Tuesday, July 26, 2011

They Will Know We Are Christians by Our Love

a few days ago, i came across a great post by brian mclaren (http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/Debt-Ceiling-Dreams-Brian-McLaren-07-14-2011.html/) in which he discusses the current debate in congress concerning the national debt and the debt ceiling. mclaren's post cites the epistle of james several times, so i decided last night that i would reread it. in reading, i was reminded of the epistle's practical advice that a faith that does not compel one to action in the service of others is not a real faith, and i wondered if the writer was rebutting the position that good works are not sacramental. the dangers of an uncontrolled tongue hit home, bringing to mind the buddhist emphasis on effort in achieving the desired result and the teaching that self-control is a necessary virtue. the God of james' epistle is a God of love. the writer very clearly says that God does not test (or in some translations "tempt") us, but it is our own cravings and desires that cause us to be tested, or tempted. showing preferential treatment to those who have wealth or fame, while demeaning those who are poor, is condemned, and we are cautioned to treat everyone as a neighbor.

it would be a wonderful world if each of us could live in the way that the epistle of james suggests. there could be no better summary of the good news of Jesus that this short letter. i pray that each of us will take the words of james' epistle to heart and that we will learn to live in obedience to the perfect law of love.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

To Worship Rightly Is to Love Each Other

(This post was written on July 17, but was not posted until July 19.)

today i am returning home from a music conference that i attend each summer, if i am able. some years, there have been date conflicts that have made my attendance impossible, but this retreat is so energizing and enriching, i attend if i possibly can. over the years, i've made many friends who attend regularly, and, even though we don't stay in touch through the months between conferences, as soon as i see them it is as if we are seeing long-lost family members. we spend many hours catching up on what has happened in our lives.

the husband of one of those friends has just lost his job, and earlier in the year she had been pushed out of her church job by an uncaring and insenstive pastor. as we talked, i thought of how often this happens in churches. i am guilty of the same insensitivity. all too often, we come charging into positions in the church thinking we have all the answers, we know how things ought to be done, and, by god, we'll do things OUR ways. i pray that i no longer think in that way, but i know in the past, i've been too certain of my own "rightness" and too indifferent to the opinions and feelings of others.

how sad it is that we, who call ourselves christians, impose our lives on others, rather than heeding Jesus when He says that in order to gain one's life, one must lose it. i am reminded of the dalai lama's words: “This is my simple religion; . . . the philosophy is kindness.” my prayer this day is that we will gain life by losing it in service and that we practice the simple religion of kindness.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

I Want to Be a Christian in My Heart

i am reading the four gospels set out in a parallel format (the link is www.parallelgospelsinharmony.com/). i have reached the point at which the four gospels converge at the end of Jesus' ministry when He returns to jerusalem for His last observance of passover just before His crucifixion and resurrection. during my morning meditation, i was led to think about what i've learned about Jesus as i re-read the gospels using this process. i am not a theologian or a bible scholar. i can only write what is in my heart, and the place where i am now is by no means a final destination.

here's where i am in understanding what Jesus came to teach us: it seems to me that Jesus is saying to the jewish people (and ultimately to us who choose to follow Him), "what you've been taught about the law and the nature of God is wrong. the law is not about the ritual observance of myraid rules and regulations intended to restrict the enjoyment of life. it's not about actions that will save you from a wrathful, judgmental God. the law is about love, love for God and love for you neighbor. you ask 'who is my neighbor?' well, your neighbor is anyone you encounter that needs your help, that needs to see the love of God through how you treat your neighbor. God is a god of love, always ready to welcome one who has strayed, just as a shepherd rejoices in finding a sheep that was lost or a father rejoices in the return of a son who has wandered far from home. don't listen to those who teach otherwise, who seek to control you by making you believe that God is a tyrant that wants you to be saddled with the heavy yoke of useless regulations. these folks do this to keep you under their thumbs and protect their positions of privilege and power. instead, come and rest in me, live a life of abundance and joy, be free of thirst by drinking the living waters that flow from my teachings about love."

