Preamble: This is not a theological defense or attack. It is not a thesis. It is a thought or two, a consideration, an encouragement. I also confess I am an Anglican, a Catholic Evangelical… So, get over those hurdles and start from a post-reformation saint trying to authentically and orthodoxically follow the Messiah… Now, read on!
I have Catholic roots. I have evangelical roots. I am an Evangelical Anglo-Catholic who is a missional missionary and leader in an urban post-Christian post-modern reality in a western context. I suffer the same over marketed drowning culture as you, if you’re reading this! There is no space for reflection, getting perspective unless one turns off, tunes out, blocks space to slow down and actually really do real thinking and meditating.
Ever been in a time praying with others and the most common phrases were, “Lord we just…” or “hmmm…” and rambling 1000 words to say what could be said in 50? Yet in those times come birthing authenticity and earnestness. There is strength and weakness. Like most things in life, it is not complete or holistic. It becomes trite and shallow and only includes what we feel and think about right now… in the moment and doesn’t help us see, think, feel (also known as align) with God, His will, or transform us, but reduces prayer to our limited shallow theology and emotions of the day. BUT it also presents the real needs of the day – and mysteriously God includes us in His efficacious engagement with the world by moving in our prayer! A mystery! I heard it said recently that God somehow includes us, begins our reign with Him even now, even sharing His power with us, by making us part of the way He moves! A huge mandate to intercede!
Yet that is incomplete.
I have experienced seasons (two plus years to be gut honest!) where it was dark, real dark. I had no words. I was out of words. I didn’t feel and what I did sense was dark! I didn’t even have energy to intercede regularly. The only thing that kept me; what healed me; what sustained me – was praying the Divine offices…. regular times of prayer every day, where I was led, like spiritual therapy, as compared with physical therapy. It impacted me emotionally, mentally from the core of spiritual therapy. It guided me, reminded me, told me and exhorted me – because my heart was too dark to remember. I am every grateful for those times of liturgy.
I am also limited – I need and have come to find encouragement, even transformation in liturgy! I have found that it helps me get how to worship and adore Him, without a string of dime store, supermarket check out queue romance novel empty words I don’t relate to beyond mental ascent, but certainly not with the faithfulness of the command to Love the Lord my God with all of my mind, all of my body, all of my heart, all of my strength (will).
Why? What is the draw to the liturgy? Most holistically, what is the draw to a holistic and authentic use of liturgy – which makes plenty of room for the need of the day, the intentions of the heart, the aches and emotions that need and should be expressed?
There are several reasons for this BOTH AND to be holistic and healthy and that any liturgy provides for the former and while shaping us in the latter. First, We don’t reflect seasonally or thoroughly through all of the things we should reflect upon without a plan, a calendar. We don’t remember well at all. Liturgy drives this. Second, Liturgy is mostly Scripture! All Anglican and Catholic, and Orthodox liturgies are formed and collected from Scripture. Can one object to praying Scripture? Third, by the first two, it helps form us, transform us, and align us. Ever pray, “Your will be done?” Ever pray “we want what you want God?” Well, this is how we align our desire, our posture, our perspective to God. Scripture guides us, and the liturgy is in a schedule, a routine that helps us think through and worship in a holistic way. Fourth, Liturgy aligns our world, our lives along God’s paradigm, instead of a pagan calendar… these two are a step closer to a Biblical world view. In a world where there is less than 10% Biblical world view held by the Christian population of all traditions, this would be very helpful.
Furthermore, when you reach – and you will – if you’re young and in denial, okay, I’ll wait for life to slap the ever loving s*** out of you and you’ll be back to tell me you now get it – that point where you cannot even form a prayer, the liturgy takes you there, where you should and need to be and that transformation and slow realignment, rebirth of your soul can occur – because it aligns you with Him, His will, His perspective, and the release to trust and allow God to be, well, God! It’s surrender, but that’s not popular today.
These well written, theologically thought through liturgies and prayers are the 50 words to say what can be said in 50 words, verses 1000 to say what could be said in 50! They are thought out, constructed, well chosen vocabulary, and have been prayed and reflected upon and sharpened over centuries. There is wisdom in listening to good orators, or reading good writing – well, here you are! AND it’s shared and prayed with thousands of others same day and in a world where the time zones shift, it means it is prayed repeatedly every hour for twenty-four hours! AND it’s been prayed for centuries. It exposes you to others. Within the Anglican tradition there are approved liturgies and prayer books across the globe. They are the same, but also include innovative thought through contributions of others.
Then for those who are passionate about expressing what’s on the heart, liturgy provides space every time you gather to pray openly, in your own earnest passion about anything and everything! It also frames prayer to include the things and reflect the values of a diocese, a society, today. So, there is nothing lost.
