Are We Graded on a Pass-Fail or ….

These posts began as emails to an adult Sunday school class over 10 years ago.

It was probably about 1982 that I first read Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline and Freedom of Simplicity and over the following years found more and more to read about spiritual disciplines/practices and later began to make the first attempts to incorporate such into my life. (I’ll spare you a lengthy bibliography here but maybe later ….)

By 1982 I had read more, attended retreats, workshops, discovered the Jesus Prayer, and Lectio Divina. By then I was a gung-ho advocate that we all should be very intentional about the regular practice of spiritual disciplines. I probably talked the ears off (and bored to tears) more than a few folk.

In the emails to our Sunday school class I tried to be more patient and gentle in acquainting our class with the various disciplines and started by sending an weekly email naming a practice and briefly describing it.

It was while I was such a gung-ho evangelist for spiritual disciplines that I heard of a book titled Flunking Sainthood: A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray, and Still Loving My Neighbor by Jana Riess.

Well, the title bothered me somewhat. No, it bothered me alot. I wanted to present spiritual disciples in as positive a way as possible. It already had too many detractors and I wanted folk to know how great it could be for them and any thought of “flunking” was not received well by me.

So, I did what I do with a lot of books that annoy me – I started reading it. After all, you need to know your opposition. Right? Not the best attitude with which to begin reading a book, but there is something to be said for beginning. Right? Even with a less than open mind? Right?

The book is a type of spiritual memoir in which Riess recounts her spending a year giving a full month to practice each of … well, here what is reported on the back cover of the book,

“… Jana Riess shares a year-long quest to become more saintly by tackling twelve spiritual practices, including, fasting, fixed-hour prayer, gratitude, Sabbath-keeping, the Jesus Prayer, and generosity. Although she begins with great plans for success … she finds to her growing humiliation that she is failing – not just at some practices, but at every single one.”

NO! We don’t need to be writing about failing at these practices! We need to encourage folks to do them and share stories of success. — That was my initial response.

Then the next sentence on the back cover of the book,

“What emerges is a vulnerable story of the quest for perfection and the reality of failure, which turns out to be a valuable spiritual practice in and of itself.”

At the time, I was not at all sure I followed that line of reasoning, but it did intrigue me. A lot!

The following are Jana Riess’s words from the epilogue of the book and are not meant to be a spoiler but a way of seeing life and practices beyond the lens of success-and-failure.

“All through this project I’ve been hard on myself because of the practices I couldn’t do at all … the ones I did successfully but pridefully or for the wrong reasons … and the ones I didn’t see the point of. But in the end, many of this year’s practices helped me when I needed it the most: fasting helped teach me that this body and this life are not all there is … Sabbath keeping taught me about time out of time…. Sabbath time is like suspended animation …. Other practices, especially fixed-hour prayer, have this same undercurrent. Your schedule is all very good, these practices say. But you have to be prepared to drop everything for God, or others, for death….. I may have spent a year of flunking sainthood, but along the way, I’ve had unexpected epiphanies and wild glimpses of the holy I would never have experienced without these crazy practices.”

With that in mind, I think I’ll take some time and let my mind wander a bit and see if I notice any “wild glimpses of the holy” that came at unexpected times in unexpected ways. Or better yet, came in spite of my schedule, my plans and my timing of things.

How about you?

charles
{ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est}

Finding one to lead

“Kids don’t remember what you try to teach them.
They remember what you are.” – Jim Henson

It happened 50 years ago but that day in a college class is as fresh in my mind as if it happened yesterday.

That week was “Religious Emphasis Week” on our campus. I recall it was the custom at the denominational college to have chapel programs two days a week and by my senior year attendance was mandatory at one chapel program a week. For “Religious Emphasis Week” I think we had three chapel programs that week. That year we had a chemistry professor speaking. And yes, that was out of the ordinary. The professor had a doctorate not only in chemistry but also in the philosophy of science and the history and philosophy of religion. It was not uncommon for him to speak about religion in such settings as our “Religious Emphasis Week.”

