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I have been thinking and reflecting a lot about change lately.  It’s been easy to do that here at St. Luke’s Church.  Our community is taking some bold steps in faith to follow where we believe God is leading us.

Change is often unsettling.  I think, by the way, that’s as it should be.  I would also say that being unsettled doesn’t necessarily have to lead to anxiety and fear.  I’m not sure who said this, but I believe it to be true,

life is 5% what happens to you and 95% in how you deal with it.”

Let’s try on another one:

the only constant is change.”

It seems to me that if we believe these to be true, on any level, then we’d be well served to embrace the reality of change and equip ourselves with the tools to do so.  As Christians I think we are ‘equipped’ with a great set of tools by virtue of our call to discipleship.

In his book The Sky is Falling, Alan Roxburgh contends that we would do well to understand the important difference between change and transition.  Roxburgh basically says that change is the often unavoidable forces that are external, transition is the result of our internal responses to external realities.  To paraphrase our first quotation change is 5% of the challenge, transition is 95% of it. Read the rest of this entry »

I have to confess that I am weary of the political season.  I am tired of hearing good people talk badly about each other.  I am weary of the collective monologue that seems to pass as debate in this day and age.  I am tired about the zero sum game that too often dominates religion as much as it dominates politics.  I’m tired and I just want to go to sleep and wake up and find out that it’s all over–or even better yet, that it was all a bad dream.

I’m not merely tired of partisan politics in government here or anywhere else in the country, I’m tired of the diversions from doing the work of heralding the Kingdom of God that sidetrack the Church as well.

I was reading a little book by Teilhard de Chardin the other night before going to sleep that made me sit up and take notice and helped me to refocus and fight the urge to flee from the struggles of politics.  In “Building the Earth” Chardin writes these words…may they rekindle your hope and focus your energies as they did mine.

Fundamentally, in spite of the apparent enthusisasm with which large sections of mankind go along with the political and social currents of the day, the mass of mankind remains dissatisfied.

It is impossible to find, either on the right or the left, a truly progressive mind which does not confess to at least a partial disillusionment with all existing movements.

A person joins one party or the other, because if he wishes to act, he must make a choice.  But, having taken his stand, everyone feels to some extent hampered, thwarted, even revolted. Everyone wants something larger, finer, better for humanity. Scattered throughout the apparently hostile masses which are fighting each other, there are elements everywhere which are only waiting fora  shock in order to re-orientate themselves and unite.

All that is needed is that the right ray of light should fall upon these people as upon a cloud of particles, that an appeal should be sounded which responds to their internal needs, and across all denominations, across all the conventional barriers which still exist, we shall see the living atoms of the universe seek each other out, find each other and organize themselves.

We must unite.

No more political fronts, but one great crusade for human advancement.  The democrat, the communist, and the fascist must jettison the differences and limitations of their systems and pursue to the full the positive aspirations which inspire their enthusiasm, and then, quite naturally, the new spirit will burst the chauvinist bonds which still imprison it; the three currents will find themselves merging in the conception of a common task; namely to promote the spiritual future of the world.

I believe that force that can bring an end to the systems and allow what’s best in them to coalesce around the promotion of the spiritual future of the world is nothing more or less than the Gospel of Jesus.

Should you, like me, find yourself weary, stressed, fearful, lonely, or whatever else in the coming months of high uncertainty, pick up the stories of the Gosple and let the Good News re-orientate you to work for the spiritual future of this world and all of God’s children in it.

The last ‘official’ week of summer is bearing down upon us.  Next Monday it will be Autumn in New England.  Life’s rhythms change until there is some comfort in them and lo and behold, they change again.  Some days I don’t know whether that’s a source of comfort, frustration or both.

This Autumn, unlike many in my years, promises to be uncomfortable.

The winds of change are blowing over nearly every bit of emotional, psychological, spiritual, physical and material bit of landscape that has become familiar to me.  Typically I look forward to the storms of winter.  There’s a comfort in knowing that I’m going to be safe in the storm that allows me to look toward it as adventure.  Maybe it’s because the implications are more stark for more folks this winter that I’m a bit more cautious in looking forward to colder weather and the first flakes of snow to fall.

Hmmm, maybe there’s something to the saying that journalism is in the business of, “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.” (Finley Peter Dunne) that applies to Jesus and the Gospel.  That, by the way, is a good thing.

I’m basically an optimist but I have to admit finding silver linings in the apparently endless procession of change that seems to be pouring down on the Church as the people of God has been tough.

I have found a couple though and I hope they’ll buoy your spirits as much as they have mine.

