Friday, May 22, 2015

A Liturgy for Living

Our church is doing a sermon series called Why Worship .  In previous weeks, we covered sacraments and proclamation/prophecy; last week, we looked at liturgy, which means the work of the people—not the work the pastor.  We were reminded that worship requires the participation of the whole community. There is an order of worship we follow.  Each time we gather together, we do things in a certain sequence intended to help lead us into God’s Presence—and then back out into the world carrying that Presence with us. These rituals are meant to bond us to meaning.  If we aren’t “getting anything out of” certain parts of the worship service, we may need to remind ourselves why we do what we do.  

In her message, the pastor reminded us there are two types of time: chronos and kairos.  Chronos is “our time”, the kind of time we keep on our watches and schedule-apps; kairos, on the other hand, is “God’s time”, or eternal time.  It is the "right" or "opportune" moment for us to encounter God. 

We live our days in chronos time but as people created in God’s image, we are created to seek and experience kairos moments. 

When we gather to worship as a community, we intentionally choose to give God some of our chronos, which we can control, in hopes of experiencing kairos, which we cannot.   

The liturgy we use in our worship services provide means that create space for those kairos moments to happen.  They are regular routines that followers of God have used for centuries to point themselves toward the Divine, sort of analogous to how a trellis helps to guide the growth of a tender plant.

The pastor also briefly touched on how we need order in our own personal lives. Although it wasn’t her focus, that was the part that resonated with me the most this week.  I have found myself in recent days feeling somewhat overwhelmed by the busyness of my life.  (How many can relate?) We did a round of spring-cleaning in our house recently.  We literally restored some order in our home—which felt really good after it was done!  But what I am seeking goes deeper than just cleaning up my physical home—I need to reorder my spiritual home.

I often say I need to find balance.  The reasoning goes that if I can just get the right ratio of activities, then I can do it all.  Seeking balance isn’t bad per se; the problem is that it tends to be self-focused.  I am trying to manage all the various “hats” I must where: spouse, parent, employee, church member, etc., and do them all well, so that life is easier and more convenient for me.  Also, when we seek balance, the sectors of life tend to get compartmentalized.  Spiritual life becomes just one of the compartments—when it should encompass all of the others.  Even if I manage to balance all the activities, where does that leave me?  Tired most likely!  But am I really any more certain about where I am headed?  Probably not.

I am fairly convinced that writing and storytelling are part of my calling; I've known that for a while.  In some ways, I already do these things.  I am a writer, editor, and “storyteller” for NASA.  Likewise, I’ve written many spiritual essays similar to the one you are reading right now over the past decade or so, and published them online and/or in print. I’ve also tried my hand in more recent years at creative nonfiction writing, taking several online courses, and producing some "really good first drafts".  All of these are partial expressions of who I am, but none of them are the complete picture.  I am fairly certain there is “more” I am meant to do, but struggling to discover it—and do it.

I think the “next step” involves a grand synthesis bringing together the writing I have done to date: a spiritual memoir perhaps?  A fuzzy vision emerges of what might be, but it quickly vanishes in the fog of uncertainty that seems to surround my life. Besides, having the time and energy to seriously pursue writing just doesn’t seem practical at this stage of my life.  I get discouraged and dismiss it as impossible.

I think the spiritual progress that I seek toward living more fully into my calling requires more than balance.   To get back on track toward the “bigger picture” that God sees for me, I need a firm sense of direction—I need order.

I was reminded this week of a time-honored spiritual practice that can help me if I would choose to pursue it.  It’s called a rule of life[1].  In light of our discussion of the role liturgy in worship, we might think of this practice as liturgy for living.  For centuries, these “rules” provided frameworks (like the trellis) that have helped followers of Jesus more intentionally pursue personal rhythms and guidelines that draw them closer to God and one another[2].  Developing a personal rule requires taking an honest inventory of who we are and what we really desire in life and then coming up with a rule (or if you prefer, a rhythm) that works for us. 

