Wednesday, May 13, 2009

I've moved!

I have decided to change to a theme and format of blogging that I hope will be more productive and consistently helpful. You will find the Daily Prayer Almanac here.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Observing Earth Day, 2009

You can never get enough of what you don't need to make you happy. Eric Hoffer

The earth is the Lord's and all that is in it. Psalm 24:1

Creator God, You gave us responsibility for the earth, a world of beauty and plenty. Create in us a desire to live more simply, so that those who follow after us may enjoy the fruits of your creation. Amen.

April 22, 1970, marked the beginning of the modern environmental movement. Proposed by Sen. Gaylord Nelson as a nation wide demonstration on the environment, this first effort involved 20 million Americans.

By the 20th anniversary, Earth Day, 1990, 200 million people were mobilized in 141 countries. Environmental issues were finally lifted to the world stage.

Sen. Nelson credited the first Earth Day with persuading U. S. politicians that environmental legislation had a substantial, lasting constituency. In the wake of Earth Day 1970, Congress passed important legislation, including the Clean Air Act, protection for wild lands and the oceans, and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.

The observance of Earth Day has always embodied biblical principles and values.

1. The Principle of Intrinsic Worth
The universe, the earth, and all its components and inhabitants have intrinsic worth.

2. The Principle of Interconnectedness
Earth is a community of interconnected living beings that are dependent on each other for survival and quality of life.

3. The Principle of Purpose
The universe, the earth, and all its components are part of a dynamic cosmic design within which each piece has a place in the overall purpose of the design.

4. The Principle of Mutual Custodianship
Earth is a balanced, diverse domain where responsible custodians can function as partners with, rather than rulers over, each other, so that the community of earth can be maintained.

Concrete action steps toward more simple living can be found at the U. S. government's Earth Day site here.

I invite you to join me in taking the Simplicity Pledge as a serious commitment, not for a day, but for a lifetime.

The Simplicity Pledge

I pledge to follow Jesus -
to live a life of integrity between my beliefs and actions
to strive to use only my fair share of the Earth's resources
to treat others fairly here and abroad
to care for creation by what I do and what I refuse to do
to support others in living this Pledge together.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Six Sentences

On this day in 1912, Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula, died at the age of 64. The novel has many sources in popular legends; the plot has multiple themes; and vampire novels and movies continue to be hugely popular. Basic to the story, however, is Dracula's dependence on the blood of virgins, who then become his slaves. As Christians we are dependent on the blood of Jesus Christ, who died in faithfulness to his love of God and of us. He died willingly, freely, an act of grace. Every time we share the sacrament of Christ's body and blood we receive sustenance for living, and we become, like him, the servants, the slaves, of a compassionate God.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Recommended Book #1

My title for this post isn't an indication that the book previewed here is the most highly recommended book I've read. Rather, as with websites, the #1 is simply a chronological ordering. This is the first book that I am recommending. It may be for some of you the best as well, but would be a happy by-product.

Which is not to detract from its great value to all of us. Richard Foster is the founder of RENOVARE, which provides conferences and multiple resources for the growth of individuals and groups in intentional spiritual formation. When he wrote The Challenge of the Disciplined Life: Christian Reflections on Money, Sex, and Power, Foster was professor of theology at Friends University, Witchita, Kansas.

Few people would dispute the importance of money, sex, and power in our lives; however, many folks might dispute the church's authority to speak to such controversial topics. The first of multiple strengths in Foster's book is precisely that -

1. It brings areas of life which might be considered 'secular,' or even 'earthy' within the arena of Christian thought and discussion. We could identify Foster's purpose to be helping us recognize that in dealing with these themes we are treading on holy ground. "To live rightly with reference to money and sex and power is to live sacramentally. To misuse or abuse these is to desecrate the holy things of God."

2. Few areas of life are more inseparably intertwined. "Money manifests itself as power. Sex is used to acquire both money and power. And power is often called 'the best aphrodisiac.'"

3. The church has a responsibility to explore the far-reaching implications of money, sex, and power into the large enterprises business, marriage, and government.

4. The church has a long history of dealing with these issues, not always in the most positive and helpful ways. Our tradition provides parallel lines of response - monasticism and Protestantism.

The monastic response to money and related issues has been the vow of poverty; to sex and, more broadly, human sexuality, the vow of chastity; and to control the impulse to power, monastics take a vow of obedience.

