Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Monday, October 22, 2007
Last weekend I spoke at a retreat for a friend's church on behalf of my family's ministry . Pretty nice little group of believer; young, charismatic, intellectual, hip, and actually pretty diverse. Most were in their 20's and 30's, but there were a few up closer to the 50-60 mark. Nice folks, young families and lots of single people. I have never been to their church and had never met any of them before so I was a bit anxious about having to speak to them. Now, I usually am not at all nervous when speaking in front of folks, I do it all the time, but the topic of my time was a bit of a sensitive issue. We were talking about the wounds that we receive from our fathers and how that influences our lives and our concepts of God and his divine love for us.
These types of retreats can either be open and vulnerable times of healing, or just straight up intellectual consumption.... or just "blah, blah, blah..." I was praying for the first. I was hoping that the Spirit of God would touch some people and reveal the wounds that they had been carrying around due to abusive or absent fathers or just old wounds from unfulfilled expectations. I was hoping for some healing.
My fellow speaker and I spent some time in prayer and confession together before the whole thing kicked off and just trusted God to do a work. He did. There was a lot of weeping and pain expressed, but through it people were able to release it to our Father in Heaven and receive his touch.... receive his love. It was right on.
As I go throughout life, I am constantly amazed at the deep wounds we carry with us.... wounds that can only be healed by the Lord's touch. We refuse to let him touch us though. We hide our wounds, we ignore them, we play like we don't hurt by distracting ourselves with idle pursuits, sex, and work. We run from the love that can take away our pain. We refuse to believe it is truly there. We refuse to believe.
Lord have mercy....
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
This past weeks RCIA class was on the sacrament of marriage. Pretty good stuff actually. We got into the beauty and mystery of the union between two people, the work that it takes to unite two souls as one, and the commitment needed to walk through life without giving up on that bond. All good stuff, all things that are basic and fundamental bits of information needed to make it through a relationship.
I found it interesting that the sacrament of marriage is the only sacrament not administered by clergy. This sacrament is administered by the couple to each other, the clergy is simply there as a witness to the the event. How deep is that? The marriage as a symbol of the relationship that Christ has with his Church could be no more powerful or raw than this. Two dirty and real people created in the image of the Father joining together to create something holy and right. The spark of divine love within being nurtured into an all consuming flame that warms the soul and radiates light. So perfect.
Thursday, October 04, 2007
So I was sittin' and talking about the reading from the Gospel of Luke a week or so back with a group of guys and we were pretty perplexed by the words of Christ. I mean, there were some basic principles in the parable that made sense, but the over all point of it was lost on us. I stumbled across this quote over at Against the Grain. One more reason I find myself walking more and more in step with the Church Universal. This is so punk rock.
From the Pope.....
Telling the Parable of the dishonest but very crafty administrator, Christ teaches his disciples the best way to use money and material riches, that is, to share them with the poor, thus acquiring their friendship, with a view to the Kingdom of Heaven. "Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon," Jesus says, "so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal habitations" (Lk 16: 9).
Money is not "dishonest" in itself, but more than anything else it can close man in a blind egocentrism. It therefore concerns a type of work of "conversion" of economic goods: instead of using them only for self-interest, it is also necessary to think of the needs of the poor, imitating Christ himself, who, as St Paul wrote: "though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich" (II Cor 8: 9). [...]
Catholic social doctrine has always supported that equitable distribution of goods is a priority. Naturally, profit is legitimate and, in just measure, necessary for economic development.
In his Encyclical Centesimus Annus, John Paul II wrote: "The modern business economy has positive aspects. Its basis is human freedom exercised in many other fields" (n. 32). Yet, he adds that capitalism must not be considered as the only valid model of economic organization (cf. ibid., n. 35).
Starvation and ecological emergencies stand to denounce, with increasing evidence, that the logic of profit, if it prevails, increases the disproportion between rich and poor and leads to a ruinous exploitation of the planet.
Instead, when the logic of sharing and solidarity prevails, it is possible to correct the course and direct it towards an equitable, sustainable development.