First of all, in the conversations about attending to God’s call on the life of our community, there has been a deep listening and respect for differing views that I find hopeful.  Let me say a bit more about that.  While we’ve been trying to come to a faithful decision about what to do about heating the church and whether to renovate the classrooms in the education wing, there have been no lack of different perspectives.

At times we’ve seemed to move at a snail’s pace and at others it seems like we’ve been rushing headlong into uncertainty.  On both poles and in the spaces between there has been a patient listening that has been comforting.  This air of Holy Conversation and respectful listening has been part of the deliberations and busyness of many of the groups in our parish as we continue to try and find the will of God in all that we do.  For that we have reason to give plenteous thanks.  Does that mean that everything has been without disagreement or contention?  No. What it means is that the Spirit of God has softened some of our edges and rounded some corners that have allowed consensus to emerge in ways that keeps the value of community as primary in our life together.

Secondly, I have noticed a peace about us in the face of profound uncertainty that is in short supply lately.  God seems to be at work in the lives of us all in ways that is important to recognize and give thanks for.  Our life changes, both individually and collectively, can be unsettling to the point of panic.  I don’t sense much of that in our common life.  When it does crop up, and it does, the community has been good about holding out the prospect of peace and calm in the face of sorrow, transition and uncertainty.  Thanks be to God.

As our nights grow longer I pray that our commitment to God as the center which holds all together (to quote Kierkegaard) will hold.  Should its hold seem to be slipping, be assured that it’s not God’s grip but our trust in it.  Hold on tightly to one another and the God who has called us together and expect Spring to come as certainly as this Autumn has.

Peace on your week!

As the extent of damage from Hurricane Ike continues to unfold across the islands of the Caribbean and into Texas, Louisiana, Mexico and other places, it’s easy to ask “Where is God in the midst of this devastation and destruction?”  God is most definitely there and here’s an example of just how.

There’s a midrash of Torah that talks about the conversation between an angel and God as God watches the Exodus of the Israelites at the Red Sea. The basic frame of the story goes something like this:

As the Hebrew people were being pursued by the Egyptians toward the Red Sea, God and an angel watched events unfold.  God responded to the faith of Moses and the people in striking the water by parting it so that the whole company could find there way in safety to the other side.  As the people passed through, God and the angel watched silently.

Soon they turned their gaze upon the Egyptian pursuers.  As the last of the 12 tribes of Israel emerged on the opposite bank they began to gather again and prepare for the next leg of their journey, but still in fear of their pursuers.

As the horses, chariots and warriors of Egypt found their way into the passage through the see, God swallowed hard and sighed.  The waters united again and the cry of sorrow echoed through the air and was suddenly an eerily silenced.  Immediately the cheers and rejoicing commenced on the other side of the sea.

Then the angel of the Lord turned to speak to God and saw that tears rolled down the Lord’s cheeks.

“Why are you crying my Lord?”, asked the angel.

“I weep for my children, the Egyptians,” sighed God. And God shook with sobbing.

As Ike’s destruction is revealed, and as we deal with soothing the tears and sorrow of those here on earth in its aftermath, so does God weep over the suffering of any of his children.  My God’s sorrow inspire us to exercise our muscles of compassion in his name.  First by prayer and then by action in reaching out in whatever way we can to support those who weep, God included.

I have to say that it’s taken me less than a week to become weary of the ‘conversation’ between the two major presidential party candidates.  What disheartens me is the shrill character of what passes for dialogue on the real and pressing problems of the world we live in today.  I don’t see a conversation, I feel like I’m witnessing a collective monologue where people and groups of people don’t talk to one another but rather at or past one another.

I’m enough of a pramatist to know that this isn’t likely to change soon.  What I will say is that the labels, whether they be ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ take on a perjorative tone.  I find this remarkable since these are not nouns, but adjectives.  Maybe that’s for another time.

Today’s Boston Globe has an interesting interview with author Peter Korzen about how church moral teaching, in his case Catholic moral teaching, can inform dialogue in the public square in a meaningful and faithful way.  He has recently co-authored A Nation for All: How the Catholic Vision of the Common Good Can Save America from the Politics of Division with Alexia Kelley and talks about the book and its premise in the interview.

For me the most interesting challenge in the arena of partisan politics today is how communities of faith, made up of people with differing views, can contribute in a meaningful way to the process.  I would hope that we are still willing to claim a voice in the public square that is not demeaning, shrill or condescending.  One of my mentors told his students often, “The highest compliment you can pay anyone is to take them seriously.”  What would happen if supporters of major political candidates would take the other side ‘seriously’ and allow that people of good will can disagree agreeably?  I’d love to see how that might play out.