I think the resistance when we get honest, is a) uneducated fear of it being unorthodox or boring, or too rigid, b) not accustomed to anyone having any form – we so embrace no form (discipline) of any type, we resist it even when it’s good to allow input to help form us holistically. Think of it as doing sit-ups; if you only do crunches and belly muscle work, you’ll be humped over in a short time, because you haven’t holistically trained your body to also address the counter balance of strengthening the back; and c) the lie of our time that if it’s old its irrelevant and modern only is good. Additionally, I think we don’t know how to focus, to slow down, to listen well. Liturgy provides that space – we need it desperately! Our lack of it has birthed theology for how we feel today – lack of orthodoxy at best and heresy at worst. We’re moved by the emotion of today… because we feel it earnestly doesn’t make it right or true; yet it has become the arbitrating reality today.
So, give it a consideration! Don’t go nuts. Where I am, we practice morning and evening prayers together. It’s not some painful hour for our busy contemporary lives. It’s 8.30a and 5.30p… It frames the day. The New Zealand Anglican Prayer book also offers a short mid-day prayer and compline/night prayer for the end of the day. It is chalked with variations and options, festival days, etc, providing variance and routine and freedom to adapt and move with the earnestness of the day. It is respected not just by the global Anglican Communion, but other traditions as well. There is also the Book of Common Prayer – still used (with editing over time) since the early 1600’s! One can also draw from the Orthodox and Catholic Missals. Our fore-fathers and mothers developed Divine offices, set times of day where different forms/types/postures/purposes of prayer occur. I practice seven offices each day – none are ordinarilly long, five alone, some very brief, altering time when conflicting in a meeting, etc. I vary how I do it, but it helps me, forms me, reminds me, makes sure I practice all the postures from intercession, to repentance, to adoration, etc. Do I ever just pray? You bet – regular form of life for me; and at times do retreats, as well as long prayer walks on my own, where I just talk with God – telling Him more than one would ever want!
To sum it up, in good consolation seasons of life, or the dark nights of the soul, it keeps me. It keeps me when I can’t keep it. It helps me holistically seek, know and be known, to posture myself and keep perspective. I’ll give you one short example. At 4p daily, my phone/laptop/pad gives me a reminder for none (9th hour of the day prayer… anytime from 3-4p daily… I set mine for 4p because it best fits my life demands. At none prayer, the reminder in my phone has notes to help remind me, a very short liturgy that helps me keep perspective, to think, be reminded and to align my heart to God’s – to surrender. How? Here is my None prayer: “It is mid to late afternoon. It is the fading part of the day, the time of decline, when shadows begin to lengthen. The fading of time brings home death and impermanence and the need to connect with something transcendent.” This simple reminder puts my very temporal time here on earth in perspective with the eternal reality inwhich I live. I don’t take myself or my contribution in this world so serious that I think “I’m all that.” It reminds me I am small and I serve with authenticity and sincerity, but the world is His! In the notes of this reminder for None, is “None is nine; the night hour of the day. It is mid to late afternoon. It is the fading part of the day, the time of decline, when shadows begin to lengthen. The fading of time brings home death and impermanence and the need to connect with something transcendent (beyond time). This perspective helps us connect with what is most important. It is an opportunity to acknowledge the limits of our lives.” You see? It keeps me. It keeps me a humble disciple. I’ll not bore you with all of my prayer structure here, but will gladly share them with you if they would help. In the mean time, I encourage you to consider adding liturgy to your rhythm of life as a Christ follower. For a taster, I’d recommend Common Prayer, http://commonprayer.net/. It’s a once a day contemporary taster for anabaptist traditions. You can also source the NZ Prayer Book, http://anglicanprayerbook.nz/, or the Book of Common Prayer, along with many other resources, http://anglicansonline.org/resources/bcp.html. Feel free to research divine offices, etc. Don’t go nuts! Start slow – mine grew over years of practice and experimenting, participating with monks and living in and amongst Anglicans here in New Zealand.
In closing – I’m not saying ditching spontaneity in prayer. Of course pray without ceasing. Pray when needs arise, when parting or gathering, or for a specific move in the heart – including the persecuted church which is always on my heart (!). BUT be holistic, as one is with exercise or diet. Be healthy! Your body will wear out and die. Your soul – who you are is eternal! So be healthy! Learn to see life (think, feel, posture, attitude, action) in a holistic healthy full orthodoxy and allow yourself to be shaped by Scripture as you pray and pray together! My experience is people who practice this, especially committed with a group of others, come to faithfully value it and miss it immensely when it’s not a regular part of their lives! And I’m talking about millennials, not boomers or x’ers.
I’d love to hear how others are experiencing this!
