Wednesday, September 30, 2009

September Meditation

By Burton D. Carley

I do not know if the seasons remember their history or if the days and nights by which we count time remember their own passing.

I do not know if the oak tree remembers its planting or if the pine remembers its slow climb toward sun and stars.

I do not know if the squirrel remembers last fall's gathering or if the bluejay remembers the meaning of snow.

I do not know if the air remembers September or if the night remembers the moon.

I do not know if the earth remembers the flowers from last spring or if the evergreen remembers that it shall stay so.

Perhaps that is the reason for our births -- to be the memory for creation.

Perhaps salvation is something very different than anyone ever expected.

Perhaps this will be the only question we will have to answer:

"What can you tell me about September?"

Quotations from Class

"Do you have a fat Bible with the Apocrypha in it? If not, why not?" - Dierdre Good, Professor of New Testament

"We have a thousand ways in scripture that remind us that pure morality is not the simple mechanism by which the divine work proceeds in the world." - Bob Owens, Professor of Old Testament

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Readings and Quotations

These are just ramblings I'm finding while reading that I feel like sharing.

  • "An institutional church is implied in the Church's humanity. One might argue that an institutional church is implied in an incarnational faith." - Daniel B. Stivick, "Canon Law," The Study of Anglicanism

  • "The deepist nature of the Church is a mystery, 'hidden with Christ in God' (Col 3.3), which it it always exploring. No forms of institutional life fully bring it to expression. The Church lives by ceaseless self-discovery and self-correction, and all of its laws, procedures, and institutions are provisional." - ibid.

  • "In time, the American church secured continuity in doctrine, liturgy, sacraments and ministry with the Church of England--revising the Prayer Book (but not radically), retaining the Articles of Religion (but not requiring anyone to subscribe to them), and securing the episcopate (but not easily)." - ibid.

  • "The problem is the fear of what everyone knows is hidden and no one will talk about." - remaining anonymous (having a conversation during a break from reading)

  • "Social norms are not universal, but are always specific to a culture, and thus differ at least in some measure from on society or subculture to another. Churches have interacted with the particular moral traditions in which they are set, partly criticizing and partly sanctioning what is done. Thus, although convictions among Christians are strong, they are not uniform." - Daniel B. Stivick, "Canon Law," The Study of Anglicanism

  • "Canons are the Church's effort to shape the life of a community which is called into being by that which transcends law. They regulate a life which they do not create." - ibid.

  • "Anglicanism exits from the deep Christian past, and it moves through many deaths and resurrections toward the reunited Church to come --a church that will grow from the present, although it may look significantly different from any church of today." - ibid.

  • "The Church's members always have access to [the] gospel, and when the gospel leads them into new, authentic forms of obedience and ministry, canons must test and then follow." - ibid.

  • "Change is the human condition and hence the Christian condition. Change in the church is not just a matter of shifty teachings or liturgical practices. It is measure in personal biographies and in the histories of groups in which change is often perceived at first as loss." - ibid.

  • "Baptism is a conferral of worth and dignity, it brings into the life in Christ persons regardless of the place they have occupied in the general society (Gal. 3.27-28)." - ibid.
  • Sunday, September 13, 2009

    Consider the Lilies

    I grew up with this song on 5th Sundays and have a nostalgic attachment to it. The passage keeps coming up, too. It was good for me to hear Fr. Malloy preach a great sermon on it before orientation started, and then Roxane read it tonight as part of a blessing during our progressive housewarming. I hope y'all enjoy it like I do. (Facebook users, view original post...and I couldn't find the version I was originally going to post...and bear with the first few bars; listen to the vocals/lyrics)

    Wednesday, September 2, 2009

    Freecylce, Freeduce, Freeuse!

    So, before I came up to the City, I joined Freecycle New York City group trying to get a free sewing machine. I still haven't gotten one. But, when I moved to the Close, one of the first things I realized was that I didn't have all the furniture I needed, particularly a bookshelf. And rather than posting a "Wanted" on Freecycle, I just looked for an "offer" of them. And I found two bookcases that I was interested in. One I had to get on Friday, and one on Saturday. The Friday shelf required a car, and I wasn't able to get it. As a result of my valiant attempts, though, I have a Zipcar account now. It wasn't together, but it was too heavy to bring on a train or other public transportation. At the end of the day I didn't get the shelf, but I'd already made a reservation for a Uhaul van for Saturday.

