Another Holy Week

It is Holy Week. The week we recall Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. His final week with his disciples. His actions in the temple. His perplexing parables. His final meal. His agonizing last hours. The uncertainty of Saturday. The joy of Sunday morning.

It is a week of central significance to anyone claiming to be, or aspiring to be, a disciple of Jesus. One of my favorite weeks as a pastor. Also one of the busiest.

This year spring break for DC public schools coincided exactly with Holy Week. We decided to head to Florida, even though that meant we’d miss out on some of the Holy Week excitement. Our community in DC is joining a collective outdoor Easter worship service sponsored by a DC area ministry, Restore Together. An exciting collaboration between local churches, seeking to collaborate on issues of oppression and poverty in light of Jesus’ death and resurrection. I’m sad to miss it.

But I needed a Holy Week of another sort. One which involves playing in the pool with my children. Teaching my ten-year-old to play tennis. Finding seashells with my five-year-old daughter. Reading and silence in the quiet cool of a Florida morning. A game of Settlers, after which we have time for… another game of Settlers.

florida_pool

Late afternoon Florida sunshine

So after celebrating Palm Sunday with our Roots DC friends, we hopped in the car and headed south, for a non-traditional Holy Week.

We won’t be joining a Maundy Thursday service, or partaking in a seder. We may have a meal of burgers on the grill and soda instead of unleavened bread and wine.

Our Friday will be good if we can catch a boat ride to do some Florida wildlife viewing.

Our Saturday may be dark, if the weather is cloudy, but it may also be sunny and bright and filled with laughter and giggles.

Our Easter morning may not involve a sunrise service, but it may find us celebrating the resurrection by dipping our toes in the ocean, or tossing a frisbee on the sand.

Perhaps this is a sacrilegious way to spend this particular week.

But now, midway through—as I get to catch my breath for the first time in months, as playing with my kids happens without the interruptions of phone calls or emails, as we enjoy a leisurely breakfast as a family, as my spirit is beginning to feel rested and renewed—I’m thinking this too, is a Holy Week.

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A Palm Sunday Prayer for Peace

Palm-Sunday-2013

Holy Week begins this Sunday. It is a familiar week, beginning with Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. But maybe so familiar that we still aren’t quite hearing the full story.

Marcus Borg reminds us that there was not one, but two processions entering Jerusalem that year. Two very different processions. “They proclaimed two very different and contrasting visions of how this world can and should be: the kingdom of God versus the kingdoms, the powers, of this world. The former is about justice and the end of violence. The latter are about domination and exploitation. On Friday, the rulers of this world kill Jesus. On Easter, God says “yes” to Jesus and “no” to the powers that executed him.

Thus Palm Sunday announces the central conflict of Holy Week. The conflict persists. That conflict continues wherever injustice and violence abound. Holy Week is not about less than that.”

In the spirit of the One who came in peace, and in the wake of this week’s continued violence in our world, a prayer for peace. May it bless you this week.


G
reat God, who has told us
“Vengeance is mine,”
save us from ourselves,
save us from the vengeance in our hearts
and the acid in our souls.

Save us from our desire to hurt as we have been hurt,
to punish as we have been punished,
to terrorize as we have been terrorized.

Give us the strength it takes
to listen rather than to judge,
to trust rather than to fear,
to try again and again
to make peace even when peace eludes us.

We ask, O God, for the grace
to be our best selves.
We ask for the vision
to be builders of the human community
rather than its destroyers.
We ask for the humility as a people
to understand the fears and hopes of other peoples.

We ask for the love it takes
to bequeath to the children of the world to come
more than the failures of our own making.
We ask for the heart it takes
to care for all the peoples
of Afghanistan and Iraq, of Palestine and Israel
as well as for ourselves.

Give us the depth of soul, O God,
to constrain our might,
to resist the temptations of power
to refuse to attack the attackable,
to understand
that vengeance begets violence,
and to bring peace–not war–wherever we go.

For You, O God, have been merciful to us.
For You, O God, have been patient with us.
For You, O God, have been gracious to us.

And so may we be merciful
and patient
and gracious
and trusting
with these others whom you also love.

This we ask through Jesus,
the one without vengeance in his heart.
This we ask forever and ever. Amen

A Prayer for World Peace,
by Sister Joan Chittister, of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie
(source)

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To See Beyond All Things

Sunrise in March. Photo by Jon Lubbers

Sunrise in March. Photo by Jon Lubbers

Excerpts on Enlightenment from Joan Chittister. Selections from “Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light.”