I guess for small communities, like the one I serve, we can do that by asking honest questions of people that we disagree with and have a conversation of understanding before we try and ‘convert’ them to our particular worldview.  We can share the experiences that bring us to certain places, but we cannot expect others to treat them as if they were their own and ‘better’ experiences.  That doesn’t take ‘the other’ seriously and involves a certain arrogance and hubris unbecoming of the followers of Jesus who, in the words of Paul’s letter to the Philippians:

Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5

Let the same mind be in you that was* in Christ Jesus,
6who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.(Philippians 2)

Korzen and Kelley appeal to a great ideal that might help us to shift the conversation to the center from the poles, namely that we seek the common good above being right (or left for that matter).  I may be a hopeless optimist, but it won’t ever happen if we don’t try by our life and example as people of faith to make it so.

I’m more hopeful about politics than I’ve been in a long time.  I pray that hope grow into fruitful dialogue.

My prayer is that this hope can be rewarded with a substantive discourse on ideas and not devolve into the politics of name-calling and fear.  I want to say up front that I mean that in both directions, both the left and the right.

Two snippets give me hope (maybe I’m just looking for a half-full glass).

  • Barack Obama’s description of John McCain as ‘a good man’ when talking about his impending nomination as the Republican Presidential Candidate
  • John McCain’s congratulatory message to the Illinois Senator the day following Obama’s nomination

I believe that regardless of our politics, we as people of faith should really pray for, to borrow from the Apostle Paul, “a more excellent way” to emerge as part of this important time in our country and for the life of the world as God’s creation.

To that end I am going to commit myself to praying for God to sustain all of the candidates and not just ‘my’ candidate.  Will you join me in a commitment to such a prayer discipline?

In closing I offer this from the Book of Common Prayer as template for such a discipline.

Almighty God, giver of all good things:
We thank you for the natural majesty and beauty of this land.
They restore us, though we often destroy them.
Heal us.
We thank you for the great resources of this nation. They
make us rich, though we often exploit them.
Forgive us.
We thank you for the men and women who have made this
country strong. They are models for us, though we often fall
short of them.
Inspire us.
We thank you for the torch of liberty which has been lit in
this land. It has drawn people from every nation, though we
have often hidden from its light.
Enlighten us.
We thank you for the faith we have inherited in all its rich
variety. It sustains our life, though we have been faithless
again and again.
Renew us.
Help us, O Lord, to finish the good work here begun.
Strengthen our efforts to blot out ignorance and prejudice,
and to abolish poverty and crime. And hasten the day when
all our people, with many voices in one united chorus, will
glorify your holy Name. Amen.

The all too short New England summer is fleeing quickly from experience into memory.  It simply is, it’s neither good nor bad.  It, like most everything else in life has its upside as well as its drawbacks.  The change of the seasons is as God created things.

It has been said that life is 10% what happens to you and 90% of how you deal with it.  I think there’s a great deal of wisdom in that view.

I recently read a book by a man named Alan Roxburgh called, The Sky is Falling!?! Leaders Lost in Transition. It is about, among other things, the nature of transition that the Church in the modern world finds itself in.  We can lament the passing away of a predominantly Christian culture in our world, but at the end of the day that passing away is a change.  A change that we cannot undo, but a change with which we must deal with all the imagination, prayer, obedience and creativity at our disposal if we are to continue doing the Mission of God here in Worcester.

Mr. Roxburgh says that change is inevitable and what we do with it, the 90% of faith is in how we respond.  He calls the response transition.  He says that transition is what we do in the face of change.  He says change happens to us, we can’t stop it, but what we can do is manage our response as we transition from one reality to another.

It’s in what we do that we begin to walk upon the kind of Holy Ground that Moses experienced when he heard God in a burning bush.  Change for the people of Israel was on the horizon.  They were a threat to the Egyptians and the Egyptians were acting out of fear to oppress God’s people.  God took this change and called a people into one of the great transitions in all of human history, the Exodus.

That 40 year pilgrimage continues to serve as an example to God’s people about how we can depend upon God to move us from one circumstance should we have the courage, wisdom and faith to depend on Him regardless of what change comes our way.

One of the common phrases in the our current culture is, “it’s all good!”  Well we know that it’s not all good.  That being said the Apostle Paul in the Romans says, “we know that all things work together for those who love God.” (Romans 8:28).  What Paul is reminding the Romans and us of is that God’s love, power, compassion and guidance can bring good from almost any change if we trust him to help us make transitions.

Whatever change befalls us, I pray that God will lead us through Holy Transition more deeply in relationship to Him and a deeper commitment to His Mission for the world.

I made a commitment to an online friend the other day that I would blog about the MDGs (Millenium Development Goals) today.  Now to figure out what to say!

