Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Let's Call Thursday Trustgiving Day Instead

The Gospel lesson for Thanksgiving Day ordered by the BCP is Matthew's recalling the words of Jesus to "consider the lilies" as a way to understand that worrying is not as important a focus in one's spiritual life as would be trusting in God.  The lectionary framers had something in mind more than just an encouragement to give thanks.  Along with Matthew and in following Jesus they wanted us to see the close relationship that true gratitude towards God and deep trust in God have with each other.  

So let us be cautious, at least, seeing as that our American popular culture and economic mythology calls us to rely on our consumption to save us the very next day after the one for which this lesson is chosen.  The sirens of Black Friday are already sounding and one wonders how our prayers will compete.  

Please take the time it takes to read Matthew 6:25-33 and consider as many of these questions as you can.  They are the same questions we asked each other at our recent Community Thanksgiving service. 

1.   Jesus said “do not worry. . . “  Do you worry?  How?

2.   How much is enough?

3.   What possessions are the focus of your worry?

4.   How do others benefit when you “strive first for the Kingdom of God?”

5.   Did a stranger ever help you to be at ease? How?

6.   Describe how you felt when someone else gave help you with an important necessity.

7.   Does knowing what or how much you have effect your giving or sharing? How?

8.   To what needs in others around you are you most likely to respond?

9.   When is greed bad?

10.   Have you or will you reduce(d) your consumption during the holiday?

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

More Bad Theology

I wrote this May 30, 2008:

First Amendment and Bad Theology
This may take a while so bear with me. Another of my constant peeves is the misrepresentation of the first amendment by hard right fun-damn-mentalists and those of the political right using religion to seize power not meant for them by our constitution. . .

. . . After I stop screaming I screamed some more because I remembered that this methodology masquerading as a theology has been the musak of my life of southern religion. John 3:16 which promises salvation based on God's love of the world has been spun for decades as if it only contained its latter half, the part that says "whosoever believeth in him shall not perish but have everlasting life" (KJV) Believing gets elevated to a position at least equal to God's love and becomes the guarantee of one's eternal habitation. Believe first and then you can say you are saved.
Over the years two scripturally based correctives have grown in my understanding since those naive days of my childhood when John 3:16 was as commonplace in its assurance of safety as knowing one's phone number. The first is the reminder spoken by Jesus himself in each of the synoptics:
“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” Matthew 16:25
“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.”Mark 8:35
“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.” Luke 9:24, KJV.
 . . . In short, faith is not the work that earns eternal life, because there is no "work" that can save us.
. . . One of the consequences of what I call "first amendment abuse," is that actions like using [our military for] evangelization will give another undeserved public hearing to what is always and sadly so just very bad theology.

  • Its bad theology to worry about the salvation of your own life when the world is starving and thirsty and oppressed and imprisoned.
  • Its bad theology to get others to believe like you so that they can be saved. Unless the world becomes a better place you have to ask, "saved from what?" 
  • Its bad theology to try to save your own life, especially if that effort thwarts another's salvation. 
  • Its bad theology to turn faith into a righteous work, to turn human believing into an eternal guarantee.
Granted the cost is higher and the damage greater and religion different but what happens in places like Paris and Beirut and in the skies over Egypt is also born of bad theology.    

We need to look at how we contribute as a denomination, as a culture, and as a nation to a practice of bad theology and without intending -- as far as the average Joe can tell -- contribute to other bad practices from around the world.  

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Better than Bigger

Before my children were school aged I started playfully acknowledging that they were growing. Each night as I tucked them into bed I would reach from the tops of their heads to their toes and show them how far it was.  This was no fish story.  I would keep my arms spread as close to the original measurement as I could and back away with a "Wow!  I think you really are bigger!  How did you do that?"

Like most parents when we begin to marvel at how our children grow we are almost always focused on physical characteristics.

No one needs to feel bad about this.  This is how it works around the world.  But eventually we start to notice other ways that growth manifests itself.  The first time a child is generous without being prodded almost always gets attention.  Whenever a piercing question is asked we marvel then, too.

Somehow though it is still the physical measures that get to go first.  Maturity or intelligence or compassion wait to be seen.