Not too bad. I would tend to agree that this is a priority. Right now a group of friends and fellow social justice type workers are looking at ways that we can facilitate these principles in a realistic way. Realistic meaning that we can benefit the poor and allow us to make a living doing it. Non-Profit sector? That's where most of us are and have been. Social Entrepreneurship/enterprise? Hmmmmmmm.... interesting possibilities. Any thoughts?
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
"It is impossible to doubt that the Decorator of the World shall not continue to serve to His later children, and in ever finer forms, the inspiration of beautiful things. More fearlessly than he has ever done so, the Christian of modern life will use the noble spiritual leverages of Art. That this world, the people's world, is a bleak and ugly world, we do not forget; it is ever with us. But we esteem too little the mission of beautiful things in haunting the mind with higher thoughts and begetting the mood which leads to God. Physical beauty makes moral beauty. Loveliness does more than destroy ugliness; it destroys matter. A mere touch of it in a room, in a street, even on a door knocker, is a spiritual force. Ask the working man's wife, and she will tell you there is a moral effect even in a clean tablecloth. If a barrel organ in a slum can but drown a curse, let no Christian silence it. The mere light and color of the wall advertisements are a gift of God to the poor man's somber world..."
from The Greatest Thing in the World by Henry Drummond
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
I meet with a few protestant pastors involved in inner city work every couple of weeks for a time to pray and hang out. Most of the guys are pretty much fundamentalist and more or less charismatic. It's cool, though. I understand the fundamentalist mindset. It basically merges rationalism with Biblical inerrancy. The Bible is true, both in principle and in historical facts and therefore must make sense in our finite little brains. I personally think it is slightly ridiculous and I am not even going to get into why I think that this mode of thought actually takes less faith than a less rationalistic Biblical understanding.
I also get the whole charismatic thing. I believe God heals people. I've seen it, been involved in it and have no doubts about the real and powerful presence of the Holy Spirit. I have seen the different gifts in action and fully believe that they are and should be a normal part of the Christian life.
I have noticed a slightly disturbing trend though. Many times when you mix fundamentalism and charismaticism, you get a weird blend of neo-gnosticism. It is almost a hyper glorification of the Spiritual and a degradation of the physical or temporal. If the Spirit is good then the flesh is bad.... which is true, but they assign the concept of "flesh" to be anything physical. This is an ignorant theological mistake that reflect a distinctive lack of study. Flesh is often the sin nature, especially in Paul's writings. There are way too many scriptures about this to get into it now, but maybe someday....
With out getting into this in depth, I just want to state how much I appreciate the Catholic stand on creation. Creation is good. Life is good. Pleasure is good. All of these things were created by God for our benefit and to draw us close to him. There is a call to responsibility and maturity in these things, but they are not bad. So liberating...... and people talk about Catholic guilt. They should hang out with some fundamentalists!
Sunday, September 23, 2007
The last RCIA class dealt with some key concepts of the Catholic church. It was pretty good and reinforced everything that I had studies leading up to this whole process. The class started out with a brief discussion on theology, pre and post Vatican II.
It was stated that pre-Vatican II, theology was limited to intellectual, European, males. Post-Vatican II saw the focus of theology shift towards a more open and experiential based focus. It shifted from the ivory halls of European academia to the dusty roads of Latin America and Africa. While I cannot and will not argue the shift in Catholic theological thought, I can and will weigh in on the concept of theology and the formation of it in the modern context.
The first thing that came to mind during the class was the question of whether or not theology is, at its core, intellectual or experiential. The obvious answer to that question is it is both and neither exclusively. The very core nature of theology is not the dissection of Biblical principles, passages, or even general concepts of the Divine. What theology is, in it's most pure and simple form, is the skeletal frame on which our religious and spiritual lives are built upon. It is foundational to our concept of who God is and how we relate to him. Theology is not something that academics dutifully guard, it is an exercise that all people engage in... consciously or not.
