Where Have You Been?

Second Sunday of Easter Readings.

Today, we are a week past the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus. A week ago, Jesus left His disciples and walked the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Pain, alone. Some watched Him. Some left Him. One denied Him. One betrayed Him.

And then there’s Thomas. Our Thomas who says that he will not believe unless he has seen the nail marks in His hands and puts his hand in the spear-pierced side of Jesus. Be careful, my friends, to chastise or shun Thomas for his statement. Remember that Peter is the rock of the Christian church, but he is also the one who denied Jesus three times. So with Thomas who states that he needs proof of whom the disciples are talking about. Before we look at our Gospel today, I want to gain a little more perspective of Thomas from earlier in John’s text.

In chapter 11 the friend of Jesus named Lazarus died. “Jesus tells His disciples, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Lord, if he has been asleep he will recover.’ Now Jesus had spoken of his death but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’ The disciples remind Jesus that Lazarus was in Judea, and the Judeans attempted to kill Jesus. For Jesus to go back to Lazarus would also mean going to the place of violence and possible death. But, Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples. ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.'”

However, it is the words of Thomas that I want to pinpoint here. He tells his friends, his brothers, that they should follow Jesus so that they may die with him. So that they may die! These are not the words of a doubter, of a weak man, of a dissenter, of a man of fear. Quite the contrary, this is the sentiment of a believer, a man willing to die for his faith, and a man willing to lead his friends into that death as well. He is saturated with conviction and awareness of who Jesus is, his passion for Jesus even into death.

Now, let us enter our Gospel passage this morning. We are told that the disciples were in a room, and Jesus appeared to them. But, did they respond? No. Jesus spoke to them by saying, “Peace be with you.” Did they respond? Nope. Then, Jesus held out His hands, lifted his tunic and show them His side. Did they respond? Finally, yes they did. But, it was not until Jesus showed them what they already knew of Him in His final moments that they believed and responded. Did His physical presence show proof to them? No. Did they recognize the voice of their Shepherd? No. They had to see proof to believe.

Now, enter Thomas a week later. The disciples are so excited to talk to him and tell him what they’ve seen. Yes, his response it just like their’s. Our gospel writer is bold to note exactly what Thomas said: Unless I see the marks…I will not believe. For us now, these generations later, we criticize or question his faith. But, each of us could think through the events of our lifetimes and understand that if seeing wasn’t actual believing, seeing certainly made the event more impactful: the footprint of Neil Armstrong on the surface of the moon, the burning of Notre Dam Cathedral, the evacuation of Hanoi in Viet Nam, the Space Shuttle Columbia exploding, Ronald Reagan being shot, 9-11, the ticker tape at the bottom of the television screen stating that Elvis Presley had died, the Murrah Federal Building bomb site in Oklahoma City. I could go on. I am sure you have your own list of events that you truly couldn’t believe what you were seeing.

But, it isn’t the statement from Thomas — unless I see I won’t believe — that grabs my attention. No, because I am a logical, rational person. If I can twist and evaluate a situation in my mind to the point that I understand the rationale, I believe it. Hook, line, and sinker. I am a person who needs proof. Maybe it has to do with the fact I’ve been betrayed in my life. Maybe it’s because I like the adage of Ronald Reagan, “Trust, but verify.” I don’t know. But, it’s how I am. And, I suspect that many of us are also people who need to see the bottom line before we believe. I don’t think Jesus is chastising Thomas because he needs proof. However, I do believe that Jesus is saying there will soon come a time when He will be on the earth no longer and “seeing is believing” will no longer be an option. I think our Gospel writer captured the sentiment of Jesus as much as the words, “Blessed are those who believe and do not see.”

Again, though, it isn’t the statement from Thomas that gives me pause. The question that comes to my mind is: Where has Thomas been for a week?? What in the world has he been doing?? The Man that he was willing to lead his friends into death to follow has now died. I think Thomas was looking at the blood-stained Cross and realizing that his Hope was dead, rotting in the rock, lost. As a result, he left them. He got away. And, it is here, the space between the lines of our text, that I believe we receive our lesson for this morning.

What happens when we separate ourselves from the Church? What happens to us when we move away, isolate ourselves, cut ourselves off from the faith and support of our brothers and sisters? What happens when we step away from the liturgy that is the expression of our faith? This was no “going into the desert to strengthen my faith” journey. This was isolation from despair, fear, perhaps anger. What happens we we leave?

We make ourselves vulnerable. We leave a hole in the community to which we belong.

And, I’m going to go out on a limb here. Summer is coming. School is soon out. Many of us are even now already making plans for travel. To visit family and friends. I wish to make one request as summer approaches: Remember Thomas. Sure, he separated himself from his friends and brothers when Jesus died and he was likely strongly emotional, but even still he was away. He was not with them. It was pain management. For you, you may be making plans for fun. But, the fact remains, you will be away from your friends here, your community, your liturgy. Please do not be naïve that this separation will not affect you. Or will not affect us. As you travel, consider attending a church in the town where you visit. Stay connected to the Church. Continue in the fellowship of believers, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers. And when you are in town these next months, be vigilant against the temptation of fresh air and sleeping in, of making travel plans where church attendance is not a priority. We need one another. And, like Thomas, I pray that we all long to exclaim together, “My Lord and my God.”

Amen.

And we scratch our heads in disbelief

I subscribe to Christianity Today and read this article today regarding the SBC discussing the expulsion of churches within their organization who have been covering up abuse. My response is twofold.

