Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Great Danger in Today's World

The 60 Minutes episode on Pope Francis motivated me to look up the pope's writings about the Church's mission to the poor.   The first result from the internet search was his 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudiu.  Its opening paragraphs bring to mind John Wesley's doctrinal sermon on the role that money should pay in the life of a Christian.  See part two of the sermon and then compare it to paragraph two of "The Joy of the Gospel"--
2. The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience.  Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor.  God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades.  This is a very real danger for believers too.  Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry and listless.  That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life in the Spirit which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ.
New Year's Eve is an appropriate time to engage in self-reflection, and these words from the pontiff are a fitting cultural observation to guide our inner assessment.  Here's some searching questions you might pose to yourself as you enter 2015:

  1. How influenced am I by the culture described by the pope?
  2. What do I desire more than anything else?
  3. What do I spend my time feverishly pursuing?
  4. What am I caught up in?
  5. Is there a place for the poor in my life?
  6. Can I hear God's voice?
  7. Do I feel Christ's quiet joy?
  8. Is my desire to do good fading?
  9. What makes me resentful, angry and listless?
  10. Am I living a dignified and fulfilled life?
  11. Am I living God's will for me?
  12. Do my actions and attitudes reflect the life of the Spirit, the heart of the risen Christ, and the joy of the Gospel?

Monday, December 29, 2014

Sam Baker interview

Fresh Air hosted by Terry Gross recently rebroadcast an interview with Sam Baker.  His description of his near death experience is worth a listen as is his song "Go in peace."  If you are planning an evening worship service, "Go in peace" would make a lovely benediction.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The International Military Pilgrimage

This is finals week at UNO.  Studying for three comprehensive exams has left little time for anything else.  Only one thing managed to cut through the fog of finals, an episode from the PBS series Sacred Journeys.  

In the initial installment of the series, host Bruce Feiler followed a group of veterans to Lourdes for the International Military Pilgrimage.  The link above goes to the full first episode.  The video below is Juan Roldan's account of his first visit to the shrine at Lourdes. 

In this clip, he describes the sense of relief that came over him when the waters of Lourdes were placed over his head.  His raw emotions, as well as those of the other veterans interviewed, got me out of analytic-thinking mode and into compassionate-feeling mode. 

I recommend the entire Lourdes episode.  Its message is worth meditating upon in preparation for the end of the Christmas season on January 11, Baptism of the Lord Sunday.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Anne Lamott- author interview

One of my favorite writers on grace and faith talking about her new book

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Forgive Us Our Debts

In which I argue that resentment of the poor is an unchristian attitude . . .

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Leisured Heart

Another excerpt from Victorious Living by E. Stanley Jones.  The idea of being inwardly adjusted to the will of God appeals to me.  It brings to mind Luke 12 where Christ teaches his disciples that being rich towards God is the opposite of anxiously pursuing possessions.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Sung Repentance

Repentance in the style of Naomi Shelton & The Gospel Queens.  What's your style?  

Mine usually takes the form of a mental rundown of the most recent examples of my finitude.  Lately that's meant a confession that I don't have God's perspective and don't know how my contribution fits into the whole.  This uncertainty is frustrating and humbling.  Instead of getting stuck in uncertainty, I ask for help to move forward in trust.  In other words, my attitude moves from Repentance to Faith.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

What's the point of the Methodists?

Link to a BBC Radio podcast that summarizes the history of British Methodism and questions whether it has a current missional purpose.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Powerful Spirit of Methodism

After finishing, The Word Became Flesh, I stared another E. Stanley Jones devotional.  About ten weeks into the daily readings, I realized that Jones was presenting a paraphrase of Wesley's teachings on Christian Perfection.  Below is an excerpt.  See if you don't agree with me that this is Christian Perfection in the vernacular of  the Twentieth Century.

Finding new ways to explain Methodist Doctrine, Spirit, and Discipline is one of the goals of this blog.  What do you think of the twist Jones puts on the doctrine of entire sanctification?

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Homeless Church

A "you are not alone" link.  Does your church fear for its future?  You are not alone.  The pic below is a link to a podcast about churches that are going through foreclosure proceedings.

What hope exists for a church after it becomes homeless?
  • If the church members worship a physical structure, then no hope exists.  Once the members can no longer afford their reason for being and lose their building, the church will disband.  It will feel like a part of them has died, and they will grieve the loss a long, long time.
  • If the church members worship a living Spirit, then every hope exists in Christ.  It will feel like a part of them has died, and in Christ they will experience a resurrection, a new life after death.
I currently worship in a coffee shop/book store.  I've also worshiped in a gym, a school cafeteria, a convention hall, as well as out-of-doors.  My experience shows me that worship does not require a certain type of building.  The Spirit will meet us anywhere we gather in Christ's name.

