeter and kinder than usual. Will this be the year of the perfect Christmas? Because of the unusually high expectations, the disappointments are just as extreme. Frustration, anger, impatience are all symptoms of being overbooked and trying too hard.
Which is why Mary's words in Luke from the Magnificat are so helpful and healing. Because God comes to us when we are low, with the weight of our own schemes and imagination. The Walter Mitty syndrome is the temptation of each and every Christian, especially now. It goes that somehow we can be totally different people just because it's December.

But we're not different just because we're busier, or it's Christmas. The archetypes tapped into by the Grinch and Christmas ghost stories, or even the biblical massacre of children at the hands of Ceasar's Herod teach us about the shadow side of this season, and ourselves. Especially on December 21, the darkest period of the year, the first day of winter.

Being lifted up at the hands of a loving God is the last thing we think we need. We don't want to meet God here on the ground. But God is especially where we are the most desolate. In the Incarnation, God is saying the totality of our human condition is redeemed and loved.

It's in the name of One who became flesh that we pray. Not formulaic, the teaching is about seeking God and God's will in love. It's not about using the Jesus word as a magician would. Here St. Julian's word's are instructive:
The purpose of God’s revelation to me was to teach our soul the wisdom of cleaving to the goodness of God. And so our customary practice of prayer was brought to mind: how through our ignorance and inexperience in the ways of love we spend so much time on petition. For in his goodness is included all one can want, without exception…to know the goodness of God is the highest prayer of all, and it is a prayer that accommodates itself to our most lowly needs.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Advent Affirmations in a Time of Grief

Receiving the Light of Christ in a Season of Exile

December, 2004

  • I am letting the Light of Christ shine on me by choosing to care for my body, my spirit, my mind. Psalm 30:2
  • Even though we are changed forever by our loss; we are choosing not to die with our loved one. John 1:5
  • Through the chaos and paralysis, Christ’s Light reminds me of what I have left, not just what I have lost. Philippians 4:8
  • Even as many of our Christian friends journey to Bethlehem to behold the birth of our Savior; we may need to meet the adult Jesus at Bethany with Mary and Martha, at the tomb of their beloved brother and his dear friend, Lazarus. (John 11)
  • When I am running on empty, feel like I have nothing left to give, that’s when the grace and power of God helps me the most. I am not useless. (II Corinthians 12:9)
  • Christ’s peace is a gift that is there for the taking, “My peace I give to you.” John 14:27
  • When it is too difficult to pray, I know that the Holy Spirit is praying for me with sighs too deep for words. Romans 8:26

  • Though it may feel like God is far away, Christmas affirms that God in Jesus Christ lives among us, has “pitched his tent among us” and shoulders our pain and grief. John 1:14

Friday, December 18, 2009

On Giving Others a Break

December is a perfect time to cut everyone in your life some slack, because much of what fuels our struggle with the season is GUILT. How else can you explain the unreasonable amount of effort and money and time that goes into our preparation with buying, decorating, sending, and cooking? Why are we surprised when we find our Christmas has been stolen? We did it to ourselves.

Are we bums if we leave our perfect Christmas behind? If I don't feel happy or even joyful, and I am not overflowing with kindness, does that mean that I might as well expect a visit from Marley's ghost or sojourn in the cave on Mt. Crumpet with the Grinch himself?

Classes on managing holiday stress go a long way toward helping us set realistic goals for the season. Once these are written down, it's easier to stay true to them, to be intentional and not just well-intentioned. If we don't do something like this, we tend to measure everything by how we happen to be feeling at that moment. It's easy to lose focus of how we're implementing the small changes of reducing guilt and anxiety.

Talk of hating Christmas is more about hating the guilt and heroic expectations that come with not giving ourselves and others a break. If we need anything, it's first to be released so that we can let others go. Allow yourself and others NOT to be perfect. And if somehow, you don't measure up to your own ideals, then be gentle with yourself.