  1. “The SBC is considering requiring background checks for denominational leaders and has urged churches to include such screening in the ordination process.” This quote is taken directly from the article. I am horrified that they don’t require background checks! They’ve left the door open and are now shocked that the fox is in the chicken coop. **I understand that it is a church-by-church basis regarding vetting employees and volunteers. But, not to have an organizational policy is negligent at best.
  2. “All SBC seminaries will now require students to undergo training on caring for abuse survivors.” Also taken directly from the article. Why train seminarians if the whole church body is cast out from the fold? While it is necessary and valid for seminarians to be trained in coming alongside abuse victims, why does the larger parent of the SBC not come alongside the church and offer support? Instead, they cast out the offensive church treating it much like the older brother did towards the prodigal son. In reality, John and Jane Doe who sit in the middle of the pew on the left side of the church may not have ever be aware of what was happening within their church. Now, a huge scandal has shaken them to the core, and their co-workers and neighbors are asking all kinds of questions that they cannot answer. And, when they as well as 90% of the congregation are grieving and angry and hurting, they need stability and prayer and counsel. Instead, their parent of the SBC shuns them, casts them out, expels them without a shred of grace and compassion.

And we wonder why so many people leave the church. This article reflects on younger adults who leave the church. I’m not surprised. Why wouldn’t they leave?

And we scratch our heads in disbelief.

What I Heard from the Pulpit

Sermon from The Rev. Dr. John Toles.

One of my favorite bands is Rush. They have a song from their Counterparts album called “Double Agent.”  The first two lines of this song are, “Where would you rather be? Anywhere… Anywhere but here.  When would the time be right? Anytime but now.”

This sermon from John+ speaks of getting rid of the proverbial boxes. Letting our guard down with God and saying “yes.” Giving Him control. Total control.

But that’s SO hard, I often say. Well, yes. Yes, it is hard.

It’s about the beast within:  ego.

To give control to God is to confess pride, arrogance, self-sufficiency, narcissism, conceit, audacity, bravado.

But those are ugly words. Those don’t describe me. I’m not any of those ideas.

No?

Really??

So what would you call it then???

The fact of the matter is plain and simple. God says “Be still” (Ps 46:10). When we aren’t still in God, those things that aren’t God will fill us instead: fear, anger, skepticism, self-preservation, exhaustion, and the list goes on and on.

So, when you find yourself in the middle of a decision, “large” or “small,” check your emotions and your mental state. Are you frustrated? Are you tired? Are you quick tempered? Are you procrastinating?

My response: stop declaring war on God. Like Jacob, stop fighting the Angel.

Will it be smooth sailing? Perhaps not. Will the Heavens open up and the plan boom from the voice (like James Earl Jones) of God? I can’t say a resounding “Yes!”

What will happen? Honestly, I can’t say because God will do what He will do. What is right for you. What will need to happen to take care of you.

And, as John+ (and Howard Stern) said, get rid of your backup plan and stop fighting.

What Are You Doing?

“We live in the time of silence, between the flash of lightning and the sound of thunder.” My cousin Fr. John gave his sermon today regarding the Gospel passage in Mark 13:1-8 when Jesus’ disciples asked Him what the end time will look like. He told them there will be hard things happening, that there will be the “birth pangs.”

What I heard first was a reprimand for living too slowly, for being lazy, for taking too much time and wasting too much time.

Then I heard something else: a reprimand for being too busy, for allowing the demands and activities and desires to “do” overtake everything else so that existence is exhaustion.

And then, I listened deeper and realized that, for me, it’s a “neither/both.”

It isn’t a place of laziness, but it is.  It isn’t a place of crazy busy, but it is.

At the core, it’s a matter of what exactly is being done with the time that is given?  I thought of Plato’s “the true, the good, and the beautiful” and applied that to my actions of my days.  If what I’m doing isn’t true to God’s call or good towards my neighbor or bringing beauty to the Kingdom of God, that forces me to evaluate what I’m doing with God’s gift of my life. The message this morning wasn’t a shame on you for being still; it wasn’t a shame on you for being too busy.  Instead, it was a “let’s pause and look.”

Thanks John+

Tend Your Baobabs

There is a children’s story written for adults. It’s called The Little Prince, and it tells the story of a small Prince from an asteroid far, far away. This Prince meets an airplane pilot who has crashed landed in the Sahara desert; the pilot is attempting to fix his plane before his rations run out. These two people share stories, and the little Prince asks many questions of the harried pilot. The Prince is especially keen to hear about baobab trees as he has the very same trees on his tiny planet.

The Prince explains that the baobab trees grow to great heights on his little planet, and he must be diligent to tend to the tiny shoots as soon as they spring from the ground. The Prince shares that he must watch the small saplings and distinguish them from other saplings like rose bushes or radishes. As soon as he can tell the baobab plant from a rose plant, he pulls it from the ground immediately. Why? The baobab plant will grow into a huge tree, suffocating and destroying all other living plants.

The Prince takes his task quite seriously but has the most simplistic approach: every baobab starts out as a small plant, easy to uproot. It’s when the plant grows roots and becomes larger that the responsibility of pulling up the destructive plant becomes a chore and greatly challenging. The Prince speaks of tending all plants and using the wisdom he has learned to be able to distinguish the good from bad plants. And, if he fails to tend his plants, he creates much more trouble for himself later.

Our Old Testament reading this morning speaks of commandments and land and ancestry and nations and children. It speaks of keeping statutes — careful of not adding or deleting anything — so that Israel could enter the land God gifted them with. But there were two points that stood out to me: The first is Moses said “You must observe them diligently…so that your wisdom and discernment will be known.” The second point is that the people were to talk of what they’d seen with their eyes to their children and their children’s children.

Let’s go back to the first for a minute. Moses instructs that the people follow the law for the purpose of wisdom and discernment He says for the people to watch themselves closely, notice their actions, observe their behaviors. Moses tells the people to stay awake and be alert. As a matter of fact, all of our readings this morning, including the Psalm, have quite a few guidelines: be quick to listen and slow to speak, slow to anger, welcome meekness, persevere in doing good, fear God, do not go back on a promise, do not give money in the hope that you’ll get it back, be gentle and kind to friends, do not hate your neighbor. There are more, but I believe you understand where I’m going.