Unlike other Old Testament messengers, Amos was not a professional prophet; he had no special training, nor was he related to any other prophets. He was a peasant farmer and sheep tender called by God for a special mission. A native of the southern kingdom of Judah, Amos received a powerful commission from God to preach to the -people of the northern kingdom of Israel. In the first half of the eighth century BC, during a time of great expansion and prosperity in Israel, Amos spoke out against the economic injustices between urban elites and the poor. Rich landowners were acquiring money and land, taking advantage of small farmers and peasants. Although Amos was not wealthy, he was sent to warn the wealthy and invite them back into the good way of God’s justice.
Amos spoke out, saying, “Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring ruin to the poor of the land. I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” [From Commonprayer.net, 28 March]
O’ God, we need an Amos today, one empowered with authority to speak that there might be change, real change. Amen
What does a missionary in a post-Christian western urban context – within the USA actually do? Why are you needed? How do you do it? Is there an impact? Aren’t all Americans Christians, or rebellious people who know the Gospel? These are common and realistic questions to ask.
It’s been a while since I unpacked that – and to be honest, it’s a challenge at times to explain in ways that most Christians can get a handle on…. We’ve been working on how to best unpack it. I openly admit I’ve borrowed terms from others who are better words smiths than us! I’ll make another attempt to refresh and unpack our work.
In a post-Christian context of the US, especially in cities along our costs, where the church’s influence is drastically diminished within society and communities, things have changed and for many Christians, they aren’t daily thinking about how secular it is, save when the media brings the hot topics to our door step or embraces licentiousness that offends us. People are busy, including Christians… but did you know the best estimates are under 15% of the US is marginally Christian and in the coastal cities, it’s even lower? That’s the big why! But it’s more personal, and intentional for us. Here’s our gig… It’s not to make people projects, or convert by baiting them. It’s about authentic relationships. Let me unpack it.
What we do: In many ways, we do exactly what missionaries in many countries do… from meeting real and tangible needs, to helping develop neighborhoods, to meeting direct spiritual needs! This prepares hearts to hear the hope we have and then communicating so they “can hear”. We’ll unpack that more below.
Who we target: We are called to work in engaging people “beyond the reach of the church… any church.” We use this phrase to simply refer to people who, be they secular, another religious background, or distant Christian backgrounds; they have no interest or a disposition against relating with, wrestling with, or participating in a relationship with God, or His church…any church. That’s not a fringe, but a major percentage of people in the West, in the US, and an even higher percentage in major cities, cities like New Orleans!
Why we do it: God loves all people – He created them to relate with Him, and see them become everything He created them to be, in right relationship with Him! He tells us to leave the 99 to get the one! Sometimes, there are “life happened” and oher times, they are clearly underserving – openly sinners. One of my favorite stories is the Prodigal, which included his father and his brother. It moves me deeply at the father’s posture – God’s posture…read Luke 15. As Jesus told this story to the critical Pharisees for his cavorting with “sinners”, his ultimate point was the posture of the good son. It motivates us to live our lives sacrificially.
How we do it: In summary, the vision is to create the “beloved community”… where the values of the kingdom are seen lived out pragmatically… In other words, what if.., “Your Kingdom come; Your will be done; on earth as it is in heaven” were real in our neighborhood – in your neighborhood? It’s that simple, and that hard – because we have to live in what a pastor mentor, Tim Jack from Seattle taught me years ago, live in deference to others before ourselves. We’ve learned that this is what He calls all of us to do – live in deference.
We work hard to incarnate (be like Jesus – in the flesh), to inhabit Christ to these people (live life in the same space, same neighborhoods)… By inhabit and incarnate, we simply mean we live life alongside people in normal contexts of life – in our normal contexts of life. They need to “bump” into God (people) daily as they live life, in the same tasks of normal life – who smell different; act different; look different; but yet look like them, are just like them, facing normal life like they do.
First, we work hard to create situations where they are so touched by the people (us) in front of them, in these normal life situations, that they cannot help but see God and be thirsty for more. Traditionally, we’ve called this “evangelism”. We honestly do not use this term often, simply because it has meant confrontational “truth telling” in the past and it makes people feel like “a project”. We want to get to the place where we can “explain” (unlock the mystery of the radical truths of who Jesus is, what He accomplished, and God’s heart to relate with them) the great news. We often need to gain trust, be authentic, unconditional, constant friends over time. Some people have bad tastes in their mouth from the past, or have such brokenness in their life story that we need to “take down the brick wall” keeping them being able to emotionally and/or intellectually understand our message.
This often comes through meeting real world needs – physical, material, emotional and spiritual. We are working to relate with people in an urban, complex area of the city – bohemian, artistic, multi-ethnic and cultural. From musicians, to artists or various kinds, from elderly to immigrants, from the poor to homosexuals, this area is ripe with brokenness and also a spiritual thirst that makes them ready to have real conversations.
Funny reality… we “never” bring up God first, but they always do, always taste and see, smell it, see the light on the hill and initiate the conversation about spiritual things, God, living following Him. It may start with asking us to pray, or a discussion about bad things happening to people – but they introduce God into the relationships, and regularly!