I’m only half kidding.  If you’re not aware of what the MDGs are here’s a brief overview courtesy of the United Nations which drafted these goals as a way of seeking to eliminate global development problems by attacking them at their roots:

We can be overwhelmed at the enormity of these development challenges if we bite off too big a hunk of them.  Maybe what we can do best is see where these challenges affect our own neighborhoods.  True, it may not be that we have stark examples of poverty, child mortality and all the rest down the street, but we would do well not to take for granted what we do have and be honest about what’s lacking locally.

Environmental sustainability begins in our homes and extends to our neighbors.

Universal primary education is often a sporadic reality for homeless families (Buy your Hope for Housing Grocery Cards at St. Luke’s!!!!)

HIV and malaria, well a mosquito net that will protect a child in a developing country costs about $10 and addresses 2 of the goals.  Think on that and Google a place to donate!

You’ll have loads of ideas if you just spend some time reflecting on what you can do.  If not try this link for the ONE Campaign where you can find out what One person can do to make a difference in the life of another and indeed in the life of the world.

Take some time today to think about what you CAN do, not about what you CAN’T do.  It’s hard work, but it’s really good work.

Happy Monday all!!!!

I listen to NPR every morning while I make coffee (for my wife) and tea (for myself).  I don’t drink as much coffee as I used to, partially because of the havoc it wreaks on my stomach and my blood pressure.  This morning while I was fixin’ caffeine (in both kinds) a story about meditation and blood pressure came on (Meditation vs. Medication).  There is much to recommend this story to all of us but in particular I was grabbed by the following line:

Sometimes, realizing that you’re not in control can make you more effective in matters where you do have control.

The specific context here was in talking to a man who was learning to attend to his breathing and anxiety as he drove instead of his mind racing to things he couldn’t control–traffic, other drivers, cell phone reception, etc.

You know of course that’s the essence of a prayer that has become the mantra for 12 step groups across the world.  It’s has come to be called the Serenity Prayer, but was written, and left untitled by 20th Century Theologian Reihold Neibuhr in 1943.  It’s about action, control it’s also about stillness and surrender.  In short it’s about seeking after God’s will and the courage to do it as we are able.  Here’s the full text of the prayer:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next. Amen.

I love the last part..where he asks only for to be ‘reasonably happy in this life’.  Seeking the will of God is more about the state of the world than my ultimate happiness in this life..that’s for another season of our lives with God.

May we all have the grace to let go of the illusion of control long enough to be reasonably happy today and work for the redemption of the world and the relative happiness of the whole of creation.

When you’re frustrated today–and I trust it’s a question of when, not if–I hope you can take a deep breath, meditate as you know how to do and just accept the world as it is, knowing that its transformation is God’s work and we are invited to participate in that and are not ultimately responsible for making it so.

To quote the title of the NPR story, may we have the grace to just say ‘OM’ (or a reasonable equivalent, a holy word reminding us of the Peace of God).

Be careful out there, we want to see you again!!!

There is special significance for this Independence Day in our house. As many of you will know, Jonathan, our beloved son turns 13 tomorrow. The rite of passage that being a teenager is not lost on any of us. That this rite of passage comes as we celebrate American Independence from Colonial Rule as a nation is an interesting coincidence.

For some 200 years we as Americans have relished our Independence and the glorious success that Democracy has been for us and for countless others across the globe. And for good reason.

Having said that, I think we can fairly make the case the complete Independence, on any level, is a myth at best. The fact of the matter is that isolationism has never worked for America as much as we’d like it to. The same holds true with children, adolescents, and adults. This is especially true with the spiritual life. It is true that God’s presence is everywhere. I cannot deny that as a basic tenet of the religious life. We all, by virtue of our kinship with Jesus have access to God in ways that our Hebrew forbearers could not imagine. It is easy, and a bit dangerous, to think that we can have the fullest experience of God possible all alone. John Donne, famous Anglican preacher and poet penned these words,

“No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.”

 

We have existence in God apart from others, but we cannot claim the fullness of fellowship that God desires for us all individually if we choose to make God and our relationship to God a private matter. As Christians the centrality of relationship is central to our belief. That’s why the Trinitarian understanding of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit is part of our ordering our common life. We are created for relationship.

I guess my point is (and I do have one) this: Independence is a step toward maturity, but it’s just a step and not the end to which we’ve been called. As we understand ourselves independently we are offered a great and noble choice, that is to choose interdependence. We cannot do without one another. We cannot experience God’s fullness outside of community. We cannot worship fully in our tradition without relationship. The Eucharist, by definition, is the community expressing its thanks to God for all that is.

Regardless of where you find yourselves tomorrow, I hope that in the midst of our Independence Day Celebrations we’ll remember that we depend on one another and indeed on everyone that is in ways that we can never completely understand.

Blessed 4th! May you have the courage to seek Interdependence!!!

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