Amma Syncletica said: “In the beginning, there is struggle and a lot of work for those who come near to God. But after that, there is indescribable joy. It is just like building a fire: at first it’s smoky and your eyes water, but later you get the desired result. Thus we ought to light the divine fire in ourselves with tears and effort.”

Enlightenment is the ability to see beyond all things we make God to find God. We make religion God and so fail to see godliness where religion is not, though goodness is clear and constant in the simplest of people, in the remotest of places. We make national honor God and fail to see the presence of God in other nations. We make personal security God and fail to see God in the bleak and barren dimensions of life. We make our own human color the color of God and fail to see God in the one who comes in different guise. We give God gender and miss the spirit of God in everyone. We separate spirit and matter as if they were two different things, though we know now from quantum physics that matter is simply fields of force made dense by the spirit of Energy. We are one with the Universe, in other words. We are not separate or different from it. We are not above it. We are in it, all of us and everything, swimming in an energy that is God. To be enlightened is to see behind the forms to the God who holds them in being.

Enlightenment sees, too, beyond the shapes and icons that intend to personalize God to the God that is too personal, too encompassing, to be any one shape or form or name. Enlightenment takes us beyond our parochialisms to the presence of God everywhere, in everyone, in the universe.

To be enlightened is to be in touch with the God within and around us more than it is to be engulfed in any single way, any one manifestation, any specific denominational or nationalistic construct, however good and well-intentioned it may be.

The important thing to remember in the spiritual life is that religion is a means, not an end. When we stop at the level of the rules and the laws, the doctrines and the dogmas—good guides as these may be—and call those things the spiritual life, we have stopped far short of the meaning of life, the call of the divine, the fullness of the self.

To be contemplative I must put down my notions of separateness from God and let God speak to me through everything that seeps through the universe into the pores of my minuscule little life. Then I will find myself, as Abbess Syncletica promises, at the flash point of the divine fire.


Sister Joan Chittister, OSB, is founder and Executive Director of BENEVISION: A Resource Center for Contemporary Spirituality. Her many bestselling books include The Gift of Years, The Ten Commandments, A Passion for Life, and There Is a Season.

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The Whole Truth and Nothing But the Truth*

truth_next_exit2

What is the more important: a) seeking and speaking the truth; or b) toeing the party line?

A revealing, but unsurprising post yesterday from Fred Clark at Slacktivist about the challenge of working in an evangelical institutional setting. He shares an excerpt from Jonathan Dudley’s  book Broken Words, where he’s describing his time at Calvin College:

In my freshman biology class, I sat riveted as the professor explained why scientists believe in evolution (I had never learned about the subject in high school). The summer after my first year, I pored over a summer-school psychology book by an evangelical professor, who argued (shockingly, to me) that gay people don’t choose their orientation and cannot readily change. Over the course of my second year in college, I learned why scientists think there is an environmental crisis. And during my last year of college, a bioethics professor argued against popular evangelical thought on abortion. I was surprised to find out during an office visit that many other evangelical scholars shared his view, though not surprised when he said they would rather not speak up about it due to the avalanche of protests it would generate from college donors. …

My bioethics professor reinforced a conclusion I had drawn from my undergraduate and seminary years: There is a significant gap between the opinions that dominate the popular evangelical culture (which is the only part of evangelicalism with political muscle) and the opinions that prevail among leading evangelical scholars.

Clark goes on to note: “Most evangelical college graduates have a story like the one Dudley tells.” I wonder if any of you can relate?

Clark notes the shock one receives as an underclassman hearing these new ideas, and then later, in a private setting, hearing a professor explain “what is and is not allowed to be said and how it differs from what is and is not true.” I’ve written before on how Calvin College has found itself in a quandary of this sort.

>>Related post: If science conflicts with theology, what should give way?

Unreal. And the truth. I know this from experience at Calvin Seminary as well. There’s the official party line. Then there are other truths that must be hidden, because it flies in the face of the institution’s self-imposed limit on truth. It always strikes me as ironic that Christians are all about “seeking truth,” but then when the truth turns out to be slightly different than what our historic theological heroes put down to paper 500 years ago, suddenly we have to be mum about it. It makes no sense, really, and it is a disservice to students, and in a seminary setting, a disservice to future pastors – and by extension – to their congregations.

I remember hearing a pastor at a Pub Theology gathering in Michigan note: “Why are we so afraid of sharing biblical and theological scholarship with our congregations that has been accepted for over fifty years already?” She lamented that too often clergy serves as filters for what congregants can or cannot “handle,” and that when she did share such research and knowledge, parishioners were hungry for it! I think sometimes the mentality is to treat our congregants as children who aren’t “ready to hear” that some of their cherished beliefs or understandings actually might not line up with how things really are. Kind of like we don’t tell our kids the reality about Santa until they’re old enough to handle it. Apparently some congregants are never meant to grow up.