In the course of his talks, it became clear that his view of salvation was that of a universalist. It also became clear that this view was not going over well with the sizable population of ministerial students on campus.

On an afternoon after one of the speaker’s talks in chapel, I had a class taught by the chairman of our religion department. It was a large class and consisted entirely of ministerial students.

Before we ever got into our class topic for the day, a number of the students found it necessary to express their extreme displease with and hostility toward the chapel speaker. Our professor gave the students space and time to express themselves. As this went on for some time, the expressions became more and more hostile toward the visiting speaking. Some became insulting and called into question the right of the visiting speaker to call himself a Christian.

After a long while, our professor voiced his own response to the matter. Our professor said he did not agree with the visiting speaker’s stance on universal salvation. He said he wished he could, but his reading of Scripture did not lead them there.

Then our professor defended the man’s right to hold such an opinion and our need to respect him. Then came the punchline (at least it was so to me), speaking of our guest speaker my professor said, “… he has thought more about what he believes than many of you have or some ever will.”

Dare I say the lightbulb above my head turned on!

In class that day I saw a professor standing in front of us who was not only a scholar but someone who wanted us all to see how to be better persons, and was willing to give us an encouraging push. Would that some of his spirit rub off on me.

“We must love them both: those whose opinions we share and those whose opinions we reject. For both have labored in search for their truth and both have helped us the in finding of our own.” – St. Thomas Aquinas

Can you think of someone who has so clearly modeled a behavior, an attitude or a character trait that you wanted that to be part of your character?

If so, who was it?

What did they model?

Did it take?

charles
{ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est}

How Do You Describe Your Reality?

Each morning I receive a brief quote from the writings of one my favorite spiritual-theological-philosophical writers (he could wear all three hats), Dallas Willard. I was so struck by this morning’s words, I wanted to share them,

The most amazing thing we can imagine in human existence is the unending fellowship of endlessly loving people. We yearn to love and to be loved, to know and be known, to enjoy and be enjoyed in creative adventurous discovery. What these passages indicate is that this kind of wonderful existence was created and is watched over, maintained, and led by the King of Kings in his kingdom. This kind of wondrous, awe-filling reality has existed and flourished from all eternity and in all eternity. God is reigning over an everlasting festival that he has invited us to participate in, contribute to, share in, and reap the blessings from.

From The Divine Conspiracy Continued: Fulfilling God’s Kingdom on Earth

I don’t know what captured by attention the most,

  • Fellowship of endlessly loving people
  • Yearn to love and be loved
  • Creative adventurous discovery
  • Awe-filling reality
  • Everlasting festival

Do any of those expressions describe the reality you are “invited … to participate in, contribute to, share in, and reap the blessings from”?

Charles
{ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est}

PS
If you want to subscribe to a daily reading from Dallas Willard you can go to https://www.biblegateway.com/newsletters/ and under the heading “Exploring Faith” you will that newsletter listed.

Saved

Sometimes I think we are holding that word – saved – too tightly in our fists. Maybe we do that for some form of security we seek, for fear we will lose something otherwise, or maybe to keep it under our control rather than let it loose in the world.

I don’t know why but I have a deep sense that we need to let go and see what can come.

Maybe I am not making myself clear.

Those of us who grew up in Christian communities and congregations and those of us who participate in such can hear that word in a certain way and with a certain firm and often rigid understanding.

When we use the word in the context of our faith communities we think we know what we mean and what the other person means. After all, don’t we all agree on what “being saved” is about?

May I use some “loaded” theological words for a moment?

We often hear only the eschatological, or soteriological or theological meaning(s) of that word. That is to say in another way – it’s about “going to” heaven or hell, about “I’ve accepted Jesus as my personal savior”, or “I asked Jesus to come into my heart,” about “declared righteous by the grace of God through faith.”

Any of that sound familiar? Are you comfortable or uncomfortable with that?

But maybe we need not to hold onto that word – save – so tightly. Maybe it means something beyond our theological take on it.

Maybe it shouldn’t be compartmentalized by us “believers” into such a small sphere of use.

What else is there?

Let me offer a few examples.