For example, if I really want to move forward as a writer, it likely won’t “just happen”; I will need to make a plan.  That is, I need to be clear about my goal, and then decide what specific and intentional actions I will take in the next month, year, etc., to move toward that goal.  For some reason, I resist making such plans like the plague. Why?  It’s a complicated answer but I think it’s because once I make a plan it has the potential of failing, and I hate failure so much that I resist even starting.  I figure I will just wait for the memoir to “just happen” and if it doesn’t it must not have been “meant to be”.

But I have come to believe that “meant to be” is a joint endeavor between us and God.  Until I am willing to do my part, my dream is likely to remain elusive—and I am likely to remain frustrated.

The liturgy that shapes your life will be different from mine.  It will be as unique as the individual God has created you to be, but as Christ followers there will be common themes that weave together, harmonies that join to make beautiful music. God’s hopeful and compelling vision of the Kingdom of God will begin to (re)order our hearts (Proverbs 4:23) and provide the impetus we need to overcome our human tendency toward self-centeredness and motivate us to take action toward the noble pursuit of loving God and loving our neighbors as we work together toward the common good of creation. 

[1] Two excellent resources are the section on “Rule of Life” in the Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices that Transform Us, by Adele Calhoun, pp. 35–39, and “A Well Ordered Heart,” Chapter 12 of The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People, by John Ortberg.  Ortberg discusses the difference between balance and order in more detail.
[2] An example of an ancient rule of life still in use today is the Rule of St. Benedict.

Speaking With a Prophetic Voice

At my church during May we have been considering:  Why Worship?  Thus far, we have covered sacraments and proclamation; next week is liturgy.  When we considered proclamation, we looked at Jeremiah's call (Jeremiah 1:4-9) and our call as Christ followers to have a prophetic voice.   Our task, in the words of Walter Bruggeman is not to ask whether an alternative is possible or viable—but rather to ask if is it is imaginable. Our pastor challenged us to be prophets wherever we find ourselves. Our call is to imagine a better world, to confront the status quo wherever there is injustice, and to work toward making our hopeful vision (i.e., God’s vision) a reality.

Surely the voice of Martin Luther King is that of a modern prophet.  King's words, first preached over half a century ago, often seem like they could just as easily be commentary on today's world.  Some of the specific issues may have changed since the early 1960s, but the core human issues King confronted in his writing and speaking remain essentially the same.

In one of his sermons, King speaks of the need to have both a tough mind and a tender heart as a follower of Christ.  Certainly, any who would seek to speak with a prophetic voice must strike that delicate balance. 

On one hand, prophets have to possess a tough (or disciplined) mind.  They must have strong conviction—and thick skin.  A prophet is often called to challenge the status quo in his/her time, and that's never an easy road to walk.  It's much easier to acquiesce and go with the flow.  Because he/she typically challenges people to move from what is familiar and comfortable to them, the prophetic voice is often not a popular one.  The most vehement opposition typically comes from those who have the most to lose if things change.  By their words and actions these persons make it clear: We are comfortable where we are, thank you very much; we don't care much for your so-called vision.  If a prophet doesn't have a tough mind; if he/she isn't possessed by a compelling vision of what God longs to see that drives all that they say and do, they will likely lose heart and give up hope. 

Likewise, a prophet also needs to have a tender (or disciplined) heart—one that is able to hear the still small voice of God even in the midst of hardship and suffering. Prophets often speak words of hope amidst circumstances that seem hopeless. No, the hopeful vision will not come to pass immediately; it will not come without effort—without blood, sweat, tears, sometimes even death—but "one day", proclaims the steadfast prophetic voice, it will come. 

Jeremiah is a good biblical example of the balance the prophet must strike between tough mind and tender heart.  When God calls Jeremiah as a young man (perhaps only a child) to go and deliver ominous warnings to the people of Judah, he resolves himself, despite his youth, to obey to the best of his ability.   Jeremiah surely felt inadequate to the task before him but God reassured him:  you shall go to all whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command.  In other words: I am going with you.  My voice will come out of your mouth.
The message God delivers through Jeremiah is not pleasant.  Jerusalem is about to be overrun by the Babylonian Empire and the temple will be destroyed.  Many will die; the lucky ones will be taken off into exile.  Judah is about to be displaced from everything that is familiar to them.  No wonder Jeremiah was known as the weeping prophet. 