I have heard several pastors note that they are encouraging their congregations not to read their denominational monthly magazine because the articles are stretching the “accepted notions” on homosexuality, the historicity of Genesis and other topics. I think the more we earnestly wrestle with these things the better, even if there are no simple solutions. Some colleagues have even argued that because they’ve signed a statement of belief they don’t have to engage with certain ideas that interpret the Bible through other lenses. They literally use a “statement of truth” to protect themselves from the truth. It’s incredulous, really. The worst thing is to stick our heads in the sand, especially as professors, pastors and other leaders, and to keep trumpeting perspectives that are either out of date, not informed, or perpetuate common misperceptions. I’m grateful there are some willing to do otherwise, despite the obstacles thrown their way.

In the same column, Fred Clark cites Peter Enns, who describes the desperation he’s heard from many, many academic colleagues in evangelical institutions:

I had the latest in my list of long conversations with a well-known, published, respected biblical scholar, who is under inhuman stress trying to negotiate the line between institutional expectations and academic integrity. His gifts are being squandered. He is questioning his vocation. His family is suffering. He does not know where to turn.

I wish this were an isolated incident, but it’s not.

I wish these stories could be told, but without the names attached, they are worthless. I wish I had kept a list, but even if I had, it wouldn’t have done anyone much good. I couldn’t have used it. Good people would lose their jobs.

Ugh. And Clark notes that it’s not limited to academia: “I’ve heard similar stories from clergy, journalists, musicians, missionaries and aid workers — all wrestling with the conflict between what they know to be right and “institutional expectations” shaped by the threat of an “avalanche of protests” from donors with political muscle. Not healthy. Not good.”

I concur. You?

>>Related Post: Toes, Lines and Bad Religion

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If You’re Going to Bring Them to Jesus, Then Bring Them to Jesus!

If you're going to share Jesus, then actually do it.


This an excerpt, read the full column on The Huffington Post.

Lately I’ve been getting a little flack for downplaying the importance of evangelism. I wrote a post recently entitled, “We Need Each Other,” celebrating diversity of various kinds: ethnic diversity, linguistic diversity, cultural diversity, and yes — religious diversity. But how could I celebrate this as a Christian, some have asked.

“Isn’t your central goal as a Christian to convert others to Christianity?”

“Don’t you decide to follow Jesus, then you help others to do the same?”

I disagree with the first question. We’ll get to the second in a moment. I am not interested in making religious converts. Converts to a set of doctrines about somebody. Converts to a confined, cultural way of thinking. Converts to outdated conventions or to a dualistic religion of escapism: “Believe this and go to heaven. Get on board or go to hell. Our religion is the only true religion. Convert or die.” Or just as bad: “Convert and experience God’s wonderful plan for your life.” No, thank you.

Such an approach explains my hesitation when people ask if I’m excited about evangelism. In fact, if that’s your impetus, I’d say, just stop sharing. We don’t need more religiosity, more escapism, more fundamentalism, more prosperity-gospel-inspired materialism. Hence my hesitation about “evangelism.”

The second question — “Don’t you decide to follow Jesus, then you help others to do the same?” — I am more prone to agree with. Following someone indicates a way of life. Following someone is something you do today. Following a set of teachings, a manner, an approach, an ideal — this I can get on board with, and is what I think Jesus was actually about. In the Great Commission, he called for the making of disciples — people who followed a teacher in order to bring about his or her vision of the world.

So I say, if you’re going to bring them to Jesus, then actually bring them to Jesus!

Bring them to the Jesus who was born an illegitimate child to peasant parents in an out-of-the-way place, in the shadow of power and empire. Bring them to the Jesus who told stories denouncing abuse of money, power and privilege. The Jesus who, in parables, helped people see the darker side of themselves while also inspiring with the reminder that the divine presence was hidden in plain view. The Jesus whose parables exposed systems of abusive power. The Jesus who…

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>>Click here to read the rest of the post.

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Your Brain on Beer vs. Coffee

Since I consume both of these beverages in large quantities, it was nice to see what I’ve gotten myself into! Thought I would share this essential knowledge with all of you. Enjoy.

beercoffee

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February 19, 2014 · 8:30 am

Progressive Christianity

What do you think of this? What would you add? Subtract? Do you track with this? With something else?

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