But, how do you do it? Okay, okay, let me attempt to give you some handles. Ever hear of John Perkins? He’s a legend in how to work with and heal broken communities… reaching them spiritually while through being obedient to minister to physical needs-as God so repeatedly commands as we emulate Him. He uses some great concepts….
1) Relief (working on physical and financial needs that are immediate, right now). Think of the Good Samaritan Story. This might look like helping people get financial help from government or church sources. It also might look like financial training to manage their funds and bills, or parenting mentoring.
2) Development (working to move people from need of relief to economic and personal development that leads to financial self-sufficiency and healthier families and neighborhoods, that see families stay together, kids getting educated, neighborhoods safer). This can be by helping in youth sports, advocating for education, neighborhood association and collaboration. It can be job training or helping them access training for a future.
3) Through the 3-R’s;
Relocation is the first part…. To do what we do – you must inhabit – in other words, live where they live; same schools, stores, streets, cafés, clubs, problems, etc. You can’t “drive to ministry” in this context – you have to be one of them.
Redistribution is often seen as a “take from one and “give” to another. That’s not what we or Perkins means. In broken communities there is economic blight, loss of jobs and the money there, from poor paying jobs or government subsistence, it flows out to businesses owned by people somewhere else and usually worked by people somewhere else… no momentum locally! Even well meaning banks removes funds from the local context. Therefore, in working with people to get business owned and operated locally, employing local, and banks designed to help people in these neighborhoods gain more financial freedom and success. It includes to working on the beauty of the neighborhood, and events (like block parties) that build unity and momentum for a future together.
Reconciliation is the last part. People usually think white people apologizing for past and present bigotry and systems that discriminate, at times unknowingly and unintentionally. Yet it’s bigger than this. It means empowering the locals to lead – not paternal external (almost always white males). We work to empower local leaders (male-female, white-black-brown-yellow) to working for their own futures. We have a role, because we live there also, but we know we must empower the local people for it to last or have deep transformation and not just create a new dependency and no confidence to make progress without external help.
Have you connected why we use the quote from Job here (at the top of this article)? You see, Job understood that to be a God serving person, it was more than the sincere religious habits, but a faith lived out in the most intentional, sacrificial and pragmatic ways. Job worked to stop injustice, to advocate for those in need and to meet real needs – sacrificially. To translate it to today – he spent more of him self (time, money, resources – including his business) to “incarnate God” far more than he spent on himself (material stuff – cars, house, items for the house), or vacations, or spending the majority of his time with people like him. Read the passage – it’s impressive! The prophet Micah tells us the same message, as does Isaiah, Daniel, Jeremiah, then Jesus, Luke and Matthew, Paul, Peter and James. This isn’t just a means to “getting to” explain the “Gospel” – but is inherent to and foundational as part of the Gospel.
We hope this inspires you and encourages you! We pray it empowers you to advocate and be the hands, feet, eyes, ears, mouth and heart of Christ in your own neighborhood as you posture to be light, be salt, be the fragrance and see the needs right there, no matter what the economic context you live within!
What in the heck is wrong with us as a people? Treachery from one of the most tolerant cities in the western world….
Our democracy (picture Norman Rockwell’s painting of the man standing up in a community meeting and having his say…) where everyone is “supposed” to have his/her say – where power transitions peacefully with the power of the people… to today’s ugly mean spirited vilifying political campaigns (thank you super PAC’s)… to NAZI GERMANY 1933… [see article below]
It has begun. Right here in New Orleans where nothing gets the people too upset…where a republican can still be HAPPILY married to a democrat, or even a socialist, it has landed on our doorstep! This violence at some one involved in the political process is beyond hate – it is the outright criminal political activity we see in supposedly far less stable parts of the world where people will attack and murder some one for a different view of solving OUR common issues, challenges and problems!
Thank you Super PAC’s for creating the hate mongering violence we clucked our tongues at in more extreme nations… wait, we are now them!
SEE ARTICLE ON POLITICAL HATE ATTACK IN NEW ORLEANS 6 November 2014: http://www.wwltv.com/story/news/crime/2014/11/06/prytania-fire-home/18590919/
There is a dark “hatefulness” over taking us as a people…. We hate anyone who differs with us, is different than us. We vilify foreigners, ethnic groups, nations, political systems different from us – internal & external… (just reflect on every ad prior to Tuesday!) and we’re more and more predisposed to violence… be it war or violence against anyone daring to think differently than us. We idealize the 1950’s as if everyone was the same… they simply disagreed peacefully and respectfully between political parties, but wait…maybe not… only between republicans and democrats, but we then had state sponsored terrorism against any other political conviction (McArthy anyone?) and unless you were born with black skin… then you were free game. The 1950’s were good and bad and we are returning to terror – violent terror in our politics…
Can I suggest a third way? This friend’s wisdom, thoughtfulness and insights are a great read and a great response to this hate displayed today in my own city. His name is Alan Cross. He recently released a book, When Heaven and Earth Collide: Racism, Southern Evangelicals, and a Better Way of Jesus. Even if you are secular, Jewish, Muslim, etc – this book has a REAL pragmatic approach that yes, is truly “red letter” Christian, but it is a way that will pull your heart towards a new posture in being a citizen and person. I strongly recommend this read!