One possible benefit from this cycle of foreclosures-- maybe the experience will help us relate to others who have lost their homes.  If the homeless church can bear witness to hope in the midst of hopelessness, then maybe the source of that hope will become real for others.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Wesleyan Eco-Spirituality

The photo below is linked to an article that appeared in the July 23, 2014 issue of the New York Times.  The story of this farm/Jewish spirituality center got me thinking about all the church yards that could be used as a space to practice Creation care as a work of mercy.

Such a spiritual discipline would fit with the teachings in some of Wesley's later sermons:

"God's Approbation of His Works"
"The New Creation"
"The General Deliverance"

Do you know of a program that links a theology of Creation with practices of stewardship?

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Being-made-perfect-in-love Prayer

Last night's sermon was a meditation on “Be Ye Perfect,” how perfection is interpreted in the Wesleyan tradition, what it meant to the preacher (a candidate for ordination) to be made perfect in love, and her own struggles with perfectionism.

This reminder of the goal of Christian Perfection got me wishing for a prayer practice, something that I could pray whenever I’m feeling at a loss and unsure what the loving thing to do in a given situation might be.  It would have to be something I could say quickly, remember easily, and use unobtrusively as I tried both to stay engaged with the person before me and to reach out for divine assistance, simultaneously.

I thought of and rejected a number of options, went to bed with no satisfactory answer to my quandary, and woke up at 1 AM with the desire for a discipline still foremost in mind.  The early morning inspiration was to follow the pattern of the doctrinal order of salvation, Repentance-Faith-Holiness.  I chose three words and three body parts to associate with each step in the analogy of faith, and came up with the following--

Focus on the head and think “Help”
Focus on the heart and think “Save”
Focus on the feet and think “Move”

I like the head-to-toe coverage of this form of prayer; it feels like I’m all in, every part of me seeking and listening for guidance.

“Help” is the point where I admit that I am clueless and have no idea what a loving response would look like in a given situation.  “Save” is an act of trust, in which I reaffirm my belief that Christ can transform me and teach me how to love.  “Move” is an expression of my desire to discern the direction in which God’s grace is already leading and to follow.

I will be heading to the hospital this afternoon to visit two relatives who are gravely ill.  I don’t know if I’ll need the perfect love prayer during the visit, but it does feel good to have this prayer to experiment with should I feel the need.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Paul's Guidelines for Worship

I want to experiment with the form a worship described in Eugene Peterson's paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 14: 26-40.  The first expectation that everyone will come to worship prepared to serve is very appealing.  I also appreciate the fact that Paul gives church members options; they can sing, teach, pray, tell a story, share an insight (limited to two or three speakers).  There's so many options here that it makes me think that the list is not exhaustive.  I also note that Paul had to give the Corinthians rules for courteous behavior, and that his etiquette (at least the way that Peterson has paraphrased it) seems fair: Speak from your heart, Don't criticize a prayer offered in an unfamiliar language, Be considerate.

Who's with me?  Ready to scrap the model of worship you've been following for years and instead experiment with Paul's guidelines?  And if you know of anyone who has already implemented this Pauline framework, I would appreciate it if you would let me know.

Monday, May 12, 2014

It's raining. Love is Reigning.

Radar from NWS of May 11, 2014 supercell storm
A supercell storm passed through the Midwest yesterday causing tornadoes, hail damage, and flash floods. The sirens went off around 7pm in Omaha, and we spent an hour in the storm shelter of our apartment building.  

According to the meteorologist from Channel 6 news, the storm cell blew out as it reached the outskirts of the metro area.  Wind speeds reached 80 mph by some reports.  Falling tree limbs knocked down power lines in some parts of the city.  As of 9am, 6,000 homes are still without power.

Given all that transpired last night, my early morning meditation seems extremely inappropriate.  I awoke around 5am but didn't feel rested.  The adrenaline-fueled reaction to the evening's weather event had made it difficult to fall asleep.  I'm in the habit of praying in bed whenever I wake up before the alarm goes off.  I start with a morning affirmation followed by the Lord's Prayer.  This morning, however, my attention wandered.  I made it as far as the affirmation for the metro area before my monkey-mind jumped to something else.