The second point Moses states is to tell their children and children’s children. But did he intend for the people to share only the laws? To focus on the statutes? I don’t think so. No. I believe Moses is telling the people to celebrate what God had done in their lives, not the do’s and don’t’s of being Israel. He encourages telling the children about God and who He’s revealed Himself to be so that they don’t forget. The people have witnessed the God of unbroken promise, of salvation from the tyranny of Egypt, of satisfaction and nourishment during the desert years.

I believe we can find the response to the Old Testament passage in our Gospel. In Mark’s letter we read of Jesus confronting the Pharisees, those direct descendants in both blood and tradition who define their own righteousness by their adherence to the rules. These Pharisees question how the disciples can eat food with “unclean” hands. How can Jesus desire to be around this small group of men who fail so miserably to keep the rules of their ancestors? Why would this presumed Messiah remain in the company of such lawlessness and lack of respect for Jewish heritage? Goodness, sounds a bit like OSU versus OU, doesn’t it?

And the response of Jesus? He calls the Pharisees hypocrites because they say they love God and yet have hollow hearts. There is no love. There is only law. The Pharisees, throughout their ancestry, instructed their children and their children’s children focusing on one aspect of Moses’s instruction while losing the reality of miracles and beauty and grace of the Almighty.

I have a show that I binge watch. It’s on Netflix and called “The West Wing.” President Jed Bartlett and Toby and Leo and Josh and CJ and Charlie and Donna. I can laugh and weep in the same episode. It makes me proud to be an American. It inspires me to do more than I do right now. I was watching a Christmas episode the other day. A Yale men’s chorus was trapped at the White House because of a snow storm, so they were singing in the atrium.

“O holy night

The stars are brightly shining

It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth

Long lay the world in sin and error pining

Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth

The thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices

For yonder brinks a new and glorious morn

Fall on your knees

O hear the angel voices

O night divine

O night divine when Christ was born.”

The Pharisees, so blinded by their rigid ways, failed to see that the man who would save the world was standing in front of them…and they failed to fall on their knees. Their passion or need or dependency for law usurped their love for the man who actually was the mercy of the law.

The Little Prince says that when he completes his morning routine, he begins pulling the saplings of the baobab trees on his planet. And, we are to do the same. When we see a baobab in our hearts, we are to pull it out. We are to follow Moses and do so “diligently” completing the tedious work of pulling what will corrupt out of our hearts. We stay engaged in this work so that we will be able to recognize what draws us away from God more quickly, as Moses said that wisdom and discernment would become stronger. The work is easy. What makes it hard is when we let those temptations remain and grow roots and become established sin within us.

Jesus says that whatever is within the heart will come out. Nothing we do happens unless we have it in our hearts first. Good acts come from good seeds and bad acts come from bad seeds. What do you see within your heart that chokes the grace you could offer someone? What scraps of anger or humiliation or envy or revenge do you cling to? What weeds are you fertilizing because you don’t know how your life would be if it weren’t the way it is right now? What are you telling and teaching your children and your children’s children?

We will do this work in a few moments when we pray the Confession. Our thoughts and words and deeds. Not loving God and not loving our neighbors. What we’ve done and what we’ve left undone. We seek forgiveness for allowing ourselves to be stained. We pull the weeds.

And, as we do the work, we receive the love of Jesus as we receive His precious Body and Blood. It is at the Eucharist as a result of the love and reverence we feel that we fall on our knees and hear the angel voices. It is at the Eucharist that we take Himself that He freely offers, and we offer ourselves in return. And it is at the Eucharist that we receive love so that we give it back to one another, to our neighbors, to the orphans and widows, to our children and our children’s children.

Let us pray. Almighty God, you gave us life and you gave us your son. Keep us close to your laws because they guide us to your Son. Holy Jesus, you lived and taught and died for us. Keep us close to your truth of love and grace. Precious Holy Spirit, you speak and move through us from the Father and the Son. Move and inspire and be within us so that we may love you more and lead others to you. Amen.

Beware . . .

. . . this is gonna be a rant!  If you don’t want to read, skip it.  If you agree, great.  If you don’t, great.  Just know that these are my observations, my perspectives, my words, and (ultimately) my blog.

I don’t know if Gandhi actually said it or not, and I don’t really care.  But it’s attributed to him, so at the risk of plagiarizing, I’m going to follow the attribution:  Gandhi once said, “I like your Christ, but I do not like your Christians.  Your Christians are nothing like your Christ.”

I do not like our Christians, either.

We attack one another with Sherlock Holmes-size magnifying glasses looking for holes, chinks, inaccuracies, inadequacies, flaws, problems, weaknesses . . . you get my point!  We jump on the bandwagon to tear down another person.  We look back at what has been said and pick it apart like a lawyer picks apart a testimony.

We are hyenas, hunting for the weak, the young, the vulnerable.  And when we find our prey, we howl and yawp and cry and yelp.  We feel triumphant!  We’ve caught him!  Victory for the diligent!  Power for the intelligent!  We have proven ourselves better, smarter, cleverer, faster.  MORE spiritual. MORE holy.  MORE Christ-like.  MORE approachable.  MORE real.  MORE inclusive.  MORE Biblical.

You who post on social media about Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s wedding sermon, about how flawed it was — how he’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing — how we as Episcopalians are blind — how he’s an unChristian leader — how he is not a real Christian — etc.

Be ashamed!  Shut your mouths!  Look in the mirror!

Are all your sermons theologically and doctrinally and perfectly crafted according to audience and period of time and culture and situation?  Is your own life perfectly aligned with Christ at every moment of every day with every breath?  Do you honestly believe that your every movement, your every thought, your every response, your every belief, your every word is exactly like Christ would have you be?

If you stood in front of Jesus Christ right now, what would be your response?

Would you stand tall and strong and confident?  Would you be silent and numb and awe-struck?  Would you fall at His feet in love and fear and trembling?