YOU, WE – individually & collectively – need to be concerned about the direction we’re going! We all must stop falling into the trap of “hating”, condemning, disrespecting, dismissing anyone and any message different than us. We must stop watching the programs (i.e. sorta news casts), listening to the pundits (pick your side’s shock jock) and reading (politicizing facades masquerading as journalism) and start thinking critically – that is to understand all sides of an argument. The right champions the right of the individual – slaves to the enlightenment – and ignores the social – common good; the democrats champion the group and ignore moral responsibility of the individual or collective responsibility for the individual – slaves to the same enlightenment. With no compass, it is no surprise we’re lost at sea in this horrible mess and growing storm. May we stop being so d*** adolescent and grow up, listen well before we speak – understand before we form conclusions, be open to critique of our own argument… It is what education is supposed to build into us. We WILL NOT SURVIVE as a free society into the future if we do not heed this. Today, November 2014, the political right wins… tomorrow – see all social trending – the left will succeed and win. Neither conclusion is good for us – the right needs the left; the left needs the right! ONLY then does this prevent extremism where one side is totally intolerant of the other… sort of like the Tea Party’s hi-jacking of the GOP!
Above, Montgomery Alabama 1961… Attending a wedding of an extended relative in 2012, a great aunt made a comment that is “shortened” to this, “Those busy body yankees came down and stirred our up nigras (N word + negro… this allowing southern Baptists to use the N word but be Christian about it). They were perfectly fine and happy until those yankees stuck their nose into our business.” In other words, our “way of life” where we rule, make the rules, benefit from said rules and lord over a servant class was great… for us… and we had them in their place and they liked it; being poor, discriminated against, having no say, being made to be scape goats, used and consumed to do what we don’t want to do..
I’ve heard so many arguments about “them” imposing their views upon me, from left and right – but the blind spot is that what is really being said is that “WE” want to impose our view upon “them”… what we want is OUR right way… This huge blind spot and resumption of moral high ground is very dangerous and adolescent.
If we can attack some one who is participating in the political system and for a candidate that is not my party, just what would the next step in destroying a democratic republic look like? Did you know that when the US State Department works internationally to help nation build with new emerging democracies that they do NOT help them build a US form of republic? They help them build a British parliamentary system, to prevent massive one sided government, forcing more conciliatory working together? Think about it in our own nation!
My journey the past two years has been complex. How does one reduce an epic into a short posting? Simple. You can’t. What I can do is share what is coming into view recently. It involves Hupotasso, the Oikos or New Testament Greek much of that portion of Holy Scripture was penned. It simply translates – literally – to “hear under”. Pause and consider that definition and the impact. This Greek was very specific in meaning. In Latin, the word is oboedire, to listen, hear, obey. Both convey not just a letter of the law obedience, discipline, compliance, which our understanding has morphed to mean, especially today when obedience is good for a dog, but calls forth a resistance emotive response when considering one’s self allowing another – charged word here – control over our greatest western cultural more: freedom. Yet these root words imply a posture, a receptivity to “hear” and take on board what the one with sovereign role over one’s life. This is vastly different.
Rather than a treatise on obedience, I’m writing to [attempt] to summarize a long, complex, and often very humble and painful season in my life. It’s not to glorify that journey at all, nor to elicit some special spiritual journey, but rather, my own learning, realization and what I am realizing – which is NOT informational, not realization, but rather, capacity, ability, transformational manifestation and reality in my life.
I thought I understood “surrender” to God… I had surrendered to the best of my capacity, ability and will as far as God has brought me during my life. I had done this several times, including during this two year experience where Lamentations 3 became my heart’s tears before the Lord.
Yet, just now is there an awakening, from Him – not due to any ability, effort, or work on my part. I’ve been listening, seeking, submitting, but just now “getting” – being given a new capacity to embrace, thank and appreciate, obedience in a completely new light. My hearing under actually is due to something that may appear tangential… ability and capacity for intimacy with the Father. Yes, there is lots tied to early origin issues, my own life, coping and protection from those unhealed areas – which by the way, I had invested in healing from, but have come to see this journey is far more than counseling, spiritual formation and that God does work over an entire life time and somethings are only revealed, transformed, digested over such decades and journey with Him. This intimacy, or capacity for intimacy with Him, trust to His lead, abandon of dreams, self need for worth, be it position, esteem, relations, circumstance, success, ability, competency, comes from a growth in the ability to embrace His love, delight, joy, and complete focus of His attention and love… Simply, but so complex – God loves me. Woe. The words don’t capture the enormity of that reality… no work, no worthiness, no success, no improvement, no sacrifice – He does. Over time comes the surrender to trust Him, then to trust Him when we don’t understand, then when it hurts, then when there is nothing, but Him.