The second place my wandering mind drifted to was questioning whether or not experience should change theology. I believe it can and should. however, theological truths should never be based solely, or even principally upon experience. Experience relies on perception. Perception is subjective and liable to misinterpretation and cultural biases. True theology, right theology does not change according to culture or current trends. Experience enriches our theological concepts and current trends and cultural streams broaden our understanding of how truth is played out, but theology is founded and grounded on something much more substantial. Good theology, at least from a Christian view, must be founded upon scripture and tradition. We have been handed down a great heritage.
We do ourselves a disservice to ignore those who have come before and show ourselves to be arrogant and ignorant by thinking we have latched on to some great hidden truth that has been missed by 2,000 years of faithful men and women. We are all theologians in one form or fashion. We ought, therefor to be at least somewhat educated and open to learn from the past and value even the mistakes of those who came before.
And that had what to do with RCIA?
Thursday, September 13, 2007
Tuesday morning at 6:15, which is unbearably early, I had a meeting with a friend and businessman who is has a deep commitment to the poor and to justice. Directly after that, I had a prayer meeting with a bunch of guys involved with, or leading, different urban ministries. By the time all of it was finished, it was noon. It was a long morning.
The first meeting was really good. The prayer was revitalizing and deeply spiritual. It was a good morning. The thing that stood out about it was what happened right before I left the prayer meeting. We had wrapped up and a pastor just kind of off hand asked if anyone had anything else. I'm sitting there in this room with a diverse cross section of men... a few straight laced white guys, a couple of ex-vatos, an Indian minister, an asian ex-gang member, a Salvadoran immigrant, and I had an epiphony.
I don't often have times of intense personal genuflection and clarity, but I had one in that room. I realized that I have been harboring deep resentment and a marked lack of grace for rich people. I tend to not like them very much. Not because they have money or nice things, but because in them I have often witnessed an arrogant mentality that views those who have as better than those who have not. Plus, It pisses me off that people can be so obscenely wealthy and give so very little to those assisting the poor and needy. Freakin' greedy, self serving, rich people.
At the end of spending an hour in the presence of God I suppose He decided that I needed to confess this prejudice to those in the room. I did, and when I did I was struck by a deep compassion for those who take pride in their own wealth. I was reminded that Jesus said it was harder for a rich man to enter into the kingdosm of heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. I remembered that over and over the Bible teaches that God has mercy on the poor and has favor for the oppressed. I was reminded that those poor folksI feel especialy burdened for are dear to God's heart. I was reminded that I was being a jack-ass in my attitude towards the affluent.
In Light of this, I was shown that it is an act of love and compassion towards the rich to help them to see the rewards in giving and serving. It is humbling for them and softens their hearts. It teaches them compassion and allows them to listen for the voice of God. I need to have mercy and love the rich, because often they are just as lost as thehomeless crackhead... they just smell better. I shared this with the men around me and asked God to help us to look upon the materialy wealthy with the same compassionate eyes that we view the poor. As I did I recognised that that message was not just for me, but for quite a few of the guys around me. We had begun to get proud of our poor folks and esentful of those we saw as indifferent towards thier plight. As people who strive to follow Christ, we can be proud of none of this, only compassionate towards all..... regardless of whether or not the drive a Mercades or a shopping cart.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Last night was the second RCIA class at St. Rita's. We decided to go through this process at this particular church based on it's reputation for having a very strong and solid RCIA program. So far it has been pretty good... very Christ centered, very welcoming, and very community oriented. I am looking forward to the coming months of relationship building and getting connected.
What I am not looking forward to is going through the "basics of the faith." We had a taste of it last night and it was all I could do to stay awake. It is necessary to go through, necessary to teach, necessary for spiritual formation, but man is it dull.
I am probably in a bit of a unique position regarding all of this. Most likely, I am the only ordained protestant minister in our class, one of a couple who have a degree in theology, and probably the only one who has been a full time missionary and minister. Not that any of this makes a difference, it just means I have been so inundated with the basics of the faith (i.e. who is Jesus? what is the resurrection? what is baptism? etc...) that I can answer these questions in my sleep. It's what I have been trained to do and have been paid to do for almost 10 years. That is why when we joined the Episcopal church we got to skip all of their classes, well that and I was preaching at my church when the classes were held!