No wonder the world hates us Christians.  No wonder the world can’t understand what we stand for.  We don’t even know it ourselves.  Our actions are SO NOT what we preach from the pulpit, from the office chair, from the classroom, from the bumper sticker on the car.  We attack one another with all the theological and doctrinal fortitude and empowerment and vigilance and righteousness that our years of seminary and church service and holy human living can muster!!

It makes me sick.  And angry.  And sad.  And angry.

Shut up, people!

Instead of pointing out where you think so-and-so is wrong, why don’t you try supporting what you believe and feel and perceive is right?!  Instead of looking for flaws, look for the nuggets of truth.  Instead of attacking, why don’t you love.  Instead of tearing down, why don’t you build up.  Instead of throwing your self-righteous vitriol into cyberspace like a chameleon launches his sticky tongue towards a fresh meal, why don’t you clamp your jaws shut and force your fingers from flying over the keyboard.

At what point in your life did you stop loving?  What happened to you that you became so arrogant?  When did you lose your humility?

if you can’t show or speak or type or be love, shut up.

And with said said, I’m shutting up.

What is Ascetical Theology?

An old bible on a wooden table

Benedict of Nursia wrote that a monastic must have three intentional qualities of life in devotion to God: stabilitas , obedientia , and conversio morem. These behaviors — no, relationship-bearing vows — are what anchor a person to an ascetic life. One must be in a consistent church body home in which there is accountability and vulnerability. Douglas Burton-Christie said that “cultivating attachment to a place involves a personal response. It means entering into relationships of mutual commitment and responsibility, becoming part of a community.” One must also be under the obedience of, in Benedict’s understanding, an abbot; this submission allows the potential destruction of those human, sin-filled aspects of a man that causes separation from God. FP Harton said that “love issues in obedience, and obedience is the exercise of love.” St. Josemaria Escriva instructs, “If obedience does not give peace, you have pride.” Quite a convicting barb, St. Escriva! Finally, Benedict understood that one should be converted daily to the will of God and should put to death every shadow of our human existence that is not of God. “This realization of your own unworthiness will drive out of your heart all unreasonable interest in other people’s affairs and criticism of their actions, and will compel you to l look at yourself alone, as though there were no one in existence but God and yourself,” Walter Hilton, The Ladder of Perfection.

Anglican spirituality is a distinct expression of our passion for God in terms of how we enter God’s presence and reside within His mercy. It grew from the New Testament church and from the reflections of St. Augustine. There are three ways that Anglicans typically worship: through the partaking of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ through the weekly Eucharist, through the order of the Daily Office, and through personal prayers. These behaviors infuse our lives with the Creator and offer an opportunity for constant and consistent communion, both literally and metaphorically. Martin Thornton stated that there are six characteristics of Anglicanism: consistency in balancing piety with learning, insistence on the unity of the whole church, unique humanism in which extremism is avoided, a grounding of theology in both Holy Scripture and the BCP, a desire for habitual recollection of God’s love, and a longing for spiritual direction. These characteristics seek to offer boundaries for our daily life and give us cause for our work, study, and prayer.

How, then, do we live as a monastic and under Benedict’s Rule if we are not physically in a monastery? The answer: We may even still commit our life to the ascetic movement seeking always to live in community, obedience, and Divine conversation. Regarding the first of Benedict’s rule of work, FP Harton said in The Elements of the Spiritual Life, “Adoration passes over into life and makes every action, no matter how secular or commonplace, an act of worship, directed, not only to the practical end in view, but primarily to the service of God.” Within work there is a yearning to return to God in prayer. However, it is just in those moments that we are able to see God in the work and the yearning is satisfied. Additionally, Martin Thornton said, “Christian perfection may be found in divine contemplation but it may also be achieved in the faithful performance of the ordinary duties of everyday life, the truth which Brother Lawrence was later to make so familiar and which Hilton expresses in the warning to people not to tend God’s head and neglect his feet.”

Regarding Benedict’s second rule of study, Padre Pio said, “In books we see God, in prayer we find him.” We experience the resonance of God in study; we see evidence of His work within the lives and actions of others, and we recognize that proof of Him. Harton said, “Love is always accompanied by knowledge.” With knowledge comes understanding and awareness; love grows in the awareness because our hungry soul is nourished. Escriva said in The Way, “It’s good for you to put such determination into your study, as long as you put the same determination into acquiring interior life.” In this Escriva instructs us to have balance. It is easy for us to focus on the tangibility of studies against the intangible and, at times, frustrating interior life during its dark nights. Further, Escriva offers, “Study. Obedience. Non multa, sed multum — not many things, but well.”

Regarding the final rule from Benedict of prayer, in “The Dance of the 13 Veils” Fr. John-Julian stated, “It is only when one makes a relentless and unswervingly concrete commitment to prayer that it becomes possible for God even to begin to act significantly in that life.” Also, Walter Hilton reflected in Ladder, “Devote all your energies to prayer, so that your soul may come to a real perception of God; that is, that you may come to know the wisdom of God, the infinite might of Our Lord Jesus Christ, His great goodness in Himself and towards His creatures.” Make no mistake, prayer and the interior life are anything but simple, but there is a simplicity and purity in breathing for prayer. Archbishop Michael Ramsey said, “Your prayer then will be a rhythmic movement of all your powers, moving into the divine presence in contemplation and moving into the needs of the people in intercession. In contemplation you will reach the peace and stillness of God’s eternity, in intercession you will reach into the rough and tumble of the world of time and change.” Finally, Thomas Merton offered, “Prayer then means yearning for the simple presence of God, for a personal understanding of His word, for knowledge of His will, and for capacity to hear and obey him. It is thus something much more than uttering petitions for good things external to our own deepest concerns.”