Then the great transformation that whatever He allows or brings – all of it is brought as part of the journey with Him – that to live present TODAY – THIS HOUR – as well as calling, contribution, vocation (spiritual calling), job, location… that right now – no matter what He is calling us to emulate, cooperate, be with, imitate, BE Christ to every person, every circumstance, every moment, event if nothing and no one, but to be with Him, see it all from Him, see it all as us with the royal honor to embody Him to others and to see them as we are engaging Him. This type trust, this capacity, this abandonment for my success, future, ambition is transformed to my opportunity to serve – to be an ambassador – my honor to sacrifice, surrender, trust, love, experience with Christ right now…
Martyrs, the Saints, the oppressed and their courage, so sentimental, so seemingly trite, is a peak inside an intimacy that we don’t understand from the outside – No, only from experience personally does it make sense! Only then can one “get” this fraternity of those who have a deep intimacy and shared experience of being obedient. Only then can one surrender and allow whatever and have real joy.
As I write that, I re-read the words. It feels or could communicate an elitism. Far from it. The past two years have stripped me, shown me coping defensive mechanism, ugly sides of me I couldn’t see, didn’t realize, revealed my wounding of others, my forceful personality that could control, intimidate, draw in and then exact. I spent over a year “done” with even having close relationships, daring to ever trust anyone again, sealed inside a cocoon of shame, in reality rejecting grace, healing, risk for future. I felt ugly and dirty and horrible as I had not seen so much of it. I wasn’t horrible – but there was truth in the indictments. Yet, the end of the day, so much had been lost, some relationships lost; shame my due portion. To end up at my end and He still loves me, no matter what the future holds, that if there is no future serving the King in an outward tangible manner, that I am yet His, yet called to imitate Him engaging the postman, or barista, the silence of a day alone, or the demands of work or unfair anger released at me. All of it is from Him, a journey with Him, my calling to be trustingly surrendered and “hearing under” His hand, His words, His leading, the transformation of who I am to be like Him… and to be like Him in my heart, even is silent and not known by another. The capacity to be this person is a grace, a mystery yet to me.
Can I live out what I am realizing? I am making a humble sincere effort to be that person in every encounter. It’s easy with the pharmacist at the drug store, the person who made my coffee, even my kids. Can I do it when it’s not fair, mean, rejection. I want to! I can accept the intimacy of God more and more, and therefore, more capacity to follow Him each moment of each day.
Mount Flemish in NE part of the Isle of IRE where Patrick as a teenager herded sheep as a slave; thought to be lost, dead to family in Britain.
I think of my hero, St Patrick, the years lost in slavery, cold on a small mountain herding sheep, alone… no future told him. I think of Joseph’s 22 years journey from his cruel brothers’ selling him into slavery through to becoming Regent of the Egyptian empire; of Paul’s unfair treatments, the end of life for almost all the early Apostles, the life of most of the Saints, the martyrs in China, Russia, the Arab world as I type. This is not just gritting of the teeth, mind you, but a heart “hearing under” to obey, be formed in the seasons of every day, throughout the seasons of the decades of life…to trust and walk with Him, trusting – burning, murdering (to mortify) my will, my ambition, my understanding, my preferences to His will for me…and to do so not gritting my teeth, but with the joy and honor to be given the life He decrees. Brother Lawrence makes more sense now. Joan d’Arc makes more sense, the stories of Chinese Christians make more sense.
My concern, this is less and less known in our consumer, materialistic, self absorbed western world where indulgence, entertainment, self realization and happiness are the priority; where freedom to pursue “my” desires is paramount, my rights, my avoidance of even delayed gratification, much less anything I do not “get” is less and less appreciated. I spent decades myself wrestling to where I am now, and only after being dashed against the rocks, does it begin to make sense.
The result – peace; even joy; rest and end of striving for tomorrow; not an emptiness as in nothing there, but a contentment and openness that if He leads me to pursue something more, dare I say, “ambitious” then I can do so without question and not worrying about the results for me… but the results of being able to have intimate relationship together as I live to be Christ in the small moment by moment day as I engage people.