    And in my attempts to recruit someone with a car, I got a volunteer to get the Saturday bookcase! I worked out with the giver to get my shelves early (as that my Uhaul reservation was for the crack of dawn). I went and got my van and then parked it at the seminary while I ate. The amazing Farrell Graves and I left to get my shelf and got there too early, still. So we sat in the van on the curb as he told funny jokes and made me laugh. There was stuff on the curb! We went upstairs and got the shelf and put it in the van, then we added the drawers thing and shelf thing from the curb. I paid $41 or so total for the adventure for the van, but I got stuff that was definitely worth more than that...and I might be getting another bookshelf from the Friday shelf giver that fell through.

    I keep thinking about this video whenever i talk about freecycle and think y'all should all check out for a group in your area.

    That's still the way that he takes to the world

    Some challenge and comfort

    So, I'm sure I've posted the lyrics here before, and I've been titling my entries from this song "Take To the World" that Derek Webb sings. My friend Emily was just introduced to it a week or so ago and IMed me that she'd gotten pretty obsessed with it and was listening to it on repeat. That conversation about the song sparked this series of posts. This is the fourth and final installment of this four part series, as it were. Not a sermon series on the four (pick a letter) of (pick a word that starts with that letter). I think the song is great because it both poses a challenge to us and encourages us to live that challenge out.

    Go in peace to love and to serve
    Let your ears ring long with what you have heard
    May the bread on your tongue
    Leave a trail of crumbs
    To lead the hungry back to the place that you are from

    And take to the world this love, this hope and faith
    Take to the world this rare, relentless grace
    And like the three in one
    Know you must become what you want to save
    ‘Cause that’s still the way
    He takes to the world

    Here we are. Good News. God came into the world and brought salvation to creation. Pay attention! Your ears have heard Good News proclaimed. I hope you listened and don't forget it! And share it with others! If I had to assign a setting to this song, I'd say it's after the Eucharist. We've fed on spiritual food and drink and been strengthened to go out into the world, taking salvation with us. But the sameself bread and wine not only strengthen us. Leaving the Table (like salvation) isn't just about us. As a post-communion prayer in the BCP says, "Send us now into the world in peace and grant us strength and courage, to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart," or like Eucharistic Prayer C itself, "Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this table for solace only, and not for strength, for pardon only and not for renewal."

    Go, and go far
    Take light deep in the dark
    Believe what’s true
    He uses all, even you
    May the bread on your tongue leave a trail of crumbs
    To lead the hungry back to the place you are from

    We've been challenged (in the song): "Follow me" and go out to spread the Good News. And now we're being encouraged: God can (and does) use all of us. We're supposed to go, and share. Evangelism is one beggar telling another where to find bread. And taking Good News requires going out into the world where Good News needs to be heard: the mess of things. In Advent 2007 the Vr. Rev. Alan Jones said innumerable times concerning the Incarnation, "God with us, God in us, God in the mess of things." We can't just sit in our beautiful naves starting at Surprise Jesus or Jesus as Lord of the Dance. We have to get out into the messiness of things.

    Take the Light of Christ into the darkness to dispel it. Share the Good News of God's redemptive love. Jesus told us to...and we ought to out of gratitude for the freedom we've been given through God's redemptive acts.

    Like the Three-in-One, know you must become what you want to save

    "You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak..." - James 1.19, NRSV

    Finding that middle ground

    I'm a big fan of a blog called Fr. Jake Stops the World, but it shut down for a period of time last year when Fr. Jake was brought on as chief evangelism officer of The Episcopal Church. However, he started another blog called "Fr. T. Listens to the World" that as I started reading, I fell in love with as well. While I love Fr. Jake for his slant and his willingness to get angry and emotional about things (and not be cool or calm about it), Fr. T has some really good stuff on evangelism, that just makes sense. It's a lot of common sense things, but things that the Church isn't doing a good job at. I shared a number of the Facebook entries with members of my campus ministry's leadership team. Although they were from an Episcopal perspective, they were applicable to all types of Christian bodies which, by virtue of being just that, should be doing evangelism. He says early on

    We begin evangelism by listening. And then we listen some more. It is only when we really hear the stories of others that we will know how to proclaim the good news in ways that can be heard.

    The truth of the matter is that the way folks "did" evangelism 50 years ago simply does not work in most cases today....

    Beating people over the head with the bible and telling them they have to turn or burn is the best way I know to turn most folks away from Christ. I can't recommend it.

    So, what can we do? We meet people where they are in their spiritual life, and avoid the temptation to drag them to where we think they should be. And so, we begin by listening. We listen to the story of another person, and then share our story, always looking for the places where God's story touches them both.

