I realized today that with the drama of Snowzilla last Sunday, I forgot to make a Weekly Grace! I mean, wow. I haven’t missed one in a few years. So, I wanted to make sure we finished and finished well this month of intention based around civility.
It’s an election cycle year, and it’s a pretty heated race for all concerned. That’s one reason I wanted to start the year on civility. Another reason is that sometimes it’s so hard to keep my words flowing from love. It’s so easy to let something else step in and drive my speech.
In our focal passage written to the church in Corinth, Paul says that nothing is as important as love. Nothing should be allowed to take it’s place. There’s no miraculous spiritual gift, no self-denial, not even any great knowledge or correctness that surpasses love. This is not a message that religious people like to hear. We are very enamored of our personal gifts and, oh my… our correctness? We often like to stake our very salvation on it or deny another person theirs.
1 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end.9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part;10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Paul says that his ability to understand every question and mystery is nothing if he does not have love for others. The capacity to love matters more than the capacity to be right. I won’t belabor this point too long, but come on! I think it’s one of the clearest passages that teach us that we should let our love help us understand more often than letting our understanding teach us to love.
Our civility will grow as we move more fully toward letting love take it’s place of preeminence in our lives. Our words will grow to reflect that we have matured past the idea that our own perceived correctness gives us license to fight, humiliate, defame or condemn. We will listen better, with more desire to understand one another. We’ll ask good questions, meant to free and not to trap. We’ll grow together as we share and understand one another better. This could be a good year, even with a presidential election.
Civility begins within and then manifests in speech and action. This is true of everything, good and bad, better and worse. Out of our hearts we incubate ideas and expressions that take form in our words and responses. For this reason our God is not just standing around waiting to slap our wrist and cluck at us, but God is working to rehabilitate our heart and inmost being!
Are we open to this? It’s one thing to capitulate and obey a greater power or a higher influence, but are we ready to allow ourselves to be fundamentally changed from the inside out? This is the difference between obeying the great sermon points in Matthew 5, 6 and 7 out of legal and religious obligation or allowing the Beatitude Statements in Matthew 5 to frame a change of our hearts and minds as we navigate the reorienting of life that Jesus presents for us to follow.
This is not Christianity 2.0 or any new innovation or deeper level… this is actually the beginning of religion and faith. Jesus often gave this invitation to people, “Follow me.” This is the invitation of a teacher, mentor and life-changer. This is an invitation to reflect on who we are and how we are, with Jesus’ help. And it’s an invitation to change.
Want to change the urges and reflexes of destructive negativity in your life? Begin by reflecting on your heart and cultivating a change there… work with energy and consistency to remove the negative things and plant beautiful things in their place. Where their is hurt and injury, sow some forgiveness. Where there is anger, sow some quiet and prayer. Where there is hatred, sow some empathy and hope. Christian saints and mystics often rooted this in their prayers: St. Catherine of Siena, St. Ignatius of Loyola & St. Francis of Assisi.
Even as I begin a new year no longer serving a congregation as pastor and shepherd, I want to renew my commitment to being a spiritual friend and brother to you. And I have to remind you that I need you. Jesus didn’t invite one person or single individuals to follow this path of change, he called us into community, together. Let’s do this together. Let’s chat.
I’ve been making a weekly prayer intention for several years for our congregation at Church in Bethesda and for myself, but I’ve been wondering about continuing the practice now that I have left my pastoral duties with the congregation. After some thought and prayer I’ve decided to continue.
First, I do hope it blesses someone to have some weekly help with prayers. We all have time and even seasons when prayer is drier and more difficult to start. Second, it does help me to have it in mind and carry it as a daily reminder. Third, it’s a practice of intention, study and creativity that I don’t want to lose. Instead, I’m thinking of ways to expand on the weekly grace and what it’s intended to be.
This is a Presidential election year… oh my. In honor of the coming strife and internal warfare that we are about to incite, I thought we’d begin the year with another reminder of civility. For people of faith civility is actually at the core of who and how we are to be interacting with our communities, nation and world. Civility is scriptural. Civility is Christian. Civility is a core element of a life of faith.
I’m personally so tried of the arguing around the phrase “politically correct.” It gets used too often, sometimes to minimize our responsibility to one another, the exact opposite of its intention. Some people proudly say that they don’t care about being politically correct as an excuse or a prelude to their incivility, rudeness and meanness. Being non-politically correct has become a badge of honor to many, as they see the need for sensitivity toward others as a type of censorship. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Being sensitive of others is a foundation of civil discourse and a very deep, important spiritual practice. We must work hard to remove racial slurs and demonizing language from our daily and shared conversation. We need to speak and act in ways that welcome the other and invite the other to participate in life with us, even in disagreement and dissimilarity. Christian Dominion, our elevation and dominance in religious, political and social affairs where all others are supposed to be made to conform to speak and act and think as we do, is not a scriptural idea. Truly, our scriptures teach the opposite. We are the world’s servants, broken and spent for the world’s good.