The Protestant Reformation developed a parallel set of expectations. People were encouraged to be both industrious and frugal. The current formulation of sexual expectations is "faithfulness in marriage and celibacy outside of marriage." And to tamp down the worst abuses of power, there developed clearly defined organizations, and all disciples were taught to live in a covenant of mutual support and responsibility.

5. Indifference and apathy by the church permits the development of the worst forms of evil. Some would even use the word "demons." When money becomes demonized rather than sanctified, there is greed. The expression of corrupted sexual values and practices is lust. And self-centered power leads to pride.

Clearly, we need a new discussion about practicing our discipleship, under the grace of God, in the circumstances of early 21st century life.

A final value of The Challenge of the Disciplined Life is that Foster not only deals honestly with the dark sides of these issues; even more helpfully, he recognizes and affirms the light or "enlightened" aspects and provides suggestions for practicing the light side of money, sex, and power. To take one example --

In the home, power is to be used to nurture confidence, not subservience.

In marriage, power is to be used to enhance intimate knowledge and authentic relationships, not isolation or domination.

In the Church, power is to be used to inspire faith, not conformity.

In the school, power is to be used to cultivate growth, not inferiority.

On the job, power is to be used to facilitate competence, not feelings of inadequacy.

Because of its timeliness and the host of questions which these themes prompt, The Challenge of the Disciplined Life is highly recommended for group study.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Friday Fill-ins #120

1. Join me in celebrating the Festival of God's Creation on April 19 and Earth Day on April 22.

2. Put a little quiet in your day.

3. Happiness is not always a simple matter of "attitude."

4. Sleepy and confused.

5. I'm waiting for the day that I live up to my highest ideals.

6. Chocolate chip ice cream is hard to resist.

7. And as for the weekend, tonight, I'm looking forward to a good movie, tomorrow my plans include some outside time, and Sunday I want to be in worship!

Take a moment to answer the questions in the Comments section, and read what folks from around the country have said by clicking here and using the Comments section.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Sacraments of Holy Thursday

Tonight the Christian church will gather to remember our Lord's final meal with his disciples. Though we call it by various names - the Lord's Supper, Eucharist, the Mass, Holy Communion - the elements and the actions will remain the same. Bread will be blessed, broken, and shared. A cup will be blessed, broken, and shared. We will remember the Body of Christ crucified and the Body of Christ gathered in our flesh around the table.

Most churches omit the other sign-action which Jesus performed that night. He instructed us to follow his example in this deed as well: "You also should do as I have done for you." (John 13:15) However, most of us will disregard his example of foot washing.

Whatever the reasons behind our reluctance, we are missing a clear and strong experience of Christ's presence. Foot washing surfaces some fundamental questions. Who is this Jesus, if not the servant of the lowliest? What characterized Jesus' life and ministry, if not humility? What practice can shape us after the image of Christ if not this offering of voluntary downward mobility?

"The greatest among you must be servant of all," Jesus said. Let us ponder the love expressed in taking a neighbor's foot, gently cleansing away the sweat and dirt, and drying it in a large towel. Foot washing is the other "sacrament" of Holy Thursday, now largely forgotten. It is time for the church to reestablish this holy practice.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Discipleship Practices

Recently I wrote about Loving-Kindness Meditation as a "discipleship practice." A couple of years ago I probably would have spoken of "spiritual disciplines." I've come to realize, however, that the language of "practice" is more descriptive of the way we mature as disciples. It implies a holistic, integrated, Christ-centered life.

"Discipline" often suggests a punitive experience, something that we dread rather than enjoy. Harsh discipline can break us down rather than build us up.

There is certainly an element of testing involved in following Christ. The way to be prepared when the test comes is to be already living a life shaped by cooperation with God's grace. That "cooperation with God's grace" is our practice.

Think of a lawyer practicing law or a doctor practicing medicine. In the same way a follower of Jesus practices the way of Jesus. There is nothing punitive about seeking to become more excellent as a person of prayer, hospitality, and generosity. As we learn more of Jesus, we claim our responsibility to live a growing faith in an environment which is always changing and challenging.

Discipleship practices reflect a desire to connect our faith with our daily living. As Dorothy C. Bass wrote, "It becomes our deepest hope to become partners in God's reconciling love for the world. We are never able to do this perfectly, at least not for any length of time. Even so, when we set ordinary daily activities in this context, they are transformed, and so are we." (Practicing Our Faith, p. 8)

In future weeks we will explore additional discipleship practices. Let our commitment be to grow toward excellence as followers of Jesus, aware that we are not alone. Best of all, when we stumble and fall short, one of the traditional discipleship practices is confession and forgiveness.