    There are those who will claim that such a deviation from the pattern that previous generations used to do evangelism is a watering down of the message of the Gospel. I disagree. The message of the Gospel, the healing power of God's redemptive love made know to us through Jesus Christ, remains the same. What has changed is the packaging of that message. And the most prominent new element of that packaging is a big dose of humility.

    This is the "so what" of salvation: sharing it with others, and working for it. God in Christ did the work of salvation, and now that we've been given the Good News and seen it in our lives, that's not enough. It's not enough for us to "get saved" or to just go to church every week and be "good people." We should be taking the Good News to others in a way that first, is Good News, and second, that will bring wholeness, healing, and restoration. We aren't about punching cards, we're about doing the other. But we can't do the other if we aren't sharing with others.

    And it's not about bringing people into our "tribe" of Christian or our group. One of the things Fr. T hits on over and over again is that evangelism - sharing the Good News to bring wholeness, healing, and restoration - is about restoring right relationships between God and humanity...not making Episcopalians (or _______________ denomination). And that starts with listening to others' stories, not telling them the story before you know anything about them. Listening so that we know how to tell them the Good News.

    And simply put I think that requires learning to look at people as humans. A big dose of humility as Fr. T says, and looking at people - respecting their dignity - not as potential converts, certainly not as "sinners" to "love" (as though any of us can call someone else a sinner, thereby implying that we ourselves are not), but people created in the image of God. And after we do that we can make a friend, be a friend, then bring a friend to Christ using what we've learned about them and how to share the Good News of God's redemptive love with them. And doing that, we take salvation to the world.

    Tuesday, September 1, 2009

    Take to the world this rare, relentless grace

    I'm tired of what I grew up in and I'm tried of where I went. I'm needing to find a happy medium, part 2.

    So, yeah, not a lot of talk about salvation, and I get it, actually. A lot of us grew up in environments where "salvation" was what I talked about in my last entry and we were tired of it. We also didn't like the emotionally manipulative techniques to get people "saved." We loved God, and we wanted to do the work of Jesus in the world, but we didn't - in large part - want to evangelize by talking about Jesus explicitly. I was one of those people. I'd been damaged and bruised by my experience and I didn't want to inflict that on others.

    In the last couple of months I've come to start thinking about salvation a little more, and I blame Scott Gunn for his post Of Elephants in Rooms in which he says,

    We are not in the social justice business. We are not in the museum business. We are not in the social club business. We are in the salvation business.

    By “salvation” I do not mean that the church is a giant machine to punch people’s tickets to get them into heaven. Rather, I mean salvation in the fullness of the underlying Greek word, sozo. That’s redemption, wholeness, healing, and salvation.

    So, sure, we seek to draw people into God’s everlasting life. In this life, though, we have a lot to offer as well. At the core of the Anglican tradition is an emphasis on holiness of living. Salvation is not something that you earn after this life. It’s something that begins in this life. Read the Gospel according to John if you don’t believe me.

    And that's been rolling around in my head ever since. It tempered how I went to General Convention. While Fr. Scott was calling us to bring up church crises in our testimony and consideration, I didn't do that. But I did think about how the things that I would be supporting lead to salvation as he used the term. We're in the salvation business, but not ticket punching for heaven, or getting a great reward at the end of life, but rather working for wholeness and reconciliation among people here and a result of the work and reconciliation that has been brought to creation by the redemptive work of Christ.
    Q. What is the mission of the Church?

    A. The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ

    So that got me thinking about how are we in the salvation business? What are we the Church doing to bring wholeness and reconciliation through Christ? And then because of my background, I loved (despite the cry from people of different politico-theological orientations) when the Presiding Bishop said
    The overarching connection in all of these crises has to do with the great Western heresy – that we can be saved as individuals, that any of us alone can be in right relationship with God. It’s caricatured in some quarters by insisting that salvation depends on reciting a specific verbal formula about Jesus. That individualist focus is a form of idolatry, for it puts me and my words in the place that only God can occupy, at the center of existence, as the ground of being.
    Last week she followed up with
    Individualism (the understanding that the interests and independence of the individual necessarily trump the interests of others as well as principles of interdependence) is basically unbiblical and unchristian.

    The spiritual journey, at least in the Judeo-Christian tradition, is about holy living in community. When Jesus was asked to summarize the Torah, he said, "love God and love your neighbor as yourself." That means our task is to be in relationship with God and with our neighbors. If salvation is understood only as "getting right with God" without considering "getting right with (all) our neighbors," then we've got a heresy (an unorthodox belief) on our hands.