God blesses all. God’s blessings are for all. This is a teaching of our Christ, and maybe one that we by and largely ignore as we deeply fear its implications. (Matthew 5:43-48) The faithful are not the sole object of God’s love and peace… we are invited to share God’s burden of being used to bring more love and peace to the human family and all of creation.
So, as we begin the new year and look forward to electing a new President to lead our country, let’s renew our intention of civility in speech and action. Let us refuse to follow voices of indignity, disrespect and disharmony. Seek the voices that speak to bind us in love and peace. Be a voice that builds others up.
When did you last have a day when you just didn’t wanna?
This is one of those days for me. Everything tastes wrong, even at Starbucks. Everyone looks a bit threatening, if not needy. I don’t feel good, or feel good about myself. Coffee is not getting me fired up and I think I’ve gained a couple of pounds (probably from the comfort of several recently enjoyed dipped cones at Dairy Queen).
So, I’m gonna take a deep breath, own my humanity with all it’s fragility, fatigue and needs… and I’ll get the day started, even if I’m getting started a little late. It’s what we do. It’s what we need to do. Thank God I don’t do it all on my own.
Days like this are the days I feel least compelled to pray. Weird. It’s sort of like the times I don’t take any pain reliever as I wait to see if my headache will go away on it’s own. Most days I’m not sure if I’m just lazy, stubborn or stupid. What I do know is that I have a God who listens when I’m not praying, and a Spirit that fills in the gaps, even when I’m not paying attention.
And now, before I must go punch the clock, sitting here with my less flavorful coffee, I’m going to pray. I pulled my trusty Book of Common Prayer from my bag for a little inspiration, and God provided…
Almighty God our heavenly Father, you declare your glory
and show forth your handiwork in the heavens and in the
earth: Deliver us in our various occupations from the service
of self alone, that we may do the work you give us to do in
truth and beauty and for the common good; for the sake of
him who came among us as one who serves, your Son Jesus
Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy
Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
From the Collects, Contemporary BCP pg. 261
This will be my prayer, today. “Beauty for the common good” will be my mantra. I’m going to turn my energies from an inward self-absorbed pity fest and big bottle of whine, outward to those around me who will be blessed by my struggling to live such a prayer of beauty, gratitude, service and deliverance.
If I meet you along the path somewhere today, I hope I’m still praying.
If you’ve ever been involved with Ignatian Spirituality then the concept of First Principle and Foundation will be familiar, but if not… Ignatius presents this early in The Exercises as a sort of purpose statement for being. I won’t bore you with the long form of the principle, but it is often abbreviated to something like, “We were created to receive God’s love and give love back to God.” I find two main elements of the principle to be: 1) the foundation of God’s love as what animates us, and 2) our relationship to everything around us is based on experiencing God’s love.
When you are engaged in the Exercises in almost any form, whether a true retreat or one of the annotations, you will be asked to think about and design a first principle and foundation statement of your own. I’ve been asked to do this many times, but have to admit that I can’t remember how I ordered my thoughts in the past. I could go and dig up my journals from those times, but it remains the case that what I thought and wrote did not become a part of my spiritual journey to any meaningful extent. I simply don’t remember what I have written.
So, as I came to the part of the Exercises as I am following them now, and I was again asked to pray about my own first principle and foundation, I decided to really think and pray and bend my energies toward something that will be lasting for me. I want to make some words and meaning which will stick. I’ve worked in the words during this past week, and I’d like to share them here…
I am a student of LOVE
in all its complex and healing forms:
affection, compassion, mercy and truth;
kindness, grace, service and contentment.
If I can’t recall anything else in the days and years to come, I want to remember that I am a student of love. As I get older and continue to sift and weight the many scriptural themes and ideas I have come to understand, I rely more and more on the ascendancy of love. Love is not just an idea, or a feeling, but a basic understanding of life and a way to relate to all things in life. I also believe that God is best understood as and thru love, and so I could also relate my first principle this way…
I am a student of God
in all her complex and healing forms:
affection, compassion, mercy and truth;
kindness, grace, service and contentment.
I hope that this kind of foundation helps me to be both fully human and fully connected to the divine. From this position, with a Christ-centred and valuing and understanding of both our shared humanity and divinity, then love is better able to manifest in me to the betterment of the kingdom of God and all the world God has caused to be.
I feel like an apology at the beginning of the post might be appropriate… I’m feeling wordy today. This is going to be a little long and maybe even a bit convoluted, even though it’s just some current devotional thoughts. If you can dig that, then carry on. You have been warned. =)
I’m going through a time of exploration again with the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius and I am in wonder at the way familiar verses open up to me in reading, meditation and prayer. Not that it’s magic, or that I’m magical, but the old words find new ways to resonate in my mind and soul.
Ignatius called this resonance and awareness a testing of the spirits when we feel a response rise from within us and we stop to explore that feeling. This is just a way of practicing awareness and allowing God to be heard with more clarity in our lives. Today’s reading in my prayer time was Isaiah 43:1-7.
1 But now, this is what the LORD says– he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.
3 For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead. 4 Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give nations in exchange for you, and peoples in exchange for your life.