Allow for some breaks for rest and recovery. That is what Advent is supposed to be: a time to wait, to listen to God, to cease from doing and obsessing about doing. It's supposed to be a respite from the guilt that each December, we're not magically transformed into an ideal version of ourselves.

How can I make it easier for one other person today? That, to me, is the better way to prepare for Jesus' coming.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Monday Moravian 12/14/09

This Week's Watchword
Bear fruits worthy of repentance.
Luke 3:8

Monday's N.T. Text

It is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Philippians 2:13

The inclusive meaning of repentance has to do with a turning around (Hebrew) as well as a change in thinking leading to a change in action (Greek). Throughout the Bible, it also can describe regret or sorrow that doesn't lead anywhere. When a public figure's private misdeeds (Tiger Woods, for example) are exposed, the image consultants will say that sincere contriteness must be expressed at some point if their public persona is to be repaired.

But the New Testament knows at least as much about how the word was used in its every day Roman context. Repeated repentance and renunciation of Christianity was required of accused Christians in many parts of the empire. Evidence suggests that those who persisted or who endured in their faith, could have been executed for their stubbornness, or, if they were a Roman citizen, shipped off to Rome. The story of Paul follows this second scenario. Announcing the imperative, "Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand," as Jesus does in Mark 1:15 or "Bear fruits worthy of repentance" as John Baptizer does in Luke 3:8 would have certainly been a subversive thing to hear and then do. It also might have brought a knowing smile.

Faithful repentance is not about feeling sorry; gospel repentance upends our world and our life as we love it. We fashion a comfortable, safe, stable, and convenient existence. Successful adults are well adjusted, balanced, and know how to find their place. But those attributes are hard to capture or control. They exist more in the imagination of "wouldn't it be nice?"

Faithful repentance turns toward the movement of a loving God within. The change in thinking may be that God is indeed at work within us, of all people. Holy Spirit love is claiming, calming, and calling us, cheering us on to the end that we will want more of God's love for ourselves and our world. And God's end is delight in us. There is no hidden agenda or neediness in God's "good pleasure." It's about God's abundance and overflow of joy in us!

It was once said that the Wesleyan view of perfection is not moral, but rather, loving intention. Can everything be done out of a loving heart, one first loved by God? It's from this holy encounter that the "good fruits" naturally and inevitably flow.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

God and Brain Researcher Comes to Houston

Dr. Andrew Newberg of the University of Pennsylvania will present the 2010 Bowles Lecture series. The date is Thursday, January 21 at the Memorial Hermann Southwest Campus in the Wilson Turner Auditorium. Newberg's latest book was released in March, 2009.

Call 713-222-CARE to register.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Grinch Therapy & Functional Atheism

Similar to the Grinch's heart being three sizes too small, would it help those who live in grinchy isolation to speak with a therapist? The problem is, we and the Grinch like where we are.

"Atheist" is a crowded word. It could include all who reject any form of theism on philosophical grounds and/or those who reject religion because of the bad behavior of its adherents. When it comes to what people believe or don't, frankly only God knows if what we say and what we really think are remotely similar. Many Americans subscribe to what I would call functional atheism, that is, there has been and continues to be a gap between what we say we believe (78% belief in God) and actual religious participation and practice (54% say religion very important in life). For Americans, especially UMC's, we know the "right" (read: popular or majority) answers so the presence of the cheat scale is real.

But I wonder if the gap is explained away just by fudging the questions. In one video our kids enjoyed years ago, the Grinch is psychoanalyzed by none other than the Cat in the Hat. What prompts him to do and persist in doing such mean things? In a similar fashion, it might be helpful to assume that absolutely everyone who walks into our lives is a wounded individual, with or without church affiliation. And the wounded wound.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Monday Moravian 12/07/09

This Week's Watchword
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favorably on his people and
redeemed them.
Luke 1:68

Monday's Text, December 7
Clothe yourselves with the new self,
created according to the likeness of God in
true righteousness and holiness.
Ephesians 4:24

Everything looks better when seen as a gift. Starting a daily examen with how we have received God's grace always seems more promising because perceiving life as gift, is apart, if not a requisite, of actually receiving God's love for ourselves and embodying grace to others. Most do not see their lives as a gift or a blessing. And that's why the therapeutic is so popular these days in and out of churches. We need healing to be able to see our life as gift, especially in the places where we feel cursed.