I imagined myself sitting and meditating, palms raised, and in that moment I felt loved. The divine was delighting in me.  It was clear that this love and delight wasn't about anything that I had done.  It wasn't a reaction to an accomplishment or deed or goodness. I caught a glimpse of the divine nature this morning, and I'm here to report that that nature is an eternal embrace.  

All I had to do was sit there (actually still lying in bed) and let the love reign down on me and into me.  But after all the damage that rain did last night, I felt myself resisting the way the mediation was unfolding.

The passivity of it bothers me.  When Christ blesses the disciples in Matthew 28:19, John 20:22, and Acts 1:8, he follows it up with a commission.  The disciples are blessed and empowered to go, witness, serve.  I was getting my early morning blessing, it felt great, but where were my marching orders?

Homes have been destroyed.  Families are picking up the pieces of their lives.  Nerves are frayed.  I was expecting a Holy Spirit shove out the door; a motivation to help those in need.  Instead I was getting the Stay message.  Abide.  Soak Up.

Apparently, my duty for this day is to abide in Christ and spend these next 24 hours reflecting the light of divine love.  Big whoop.  Fat lot of good that's going to do those waking up to devastation.  Also, how do I do that?  How do I become more reflective? I need more than the Sit command.  I need some detailed instructions.

My inclination is to be helpful.  The Spirit's idea of my helpfulness is different than mine, and I find that extremely frustrating.  I need grace to show me how to be still for Jesus because inaction goes against my nature.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Our Three Responses to Grace (typically)

The video clip below is from my Wednesday, March 26, 2014 presentation at Rockbrook UMC in Omaha, Nebraska. In it, I tell the audience about an experience I had the Sunday before Lent.  

On that particular Sunday, my husband and I had arrived early for the evening service.  After finding seats, a member of the staff approached us and asked if I would read the scripture lessons during worship. When I told her that I would be glad to help out, she handed me two pieces of paper, one of which contained Psalm 131 in a translation that was unfamiliar to me-
"O Lord, my heart is not proud nor my look haughty; I do not aspire to great things or to do what is beyond me; But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.  O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time on and forevermore."
I almost burst out laughing when I read the second stanza because I do aspire to great things and I do over-reach.  It was a convicting moment, and it was the start of a process in which I moved from repentance to faith to holiness in the space of a few minutes as the service started.

Repentance-Faith-Holiness is the order of salvation in the Wesleyan tradition.  It is the analogy of faith that Wesley followed when he interpreted scripture, and it is how he characterized Methodist Doctrine.  It is the succession of responses that one typically has to an experience of grace when belief is new, and it is a repetitive sequence throughout the stages of the spiritual maturation process.

I shared this experience with the good folks at Rockbrook because I think it's illustrative of what I mean by Wesleyan Spirituality, and because I'm looking for new terms, something other than repentance-faith-holiness, to describe our typical responses to God, and I was hoping that the audience would tell me about similar experiences that they had had and what terms they use when they describe those experiences to others.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

"called to belong to Jesus Christ" (Rom. 1:6)

"The ending of our calling is not to know good, do good, or be good-- the end of our calling is 'to belong.'  The knowing, doing, and being good come out of our belonging to Jesus Christ."
-E. Stanley Jones

Still reading The Word Became Flesh, which is still complaining about sterile preaching.  Jones identified moralism as the main problem with the sermon he heard at that time (book published in 1963).  The Gospel was reduced to moral principles.  Jesus was reduced to a teacher of moral precepts.  The preachers told people to be good.  They defined what they meant by doing good.  They connected their definition of good to something that Jesus taught or did.  Jones called such preaching sterile because it did not produce faith, which is necessary in order to know, do, and be good.

Below is today's devotional lesson sandwiched between highlights of the lines that stood out for me and my reaction to those statements.  What do you think of the format?  Is it readable or too distracting?

Sunday, March 30, 2014

for when it is too heavy

Update-- Turns out that when I am weak, he is strong.  When I tried to lift up the family mentioned in the reflection above, I failed.  Last night, unable to sleep, feeling sad, I tried to imagine Jesus lifting up the family.  Jesus had no problem; it was easy for him, effortless.  He stood with the family, raised his arms, palms up, and their spirits were lifted.  He lifted up the members of this family to His Father and Our Father.  Jesus gave them a spiritual lift.  I will try to remember this the next time something is too heavy for me.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

"Do all the good you can" motto

The church I attend, the Urban Abbey in downtown Omaha, NE, has the "Do all the good you can . . ." motto printed on their coffee mugs.  The initials JW follow the quote, so the mugs don't exactly claim John Wesley as the source of the motto but the implication is there.