5 Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west. 6 I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth– 7 everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”
This is a repeat passage in that I have already spent time with it in the past seven days, but reading the words this morning again allowed me time to recognize a new response within myself. It was the dual movement of God describe as made and redeemed. In my previous reading I had focused on the beautiful imagery of not being washed away by the floods or consumed by the fires.
There’s a lot going on in this passage… notably, some nations are not just passed over in favor of Israel, but given in ransom for her. To be honest, I’m immediately in cringe mode over the disregard for Egypt, Seba and Cush. They were rejected and became a sacrifice for Israel’s safety and inheritance. It’s important to stop and take a deep breath and place the passage in its historical and original context, which was nationalistic and specific. Israel was threatened by other nations, and in her deliverance, those nations were rejected by God. This doesn’t mean that they are forever rejected or forever out of God’s love and favor. But they were at that time a sacrifice given to save Israel.
So when I feel my very personal reaction to the words, “But now, this is what the LORD says– he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.'” I begin by realizing that these words are for Israel at a particular time and place. The movement of made and redeemed belong to Israel and her story with specificity and context, and not to me in the same way. And yet I do feel a resonance that God may have made me and redeemed me similarly, God being both my source and resource, my beginning and my future.
I believe that we always want to start with the specificity of a passage like Isaiah 43, and then move to place our own claim of faith on the words. Just as we lay our claim of faith upon the God of Jacob and Isaac, the God of Sarah and Abram, the God of Eve and Adam, the God of Hannah and of Isaiah, we by faith place ourselves into an extended context of messages like this one. We by faith reach for a handhold on the promises and the strength of God being our source and re-source, our making and re-making, our past and future.
This dual movement of having been made and remade (redeemed) give power to next couplet, that God has summoned and called by name. This movement of God speaks of love, intimacy and good things to come. By faith as followers of Christ we place ourselves in that love and covenantal grace existing between God and Israel in these words of Isaiah. I myself, in faith, can hear that God did indeed make me and then has continued to make me, and will continue to summon, call and I believe to even keep remaking me as necessary. I have both source and resource. I am not alone, finished, done or un-summoned. I can look forward and see God making a way for me.
This was a resonance I needed to hear, today. And I trust that I do not place my own claim of faith upon the making and redeeming activity of God in vain. Maybe it’s the Spring tulips outside after a long winter chill in our region. Maybe it’s the sun finally shining warm and my chance to flex some bare toes in my sandals again. Maybe it’s new life of each breath I’m suddenly aware of as I sit and type away here at the coffee shop, but I see God doing these things… I see the redeeming. I see what has been made being remade. I see hope happening all around me, and in Isaiah, and I want to take a satisfying measure of that hope into me as my sustenance and life for the day. If you’re thirsty, Jesus invites you to drink deep and trust that the flow never ends.
It is most definitely a whole new thing when you’re praying for peace in a nearby sister city, thinking of friends, family and colleagues who call it home. It’s important we are praying. And it’s important we are being peacemakers, even in the distant roles we may have as spectators and commentators. With this in mind, I’d like to offer a few reminders…
Our judgements aren’t needed. I see a lot of judgmental statements flying around social media, accusations and generalizations that are more damaging than healing. As a people of faith, I would ask us to hold to the admonition of James that we “take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because our anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” (From James 1:19-20) As prayerful and concerned people viewing the hurtful events in Baltimore, our indignation and anger does not further the reconciliation and healing that God desires for the city.
There are peacemakers on the streets, support them! Pray for the peacemakers, talk about the peacemakers, encourage them and share their work. It’s too easy to be angry about looting, and far more difficult and helpful to give support to those in the community trying to be reconcilers. Pray for the family of Freddie Gray as they ask for peace. Pray for local clergy as they march for peace. Sometimes, for us not in the city, this is how are to be fellow peacemakers. If our words and commentary simply incite feelings of division, anger and judgment, then we are working against God’s will in the world. Jesus endorses a reconciling view of life saying, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (From Matthew 5:9)
Pray the ones you feel least like loving. And while we’re talking about Jesus and about prayer, we are clearly taught that our prayers are not just for the ones like us, or the ones who like us, or the ones we happen to like. Who do you feel least like loving in Baltimore, today? It is the police? Is it those looting? Is it a racial distinction or an economic distinction? Is it a political distinction? Those you feel least like loving should be the target of your prayer, concern and love. This is the way Jesus taught us to live… “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (From Matthew 5:43-48)
Finally, maybe a try a new way to pray. I often begin my devotions with some centering around the ancient Jesus Prayer, “Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” I will repeat the prayer, meaning it, hearing it, believing it and wanting it. And when I begin to feel the rhythm of the prayer, I’ll start to make some changes. Once the humility of being “a sinner” is rooted in my prayer, I’ll change it to “your beloved.” I’ll make claim the love that is promised to me by God in Christ. Then, I’ll change “Son of the Living God” to something like “my truest spiritual friend and teacher.” Eventually, after various shifts and changes, I’ll be praying for others instead of myself, claiming for them the love of God and presence of Christ. It may eventually sound something like “Jesus Christ, divine hands and feet bringing peace to the world, bless the streets of Baltimore through people of peace.”
Above all, love and pray. Love and pray.