Thursday, February 28, 2008

My Child is Brilliant (no, really)

I know, I know, that's what every parent thinks about their children, but in my case it's actually true! :-)

To wit:
For the last several hundred years many churches have used a method known as Catechism to educate people about what it meant to be a Christian. (Many mainline denominations still use it) It taught the faith in a question and answer format like this:
Q. Are there more Gods than one?
A. There is but one only, the living and true God.
And so on through everything thought to be important to faith.

One of the more famous catechism's in the Western world is known as the Westminster Catechism--hold on, because the actual brilliance of my son over the common dullard child is about to break forth like so many dawns!--whose first question is this:
Q. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

It's a beautiful response to the "why I am here?" question that wraps the answer in joy, delight, goodness and desire. It reminds us that God creates us for enjoyment, so there must be deep gladness over our appearance in the world on God's part. (If you need any convincing, consider that we were each created as the result of an orgasm. What does that say about how joy-filled God is over our existence?)

So we're laying in bed last night doing our nightly routine.
A song.
I pray, he prays.
Three kisses in the name of the Trinity in whose image you were created for love, joy and relationships.

And then I ask him, not expecting to receive his brilliant insight into the Westminster Catechism:
"Hudson, who made you?"
Hudson: "Jesus!"
Me: "And why did Jesus make you?"
Hudson: *pause*"Uhhhhh, because he was happy!"

I smiled with a deep joy.
And no, I don't think I suffer from any unusual parental delusions of grandeur.

Other Hudson gems as of late.
"Daddy, these socks don't work!"

"I have so much pain...from these crackers."

"You go outside and you clap your hands and that's how you make a potato!"
(I did not know it was that easy)

And as if to underscore his brilliance and insight into the state of things, we're driving past our bank where he scores a lollipop from the teller on each visit when he pipes up:
"Daddy, that's a bank. It's where all the suckers live."

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Community: A definition

"The experience of community is the joy you discover at finding out you really do belong."

An Atonement that Works

So this is insider Jesus language, but does the atonement "work"?
In other words, does it really change people? And if so, how?
Do people become more loving? More forgiving? More committed to working for justice (distributive justice--not retributive justice) in the world? Are they better neighbors? Automatically? Over time? By reciting some creedal statement?

These are the opening questions in Scot McKnight's book: A Community Called Atonement.

Some friends are discussing it on Josh Kleinfeld's blog (join the discussion here.).
Here's a great quote from the first chapter that I couldn't agree with more.

"I teach a generation of students that believes the credibility of the Christian faith is determined by claiming a confident (if humble) "Yes!" to each of those questions. This generation is tired of an old-fashioned atonement that does not make a difference, of an old-fashioned atonement theology that is for individual spiritual formation but not for ecclesial re-formation, and of an old-fashioned atonement theology that does not reconcile humans with humans...They believe atonement ought to make a difference in the here and now. Christians, they say, aren't perfect but they ought to be different--at least they ought to be if the atonement

I'm excited about the discussion.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

School of Prayer, part 2

The major impetus for having the School of Prayer (at least from my vantage point), was getting people to actually interact with God instead of telling him what they want or need or don't want to go through (all valid prayers at some point).

We had 23 people around a big circle and it was really good. Really, really good. Really, really, really...well, you get the point.

The dialogue, the spirit, the pace, everything was just beautiful. As Paul describes poignantly in one of his letters, the "conversation was seasoned with grace" ...something I chalk up to the fact that God is actually more interested in us praying than we are.

At one point in our discussion, we ran into a very common quandry that anyone who's been praying seriously for more than a year runs into. It's a dualing scenario that presents a real problem to real people really praying.

In one scenario, we assume that God answers every prayer one of three ways: yes, no or maybe (I was raised on this immutable doctrine). The logical result of that understanding is that God is then responsible for the yes's, the no's and the maybe's--in a very real and substantive way. So if I suffer and he didn't take it away...then he made me suffer. For instance, if my mom died of cancer and yours didn't, and both of us were praying, well then, God must like your mom better (and I might add that my mom did die of cancer when I was praying). So we inevitably question: How can I have a relationship with someone that arbitrary who seemingly chooses to act in some circumstances but not others? What results is either blind faith ("don't think about it, it's easier that way") or abandoned faith ("I can't be in a relationship with a God like that."). I know people who have chosen to live into each option.

