Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Bark! Musings on a Theme by Will Willimon

Bishop Will Willimon penned the phrase The Dog Days of Pentecost and I first read it in a wonderful collection of his devotions published in On a Wild and Windy Mountain. With the drought of 2011, the phrase should make a comeback.

This grueling season is endless and monotonous, and hot! For those churches which observe the church seasons, the season after Pentecost takes us from mild spring days and nights through Christ the King, the culmination of the Christian calendar, which is usually a Sunday in late November. In between are the dog days and the time called "ordinary." We take what respite we can find in summer vacations, holidays, camps, reunions, back to school preparations, and lots of air conditioning!

Whenever we're stuck and not moving in the spiritual life, the season is one of dog days, regardless of the time of year. You are listless, lifeless, and, like the diminishing water tables, we too maybe drained of reserves. We may struggle to sustain the pace we have set. And praying itself seems more like a good idea than a reality. Too, self-care sounds like a great idea, but most of us really don't give it a thought until we're confronted with the drought of spirit that comes with running on empty for too long.

What's the "cure" for the dog days of the spirit? When the traveler prayed "I lift my eyes to the hills," the words were about the dangers and difficulties of the pilgrimage ahead. (Psalm 121:1) Asking about the source of our strength for the trip may be the best move we could make, because the response to that question is "My help is in the Lord, who made heaven and earth." (Psalm 121: 2)

Surely, there are times to smell the roses, and to take advantage of the respites on the journey. If you have a friend like Spartan the Border Collie, you know how exciting the simple mention of WALK is for canine pals. He is always up for a walk, morning, day, or night. Having that spunk and sense of adventure is a priceless gift.

As long as we focus on the mechanics of the journey, we may become blind to the One who companions us. The Lord who made heaven and earth is the reason we walk in the first place. And the movement to God cannot be made without God.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

On speaking your truth

From hedge fund managers to sports "analysts" many people claim they can forecast the future; most of the time, they're telling you what you already know, or can find out for yourself! So church consultants from every persuasion tout the importance being more fruitful or successful in ministry, i.e., more people in church. Is fewer people supposed to be a good thing? Pardon the Charlie Sheen here- but-- DUH!

According to Deuteronomy, as the prophet's prediction actually happens, they are a true prophet. If not, they are a false prophet -- with dire consequences of course for the false prophet. Was this a corrective for the many false prophets who used their gift and office to advance themselves?

By just about any reading of the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible, the practice of soothsaying appears to be the norm, while the true prophet was the exception. From I Kings, read the stories of Elijah and the prophets of Baal- or what bad King Ahab said about Micaiah: "I hate him because he never prophecies anything good for me; it's always bad." (I Kings 22:8) Like Micaiah, maybe we should make sure our hearers want to hear the real message, not the pretend one we've concocted.

One of the dangers of the pastoral role, is that we become very gifted in working for the acceptance of others, and in being liked. Another pitfall is that in order to get ahead, we become experts at listening to every voice except our best one, the one that speaks to us in the whispers and sheer silence, the Holy Spirit. But what do pastors really have to offer anyone if we have never really been present to this Voice?

"Speaking the truth in love" doesn't guarantee that we will make friends or influence people, but it's the one thing we have to offer. It is not easy nor second- nature to many of us. But some people will appreciate and admire you for being honest and truthful- even as you proceed in gentleness and kindness.

" It is curious – curious that physical courage should be so common in the world, and moral courage so rare." -Mark Twain

Monday, August 8, 2011

Piety Sells

It does if can be done in the name of politics. When Jesus talked about prayer in public, he mentioned those who already have their reward. (Matthew 6: 5)

Were Jesus words a caution directed at the image-driven self which seeks, in almost idolatrous fashion, to mold everything in its own image? We can even mold prayer in our image, can't we? We can attempt to use it for self-serving and limiting purposes. We can take anything given to us, something meant to bless, and misuse it.

The blessing and curse of such stunts is that people who employ them benefit more than anyone else, even if it's just being seen by a few more thousand folks.

Oldies but Goodies