Saturday, January 30, 2010

T-shirt and Conference Christianity

Today a group of friends and I went around Lakeland asking the community about their needs and how the Church has met or has failed to meet these needs. The idea for this “survey” was birthed out of a few individuals who really desire to see the Church unite and meet needs. A church can only do some much, but how much more can the Church do! One of the thoughts I had is that churches are often so stuck inside a building and don’t even know the needs that exist just beyond their concrete walls, in their community. Our hope was to do the “dirty work” and find these needs and then present them at a later date.

We talked to all kinds of people: homeless, single mothers doing laundry, some people celebrating for an upcoming wedding, and then decided to go inside a church: we figured surely God’s people would have something to say about this topic. Instead what we found was a lot of people running around from meeting to meeting with no time for us. We walked into what happened to be a “See Jesus” conference on this particular church’s “Jesus Weekend.”  We asked one man if he would have a few minutes to answer a couple questions for us concerning community and the Church and he declined and asked us not to “harass anyone else.” He did however have a few minutes to tell us about the conference and proudly show us his hunter green tee shirt with bright yellow writing: “See Jesus” it said.

I walked out of the church and took a gasp of air. Is this what the Church has become…a place where we are consumed with our meetings, conferences, Bible studies, luncheons, and tee shirts? We kept walking downtown and came to a homeless lady lying in the middle of the road. She was drunk and obviously suffering from some mental disabilities. We gathered around her with some other homeless people trying to coax her out of the street. Cars sped past and she yelled over and over: “I want to die!” We called an ambulance and they took her away, hopefully to a clearer, more hopeful state of mind. I wonder if the people wearing the “See Jesus” shirts would have taken a few minutes out of their busy schedules to help this woman. Would they have even noticed her?

I guess my prayer would be that the churches would become the Church and love people like Jesus did, making their life about more than a filled up schedule. I would also ask that God grant me the grace and patience and love toward the churches that someday may take off their Jesus shirts and begin to walk and live as he did.


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Into the Wild

Over the Christmas break from Divinty School, I watched Into the Wild about three times. I felt a connection to the main character Chris McCandless (played by Emile Hirsch). While I don't foresee myself abandoning my lot in the consumer market in which I'm entangled, I can sympathize with the attraction of such a drastic dive into apophasis.

I purchased the soundtrack to the movie, and as I listen to the song "Society" I think about the desert fathers that turned their backs on secular Roman economy and retreated to the desert in search of the true kingdom in response to Constantine's Christendom of Christianity.


Oh it's a mystery to me.
We have a greed, with which we have agreed...
and you think you have to want more than you need...
until you have it all, you won't be free.

Society, you're a crazy breed.
I hope you're not lonely, without me.

When you want more than you have, you think you need...
and when you think more then you want, your thoughts begin to bleed.
I think I need to find a bigger place...
cause when you have more than you think, you need more space.

Society, you're a crazy breed.
I hope you're not lonely, without me.
Society, crazy indeed...
I hope you're not lonely, without me.

There's those thinkin' more or less, less is more,
but if less is more, how you keepin' score?
It means for every point you make, your level drops.
Kinda like you're startin' from the top...
and you can't do that.

Society, you're a crazy breed.
I hope you're not lonely, without me.
Society, crazy indeed...
I hope you're not lonely, without me
Society, have mercy on me.
I hope you're not angry, if I disagree.
Society, crazy indeed.
I hope you're not lonely...
without me.

The song says "until you have it all, you won't be free." How true and unattainable this is. Happiness will never be found in the promises of our consumerist market. So I'm trying to opt out more and more in symbolic ways. Less is more, and I have to continually remind myself of this.

Click for a listen to "Society"

Saturday, January 16, 2010

As Through Glasses Darkly

We don't yet see things clearly. We're squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won't be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We'll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!
--1 Corinthians 13.1 (The Message)
I got new eyeglasses in the mail today. This is the first time I've worn glasses since I was about five years old, when I had a pair to correct a lazy eye. In the eye doctor's examination room, peering at the letter chart through that large optical machine, I saw the blurry black letters become sharp and crisp as the doctor flipped through lenses to come to the right prescription strength. I eagerly anticipated seeing a bright crisp new world as well. I had to wait a week or two, though, for them to be shipped. (For anyone interested, Zenni Optical sells prescription glasses from $8. I got two pairs for $31, including shipping.)

I realized that I might need glasses a few months ago, when the things I put on the projection screen in the front of my classroom looked blurry to me when I stood in the back. Just to make sure, I asked a few students sitting in the back, "Can you read that?" They answered casually: "Oh yeah." Another sign I had was that I couldn't read street signs until I came right up on them, particularly at night. Through all of my teenage years, I had "20-20" vision, and was quite proud of it then (as if I had anything to do with it). Thankfully, since then, I've gained the ounce of wisdom necessary to know that "perfect sight" is temporary, so I accepted my need for glasses gracefully. (In fact, displaying less spiritual maturity, I was even excited, since I knew they could complement my beard and tweed jacket in my "professor costume.")

When the glasses arrived  today, I put them on and could indeed see things at a distance much more clearly. Right away, I could see the leaves on trees across the lake behind our apartment. And a little later in the day when I drove to the store, I could definitely read street signs more clearly and from farther away. But . . . that was about it. The glasses did a pretty good job, but still . . . I was a bit disappointed. I was disappointed that the glasses did not make a radical difference in my ability to see the world, which, for some reason, I had been expecting. I was even more disappointed with the thought that, since these glasses were my prescription, then I would never see the world any more crisply or sharply or clearly than this.