For Anglican Asceticism, it seems that Walter Hilton joined these two topics well in The Ladder of Perfection: “So whatever form of prayer, meditation, or activity leads you to the highest and deepest experience of Him, will be the means by which you may best seek and find Him.” As Anglicans we are to seek Him in community through our corporate prayers and our requests to the community of saints on our behalf. We are to understand and acknowledge “our misdoings; the remembrance of them is grievous unto us, the burden of them is intolerable” and to recognize that when we approach the Table of the Mass we are not “trusting in our own righteousness [… and] we are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under [His] table.” We are also to “go forth into the world, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit.” As Ascetics we long to live and breathe in the Holy One; as Anglicans we choose intentionality in our worship and liturgy which brings us to God’s throne of grace.

Choose an individual or time period which you feel is important in the development of Ascetics/Christian Spirituality.

Within the medieval years of the 1300s, the church was “sated with worldliness and honeycombed with corruption” and “the Catholic Church [was] watching for a spiritual awakening.”

God and Trinity

Two chapters from Alister McGrath’s Christian Theology: An Introduction focuses on the doctrines of God and of the Trinity.

The first concern addressed is the doctrine of God. McGrath offers the minor theory that God might not be male and quickly moves forward. He identifies the “personhood” of God through such philosophers as Tertullian, Spinoza, and Buber. These offered what God’s love towards man looked like while retaining His omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence (199-203). McGrath discusses the emotions of God, namely the possibility for God to suffer. Continue reading “God and Trinity”

Marriage and Divorce

Part 1: Culture

We live in a culture that wants permanency, expects stability, desires equality. We also live in a culture that appreciates newness, anticipates change, values improvement. When we apply these aspects of life in general to the specific topic of marriage, the water can become muddied and difficult to navigate. In a culture that values upgrades — cell phones, cars, houses — it seems to be a rare occurrence to find couples who have been married for 15, 20, 50 years. It seems we live in a disposable society, and marriage is being entered into as an event and situation that can be deleted as easily as an unwanted email can be deleted from our inbox.

A while back, I was staying with my folks for a week, and as I do not have television at my home, we spent an evening glued to the tv watching crime dramas and the like. We watched an episode of Chicago Fire, and a sub-plot involved two couples divorcing, and the woman from one couple and the man from the other couple getting together. The day after her divorce was final, she and the man spent 48 hours in bed together. When the man got together with a buddy, the buddy high fived the man for his “getting out there” and, well, responding how men do…  I questioned what that interaction is illustrating about societal values: no sense of “loss” after divorce and “hooking up” is something to be cheered and encouraged.

It seems to me that there is a belief or an assumption that anything that does not bring us happiness or satisfaction or something more than our next door neighbor is getting is worth throwing away. And what is included in that list is marriage. I read an article in the local paper this last weekend that spoke of the difference between marriage and holy matrimony. The basic idea is that “marriage” is a contract and is grounded in The Declaration of Independence: “all men are created equal” and are to have unalienable rights to “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness,” and if that one party does not hold up their end of the bargain, that contract can be broken; conversely, holy matrimony is a covenant between two people and God the Father and shall be respected and honored and not be broken.

While I would like to definitively state what our culture values in terms of marriage, I cannot. A marriage like my parents, 46 years, is sadly the exception and not the norm. I am not sure what our culture values right now in terms of marriage, and based on what we see from those in the limelight (Hollywood and those in politics specifically), I’m not sure we have the role models to illustrate what those values are and how those values are demonstrated.

Part 2: Biblical Expectations

How does the Bible view divorce and remarriage?  The books of Matthew and Mark approach this issue differently.

How I view divorce in Biblical terms is found in Matthew 5 and Matthew 19: one may divorce as infidelity as cause. I also add abuse (sexual, physical, mental) as cause as well, though I am unsure if the Bible specifically states this. Feinberg and Feinberg notes that porneia refers to many types of “sexual impurity” (page 598), and to that definition I agree.

We are given the image of the husband as the head of the family as Christ is the head of the church in Ephesians 5. In that passage it is also made clear that the wife is to submit to the husband and hold him with respect and reverence with the assumption that she be accountable to her husband as she would be accountable to Christ.

This passage makes the assumption that those persons are believers. I also hold the passage in 2 Corinthians 6 that we are not to be yoked to unbelievers. Though this passage could infer any type of union which involves a stated or understood contract– marriage or business — it is important to reference this Biblical instruction here. If a marriage is begun with the man and woman not having a foundation of God, there will likely be additional problems to address throughout the life of the marriage.

 

 

What I Heard from the Pulpit

Had I been given both of my grandmothers’ first names, I would have been Nellie Margie.  Thanks Mom and Dad for looking ahead into my future and bestowing your mothers’  middle names to me so that I am Janie Layne.

When I was growing up, my friends wanted to be “Beth” or “Liz” instead of “Elizabeth.”  But not me.  I loved my name.  I understood that it was a piece of my heritage, and I never dreamed to be called anything differently.  In my mind — and my heart — to change my name would be to deny my grandmothers.  And I wouldn’t dare entertain that idea.

However, I would have also loved my name had I been born a boy.  I would have received both of my grandfathers’ names.  Stephen Forest.  Ah!  What a bold, strong, honest name! Continue reading “What I Heard from the Pulpit”

Simon Chan

In his text Spiritual Theology  Simon Chan addresses these topics: nature of spiritual theology, doctrine of God, nature of sin, and elements in salvation.

Chan states that spiritual theology is quite different from spirituality: “spirituality is the lived reality, whereas spiritual theology is the systematic reflection and formalization of that reality” (16). Spirituality could be a cause someone believes in; spiritual theology desires growth using the Bible and experience as anchors (18). Spirituality must be comprehensive, cohesive, and evocable to be a significant system (22-24). Chan discusses the ecclesiologies within various liturgically diverse traditions recognizing inherent benefits and insufficiencies (30-39). Continue reading “Simon Chan”

Amos

We recall Joshua asking the people, “Choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living” (24:15).

We recall God destroying two peoples with fire from the heavens: “Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven” (Gen. 19:24). Continue reading “Amos”

What I Heard from the Pulpit…

Don’t get tripped up on the piddly things that you lose sight of the deeper issues.