When I was a college student I took part in a literacy program my congregation was doing in cooperation with the Salvation Army in our town. Several of us would get on the church van and ride to where children were waiting for us. I did the best I knew how to do but was amazed at what another college student was able to do. He was expanding the kids vocabulary by leaps and bounds. He was respecting the kids and acknowledging their ability to learn when others were writing them off as hopeless. Oh, did I mention they lived in a part of town that I once heard another young person at church say the “poor white trash” lived there?

How do we “save” a child by helping to learn to read? Were we there only to get them to “sign” the “I accept Jesus card” or were we there to bring something to them and learn something from them?

The other day I was invited to speak at a church up the road from where I live. On the way I passed by an empty motel. Empty as in it was closed and had been for some time. I could see it had deteriorated over time.

I wondered if the building could be saved?

Maybe some group could take ownership of the buildings and they could provide temporary (or even more than temporary) housing for folk in need of housing.

Maybe the motel has a kitchen and a place for a dining area and could be part of providing some meals for folk who don’t have access to decent meals.

Maybe the motel has some area for meeting rooms that could provide a place for any number of community services.

Could such a “repurposed” set of buildings be part of saving a child from hunger, saving a family from homelesness, saving someone from unemployment?

But maybe, the first thing is to find out what the town needs, not what someone bent on “saving others” thinks they need.

The other morning I was reading a prayer that in part said,

Help us also in our business and work.
May we have grace to be honest in all our dealings with others, truthful in all our life and conversation, and consistent in our conduct and behavior —
so that all who see us, shall see Jesus in us.

We desire to make this day one of loving ministry in Your name, to others.
Fill us with Your Spirit, so that wherever we go, our faces may shine with the brightness of divine love.
Help us to be as Jesus to those we meet.
Fill us with Your love, Your peace, Your grace, Your compassion —
so that Your life really shall be revealed in us.
May our wayside ministry be one of blessing.

Enable us by simple kindnesses,
by gentleness,
and grace of manner,
and by words of encouragement and comfort —
to be a blessing to everyone we meet today.

How are we to be a blessing to those we meet today and tomorrow?

{ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est}
(my inexact translation = “where true love and passion abide, God is always present”)

PS:
After I had drafted the above, two items came to my attention.

First, I received a selection from the writings of Frederick Buechner which included the following:

… the Hebrew view of the human being [is] as a psychosomatic unity, an indivisible amalgam of body and soul in which if either goes wrong, the other is affected. It is significant also that the Greek verb sо̄zо̄ was used in Jesus’ day to mean both “to save” and “to heal” and sо̄tēr could signify either “savior” or “physician.”

You can find the entire reading at –
https://www.frederickbuechner.com/blog/2021/7/12/weekly-sermon-illustration-healing

Second, one of the ministries of Church of the Savior in Washington, D.C., Recovery Cafe, has joined with other community groups to purchase a property which formerly housed a discount store, to be converted to a space for a cafe and mixed income housing.

You can find more information on this at –
https://inwardoutward.org/recovery-cafe-property-community-job-openings-dayspring-retreats/

And at –
https://www.bizjournals.com/washington/news/2021/07/12/anacostia-recovery-cafe-ownership.html?b=1626107688%5E21936423

charles
{ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est}

Cry, let it all out ….

For the past couple of years, I have been following the International Sunday School Lessons series and each week posting what I call “reflections” for the upcoming Sunday’s Scripture. I have been, for the most part, not interested in posting my reflections and observations but in helping the reader engage the Scripture and offer some pathways for their own reflections.

The Scripture focus for this upcoming Sunday is Lamentations 5.

You can find my most recent post here –
http://lectio.discipleswalk.org/

I don’t recall ever paying much attention to the book of Lamentations in the past but having done so in the past days, I now see some of what I have missed.

Maybe the laments offered in the book of Lamentations were encouraged in their honesty by the many laments offered in the Psalms.

If as Bonhoeffer suggests the Psalms are the “praybook of the bible,” I wonder why we do not do a better job of offering our entire selves to God.

We often turn to the Psalms for the words of praise we find there.

