Wednesday, December 14, 2011

On Loosening the Screws

Now is a great time to loosen- instead of tightening the screws- on the people in your life! In an image that comes right out of Dickens' England, screws were tightened on the prisoner's crank, making it more difficult for the inmate to twist. In order to occupy their time with labor, the treadmill was used in a similar fashion.

Before you start about a nice work out at the gym, and you didn't know Victorians cared for the health of their prisoners, know that this "activity" went on all day (for about six hours at a time), every day, not as "recreation," but as punishment intended to cause pain, suffering, and despair. On the typical prison diet with this kind of hard labor, inmates mostly died in prison long before serving out their sentence.

The term "tightening the screws" means that sometimes we make it more difficult for others for no other purpose than because we can. As if anyone needs life to be harder, it seems some folks exist to do just that. There's no judgment here, just a suggestion that if Christ's coming means anything, it's time to lighten up, loosen up, and cut others in our lives some slack.

Loosen the screws with the purpose of making life a little easier for someone else. And maybe start with giving yourself this gift.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Advent: Winter of the Spirit

Though I have long lived away from the climates that offer four seasons, I think it's a disadvantage to never have lived to experience at least once each season in its fullness. Most places offer three seasons and parts of a fourth. Our calendars and lives are marked by the seasons.

But it's not as easy to name our current spiritual season. Many of the biblical references to the seasons are tied to the growing calendar, the rural festivals that reflected Israel at a certain stage of being settled as opposed to being nomadic. Whatever season we find ourselves in, each spiritual season comes with unique invitations to experience new depths of God's love and grace.

Winter deals specifically with dormancy. What is within that is just beginning, waiting for its time to come? Waiting and patience thus becomes winter's spiritual work. Thomas Keating once wrote that the virtue of humility requires or assumes humiliation. In similar fashion, the only way to more patience is through the sometimes long wait which feels like dormancy. There's little sense of accomplishment.

If the invitation is for you, obey it. Listen to it. Freely choose it. It will be difficult to hear it in all the voices, both within and around us, coaching on to self-produce our perfect little Christmas, believing the lie that we can have life and Jesus and spirituality and everything on our terms. However, being faithful to the growth of God's kingdom -rule growing secretly is what you will gain. (Mark 4:26)

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Glorious Prayer and Lord (3)

For thine is the kingdom and power and glory forever.

You won't find this phrase in either Luke or Matthew. Many Christians use this as a closing ascription to God. The words are used as a part of David's prayer in 1 Chronicles 29: 10-13. Also recall Revelation 5:12 and 7:12.

Some have suggested that these words were formed in the oral tradition through the cauldron of intense persecution, a time within two generations Jesus. Could these words have been on the lips of the first martyrs, those who were threatened to renounce Christ and proclaim Cesar as their king and god- or suffer the consequences?

Like any part of the Lord's Prayer, this conclusion can form the basis of multiple sessions. If you haven't already exhausted the kingdom theme, power and glory are great word studies with many biblical references. To end the prayer with these words is entirely in concert with counter-cultural nature of what we have already prayed in the text of this prayer. This is something we can miss when we repeat it, even knowingly, day by day.

The Lord's Prayer is one of the best known prayers anywhere, so that it can become an opportunity for evangelism among cultural or nominal Christians, the unconnected, and anyone interested in starting an intentional spiritual life with Jesus Christ and others. Many in the Body of Christ use this prayer with minor variations (such as sins or debts for trespasses), and most of these differences, can add , rather than subtract from, the richness and depth of what we share in Christ, and that like nothing else.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Glorious Prayer and Lord (2)

And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

Here a switch can be made effectively to Matthew's version in Matthew 6:9-13. This is appropriate due to the teaching of Matthew 6:14: "For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others. neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."

The setting for Matthew is not the disciples' request for guidance in prayer, as in Luke. The context for the prayer in Mathew is the Sermon on the Mount, and chiefly, how not to be like the hypocrites. (6:2,5) References to pagan prayer are explicit here (6:7 ff.) not just in story form, as in Luke.

So the prayer as a whole is given to us to avoid duplicity and attain integrity of heart and life. If we are going to pray for forgiveness for ourselves, that implies we also practice it, or to deal with the weight and consequence of unforgiven debt. (Matt. 18:23-35)

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

From an early age, I had questions about what this verse was all about. Maybe it was the way Jesus takes evil head on- both the evil that is within us and in the world. The prayer is about avoiding bad choices and also deliverance from evil. We are responsible for our own choices, and the first part of this petition is about our choices. St. Francis De Sales wrote extensively on temptation in his Introduction to the Devout Life.