In Sunday’s sermon, Fr. John referenced the Gospel text in which the Canaanite woman went to Jesus and asked for help for her demon-possessed daughter.  The disciples got angry, however, and urged Jesus to get rid of her:  she was a Canaanite and she was female…a double whammy.   Continue reading “What I Heard from the Pulpit…”

Julian of Norwich

Addressing the introduction to Julian’s Showings is a challenging task, indeed. Edmund Colledge and James Walsh have densely packed their research of the text noting the differences between the Short Text and the Long Text, Julian’s theology and exegesis of her showings, her keen development of the rhetorical style, the role of contemplation, and the dichotomy that inherently exists in God’s movement within fallen man. Continue reading “Julian of Norwich”

Lamentations

Nestled amongst the major prophets of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel lies the small but powerful book of Lamentations. While the prophets offer the dooming judgment of Almighty God upon Israel and Judah, trapped within the chaos and devastation of their own making, Lamentations allows a glimpse of the raw, exposed emotions of Jerusalem and their cry to The Almighty. This book is a nation — an entire race of people — in agony and despair recognizing its responsibility and ownership in its current depravity and rejection by God. Continue reading “Lamentations”

Tend Your Flock

Reading Archbishop Michael Ramsey’s work The Christian Priest Today again as I am a secondary English teacher in a private Christian school, our text jumps and pops with relevance, direction, and encouragement!

What speaks to me most significantly is Ramsey’s direction to, “Tend the flock in your charge” (pg 69). As a leader Ramsey understands that we will be faced with many opportunities for growth, challenge, and strife that will include generational, political, social, and financial differences. Ramsey challenges us to behave with balance and temperance (pg 50) as we will need to see all aspects of whom we are leading and where we envision our “end point” (if there IS one) will be. Continue reading “Tend Your Flock”

Jeremiah

The Book of Jeremiah makes its mark upon the canon by speaking of the iniquity of the people in clear and devastating terms, the anguish and fury of God, and the subsequent ripple effect that iniquity causes throughout the land and the ages.

The book opens with a series of lamentations from the people to God. These repeatedly elaborate upon the suffering of the people. Yet it is in verse 2:19 that the reader glimpses the heart of God and His desire to separate Himself from His people because of their sin and His heartache at their denial of Him: “Your wickedness will punish you, and your apostasies will convict you.” It is as a direct result of their sin that they are punished lest anyone claim otherwise; this shows God’s desire for clarity as well as complete burden of blame upon the people. Continue reading “Jeremiah”

Discernment

In spite of the physical shortcomings, the emotional health, the socio-economic status, the age, the depth of spiritual maturity, and even the wavering strength of the individual, God will have His way. There is no reason or what we might consider as a barrier to Him who will see completion of His design. He is relentless and patient. He knew angry Jonah, stuttering Moses, laughing Sarah, and young Samuel. He knew Mary. He knew them even when they were knit in their mothers’ wombs. His fierce intention to complete His work and His awareness of who He chose to complete that work is a testament to His perfect plan. Continue reading “Discernment”

Margery Kempe

Described as “a ‘wet blanket in any company which was innocently enjoying itself,’ ” such is Margery Kempe according to a source included in Anthony Bale’s introduction to her Book. Bale offers an objective — if not twinged with tongue-in-cheek — observation of Kempe’s colorful life. Continue reading “Margery Kempe”

Proverbs

The book of Proverbs is distinct from other texts in the canon in that it offers to bridge the gap between the laws from God and the motivational behavior of the people. To put this writing into context of the Old Testament so far (succinctly): the Pentateuch seeks to establish creation, God’s relationship with man, and His laws and consequences of breaking said laws. Proverbs enters the canon as a behavioral-based text for those seeking to follow and delight in God, specifically the benefits of adhering to God’s commands. Continue reading “Proverbs”

Chronicles (in two threads)

Historical Challenge of Chronicles
The inconsistencies within the text of Chronicles versus Samuel-Kings does not imply that one is truth and the other lies.  Inconsistencies also occur in the creation narrative.   What comes to mind, however, if we allow the inconsistencies to occur and still regard the whole text as valid is that we must accept the entire canon as the Word of God.  It isn’t a textbook or an encyclopedia.  If we are to believe the entire text as God’s Word, we must allow variations to exist for a purpose. Continue reading “Chronicles (in two threads)”

Walter Hilton

Most likely written to an anchoress, Walter Hilton offers instruction and guidance concerning the spiritual journey towards God in his Ladder (or Scale) of Perfection. This text, however, is prefaced by Clifton Wolters in the introduction; Wolters reflects on Ladder and Hilton specifically with a sense of objectivity mingled with admiration. Wolters, familiar with Hilton’s medieval writings, deposits the mystic’s guiding ideas into several larger topics: the mystic life and the age of Hilton’s “contemporaries,” the path of contemplation including its stages as well as its potential frustrations, and the joining of one’s spirituality with Christ. Continue reading “Walter Hilton”

Joshua

While not the only theme of the book of Joshua, a strong current within the text is a handbook, if you will, regarding the qualities necessary in righteous leadership. Joshua is not the first significant leader of the Old Testament; he follows Abraham, Noah, Jacob, Moses, and Aaron. However, his lot is given to him from the former leadership of Moses — the one who lead the people of God out from the hands of Pharoah. He came to leadership having apprenticed under Moses and learned the habits of leadership, and consequences of failure, vicariously through Moses. Continue reading “Joshua”

What I Heard from the Pulpit…

Today is the celebration of the Transfiguration, a moment in Luke’s Gospel (our reading passage for today) in which Jesus reveals Himself in His Divine Glory to Peter, John, and James.  The sermon this morning offered a different perspective on this event.  The lectionary reading also included Moses, face shining from having experienced the Glory of God atop the Mount, descending from Mt. Sinai and being asked by Aaron and the Israelites to cover his face — they were scared of what they saw in Moses. Continue reading “What I Heard from the Pulpit…”

The Cloud of Unknowing

“The quality of the contemplative effort which measures all progress in the interior life of the solitary is immediately related to the reflex conscious awareness of the self in its relationship to God, the supreme and single object of its desire” (64). While James Walsh in writing the Introduction to The Cloud of Unknowing understands that the author is not directly writing his text to a single individual nor is the author writing strictly for a solitary contemplative as Walter Hilton did in The Scale of Perfection, Walsh does bring forward the author’s intention of addressing all who desire to love God with intentionality and of single purpose. Continue reading “The Cloud of Unknowing”

Genesis

The book of Genesis offers identity, purpose, and hope to God’s chosen people through the land; this tangible gift from God allows the people to suffer and thrive according to their obedience to Him and commitment to His promise.