I am nearing being able to say – “thank you” to God for the deep crevice of the past two years. I am human; I do want to hear Him dispatch me with Holy orders to make a contribution that fully envelops my experience, talents, gifts, desires, passions, and potential. I do want to intentionally and overtly be used in the Kingdom – BUT – I can wait and if He says, no; if He says I am to spend these last decades hidden, silent, quiet, prayer and not actor, then I have the capacity to surrender, hear under, embrace and celebrate that He is forging me in and through this, that I CAN trust Him, CAN be intimate and that it is NOT punishment, but His and my journey together, my formation and transformation and it is specially designed for me.
A Sermon Delivered on Ash Wednesday 2014
Saint John’s Cathedral
7:00am, 12:00pm, 7:00pm masses
From the early days of the Roman Republic through the fall of the Roman Empire, whenever a general achieved a great victory on the battlefield, a Triumph, a grand civil and religious parade was held to publicly celebrate and sanctify the military achievement.
On the day of his triumph, the general wore a crown of laurel and the all-purple, gold-embroidered triumphal toga, this was regalia that identified him as near-divine, almost a demi-god. He rode in a four-horse chariot through the streets of Rome in procession with his army, captives and the spoils of his war.
Yet, interestingly enough, amidst this pageantry and procession, as the general was paraded through the streets celebrating his accomplishments, and applauded by adoring throngs, standing behind him was a slave. This slave was tasked with a very simple job. The slave was to constantly remind the general that he was only a mortal. The slave whispered the warning, “Memento mori” – remember that you are mortal, said the slave, over and over, into the general’s ear.
Amidst the clamor, over and over, “remember that you are mortal” he was told. Remember that you will die.
The Christian faith is the constant intermingling of the reality of death with the truth of God’s promise. When we are baptized, we are said to be dead to sin and born into new life. Each week on Sunday, each day in our chapel, and today, we remember Christ’s death and proclaim his Resurrection.
This annual reminder of death is the remembrance that our time is short – no matter our triumphs or our tragedies – we do not have long to gladden the hearts of those we love and to make peace with those we have harmed. It is an annual reminder of the desperate need for honesty in our lives.
Lent is not a call simply to acts of self-abasement – it is a call to honesty. To honestly see our faults. To honestly ask for forgiveness, from God and from those we have hurt. And to honestly believe that our sins are put away – that we are forgiven, that we walk in newness of life.
An incarnated faith requires, from time to time, that we come to terms not only with the miracle and the promise of our faith but with the messiness and the pain.
This dust is a sign that reminds us of brutal realities. Yet, the dust we are marked with today is a shadow of the sign we received at our baptism.
In Christ, dust is never the end of the story. It is a reminder of our story’s greatest power. When we sin and even, even when we go down to the grave we know that we are raised to new life, forgiven, and transformed.
Repentance fixes that Baptism in our hearts and minds. This holy season of Lent is not about becoming perfect, but about turning toward and walking toward the perfection that we were made one with at the baptismal font.
In Lent, we clear away the clutter of temptation, pride, anger, and fear and remember who God has made us to be. We make room for the wholeness of Christ’s Presence to well up in us freshly.
There are forces, people, times, things, desires, fears, and so much more that twist and contort our very selves and our sense of who we are – until we are wandering and wondering who we are and how we got here.
The Devil makes use of our insecurities, as we struggle in the Wilderness, to draw us, bit by bit, fear by fear, rejection by rejection, dashed hope by dashed hope, into loathing – of ourselves and others and, finally, even into unbelief.
Whether it is hubris, greed, or apathy – the world’s values ultimately lead to a painful place in which our only hope is that there are others lower than us – others we can use, hurt, or simply ignore .
Lent is our chance to reclaim Christ’s values as our own – to remember and to reaffirm his hold on our hearts, bodies, and minds – and to remind ourselves of his Presence in those we wrong and who wrong us.
Let’s take this Lent to be honest with ourselves – where are we falling short of the person God baptized us to be? Where are we forgetting, in our lives, that we are simply mortal, and that all we have is a gracious gift from God?
Wear these ashes today as a mark of your mortality. Wear them as a mark of penitence. Wear them also as a gritty reminder that we are marked as Christ’s own, we are made for holiness, and we are called to a life that makes Christ known.
In forty days, we will come together for the liturgy of the Easter Vigil which reminds us of the grace of creation and baptism. The Vigil liturgy echoes across not only that night but across the centuries, between our heartbeat and God’s, drawing the Body of Christ to prayer and holy remembrance:
“How holy is this night, when wickedness is put to flight, and sin is washed away. It restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to those who mourn. It casts out pride and hatred, and brings peace and concord. How blessed is this night, when earth and heaven are joined and man is reconciled to God.”
The power and promise of Baptism is the very stuff of creation and redemption. Earth and Heaven – Dust and Divinity – are joined in in the love of a God who hates nothing He has made – a God whose Son spans the chasm between our fears and God’s mercy.