Could we also turn to the Psalms and Lamentations to see how we can name the pain we have and give voice to that pain before God. No, that doesn’t express it correctly. Not “before God,” but “to God.”

We hear it in the Psalms, we hear it in Lamentations.

Walter Brueggemann in Praying the Psalms tells us “The Psalms are an assurance to us that when we pray and worship, we are not expected to censure or deny the deepness of our own human pilgrimage.”

And elsewhere in The Message of the Psalms he suggests “[Psalms of lament] express the pain, grief, dismay, and anger that life is not good. (They also refuse to settle for things as they are, and so they assert hope.)”

We call on God to hear our pain, to see our pain, to acknowledge our pain, we ask how long will it continue and we ask God why.

After this year of pandemic, of isolation, of death, of violence, maybe it is time to tell God how we “really” feel about it.

Do you think God can handle it? The Psalmists did. Those voicing their pain in Lamentations did.

Do we?

charles
{ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est}

When will we ever have time to relax a bit?

“Why can’t you just relax?”

“You’re just too uptight!”

Ever been told that – thought that?

Have you ever listened to one of “those” relaxation tapes (ok, I know I‘m showing my age, but you get it don’t you? – No? How about a relaxation podcast? Oh, no, I’m getting uptight just thinking about this, i better try to relax)

You how it goes on those relaxation tapes/podcasts – you hear in a soft, almost whisper voice (that is supposed by its very sound to make you feel more comfortable and relaxed) “Let’s start with our toes, wiggle them a bit, now let them just be still, take a deep breath, feel your breath filling you lungs, now feel the sensations in your toes, can you feel the muscle tension going out of them. Yes? You feel it now. Good, Now your right foot ….” (and it goes on for a while then) “Now the crown of your head. Do you still feel muscle tension there? Take a breath, as you breathe out let any tension in the crown of your head leave with your breathing out. Gooood.”

Been there – done that?

Let me ask you – How do you “relax” into this season of resurrection? The Great 50 Days of Easter? Eastertide?

Do you?

Are you uptight by the “let down” after all the build up to Easter egg hunts, Easter baskets, and if you are much involved in “church activities” the churchy busyness surrounding Easter. I have known some ministers in highly liturgical settings who try to take the week after Easter off, just to slow down and unwind a bit.

What about you? Are you still on an Easter high? Do you need to settle into the season of Eastertide?

I receive email from Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC. six days a week. The emails are entitled “Inward/Outward.” The weekday mailings offer a quote for the day and the Saturday mailing addresses the lectionary gospel reading for that Sunday.

This came from in Monday’s email –

Guide me,
Holy One,
into an unclenched moment,
a deep breath,
a letting go of heavy expectancies,
of shriveling anxieties,
of dead certainties,
that, softened by the silence,
surrounded by the light,
and open to the mystery,
I may be found by wholeness,
upheld by the unfathomable,
entranced by the simple,
and filled with the joy
that is you.

(from – Ted Loder, Guerrillas of Grace: Prayers for the Battle, San Diego: Luramedia, 1984)

This so captured by attention that I wanted to hold onto it for a long time … and to share it.

“… unclenched moment … open to the mystery …. found by … upheld by … entranced by the simple …”

And, there it is!

I try to “hold onto it” and thereby miss the invitation to let go and rest in the mystery that is Easter.

I want to understand, to explain, when more often I need to let go of the expectations, the anxieties and even the lifeless certainties that blind me to the light of Easter and the silence that just might speak of life.

I’ll be quiet now and go back to Ted Loder’s words. Join me?

charles
{ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est}

PS – To find out more about Church of the Saviour you can read this –
https://inwardoutward.org/origins/
And this –
https://inwardoutward.org/about-us/

And to subscribe to the mailings –
https://inwardoutward.org/guide-me-into-an-unclenched-moment-apr-12-2021/

Well … Easter’s Come and Gone for Another Year

I saw the season was coming to a close the other day when I went to Walmart. I guess that shouldn’t surprise me much. After all, isn’t Walmart a good indicator of the cultural climate?