A 1915 collection of John Wesley's letters edited by George Eayrs attributes the "Do all the good you can" motto to John Wesley.  Below is an image from the book and here's a link to the ebook version at the google books site--

It is unclear what source Eayrs is citing, if any.  Eayrs might have assumed this motto had been written by Wesley without any other evidence than commonly held assumption.  The footnote does make me wonder if the motto was associated with Kingswood School.  Anybody out there in the blogosphere have a history of the school or access to the archives of the Kingswood School?

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Bishop Roy Sano on biblical obedience

Lots of food for thought in this post by Bishop Roy Sano.  His first point, "Jesus drew a sharp distinction between disobedience to human tradition and obedience to God’s word."  sent me to Wesley's commentary on Matthew 23:23 where I found multiple examples of how Wesley characterized inward religion versus outward religion-

From the 3d to the 30th verse Mt 23:3 - 30 is exposed every thing that commonly passes in the world for religion, whereby the pretenders to it keep both themselves and others from entering into the kingdom of God; from attaining, or even seeking after those tempers, in which alone true Christianity consists. As, Punctuality in attending on public and private prayer, ver. 4 - 14. Mt 23:4 - 14 Zeal to make proselytes to our opinion or communion, though they have less of the spirit of religion than before, ver. 15. Mt 23:15 A superstitious reverence for consecrated places or things, without any for Him to whom they are consecrated, ver. 16 - 22. Mt 23:16 - 22 A scrupulous exactness in little observances, though with the neglect of justice, mercy, and faith, ver. 23, 24. Mt 23:23,24 A nice cautiousness to cleanse the outward behaviour, but without any regard to inward purity, ver. 25, 26. Mt 23:25,26 A specious face of virtue and piety, covering the deepest hypocrisy and villany, ver. 27, 28. Mt 23:27,28 A professed veneration for all good men, except those among whom they live.

Biblical obedience does not seem like the right term for what Wesley is talking about here.  For Wesley, the nature of true Christianity is characterized by obedience to the Spirit and not dedication to words on a page.

Nevertheless, whichever term you prefer to use, the end result is the same.  Bishop Sano and Wesley both call for the followers of Christ to be filled with divine love and to live out of that love as they interact with others.  Wesley's writings are just more emphatic in attributing the capacity to love to the power of the living Spirit rather than to human willpower.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

a body reacts to the Lord's Prayer

Occasionally when I pray the Lord's Prayer, I notice a simultaneous pattern of physical sensations occurring.  Always a single sensation, not always the same pattern.  My attention moves from one body part to another as I move from one line of the prayer to the other.  I don't attach any significance to this phenomena.  I find it inspiring to be engaged by the prayer on a physical level; that is significant enough.

Monday, January 20, 2014

a form of the Lord's Prayer

Last night, I tried syncing my breath and the Lord's Prayer while staying mindful of the lines of the prayer that are in the imperative command mode.  I didn't find it as difficult as it sounds.  Maybe I've just practiced praying the imperative sections enough times now that I can be attune to both my breath and my attitude.  I found praying the Lord's Prayer this way both restful as well as inspiring.

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Bossy Prayer

I’m still trying to teach myself Greek (Step One of a larger project).  On New Year’s Day, I reviewed the Imperative verb tense, which is the command mode as in-- Do This!  Do Not Do That!  One of the examples given in the workbook was taken from the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13.  

Imagining the Lord’s Prayer as the issuing of commands intrigues me.  The first three command are indirect--
Your name be sanctified!
Your kingdom come!
Your will be done!

The next three orders are directed straight at God--
Hey God! Give Us Daily Bread!
You There!  Forgive Us!
Yo Divine One!  Deliver Us!

Prayer as Imperative, that’s the part that gets to me the most because my mode of praying is supplicative.  Ordering God around in prayer feels rude and disrespectful. But what if Jesus is giving his followers permission to do just that?  This would be consistent with his commands to Ask, Seek, Knock (Matthew 7:7, Luke 11:9) in prayer.

Prayer as an emphatic statement of my desire, no holding back, no false meekness, a guileless expression of what I think God should do in a situation, what I demand from the Divine.  I am stunned by the implications.  

Politeness is not needed.  Displaying proper etiquette is not what’s called for.  Decorum, modesty, and propriety are suspended.  Miss Manners needs to step aside and let Little Miss Bossy Pants have free range.

How do I make the switch from praying in the supplicative to praying in the imperative mode?  I’m going to start by repeating the Lord’s Prayer and making it more insistent.  Baby Steps first, and then I’ll see how things grow from there.