Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Altars in the World

Last week I had a great lunch and discussion at Seton Cove, a local center for spirituality and renewal. If you haven’t discovered it yet—and it’s not easy to find (and if you go, you need to go early to find a parking space)—check out some of the goings-on at setoncove.net.

The program focused on a question from Barbara Brown Taylor’s recent book, An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith. Taylor, an Episcopal priest and seminary/college professor, is quite possibly the best Christian writer in the business today. Her theological instincts are impeccable and her style is so elegant and wise.

Some years back, Taylor was asked to speak at a church in Alabama. The topic was intriguing: come tell us what is saving your life now. Each chapter in the book is a tentative answer to that question. Taylor’s quest takes her beyond the usual spiritual practices into a world filled with altars and worshippers.

“I do not have to choose between the Sermon on the Mount and the magnolia trees. God can come to me by a still pool on the big island of Hawaii as well as at the altar of the Washington Cathedral. The House of God stretches from one corner of the universe to the other. Sea monsters and ostriches live in it, along with people who pray in languages I do not speak, whose names I will never know.”

Taylor’s reflections took me back to an altar that sustained me through my turbulent teenaged years. Our family summer cottage on Lake Simcoe. I’m not sure I saw it so at the time, but now as I look back, remembering days lost in wonder and play, I’m seeing a ladder and all of the divine traffic moving up and down.

Beyond church and church camps, where have you found an altar in the world? What is saving your life now?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Kids Say the Darndest Things

Last Sunday, in between services, I paused ever so briefly for coffee and a deep breath of cool autumn air in our courtyard. One of our young children was on the play-set and Dad was watching.

“Who is he today,” I asked, because his child was clearly in a world unto himself.

“These days, he mostly been a tortoise,” Dad offered.

A tortoise. All week, I’ve been a race car driver, a rocket ship pilot, a marathon runner in high gear. A tortoise. Slow down. Enjoy the view. Practice breathing. Don’t forget to exhale. Yes.

And then after leading ECC chapel on Monday, another child. Ingrid, our youth director, met me in the lower hall outside the courtyard door. One of the young ones from chapel was standing at the door.

“How was chapel?” Ingrid asked the little guy.

He got this big smile on his face and began jumping up and down. Didn’t say anything, just jumped, over and over again, grinning wider on each jump.

“Don’t you wish folks would react like that after Sunday services?” Ingrid laughed.


Saturday, November 13, 2010

"If I die before I wake ..."

I just finished reading what may be Jack Spong’s final book, Eternal Life: A New Vision. If you like Spong, you’ll enjoy this one. It’s theology as autobiography and covers familiar Spongian turf.

One chapter that grabbed me was the epilogue, “Defining the Choice to Die.” Spong argues quite convincingly for what he calls “the personal and legal right to determine when and how I die.” (221) Of course, Spong carefully qualifies what he means and responds to several objections from the religious and medical side.

This is a conversation that we do not do well in the church, if it ever even comes up. We don’t do it well in families, either, and many families are unable to follow through on the wishes of dying loved ones. And yet it seems to me, in light of medical science’s ability to prolong life far beyond any kind of quality, that these are conversations we ought to be having.

Several years ago, I read about a pastor who had made a covenant with his wife, that should he develop Alzheimer’s (which, given his family history, was likely) and begin to lose his connection with the everyday world, that he would begin a fast toward death. What moved me most about the account, written by the wife who survived, was the way that decision honored life rather than diminished it. And so I’ve invited my family to make a similar covenant with me, to allow me in the face of an incurable disease, to enter into a holy fast and celebrate life as fully as possible through my last days.

How about you? Where are you and your family on end of life issues? How could the church help in clarifying our approach to the end of life?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Proper 29 Project

Recently I was asked to join in a project related to the U.S. war in Iraq. The Proper 29 Project grows out of recent WikiLeaks revelations called the "Iraq War Logs." (WikiLeaks is an organization that publishes classified information from all over the world.) The "Iraq War Logs" is a collection of almost 400,000 U.S. army field logs. Many of the documents detail our complicity in the torture and death of Iraqi civilians from 2004 to 2009. It appears that little has been done to address any of the abuses which is puzzling. And there seems to be little public reaction. Why? Have we just moved on? Iraq is behind us and now it's "on to Afghanistan?"

Mennonite Pastor Isaac Villegas has called on other pastors to speak out against the violence. However, several pastors have told Villegas that such a word would not be welcome in their churches. Villegas noted, "It's hard here in North Carolina. Our economy is tied to the military-industrial complex. Preaching about the suffering caused by U.S. forces in Iraq hits too close to home in a state that has such a high military population."

On November 21 (which is Proper 29 on the liturgical calendar--hence the name for the project), as we bear witness in the Christian Church to the Reign of Christ, it seems appropriate to bear witness also to what comes with the reign of empire. And since most of us, if not all of us, have an investment in empire, words of gospel peace may be not only difficult to utter but hard to hear.

I invite prayers for wisdom and discernment as pastors and lay leaders around the country seek the words to call our government to accountability, to healing, to reconciliation and to peace.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Progressive Church

So here’s a brand new look to my old blog site. My hope is that we can engage the radical claims of Jesus as they impinge on life in the Christian community under the shadow of the empire.

To kick off my newest start, I’ve provided a video. Check out the link below.

Actually, before you check it out, be prepared. It’s a spoof of progressive churches using the cute/annoying Progressive Insurance schtick.

Here’s the link: www.youtube.com/watch?v=YgYDE-mW7Nw

What do you think? Fair? Unfair? Cheap shot? High five?

Can a church be progressive without surrendering everything to culture? What does it mean to be progressive?