The Song of Zechariah, or the Benedictus in Luke 1:68ff., is a song declaring the dawn of God's tender mercy (1:78). This dawn of light is God's gift of mother-womb-love, a compassion from the gut not the head or even the heart. Does anatomy matter here? Those who are too heady and purpose- conscious, and those who are tossed by the shades of emotion and passion are taught by the faith of John the Baptizer's father, Zechariah. He's not talking about God's too big plan- he's taking about God's "daddy-ness."

We do not, finally surrender to an idea, a divine mover. The fire of our will rises and falls because we will always be filled with unfulfilled good intentions. But to throw yourself into the arms of God's tender mercy? Mom's arms? Like being clothed after the birthing of our baptism, the imperative in Ephesians 4 is to grow the new species, God's very image in us, first begun in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The work of God's righteousness (right relationship) and holiness (set-apartness) begun by God in us, deepens with our full agreement and surrender to God's love in Jesus.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Mystic Way of Evangelism

I thoroughly enjoyed Elaine Heath's The Mystic Way of Evangelism. If you're looking for something to do in a prepackaged, programmatic sort of way, you'll need to look elsewhere. Those supersaturated with fads, trends and gimmicks, I recommend it! Heath's narrative style invites a lingering read.

From the beautifully told biographies of the saints Heath, I think accurately, describes the present state of the church (in the U.S. I presume) as one of the dark night of the mystics. The way negativa- or the steps of purgation, illumination, and union, is the way through the night. You might find it interesting that Heath applies a basically personal spiritual category to the corporate church, and so several pages in the Appendix well explain her metaphor. Pointing to the loss of fruitfulness, dearth of desire, and true longing for more of God among our denominations, her description, however, is right on target.

In purgation, we can choose to learn in the dark night or just continue on the same deadening path we've grown accustomed to. Seminaries do not, according to Heath, teach us to pray contemplatively, so our ministry is seen as a production of the false self and whatever feeds ego needs, not something that grows out of what we receive from God's love and gift in prayer. In ministry, we hit the wall, literally running out of new stuff to do, fall exhausted staying on the merry-go-round, or a little of both.

The kenotic, or self- emptying and life-giving love of God is our true coming home, our illumination. And this story in the lives of the saints is what Heath brings to life so well. Our healing is from the three- fold wound of sexism, class-ism, and racism. St. Julian's own vision tells the story of our original wounding and how God looks on us with pity, not blame. The choice of these three particular wounds is effectively argued, using not only the ugly statistics of sexual abuse (1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men are survivors of childhood sexual abuse), but also in sharing the struggles of saints like Phoebe Palmer and Henri Nouwen, John Woolman and Thomas Kelly.

In keeping with a narrative form, Heath tells how an imagined community, as it grounds itself in the spirituality of the mystics, will also be attractive to those not present, because love will be genuine. There will be an egalitarian sense of shared ministry with bi-vocational pastors leading the way. Ministry will come out of what people receive from God's love in prayer, not from what they score on gift inventories. Earth care will be practiced alongside of, not in back of, financial stewardship.

Heath's book is more than just an accounting of our current spiritual malaise. She also is apart of New Day, a monastic-like community in Dallas, where she also teaches evangelism at Perkins School of Theology. So I'm pretty sure she telling us a little of her own journey too. Her book is a rare one on the practice of evangelism, so needed to be relished contemplatively, prayerfully. What else would you expect?

Oldies but Goodies