We live in this world with physical bodies that, for many of us, mostly work most of the time, though decreasingly so day by day. Accepting and even embracing our physical limitations, even minor limitations, which are the only ones I can personally speak about yet, can be an act of spiritual grace. So too, I am coming to realize, with our spiritual limitations. As little as we see with our physical eyes of what is out there, even of what ought to be visible, we see even less with our spiritual eyes. Coming to the end of his most famous discussion on love, St. Paul connects seeing, knowing, and loving in a spiritual metaphor. We can only "see" (or "know" or "love"), he says, as one seeing "through a glass darkly." In The Message Eugene Peterson puts in "fog" and "mist" for "glass." Gregory of Nyssa echoes St. Paul in this way: "The true vision of what we seek consists precisely in this--in not seeing . . ."

The promise, of course, is that eventually we will know (or see) in full "even as we are fully known." The promise is that "it won't be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright!" And I do long for such perfection of sight and knowledge and love. But in the meantime, it is also an act of grace to accept with humility--to embrace even--our limitations, our shortcomings, our dim and blurry vision.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Annual Commitment

Dear Friends and Members of Living Stones Community,

It is time for our annual recommitment. The Annual Commitment page on our website says, “Membership in the community entails a one-year commitment which members have the opportunity to renew each January.” After January 31, 2010, we will update the login information for our blog and distribute the new information to those who commit to being a part of this community for 2010.

We’ve made a change in the “requirements” for members. Instead of committing to posting to the community blog and commenting on the posts of others each month, we will now only ask of each other to post or comment each month. We will still ask that the blog be read each week. We hope that this will reduce the “burden” of spiritual dialogue without reducing its integrity.

We ask that you reread or review this month the community documents on the community website and reflect in particular on the Annual Commitment statement (Who We Are, Core Values and Practices, and Annual Commitment). If you don’t feel called to journey or continue journeying with us in this small way, we let you go with “open hands” and assure you that you are always welcome to visit and comment on our blog at your leisure. But, if you do feel God leading you to join or rejoin with us, please complete and submit the Commitment Form on the Annual Commitment page by January 31.

We’re grateful for all the wonderful interaction we’ve shared!

Peace and blessings,
Rickey and Paul

Monday, January 4, 2010

Monks Who Eat Cheerios and Go to the Zoo

A wise man once said, “Either you’ll keep going deeper in faith or you’ll give up.” I’ve often found myself at this latter point. I remember thinking as a new Christian some 6 years ago, “This shouldn’t be this hard.” I read book after book and listened to sermon after sermon trying to figure this God out. I had perfectly planned out “quiet times” where I was anything but quiet; I believed God only heard the prayers of those eloquently worded. I strived to always say and do the “right” thing. Looking back now, it’s quite obvious why I found faith to be so difficult—I was trying to do so much in my own strength to impress this God who resided far, far away, instead of simply acknowledging the God all around, and even within me. I was doing and not being.

Along with this legalistic view of spirituality, I also had a very dichotomic perspective: some things were spiritual, and some were not. Churches often tells us there are certain things that are “holy”—reading the Bible, praying, tithing—but we forget the not so obviously (though they should be) spiritual things like loving, silence, community, and nature. I use to look for God in worship services and Bible studies, and often came home empty-handed. I’m now learning to look for Him in the everyday because that’s where He is. God doesn’t need pews or stained glass windows to exist; He certainly does reside in these places, but He’s a lot bigger than that, a lot bigger than I’m confident I’ll ever be able to comprehend.

God is found in the everyday and I’ve never seen this more demonstrated than at a recent trip to St. Leo’s Abbey. I was able to start 2010 exceptionally and spend a day there with Dr. Cotton, Anna, Professor Corrigan, and Ky Prevette. Monks, who I once considered hyper spiritual, do a lot of ordinary, day-to-day things like eat breakfast (whether it be Cheerios or Flan), wash dishes, work, and of course, pray. We shared breakfast with Brother James, who has been a monk for 72 years, and talked about the monastery and changes that have occurred over the years, orange trees, new roads being built, and even his trip to the zoo—it’s all spiritual: I’m convinced.
--Jennica Durbin

In Quietness and Confidence

Saturday five of us from SEU rode together in our old van up to St. Leo’s Abbey for a mini-retreat day. We shared silence, prayed, and walked a lot.

I love roaming the grounds at the abbey, and I’m always delighted to see ducks and birds. (I’m a city girl by birth and zip code, so animals up close and personal have a special fascination for me.) Saturday I got a special treat when I came across two small raccoons walking ever so carefully through some bushes and across a low wall. I followed them as they drank water from a puddle and climbed a palm tree to munch on berries. (I had never even noticed that palm trees have berries—lots of them—wow!) The coons stopped to watch me from time to time as I whispered gentle assurances. Eventually it occurred to me they weren’t afraid of my presence; they were calm and confident (and mildly curious). Perhaps because they are so young they don’t know any better than to parade around in broad daylight, but maybe, just maybe, in that sacred space they are able to live their life like we prayed at the abbey to live ours—without drama or hype but moving in God’s grace with quietness and confidence.

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