On the other end of the spectrum we assume that God already knows everything and has his mind already made up, so why bother? Prayer becomes an exercise in futility with the same results as the first scenario.

In both scenarios, you don't actually need God to pray. Seriously. A relationship with a living person isn't required if (a) God is causitively responsible for everything that happens or (b) doesn't need our input anyway. Prayer is comparable in function to putting money into a vending machine or hitting the print button on our computer.

What we discovered was that prayer isn't about doing something--fundamentally. It's about--fundamentally--being with someone. This isn't just semantics.

In a relationship, you naturally ask a person to do things. But it isn't much of a relationship if all you ask is for a person to do things.

A story from one of our participants makes this point (she's been caught in the above quandry for some time and had a bit of a breakthrough on the whole topic).

During one of our meditation times (we learned and practiced several ancient prayer methods--the Prayer of Examen--aka 'Holy Hi-Lo', Lectio Divina and the Ignatian Method), she had an almost mystical experience.

She felt like she was soaring up to the clouds. Up, up and up, higher and higher. She intuitively knew she was approaching God and felt that surely he would have something profound to say to her that would dispel her fears and put her mind to rest about her confusion regarding prayer. Instead, she felt like God took her, lifted her toward him, kissed her tenderly on the forehead and put her back down.

No answers, just relationship.

My Son, the....

Mommy and Corban are out of town for the weekend visiting extended fam, so that leaves Hudson and I to bach it for a few days. And with our heat on the fritz, that means we're spending some time in places with heat, like CiCi's Pizza, the East Coast's answer to cheap pizza (tomorrow on my day off it's the Children's Museum of Richmond and visit to a friend at Richmond Hill).

While we were enjoying our freshly unfrozen fare, Hudson looked up and noticed what you see in the picture below. *Gasp*, one of the cones had fallen over. So Hudson says to me "Daddy! I can't leave it like that! I can't leave it like that!" Never mind that he didn't create it that way, he just couldn't leave it that way, so he went and rectified the unacceptable situation.

I'm not exactly sure what that means for the future, but I certainly love watching the person my son is becoming. It's like watching a beautiful sculpture being created. Now if I could just get him to feel that way about his toys...

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

How to Be Angry

I'm in the middle of reading What Got You Here Won't Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith. In it he details the behavioural "habits" that keep relationships in the workplace from soaring and your potential capped. It's a good read.

One of his habits (Habit #7) is "Speaking when Angry." Since anger has been an almost life long wrestling partner for me, I perked up. He tells this story.

A Buddhist legend tells of a young farmer who was covered with sweat as he paddled his boat up the river. He was going upstream to deliver his produce to the village. He was in a hurry. It was a hot day and he wanted to make his delivery and get home before dark. As he looked ahead, he spied another vessel, heading rapidly downstream toward his boat. This vessel seemed to be making every effort to hit him. He rowed furiously to get out of the way, but it didn't seem to help.
He yelled at the other vessel, "Change direction, you idiot! You are going to hit me. The river is wide. Be careful!" His screaming was to no avail. The other vessel hit his boat with a sickening thud. He was enraged as he stood up and cried to the other vessel, "You moron! How could you manage to hit my boat in the middle of this wide river? What is wrong with you?"
As he looked at the other vessel, he realized that there was no one in the the other boat. He was screaming at an empty vessel that had broken free of its moorings and was going downstream with the current.
The lesson is simple. There is never anyone in the other boat. When we are angry. We are screaming at an empty vessel."
And then this little gem I picked up somewhere:
SINCE I HAVE tamed my anger,
i keep it in my pocket. When i
need it,
i take
it out.
--Rabbi Pinhas of Koretz

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Attractive Jesus

I tell Hudson stories most nights. Sometimes ones I make up (one of his favorites involves a train and chocolate milk--go figure), sometimes ones in a book (The Little Engine that Could is a favorite--can you see a theme?), sometimes ones from the Bible (he's a big fan of David & Goliath, even if that means his "sling" routinely knocks things over in the living room).