    By my background I pretty much mean as a reaction to the tradition of my upbringing, I completely agreed with what she said about reciting a specific verbal formula about Jesus and that being "salvation." I've been there. That is not a slam - from her or me - about the importance of personal faith. However, I reject the notion that salvation is something we do: by praying a prayer or whatever; it's always something that God has made available to us through Christ. In order to get right with God and our neighbors, we have to be seeking the reconciliation, the wholeness, the sozo, the salvation made available to creation in Christ.

    Take to the world this love, this hope, this faith

    This entry is just laying the groundwork for the next one.

    I'm tired of what I grew up in and I'm tried of where I went. I'm needing to find a happy medium, part 1.

    I grew up in a fundamentalist Southern Baptist church committed to evangelism in the old school way of knocking on doors simply to talk about Jesus. I don't recall hearing much of the Gospel preached (certain passages me strike me when they come up in the lectionary because I don't recall sermons on them) or really even a lot of what I'd consider Good News. I remember a lot of rules and legalism concerning salvation. And I remember a lot of working to persuade people (yea, manipulate them) to "pray that prayer" where "once saved, always saved." There was a lot about Jesus, but not a lot about the Trinity other than saying we believed in it. These are all my experiences. I'm sure someone who was there and older while I was there might have better memory, but this is what I remember, so it's what occurred most frequently to stick in my mind. Salvation, as I recall, was being saved from Sin and going to heaven. If you were really saved (if you meant it when you prayed that prayer), you'd start "living right" and doing what Jesus wanted you to do (which meant adhering to a purity code of selectively literal passages of mostly the Epistles). And you were supposed to invite people to church and tell them about Jesus and try to get them saved, too. There was a lot of emotion: fear tactics to scare the hell out of people ("What if you died on the way home tonight? Would you spend eternity in hell?", judgment houses, tribulation trails) and ratcheting up emotion in general to just get people in a state of frenzy...and then manipulating them to make a decision. And I got tired of it and found other ways to practice my faith.

    And I got bitter about it (and really still am, somewhat, but more of that later). There are times that I look back and wonder how (and thank God) that I stayed a Christian. I could've easily just gone to church because I had to, but could've gone through the motions loathing it all, but I didn't. And I think that was grace in action: being formed and used and transformed by the community of believers where I found myself. I found somewhere different. I changed denominations and I went to college, and I was introduced to something very new from what I'd known: social justice. The idea that rather than merely knocking on doors, we were supposed to be writing congress people - not (just) to outlaw abortion, but to end war; not just to keep gays from getting married, but to feed people who couldn't eat. Micah 6.8. Magnificat. Luke 4. These were things that seemed totally new to me and I'd never heard them applied the way they were being applied. I was in love. We did local missions for people who needed stuff done like wheelchair ramps. We picked topics for advocacy and advocated and tried to recruit others to advocate with us. And we made amazing community.

    And I grew as a person. I remember when I was working at Lime Springs how bent out of shape I was about what we sang every week, never from The United Methodist Hymnal and told my mom, "All we sing are songs about dying and going to heaven!" And she replied, "Isn't that the point of our faith?" or something to that effect and I wanted to shout, "NO! WE'RE IN THE WORLD TO WORK FOR ITS BETTERMENT, to build God's reign here and now, not live our lives 'saving souls' and then waiting for Jesus to make everything better after the rapture and the tribulation!" But I didn't. I felt like it would be pointless. And I remember being at an Easter service very different from the Easter Vigil I'd attended earlier that morning. I don't remember hearing anything about Easter in my second service; it was a Good Friday service, all about death and blood. In my notes from the sermon I was really snarky, actually...and then I worshipped there later. And I didn't like a lot of the sermon. Or much to any of it. But in that space, with the songs I have a nostalgic attachment to (but hate the theology of), but saw and heard Good News to the people in that assembly. God was there and I'm not going to say She wasn't. My experience in college was my experience, and I grew from it in a lot of very good ways.

    But I don't really remember us talking a lot about salvation at my college experience. I know that some of those people there are going to read it, and I don't want them to think that I'm dissatisfied with what I had there. I love those peopled and love the time that I spent there, so y'all don't get your feelings hurt. But over the last few months, I've developed a longing for something more yet, and I'm going to talk about that in the next entry (or two), and I hope that I can convey what I'm thinking/feeling and hope that people can get me and maybe get something out of my ramblings...