That makes this particular part of the RCIA process pretty boring.
I am looking forward to hearing the stories of the other folks in the class and listening to their questions and comments regarding these key aspects of the faith. I am sure that the Lord will teach me and speak to me through their words and experiences.... I'll just make sure to sit at the back of the class and not distract anyone else while I look at soccer scores on the phone during the lecture! Just like college. Gotta love it. I am also looking forward to the later months and retreats that are part of this process.
How the hell did I learn anything in school, anyway?
Christ have mercy.
Wednesday, September 05, 2007
So it has begun. After flirting with the thought of this since college, no...... before that.....since jail, waayyyyyy back, I have decided to join the mother church. Not just me, but CC as well. We have thought about it for a long time and prayed about it just as long. It seems to be the right time now.
Since becoming a Christian getting a degree in Bible from an evangelical college I have seen the Catholic church as both the Saint and Sinner of the church. She has been one of the most blatant examples and tools of selfish abuse, political ambition, and absolute greed the world has ever known. There is no excuse....she was pretty damn screwed up. As an immature person (and pissed off punk rocker) this was fuel for my absolute rejection of both Christianity and the concept of God. Through the years though, I have realized that any institution, any organization, any group of people will ultimately... given enough time... display the same behaviors as the Catholic church, no matter how well intentioned or Godly. Humans are fallible. Period. We are to blame, not the Church.
Studying the church fathers and the desert mystics taught me that there has always been a group of commited Christians who have always strived towards the fullness of Christ. They have held to the core thruths of the faith. They have loved God and their neighbor. They were Catholic.
I have little patience for pop-psychology Christian literature, but I thrive off of the Fathers. They are my mentors and they were Catholic. Good starting point. Through them I began to study, to learn. Through them I began this journey years ago..... let's see how it ends.
Monday, March 26, 2007
I meet alot of people in my line of work. Most of these people have some kind of interest in helping people, reaching out to the lost and oppressed, or meeting some type of felt need. Often times I see people whose vision is no larger than themselves. They seek to build their own little kingdoms of recognition and status under the noble guise of helping others. I don't hold that against them.... I can't. All of us have the tendency to put self above others and our own work above the work of the greater good. I realize this. I do this. I have made peace with this. I still don't like it though.
Fortunately, I have met with a variety of folks over the past few weeks that have been an encouragement to me. Some of these folks were poor and some were rich, some represented large organizations and some represented small churches, some of these were men and some women, some black, some white, some hispanic. All of them had a heart to see people in need helped. We were able to resource each other, help each other, strengthen each other. We were able to be brothers and sisters united in something greater than ourselves.
Big ups to the folks at Sojourners. CC and I had lunch with a couple of their development people and were impressed by their humility and grace today. If you don't know about them, check out the link to the right side of my page.
Thursday, March 01, 2007
I put on righteousness, and it clothed me; my justice was like a robe and a turban. I was eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame. I was a father to the needy, and I championed the cause of the stranger. I broke the fangs of the unrighteous, and made them drop their prey from their teeth.
- Job 29:14-17
Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Sometimes it is about cleaning house.... getting rid of the things that clutter our existance. Sometimes it is about eliminating the excess and cutting out those things we love to love too much. Sometimes it is about simplifying the focus of our heart. Sometimes it is about discipline and sometimes freedom. Sometimes it just is. It is all of these things at one time or another. It has become one of my favorite seasons of the year. It is a time when I feel the most raw, the most basic, the most pure. It refreshes me and gives me strength. How odd that the abstaining from things that enrich life serves to bring us into a more full life.
The foolishness of God, I suppose.