God gave to Adam the gift of land in the garden of Eden, to tend it and care for it.  It was in this place where God came to man and walked with him, shared a relationship.  At the time of the falling out, God sent Adam and Eve out of the garden and cursed the ground to which Adam would seek for food (Gen. 3:17).  So sacred was this place that upon being driven from Paradise, God sent a cherubim to guard the land and the tree. Continue reading “Genesis”

Dancing About Architecture

Life is funny: there can be times when we feel so connected to one another, we are in sync and almost finishing one another’s sentences, and there other times that we could be sitting beside one another right now but there is a gap miles wide between us. Sometimes we can be engaged with one another and other times that no matter what we say, no one can understand exactly what is going on inside. There’s a quote that has been attributed to many people over the years, but it’s in a movie that I really like called Playing by Heart, and the line goes like this: “Talking about love is like dancing about architecture.”

The Trinity is much like this quote: we can talk and talk, and while the discussion would be amazing, our understanding would still leave us wanting more. Continue reading “Dancing About Architecture”

adesse.

“This realization of your own unworthiness will drive out of your heart all unreasonable interest in other people’s affairs and criticism of their actions, and will compel you to look at yourself alone, as though there were no one in existence but God and yourself.  You should consider yourself more vile and wretched than any living creature, so that you can hardly endure yourself, so great will be your consciousness of inward sin and corruption…For whatever defiles your soul or hinders its knowledge and experience of God must be very grievous and painful to you.”

~Walter Hilton, The Scale of Perfection, Book 1 Chapter 16

Pray for me…

I first became aware of Josèmaria Escrivá’s teachings in a little movie called The DaVinci Code.  However, as we all know, that film is a highly entertaining one built upon a teeny tiny foundation of pseudo- truth and an overwhelming amount of fiction, fantasy, and “what if”?  In the past few years I have discovered that the teachings of St. Escrivá to be ones that do not allow any “wiggle room” or opportunities to make excuses and rationalizations — something that I can do with great flair! Escrivá cuts to the heart of my humanity and challenges me to be better, stronger, through the grace and passion of Christ.

“Put your heart aside. Duty comes first. But when fulfilling your duty, put your heart into it. It helps.”

“You strayed from the way and did not return because you were ashamed. It would be more logical if you were ashamed not to return.”

“Is it not true that your gloominess and bad temper are due to your lack of determination in breaking the subtle snares laid by your own disordered desires? The daily examination of conscience is an indispensable help if we are to follow our Lord with sincerity of heart and integrity of life.”

“Don’t say, ‘That person bothers me.’ Think: ‘That person sanctifies me.’ ”

“If obedience does not give you peace, then you have pride.”

I believe that we should all seek those people in our Christian past with whom we can identify. The saints give us hope that, even through our ugly and selfish humanity, we can continue to be sanctified through the blood of Jesus. If I know I fail at holding to the teachings of Escrivá, how much more do I fail my God. But, thanks be to God and with His help, I pray that He draws me closer and continues to change my heart.

Pray for me, St. Josèmaria Escrivá, a sinner.

How Much Does It Cost?

Henri Nouwen writes: “Nuclear man no longer believes in anything that is always and everywhere…He lives by the hour…His art…is a combination of divergent pieces, is a host impression of how man feels at the moment [emphasis mine].” Further, “We see man paralyzed by dislocation and fragmentation, caught in the prison of his own mortality…We also see exhilarating experiments of living by which he tries to free himself of the chains of his own predicament.” And finally, there are those who have, “deep-seated unhappiness with the society in which the young find themselves. Many young people are convinced that there is something terribly wrong with the world…everywhere we see restless and nervous people, unable to concentrate and often suffering from a growing sense of depression.”

It would be easy to slip into a ministry that tries to be all to all. We see a great deal of pain and isolation and disappointment in our world. We see congregants on Facebook share frustrations, speak out using less-than-Christian language, and come against others with something akin to a verbal-online flogging. However, Continue reading “How Much Does It Cost?”

There is Peace in Patterns

I have the immense honor of writing for The Ambrose Institute, a spiritual formation  and congregational development program through Nashotah House Theological Seminary. This is my latest article written for Formatio, the online journal of Ambrose.  Just click the links and see the amazing work they do to form and encourage the Body of Christ!

Is it live, or is it Memorex?

In post-modern culture we guard the written word and even the ideas behind the ideas with patents, trademarks, and copyrights.  We protect and lay claim to our creation like a dog marks its territory.  However, there are some scholars who find it necessary to analyze the verbiage, syntax, and style — to distinguish the “authentic” writing of Paul from those of a scribe or follower.  There are scholars who say that only about seven of the thirteen letters attributed to Paul truly had his direct hand upon them.  Of those are the Pastoral Epistles — 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus — are truly doubted as to have been written by Paul and significant doubt exits as to the direct authorship from Paul of Ephesians, Colossians, and 2 Thessalonians.  The main argument for doubt is the variations in style of Greek vocabulary — as Paul mainly wrote in Koine Greek and referenced the Septuagint rather than the Hebrew canon.

For Paul and other writers of his age, Continue reading “Is it live, or is it Memorex?”

Ah! The humanity of man!