Tonight I was telling him the story of Zaccheus inviting Jesus to dinner (Luke 19:1-10). We usually sing a Bible song about Zaccheus, tonight he wanted to hear my scintillating narrative version (his words as the brilliant 3 year old he is), so I told it. The thing is, whenever I tell him a Bible story, I always learn something. Maybe it's the basic format, or being forced to boil it down to it's simplest and core message, but I seem to always pause mid-story due to some "aha" prompting him to say something like, "Then what daddy? Daddy! Daa-ddddyyy!" I usually snap back to reality and the story continues.

Maybe because I'd just listened to Reggie McNeal hit on something similar for the better part of the day today, but something jumped out at me about Jesus while I was telling Hudson about Zaccheus. Here was my summary to Hudson (albeit in a 3 year old friendly version):
  • Zaccheus was someone religious people in particular did not like. He colluded with the "enemy" and was in a class of "sinful" all his own. Nice Jewish boys didn't associate with his type.
  • As a result, I'm sure his experience of life was one of deep and pervasive loneliness. Complete alienation.
  • When he heard Jesus was coming to town, he made it a point to put himself in Jesus' path because Jesus was attractive to him.

This is where I paused mid-story. Jesus was attractive to him. The person that church people found offensive was attracted, almost mystically it seems, to Jesus. So much so that he invited him over for dinner; Not a small thing in that culture.

So what's this mean for us? Who do church people not like, stigmatize, avoid, stay away from? Jesus likes going to their house for dinner. Do I?

Friday, February 08, 2008

John Wesley Rides Again, Part 2 of ?

This gets at the heart of John Wesley's understanding of what it means to live a holy life. It's one of my favorites. Previous post about Wesley's remarkable life can be found here.

It were well you should be thoroughly sensible of this—the heaven of heavens is love. There is nothing higher in religion; there is, in effect, nothing else; if you look for anything but more love, you are looking wide of the mark, you are getting out of the royal way. And when you are asking others, ‘Have you received this or that blessing?’ If you mean anything but more love, you mean wrong; you are leading them out of the way, and putting them on a false scent. Settle it in your heart, that from the moment God has saved you from all sin, you are to aim at nothing more, but more of that love described in the thirteenth of Corinthians. You can go no higher than this, till you are carried into Abraham’s bosom.

The Great Confession

A prayer for Lent from the Book of Common Prayer, one of the confessional prayers. It's helping me be honest about the junk food in my soul.
Almighty and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts.

We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us.

But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou them, O God, who confess their faults. Restore thou them that are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name.


Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Ash Wednesday

From The Book of Common Prayer:

"Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness,may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness;through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."

You can read the wonderful admonition about Lent in the Book of Common Prayer here. Click on "Proper Liturgies for Special Days" then click on "Ash Wednesday."

I went to St. Mathias Episcopal Church for an Ash Wednesday service at lunch today. My low rent corner of Church World is nothing like the Episcopalian church in form but shares common theological roots firmly anchored in the Anglican tradition (with special props to John Wesley). I have a deep appreciation for the formality and liturgy of Episcopalian worship. It's rhythm's invite me away from what I'm used to, the language lifts me up to another place, and I feel time is suspended. I know that not the case for everyone, but it works for me.

Here are some things I took away about the life of faith from the experience; more metaphorical than literal:
  • Kneeling is very uncomfortable.
  • Sharing a common cup is somewhat revolting.
  • Waiting for everyone else to catch up is infuriating.

Lent is a space in the calendar of life to work through those uncomfortable realities about the church. As the priest said today, "a time to take inventory of your life." The AA'ers know all about "taking a searching moral inventory of your life." Lent provides the time and space to do that--every year. Am I doing what matters? Am I spending my time in a way that matters? Am I giving myself to what matters? Why we in low church world don't take advantage of this more is a bit puzzling.

I'm giving up junk food for lent. I've realized my diet as of late has tended toward junk food--non-caloric, non-nutrient dense, non-food, food. So what other junk am I letting into my life? 40 days to see and listen...and then...resurrection!