But, aside from that, I noticed how the employees at the store were rearranging the aisles that had been set aside for items for Easter shopping You know – candy, Easter baskets, candy, plastic grass, candy, Easter themed toys, candy, etc. The shelves had become “picked over” and were becoming empty. Retailers try very hard to avoid empty shelves and as good a retailer, the Walmart employees were consolidating the remaining items to shelves closer to the main customer walkways for better visibility.

By now, the season is almost gone from view.

What Easter candy, baskets, etc are left in the stores are marked down to 50% and maybe even 75% off. Should we “stock-up” for next Easter.

And have our kids and grandkids begun to come down from the sugar high that accompanies the release of so much chocolate and candy in our homes? Probably so.

Stay with me for another moment or so.

I don’t mean this to be an entirely sarcastic rant on the heights of commercialism that has come to accompany this holiday.

Holiday? Or Holy Day? Or Both?

Maybe both?

I don’t remember when I first heard it but several years ago I heard a minister speak of “becoming an Easter people.” And just yesterday, I got an email that used that same phrase, “becoming an Easter people.”

Then there was my minister friend who said that growing up in the church he heard sin preached 51 Sundays a year and Easter/Resurrection preached one Sunday.

Is that the way we should expect it to be?

Maybe we can take a clue from not just the cultural trappings of the Easter season but pay some attention to the “Christian calendar.”

As that calendar takes us through the year it sets aside 50 days for Easter. Some have called it the “Great 50 Days of Easter.” The days from Easter Sunday to Pentecost are looked on as the season of Easter. A time to consider, explore and maybe even practice what Easter people might look like, might behave like and even what they might expect life to be life.

Is there life after Easter Sunday? Probably so.

If Lent has been so often for many a time to “give up” something, what can the Days of Easter be when we take up something to live into Easter Life?

Can I offer one example? “Red Letter Christians Wake Up.” This could come to you in email each day. It offers a Scripture, a brief thought, and a “Now Go and Do …” for your practice.

You can visit past offerings at https://us7.campaign-archive.com/home/?u=7bfda5ec6f398db1316a1543f&id=6be23fbaa7
And find a subscribe link on that same page.

Here is the “wake up” that came this past Monday –

“No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.”

– 1 Juan 3:9-10

Oscar Romero, a martyr of the church’s struggle in El Salvador, wrote, “I do not tire of telling everyone, especially young people, who long for their people’s liberation, that I admire their social and political sensitivity, but it saddens me when they waste it by going on ways that are false. Let us, too, all take notice that the great leader of our liberation is the Lord’s Anointed One, who comes to announce good news to the poor, to give freedom to the captives, to give news of the missing, to give joy to so many homes in mourning, so that society may be renewed as in the sabbatical years of Israel.

Now Go and Do …
Today, recognize the ways of love of Jesus’ kingdom that you may participate as a faithful and devout resident in the space between a broken world and the coming kingdom of God.

charles
{ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est}

It happened again and again!

I really don’t want to say I’m a hoarder … can we say “pack rat”?

Recently my wife and I were beginning to clean out a small storage building we have behind our house and she asked,

“How many times have we moved these boxes?”

I did not have a quick answer and did now want to even consider how many times it was. Can we just say several? Back and forth across four states that’s now counting the several moves within those states.

Can I make it clear that many of those boxes contained books. And who would want to let go of their books?

Oh … yes, it is true some of those boxes had not been opened for several years so I hadn’t gotten much use out of them. Maybe soon?

OK; so maybe I do have some problems hanging on to things, but I’m working on it. I really am!

For instance, just this past week I read an article, “A Pain-Free Way to Cut Down on the Stuff in Your Home.” I even bookmarked it so I can come back to it later.

What? Did you ask how many other articles I’ve bookmarked on decluttering? Well, I haven’t counted lately but maybe more than a few.

And then a couple of weeks ago I came across another free ebook on decluttering, so I added that to my ebook collection. Surely that was a good addition. Don’t you think so?

Did you ask if I have other ebooks on decluttering? OK, this time I did count and there are over 80.