God’s message is a hard one for Jeremiah to deliver, but, even in the face of brutal opposition, he does not waver.  Jeremiah has both a tough mind and a tender heart

The leaders did not heed Jeremiah's tough words.  One might therefore expect him to gloat when disaster befalls Jerusalem.  But nothing could be further from the truth.  Jerusalem is Jeremiah's home too.  Despite being ignored and despised by the very people he tried to warn, they are still his people, and when they hurt he hurts.  Jeremiah weeps with them; he feels compassion for them—and so does God. 

Through Jeremiah, God speaks some of the most hopeful words in all of scripture.  He reassures the people that though they are in exile far from home, God is still with them—and will never leave them.  In the midst of seemingly hopeless circumstances, Jeremiah promises the people a future with hopeJeremiah 29:11.  For the time being, they must settle down in Babylon and make a life for themselves in exile—but "one day" a remnant will return.  As a sign of his faith in that future—and in the God who will bring it to pass—Jeremiah does something most unusual.  Even as the Babylonian siege ramps advance on Jerusalem, Jeremiah purchases a field the city—Jeremiah 32

Such an act would take both a tough mind, to go through with a real estate deal as an invading army advances upon the city, and a tender heart, to follow through and do what God asks even though it seems like sheer folly.

I don't know about you but most days my voice doesn't seem very prophetic. Many days, it is all I can do to get my kids to listen to me, much less speak challenging words that confront injustice in the world and offer hope for the future.  It's hard to imagine a better future when just getting through the "to do" list each day seems to take every bit of energy I have.  I feel very unfocused most of the time; pulled in many directions, I do not speak or act decisively.  I feel like most days I fear my voice sounds more pathetic than it does prophetic

Proverbs 29:18 says that without vision the people perish, and many days I feel like that describes my life

I am not sure what prevents me from seeing more clearly the future that God wants for me, my family, my church, or my world. I suspect we each have our own unique “vision impediments”, and we have to discern them for ourselves and take action to eliminate them.

Until a compelling vision of the future fills our sails, we risk continuing to drift in no particular direction, easily swayed by the ever-changing winds of this world, trying to escape the doldrums of double-minded indecisiveness.

Prophets likes Martin Luther King and Jeremiah (and also Jesus[1]) show us the value of having a clear vision of the future God desires to focus our lives and motivate us to take decisive action. I for one need to be reminded of these examples right now.  They challenge me to get off the snide and seek to discern the “next step” toward becoming the person God created me to be—and then step out in faith and take it…  Lord let it be so for me—and for all of us.

[1] I believe Jesus’ commitment to pursue God’s vision (which the Gospel writers call the Kingdom of God or Kingdom of Heaven) was the impetus for all he said and did—and ultimately the reason he was willing to face death on the cross. 

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Rebecca May Is Seven Years Old Today

It seems hard to believe that this little girl is seven years old today.  It seems just yesterday we were going to the hospital to bring her into the world.  She'll always be daddy's little girl but she sure is growing up into a beautiful young lady.  (I shall have my hands full in a few years...)
Rebecca Spring 2015

The creative genius at work. :)

Vintage Rebecca. Living life to the full!

With her BFF Sky

With her big brother and friend, Brady

From Christmas 2012.  

 I am very thankful for the gift of Rebecca May.  She has such so much life and creativity within her that its hard to contain -- and sometimes hard to clean up after.  I've often said she carries the "spirit of two" within her -- and of course we also remember Hope Marie today as well, who would have looked just like her, but been her own unique person.  

There was another whose birthday is today.
Happy Birthday Hope Marie
These birthdays and other milestones in life are always bittersweet for mom and dad.  There was indeed another who does not get the chance to grow up and that will always be part of our story.  We will never forget—never stop talking about her and keeping her memory alive.  Nor should we.  On May 4, the day she passed from life support to life eternal, we always pause to remember Hope and visit her grave. 

For today, however, we focus on and celebrate Rebeca's life.  We thank God for our daughter.  I am very proud of the girl she is and can't wait to see the woman she becomes.  

Pondering the Patterns of God's Garden

Creation is messy… Creation sometimes appears random. Until you look more closely… I have the largest flower bed on our cul de sac—ma...