The three steps to virtue and sin are the same: proposal, delight or approval, and consent. St. Francis contrasts temptation with inspiration. We consent to either one, but each has a very different origin and terminus. Inspiration leads to joy; whereas, sin leads to death and misery. Temptation has its origin in us or in the Evil One, inspiration's source is the Holy One.

God tempts no one. (James 2:13-15) but deliverance is what capable rulers do. It is what Yahweh first did in delivering Israel from slavery. We pray to be delivered each day from whatever makes us or others less than human, less than the beloved of God.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Glorious Prayer and Lord (1)

One of the better discussions on the Lord's Prayer is Wright's The Lord and His Prayer. Wright develops the theme that this is a Kingdom prayer for Kingdom people. The other thing he accomplishes is that he brings in references from the whole Bible, the Old Testament and especially the story of Jesus in the Gospels, to explore what it means to pray this prayer. The book can be an excellent supplement to whatever approach you decide to use in teaching or study

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.

I used Luke's version in Luke 11 as the backdrop for the first half of the study. In Luke, you have a clear invitation to all to engage the prayer as a beginner can, with the disciples asking Jesus how to pray, and the wonderful parable of verses 5-13 teaching about the nature of the Father's relationship to us, and the foundation of all prayer being God's giving to us in and through the Holy Spirit. God's self giving to us is what moves us to pray in the first place.

One of the better discussions of the parable is found in Claypool's, Stories Jesus Still Tells. Claypool goes well beyond the conventional reading. Jesus is not telling us to pray longer, harder, and louder. Rather Jesus is setting us up for understanding the chasm that exists between praying to the pagan, Greco-Roman pantheon of gods, which considered complete indifference as a virtue of divinity, and Jesus own experience of the God of all compassion, his Abba, "daddy." You couldn't have more of a contrast there- and this forms an excellent beginning for teaching and praying the Our Father.

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread.

The kingdom phrase of the prayer is thus our consenting to and acceptance of the implications of being adopted as God's own beloved children in Jesus. We declare our "yes" to God's kingdom and reign in Jesus Christ, that it first happen in us and through us, as we are clay, we are earth. We surrender to God's self-giving in Jesus and Holy Spirit. This phrase also the places us in the season of Advent. We give thanks for the Lord's coming to earth as servant King and coronation in heaven as Lord over all, the Ruler of creation.

The beauty of the petition for daily bread is twofold. First, we are taught to pray for ourselves, and to ask God for what we need for the day to come, until the Lord's coming again. Second, we are assured that the Abba God will give his children what we need most, the Holy Spirit (11:13).

Friday, December 2, 2011

Wake Me Up When December's Gone

I'm guessing that's the unspoken plea of thousands, maybe millions.

Most of us really hope that this Christmas will be different. That this year, we'll experience a deeper sense of ministry and love. I need the hope to become an intention, or else happenstance will determine the movements for me. And that just leaves me with the experience of having missed the chance to live more fully. Just to survive, we could surrender to the "this too shall pass" approach, but dangling by a thread is not conducive to any measure of abundant life.

The dance of ministry these some sixty days requires more than looking with resignation to the surrealistic schedule of events. The grueling demands of the season are framed as always, by the unplanned crisis that can turn life on a dime. So the case is stronger to make some choices, if I haven't already done so. What do I need to receive from the loving Holy Trinity? Is there one activity or practice that I can engage in a way that will equip me to receive this continuing gift?

The joy of a deepening spiritual life in community is what brought us here! Yet, when we open that door today, we might find a dark, cold, and damp room, very much like the night of Scrooge's own ghostly time travel. However we have gotten to this point of wake me up when it's 2012, whether it's the dirge-like refrain of more and more results of the Ecclesiastical Ebenezer-s, or our own turning away from the one, the only Lord and Giver of Life, the choice is ours to do something about it.

Choose a book you want to read to just enjoy this season. Journal your Advent-Epiphany days. Write down your intentions in the journal. Go out and hear some live music, Christmas concert, or see a performance. See some great art. Enjoy an evening with your family. Visit, reconnect with a home-bound person. Take time out with a friend. Look into finding a spiritual director, someone you can visit with confidentially about your spiritual life and ministry.

You cannot share what you do not receive, and everything we have we have first received. (I Corinthians 4:7) Receive the Lord, your King! The Lord bless your spirit.

Oldies but Goodies