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
I like punk rock. Still. I am 30 years old and have been a part of this culture for more than half of my life. It has brought me a lot of grief over the years and has provided a lot of fuel for some of my more negative actions in life, but I still find myself intimately identified with many of the key, foundational principles that punk rock has taught me. My values, while evolved and matured, still reflect the counter cultural basis that punk rock screams out.
Take for instance the freedom of expression that is inherent in the culture. Diversity and uniqueness is celebrated and encouraged. While there are cookie cutter punks, the culture itself is made up of numerous subcultures and factions that all make up one collective whole. There are your anarchists, socialists, right wingers, hyper liberals, artists, musicians, straight edgers, drunk punks, skins, gutter punks, skatepunks, pop punks,vegan punks etc..... All of them fit into under the umbrella of the "scene." There is room for them all. Growing up in the Texas Panhandle really reinforced this concept to me. Everyone hung out together because we had nothing else, no one else. We might be into different things, however we were all outcasts to a certain degree and found community in our own unique freedoms of expression.... even if we identified ourselves and punk rock or something else. It was all subculture.
This one aspect, and there are many others beside this one, has probably been one of the most important lessons I have taken from the scene. Not because of how I See me, but because of how it has helped me see others. I can appreciate and value the uniqueness of others more fully because I was nurtured in a culture that placed value upon this trait. I think that this has made me able to be more fully Christian. I don't come from a sheltered culture where "different" is to be feared and therefore can be free to see people radically different from me as they are. Unique, individual, created in the image of God and full of value. Fear does not allow us to see people this way. Fear makes us defensive and often hostile.
In addition, the concept of community has been strengthened through the punk rock scene. We were not all the same, but all found common enough ground to be somewhat unified. Sure, there was more than enough drama, but somehow we all retained a sense of community that has lasted over a decade. It is the secular expression of "one body made up of many different and specific parts" No cookie cutter people. No common political view. Just a commonality that supersedes the one.
My wife and I get this. We love it. We wish the Church could be a little more punk rock.
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
Not knowledge in general, only the desire to always know.... always figure it out.... always have the answer. This is the fundamentalist's strength and weakness.
I am just amazed right now bt the immensity and transcendence of God. A being beyond knowledge and understanding. A God that is infinitely larger than our most grand aspirations of understanding. What a great thing it is to be in communion, in relationship with the Creator of all things. What a maddening thing to try and put this into a formula. He is completely incapable of fitting into any box or system we creat to understand His ways.
God is not rational. God is not logical. He functions in these forms when the purpose suits Him, but He is not bound to them. He is the creator of logic and rationalism, but how can a creator be bound by the created? Can we then create a formula to predict the actions of such a thing as this? Can we say He "always does this" or "always does that?" Weather forcasters in the Panhandle of Texas have better odds of being spot on than we who would aspire to fit our God into a pattern of behavior.
Things are not always literal, nor are they always allegorical, but the Word of God contains both. Harmoniously. Is our concept of God big enough to handle that? Or do we aspire to make the illogical logical? The irrational rational? The Spirit within compels us towards truth, a divine truth not based on our finite understanding. This mystical truth revealed through Christ is the current that underlies all truth in the Word.
Does the fundamentalist understand this? It does not seem so. Their never ending search to explain everything seems to keep them bound in theology based on a false sense of security in their own knowledge. God bless em' and Lord help us.
We may not understand. We will not understand. But we will recognize and believe if we are free.
Wednesday, January 31, 2007
The years that we have spent living and working in the inner city have taught many lessons, both spiritually and worldly. One of the most profound lessons we have learned is probably the one that is the most intellectually obvious and oxymoronic…. grace is hard. Grace is the cornerstone of our faith, and yet it is one of the things that we seem to rebel against as contrary to our faith.