this is certainly an oversimplification of what and who Jesus is and was, but right now, for this searcher, this is the very core of what the christian faith is. quarrels over theology, arguments about original sin, debates over the divinity of Jesus are beside the point. i believe that christianity is a simple religion--it's about how to live for the benefit of others, how to accept that life isn't fair and we can't control it. Despite life's vagaries, God is good and wants us to enjoy living in God's presence, in the kingdom here and now. everything else is the stuff that Jesus came to banish from our thinking.

My prayer this morning is that each of us senses that of God that is in us and that we allow that "divine spark" lead us to truth and love.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Onward, Christian Soldiers?

last sunday, i attended church with my dad at his church. the theme of the service was a patriotic one, and the sermon addressed the topic of religious freedom. as the minister spoke about religious freedom being the reason our ancestors came to this country so long ago, i wondered if the baptists and quakers in colonial massachusetts found those who governed massachusetts to be proponents of religious freedom. this myth of religious freedom being the reason that the early colonists came to this "new world" is another of those "founding father" myths about an idealized colonial america that didn't exist. rather, many of those who came here wished to make their own brand of christianity the "established" religion rather than the church of england. true, there were some colonies where religious freedom flourished, such as rhode island and pennsylvania, but many of the early colonists wanted to establish their own theology and polity as the official church. it was against this history of religious tyranny that the real founding fathers proposed to establish a government that was free of any hint of religious preference or establishment, that was "religion-free" and "religion-neutral."

as the sermon went on, i wondered how this preacher, and many others in the current religious-political climate, could on the one hand extol the virtues of the religious freedom practiced in colonical america and at the same time call for a return to the dominance of evangelical christianity as the religion of the land. can we be a "christian nation" and have religious freedom? where do jews, muslims, hindus, universalists, pantheists, agnostics, and atheists find religious freedom in this return to an imagined christian united states? doesn't this call to return to roots that never existed betray the very reason our country came into being?

my prayer today is that we speak out against those who suggest that we are or ever were a christian nation and that we learn to respect those whose light leads them in another direction.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

His Life Seconds Numbering (Tick, Tock, Tick, Tock)

a few days ago, i listened to part of a conversation on public radio about the effects the widespread use of clocks had on people's lives.  how many expressions that we use owe their existence to time-keeping devices?  or, for that matter, how contradictory is the term "time-keeping?"  does a device that measures time really "keep" time?  we're "off the clock" or "on the clock."  we've "clocked out."  we rock "around the clock."  we are asked if we "have the time," when what we mean is "what time does your watch tell you it is now?"

could people really be late for something before there was a precise mechanism for accurately telling what time something was to begin?  before clocks, the only days that had twenty-four hours were the two equinoxes.  the other days went from surise until sunset, while the nights went from sunset until the next sunrise, and the seasons determined the appropriate times for our activities, rather than a device which divided each day in twenty-four hours, each hour into sixty minutes, and each minute into sixty seconds.  the rhythm of life was more natural, and chances are people moved through life more deliberately and mindfully.

i cannot imagiine what life would be like without a watch or clock.  i wouldn't know when it was time to move from one activity to another, when it was time to take a break, when it was time to eat, when it was time to sleep.  would i be able to rely on my senses to tell me these things?  could i depend on my natural clock to say, "you've spent enough time on this, it's time to move on to something else?"  would my body determine when it was time to eat or sleep, and would i be mindful enough to pay attention to my body-clock?  when i'm brave enough, i'll try to spend a day without referring to a watch or clock, i'll shut off the two chiming clocks in the house, leave my watch on the dresser, and see what happens.

my prayer for this day is that we all become more mindful of our bodies and the world around us as we search for the natural rhythms of life a little more rather than relying on a mechanical or electronic devices to determine what we do with the time we're given.