In the Episcopal Church we have our own fixations on "gross measures."  Calculating the Average Sunday Attendance (ASA) is the current practice.  Each Sunday, usually during the readings I'm counting heads.  Most Sundays I like the numbers.  I'll admit that some Sundays I want to fudge a little.

Our ASA is growing.  That's a fact.  We are now averaging more than 80 per Sunday morning.  I've joked that our 8:00am service is the fastest growing in the diocese having doubled in ASA in the five years I've been serving.   We've gone from 8-10 to 16-20.

Just like our wanting our children to grow in compassion, intelligence or maturity we want to be able to measure our lives in ministry and service by more than just the numbers.

But it needs to be said plainly and clearly, when our numbers are good we can count ON so much more. Another way to say it is that ASA is more symptom than fact, more lens than a thing to be looked at.

I cannot point at any one thing and say that is why the numbers are good.  I can say that we are as compassionate and generous as we have ever been.  I can say that we are as careful in our discernment and decision making as we have ever been.  I can say that we as welcoming and collaborative as we have ever been.

I can say that we are growing.  We are growing into a more mature practice of our faith that makes all these others ways of growing possible.  Our ASA is a bonus.

Here's another bonus that comes with these ways of growing.  Nothing of what we were before needs to be punished or criticized.  You wouldn't pick on your own child for being "small for her age," would you?

Instead what we do is to marvel and wonder and celebrate that we have grown.  And we give thanks that God has loved us through it all.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Jesus Movement

If you have not watched it yet please take the thirty minutes or so needed to watch and listen to our newly inaugurated Presiding Bishop Michael Curry as he delivers an inspired and encouraging word to the whole church.

Two phrases keep echoing throughout his sermon.  The first to hit home is his take on the moment reported in chapter 17 of the Acts of the Apostles:
“Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and for three weeks he argued with them from the scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” And some of them were persuaded, and joined Paul and Silas; as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked fellows of the rabble, they gathered a crowd, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the people. And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brethren before the city authorities, crying, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them; and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.”” Acts 17:1-7, RSV.
Bishop Curry said more and said it this way, "they have turned the world upside down, which is really right side up!"

Right next to that he reminded us that Jesus did not come to establish a church but to join a movement that was passing through John the Baptist, having been handed down by the prophets as they helped Israel live according to the tradition forged by Moses and the children in the wilderness.

And now God is calling us to join that same movement.  It will have some characteristics -- usual for some and difficult for others -- that will not be easily accomplished by a hierarchical, liturgical and nearly established church.

Evangelism is one of the pieces in this movement that will seem unfamiliar or uncomfortable to many.  But Bishop Curry said this:
"I’m talking about a way of evangelism that is genuine and authentic to us as Episcopalians, not a way that imitates or judges anyone else.  A way of evangelism that is really about sharing good news. A way of evangelism that is deeply grounded in the love of God that we’ve learned from Jesus. A way of evangelism that is as much about listening and learning from the story of who God is in another person’s life as it is about sharing our own story. A way of evangelism that is really about helping others find their way to a relationship with God without our trying to control the outcome. A way of evangelism that’s authentic to us. We can do that. (my emphasis)
Bishop Curry reminded us that our own General Convention had already begun the hard work of that other characteristic of the Jesus movement: reconciliation and in particular racial reconciliation. 

His story of his parents taking communion in an Episcopal parish where they were the only African-Americans in attendance that Sunday was stirring and precious.

The heart of the story was communion itself.  Holy Communion that invites us to eat the bread and then drink from the same cup.
The man [taking communion for the first time] would later say that it was that reconciling experience of Christ in the sacrament of the Eucharist that brought him into The Episcopal Church.  He said, “Any Church in which blacks and whites drink out of the same cup knows something about the Gospel that I want to be a part of.” 
That couple later married and gave birth to two children, both of whom are here today, and one of whom is the 27th Presiding Bishop.
How we undertake our part in this movement will not necessarily look a lot like Morgan County.  It is about God's dream, God's love, God's hope for us.  It will feel new and unfamiliar.  Some of it will feel like something other than the church we remember Sunday after Sunday.  It will push us out of our own comfort zones.  And some of it will feel like turning the world upside down.