It seems to me that we mortal men desire to see relevance and to understand meaning in every event.  We need to understand the “why” and “how” of things, and by doing so we validate that thing’s presence, its breaking through into our little worlds with its disruptions or smoothing over.  We need the link of “if…then…” made clear and resolute. In doing so, we feel we understand and might be justified in the conclusions we draw.

If we seek Jesus in every detail of the Old Testament, we will find Him.  However, are we correct in doing so?  If we look to the value of historical and cultural framework of the Old Testament as a literary text, Continue reading “Ah! The humanity of man!”

Aquinas, Grace, and Sacrament

Aquinas speaks to the relation between nature and grace concerning the sacraments.  However, we should first understand the value of grace according to Aquinas and his predecessors.

In Question 2, Article 10, he references Augustine:  “By the same grace every man is made a Christian, from the beginning of his faith, as this man from His beginning was made Christ.”  Aquinas follows by underscoring the unity of nature and grace, “But this man became Christ by union with the Divine Nature.  Therefore this union was by grace.”  He continues in Question 7, Article 11 by stating that grace is taken in two ways:  the will of God graciously given and as the free gift of God.  Finally, he speaks to the unending effect of grace because of its unity with the Divine Nature.

Aquinas later addresses sacrament and grace in Question 38, Article 6.  He again references Augustine in reminding us that “our sacraments are signs of present grace,” and he contrasts our present grace with the Old Law which were signs of a future grace.

Understanding the nature of grace and what a sacrament is a signifier of, Continue reading “Aquinas, Grace, and Sacrament”

Jesus in a Box

 

I do not believe that, as a general rule, we live into the phrase “‘the kingdom of God, as Jesus proclaimed.  I do not believe we understand the gravity and power of its implication; because of the limitations inherent in our humanity, I believe we limit God.

Let me step back and lay some groundwork for my assertion.  What does it mean to say “the kingdom of God”?  What is it?  When is it?  And where?

R.T. France in A Theology of the New Testament notes that within our definition and awareness of a “kingdom,” we perceive it as a geographical region.  I would also say that our definition would encompass a sense of authority as in a ruler/servant or leader/disciple relationship.  France continues by including the Jewish heritage of the idea bringing it to “an eschatalogical dimension.”  France references Norman Perrin in that the kingdom of God is a symbol, and it seems that notion does have some merit in that the phrase itself represents a concept and reality so much more vast than we can fathom.  (I am thinking of Julian of Norwich in that her Revelations of Divine Love speaks of the hazelnut…all that is resides within the smallness of such a thing.) France continues to state that “in the teaching of Jesus the kingdom of God is both present and future.”  He ends by saying that it “is the subject of an active verb — it is in itself a dynamic agent.” Continue reading “Jesus in a Box”

Agnes, Martyr of Rome 304

Think back to that year before you were officially a “teenager.” What were you doing when you were 12 years old? I think to when I was 12 and remember I was completing my last year of braces, worried about pre-pubescent acne, and getting irritated on a daily basis at how nosey my parents were. I was discovering rock music on the radio and learning to play the flute in band. I was focused on my friends and the fact that I couldn’t tame my curly hair into submission. My life orbited around my needs, my plans, my desires.

We honor and celebrate Agnes, our martyr in Rome in the year 304. This lovely young woman lived in an era of great Christian persecution under the Roman Emperor Diocletian. Under this Emperor as well as others who shared his opinions, Christians were stripped of all rights as citizens, beaten, burned, tortured, and killed for their faith. Continue reading “Agnes, Martyr of Rome 304”

A cuppa tea with…Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer

Silent Meditation vs Empty Chatter

In this chapter Thomas moves further into meditative prayer…what it is and certainly what it is not.  He encourages us that interior prayer is simple, silent, and often expressed through small acts.  He cautions us that we convince ourselves that to have a “true prayer life” we must be engaged in “compulsive routines” filled with wordy, repetitive prayers.  This behavior, Thomas states, builds barriers between our own spirits and the Holy Spirit who desires to commune with us.

Thomas brings in St. John of the Cross, “The more spiritual a thing is the more wearisome they find it.”  In other words, we continue in behavior that “stimulates [us] psychologically” but is in effect empty, worthless, and counter-productive.

God’s response is to enshroud us in “darkness” and “night” which feels lonely and isolating and horrible and painful.  It breaks our confidence.  It confuses our minds.  It makes us doubt our faith.

But it is this painful darkness that God uses to re-direct us back to His purity and simplicity and grace.  Thomas encourages us, “It is precisely in this way that, being led into the ‘dark night of faith,’ one passes from meditation, in the sense of active ‘mental prayer,’ to contemplation, or a deeper and simpler intuitive form of receptivity.”

When those dark times come, and we shuffle through the arid desert of our soul, Thomas directs us to turn to the Psalms or Holy Scripture rather than falling back “to the conventional machinery of discursive ‘mental prayer.”

A cuppa tea with… Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer

Inertia.  Coldness.  Confusion.

Thomas speaks of these as we all experience them at some point (or many points) in our prayer life.  What do we do when faced with these empty spaces, these times when nothing seems to matter and nothing gains traction?

He warns that this might be a time when we have separated our prayer life, our ascetic life, from the rest of our existence.  This is folly and “bad theology.”

“Meditation has no point and no reality unless it is firmly rooted in life.”  We will fail to move forward in an ascetic journey if we cleave the two parts.

Another error is blaming ourselves when we “feel” separated from God.  There will be moments and times of elevation; there will be moment and times of “the night of the senses.”

He warns against discouragement and helplessness.  We must not rely upon feelings for fulfillment as they are immature.  Instead, during those times of night in the soul, we are to remain faithful and remember that God has given us the Spirit who will intercede for us with words and groans that we cannot utter (Romans 8:11-27).

“Our efforts…are directed to an obedient and opperative submission to grace…which implies our receptiveness to the hidden action of the Holy Spirit.”