Yes, 80! I can hear you know – when will i start doing something about this “problem”?

I told you my wife and I started working on our storage recently. Did we finish? No, not yet, but we will. Trust me!

In some ways my tendency to collect things and then acknowledge the problem, and then begin to do something about it and then … keep on collecting speaks to my similar approach to a Lenten fast.

I recognize the value a fast, the value of stepping away from some behavior, of devoting the time that behavior would have taken to another more worthy endeavor, and the fast lasts for while then it falls away. More to the point – I fall back to the behavior I had already acknowledged lacked some value for me.

What do I do?

I could fall into a guilt trip. I could “beat myself up” about the failure.

Or, maybe I can acknowledge I did something, but I want to do more.

I came across some words of Basil of Caesarea which drove home to me the “more” that moves us beyond a self-satisfying fast,

“Are you not a robber, you who consider your own that which has been given you solely to distribute to others? This bread which you have set aside is the bread of the hungry; this garment you have locked away is the clothing of the naked; those shoes which you let rot are the shoes of him who is barefoot; those riches you have hoarded are the riches of the poor” (from Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals by Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, and Enuma Okoro, ebook location 3174)

… those books I have boxed away and left unread and unused … whose are they?

charles
{ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est}

It’s on the tip of my tongue

The other day I was reading an article from one of the religion news sources and read with interest a piece about current battles going on in one of the large christian denominations in the USA. It stepped through several aspects of the issues and identified by name one of the leaders the writer of the article took great issue with.

It mentioned views held by Dr So-and-So and others and a few paragraphs later mentioned Dr So-and-So “and his cronies.” While I was somewhat surprised by hearing such folk called “cronies,” I did snicker and enjoy hearing them called such. My sympathies were not with Dr So-and-So but with the writer of the article.

After thinking it over some I came to realize the language should not have surprised me at all. Whether folk are discussing – arguing about – religious issues or political issues, we have become accustomed to name-calling, invectives, and ad-hominems thrown at the “right” and the “left” and all points in between. If you have any doubt, listen to talk radio. It seems we have come to the place where we take this as the normal and expected way we talk to and about one-another.

Later that day, I happened to come across a certain Scripture passage and read this,

You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment. But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. (Matthew 5:21-22)

Should I take Jesus’ words seriously? Maybe the folk on the other side of the argument are not my “brother or sister” but my enemy. Isn’t it ok to call my enemies by insulting names? To treat my enemies with less respect and courtesy than I treat my friends, those of my side of the disagreement?

All, I can say is Jesus’ words struck me with more force and I felt them in my gut and soul more than I ever had before.

Maybe this Lent is a good time for me to begin to think of the words I should fast from and the words I should cultivate.

charles
{ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est}

Shall we Fast? or Feast? or ….

For the past several years during Lent I have shared in one place or another the following thoughts about our fasts and our feasts.

I offer this once again and invite you to consider where you might embrace such fasting and feasting.

Fast from emphasis on differences;
feast on the unity of all life.

Fast from apparent darkness;
feast on the reality of light.

Fast from words that pollute;
feast on phrases that purify.

Fast from discontent;
feast on gratitude.

Fast from anger;
feast on patience.

Fast from pessimism;
feast on optimism.

Fast from worry;
feast on trust.

Fast from complaining;
feast on appreciation.

Fast from negatives;
feast on affirmatives.

Fast from unrelenting pressures;
feast on unceasing prayer.

Fast from hostility;
feast on nonviolence.

Fast from bitterness;
feast on forgiveness.

Fast from self-concern;
feast on compassion for others.

Fast from personal anxiety;
feast on eternal truth.

Fast from discouragement;
feast on hope.

Fast from facts that depress;
feast on truths that uplift.

Fast from lethargy;
feast on enthusiasm.

Fast from suspicion;
feast on truth.

Fast from thoughts that weaken;
feast on promises that inspire.

Fast from idle gossip;
feast on purposeful silence.

Gentle God,
during this season of fasting and feasting,
gift us with your presence
so we can be a gift to others in carrying out your work.

Amen.

charles
{ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est}