Most of the people that we are around are not what most people would call “successes.” They are the segment of our society that most people look down on, fear, or pity. They are not the part of the population that most people want to emulate or admire. They struggle to pay bills (if they pay them), live in run down houses and apartments (if they have a place to live), have beat down cars (if they have one), they use questionable language (if you can understand it), and look like they have been through the mix (which they have). These are not usually the people that your average most people would want to be like. In fact, most people look at my neighbors and see folks that just don’t try hard enough. They just don’t try hard enough to make it, to make good decisions, to do what it takes. The reality of the matter is that people in the city do try. They try to do things in the only way they know how, which is usually based upon their life experiences. Sometimes it works out, however many times it just ends up in frustrating failure.
As we walk out our faith, we try hard. We try hard to do the right thing. We try hard to be obedient to God. We try hard to be “good Christians.” By trying hard, we sometimes fail to grasp the simple concept of grace and end up living lives full of frustrating spiritual failure. We try to have a relationship with God the only way we know how… based on our experiences. The problem with this is that Grace is completely foreign to our human existence. We cannot try hard enough to make ourselves right with God. We cannot be good enough to be intimate with Jesus. We cannot be Christians on our own effort. We must simple accept the fact that by believing, adhering, and trusting in the person and sacrifice of Jesus Christ we are able to be one with the Most High God. We cannot “do” or “try” enough, we must simply believe.
The apostle Paul talks about this in the letter to the Galatian church. First he calls the "supid Galatians" because they have allowed themselves to be drawn from grace into legalism based on external actions. Then he goes on to tell them that if the go on trying to achieve rightness with God by their own actions they will actually alienate themselves from God. That's freakin' hilarious. The harder one tries to get right with God on their own terms, the farther they actually distance themselves from the intimate touch of the divine. How radical of a concept..... what would happen if we actually lived in it? No more "doing the right thing" to "be right with God"..... we simply are with him through the merit of Christ, not our own. No more fighting through ourselves to get close to God, we simply allow ourselves to be open to His Spirit within us that yearns for us to let go of our own feeble attempts to be enough. We can never be enough. We aren't supposed to. That kicks ass.
What a simple and freeing thing grace is. It is hard because we just wont let it be easy.
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
Fire. Brings life, brings death. One of my favorite portions of scripture states that "the Lord is an all consuming fire." All consuming. I suppose that this implies that there is nothing left.... no charred bones, no blackened teeth, no leftover fillings or tarnished adornments. All consuming. Why in the hell does this appeal to me? Is it because I think so very little of myself that I wish not to be? I don't think so. I'm pretty screwed up and there's plenty of things that I don't really like about myself, but I am pretty secure in the fact that I am created in the "imagio deo." I like that... it gives grace to the fraility of or own feeble existence. So then, do I find nothing worth keeping in who I am? No.... I have God given gifts and talents that are very much worthwhile and intended to be used to glorify God and bless His creation. Why then do I like the fire that consumes all of me..... all of everything.
The fire of God,the presence of God that brings life and death, is the essence of who and what God is. He is consuming to a point where he leaves nothing of us that is not inherently "of Him" left. It is not so much that He consumes everything, but He consumes everything that is not Him. Fire does not consume itself, only that which is not fire. In like manner, the divine Life inside of us through the Holy Spirit survives the flame of God. The spark of new life through the Incarnation fuels the consumption of all within us that is not Christlike. In turn, as the flesh or worldly aspects of the human life are burnt up, the divine fire burns stronger and with more intensity. This allows us to be more fully human in so much as we are free to be human through the power of the Divine. The consumption of the "us" that is not the intended "us" brings us to a point of liberty to not be held by the shackles of or struggles.... i.e. sin.
The struggle for me, and with us all is to embrace the fire instead of running from it. God's fire, His presence brings us life... warmth through the cold nights of this world. This is the draw. We desire life in the inmost core of our being. We seek it, we strive for it, but we often want it on our terms. God's life is not to be found on our terms. His life consumes. While we are drawn to this at one level, on another lever we are repulsed by it. We do not want to die..... we don't want even a little part of us to die. We resist this even though we recieve greater overall life through part of us dying. We want life with no death, fire with no consumption. This is an impossibility that leads us down a path of discontentment and dissatisfaction.
We can find no peace until we embrace the fire for all that it is. Life and death.