Christ, as Philippians says, emptied himself when he came among us, and took on the form of a slave. And now his voice, that slave’s voice, is calling to us this Lent –
Remember that you are mortal. Remember that time is short. Remember that you are my own. Remember my promise. Remember my voice. Remember me. Remember.
This one is worth the read:
An Open Apology to the Local Church
I trust this letter finds you sustained by your Groom as you face bombings and threats on one side of the hemisphere, and attacks of a more offhand sort on the other. By now you have likely received word of a popular blogger confessing his boredom with your recent Protestant iterations, noting that he instead connects with God by building his company. At the least, I was heartened to see it spark a lively discussion about who you are and what exactly the Spirit had in mind when he showed up in Jerusalem 1,980 years ago to kick off this whole crazy thing. (I imagine those are sweet memories for you, seeing your people giving their things away with abandon, like it was the end of the world.) As you near your 2,000th birthday, we rugged individuals in the land of a thousand denominations are wise to get reacquainted with you.
Outside your walls, of course, you continue to be derided for all manner of intolerance, backwards thinking, and political apathy. But inside your walls, at least from my narrow vantage of Christendom, you are quite the hot ticket these days. A whole generation of evangelical Christians has grown impatient with inherited ways of gathering together.
From pastors like Eugene Peterson, we have learned to question modes of worship that mimic the mall and the stadium. From theologians like Robert Webber, we have discovered a much longer and richer history than our Sunday school teachers ever mentioned. We bandy about words like ecclesiology and sacramentality to demonstrate our new, sophisticated ways of thinking about you. Just this week, we wore our ashes proud. And when the popular blogger confessed to finding you a bit hard to get through, we were quite ready to pounce with charges of individualism and narcissism, and proclaim our love for you, the institution.
You might think I’m writing to throw my lot in with your strongest defenders. After all, I’ve faithfully attended one of your high-church Anglican iterations for seven years, watching with disdain as peers hop from building to building, seeking an “awesome” and “powerful” worship experience (and attractive members of the opposite sex). Instead, I’m writing to apologize. While claiming publicly to have loved you as Christ does—like a spouse—in spirit I have loved you like an on-again, off-again fling. My faithful attendance suggests a radical commitment to gathering with your people. But many Sundays, my heart is still in it for me. And while I think the blogger is ultimately misguided about his relationship (or lack thereof) with you, I can appreciate his honesty. At least he’s not leading you on.
Here’s where I need to confess my true feelings about you, Church: The romance of our earlier days has faded. The longer I have known you, the more I weary of your quirks and trying character traits. Here’s one: You draw people to yourself whom I would never choose to spend time with. Every Sunday, it seems, you put me in contact with the older woman who thinks that angels and dead pets are everywhere around us. You insist on filling my coffee hour with idle talk of golf, the weather, and grandchildren. As much as I wax on about the value of intergenerational worship, a lot of Sundays I dodge these members like they’re lepers. (This is of course my flesh talking, to borrow a phrase from one of your earliest members.) Many Sundays I long to worship alongside likeminded Christians who really get me, with whom I can have enlightening, invigorating conversations, whom I’m not embarrassed to be seen with in public. I confess to many times lusting over one of your sexier locations, wondering if I would be happier and more fulfilled there.
It hasn’t helped that you have made growing demands of me, something I also confess to resenting. Truth be told, it strikes me as a bit clingy. I’ve now served on the church board, played piano at Friday night worship services, taught Sunday school. You also want me to give you money every week—when I still have student loans to pay off? I am there not to be served but to serve, of course. But I do wonder when these investments of time and energy will pay off. A bit of appreciation from fellow members would help.
While we’re at it, let me make one more confession: I resent how much you want to go out these days. I don’t understand why we can’t stay inside and reconnect over a cup of wine. After a stressful workweek, I want to be renewed and refreshed, to feel myself falling in love again with the Groom. I want the kind of connective mornings we had when I first met you. I admit to finding our morning routine a bit snoozy as of late, especially on Sundays led by a guest preacher. (Another sports metaphor?) And you think going out and mixing it up with refugees and orphans and homeless people is what we need? Granted, their needs are a bit more tangible than mine, but I’m starting to think mine are being ignored entirely.
Well, this letter turned out to be more negative than I wanted. But with all the conversations about your central place in the life of God’s people, I needed to put all my cards on the table. And to apologize. Because even though in practice the aforementioned blogger and I are worlds apart, in spirit we are more similar than might be assumed. The difference is that I mask my Sunday morning self-centeredness with a “nuanced” theology of worship.
I believe your Head would have choice words to describe me. Make no mistake: Until he changes my heart from the inside out, stoking in it an ever increasing flame of sacrificial love for you, I’m no better than a whitewashed tomb—or, to put more fine a point on it, a worshiper who in truth longs to get back under the covers.
In remorse—and hope,
Katelyn Beaty is managing editor of CT magazine.