Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Lenten Discipline Update 8: Ps 63; dry and weary prayer

Sometimes I just don't feel like praying, there I said it...

O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you
my soul thirsts for my
my flesh faints for you
in a dry and weary land where there is no water
Ps 63

that is how prayer feels to me sometimes... like a dry and weary land. Prayer is dry and I'm weary.
That is why I haven't posted any Lenten Discipline updates... I've been in the dry and weary land of not feeling prayer.

Part of my own practice for Lent is silence and solitude in prayer, so that I can listen.
Which is that much harder when I'm not feeling like it.
When I'm doing 'talking' prayer, at least I can talk about not feeling like praying
When its silent prayer, what can I do?
so random thoughts float into my head.

What was the name of my first cat when I was a kid? Pussy-willow. Why did I name a cat pussy-willow?
Bacon, I like bacon.
which reminds me I like fruit loops too. but Michael Pollan says fruit loops aren't food because they change the color of the milk.
I bet we need milk.
DAMN! I did it again...

I fill in silent time because I want prayer time to be effective.
There must be a result, if not an instant result than a result within a reasonable amount of time, and I get to define reasonable.

That is why prayer became dry.
I wanted to define prayer,
wanted it to be what I wanted, which is effective.
I wanted there to be some result to my prayer.

Just wait

that is what I heard after I finally pieced together about five minutes of silence..
just wait.

this isn't about what you want, it isn't about results yet.

just shut up and listen

Let the thoughts go, do worry that you them, just let them float on through

Don't try to accomplish anything or learn or discover anything

Just listen and wait

That is what I got. I should wait. Prayer isn't a task to be completed or a tool for the accomplishment of some item on my agenda. Prayer is for its own sake, and therefore it takes time. It isn't about benefits and rewards. not instantly anyway... Not right now for me anyway. Right now it is about the discipline of being still and silent for no other purpose, whether I like it or not.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Haiti and Tony Campolo

Tony Campolo in an essay entitled 'Making Matters Worse' suggests that the mission work done by thousands of American Christians is Haiti is the reason for the poverty of the country; 'thousands of church groups that have taken "mission teams" to Haiti to build schools and churches in Haitian villages across that little country. Yet Haiti has continued in a downward spiral into greater and greater poverty and social disorganization, not in spite of all these "good works," but in great part because of them. So much of what has been done in Haiti has disempowered Haitians and diminished their dignity by doing for them what they could have done for themselves.'

I'm all for incisive and intelligent criticism, and I think one could also make some critique of some of these mission trips. But in this case Campolo's critique is woefully lacking in any historical or political perspective. Now I'm no expert in Haitian History, but here is a sample of what I do know

Haiti was a slave plantation controlled by France. In 1804, inspired by Toussaint L’Ouverture (after whom the now barely functioning airport in Port-au-Prince is named), the slaves rebelled, founding the world’s first black republic. Under military threat from France in 1825, Haiti agreed to pay reparations to France for lost “property,” including slaves that French owners lost in the rebellion. It was either agree to pay the reparations or have France invade Haiti and reimpose slavery. Many Haitians believe that original debt, which Haiti dutifully paid through World War II, committed Haiti to a future of poverty that it has never been able to escape. (While France, as part of the deal, recognized Haiti’s sovereignty, slave-owning politicians in the United States, like Thomas Jefferson, refused to recognize the black republic, afraid it would inspire a slave revolt here. The U.S. withheld formal recognition until 1862.)

Loans from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) imposed “structural adjustment” conditions on Haiti, opening its economy to cheap U.S. agricultural products. Farmers, unable to compete, stopped growing rice and moved to the cities to earn low wages, if they were lucky enough to get one of the scarce sweatshop jobs. People in the highlands were driven to deforest the hills, converting wood into salable charcoal, which created an ecological crisis—destabilizing hillsides, increasing the destructiveness of earthquakes and causing landslides during the rainy season.
this comes from a piece entitled 'Haiti Forgive Us' by Amy Goodman.

another essay on this issue by William Fisher In this essay Fisher says, 'Aid to Haiti has been marked by fre­quent inter­rup­tions, par­tic­u­larly in assis­tance from the U.S., for polit­i­cal and ide­o­log­i­cal rea­sons. Within Haiti, mas­sive and con­tin­u­ing gov­ern­ment and pri­vate cor­rup­tion has siphoned off large chunks of fund­ing and mis­di­rected money to peo­ple who didn’t need help.'

My point is this. It is easy to blame small church groups, even though there are thousands of them, for Haiti's poverty and corruption. But what Campolo's essay does is over-simply a terribly complicated issue (more complicated than I understand I'm sure.) There is no mention of the historical injustice imposed by France or the lack of support from the U.S. There is no mention of the corruption of government which is surely not the fault of the citizens. No mention of the policies of our own government, and no mention of American consumerism, and its role in this isseu. Campolo provides smoke and mirrors to keep the public from learning of the another possibility; that governmental policies, our own governmental policies for hundreds of years, and our own ongoing interests, not to mention institutional racism have caused Haiti to find itself in poverty.

What so many of the world's poor need is for American consumers to better research their purchases to ensure that slave labor wasn't used, as well as the American consumer to stop consuming so much. If Tony Campolo challenged the U.S. government to create more just policies or American Christians to live lives of justice and generosity in solidarity with Christian sisters and brothers around the world, now that would have been radical, risky and prophetic.
But this essay falls far short of prophetic.

Glen Beck, Jim Wallis and Social Justice

Glen Beck. Everybody is talking about what he said about social justice.

Its been blogged about already, I'm late to the party. I found out about Beck's rant against 'social justice' through The Huffington Post.

There have been many responses such as Rev. James Martin, Dr. Richard Beck and of course Jim Wallis .

Acknowledging that much smarter folks than I have responded, I will say a few quick things on this issue.

Leviticus 25:10And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family. 11That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you: you shall not sow, or reap the aftergrowth, or harvest the unpruned vines. 12For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you: you shall eat only what the field itself produces. 13 In this year of jubilee you shall return, every one of you, to your property.
The Entire Exodus Narrative, Matthew 5, Matthew 25, Acts 4, the list goes on and on of texts that Christians have interpreted as teaching Social Justice.

One of my favorites is 16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’

This is Luke 4:16-19 and Jesus is quoting Isaiah 61.

Language is all about context. Beck is claiming that the words 'social' and 'justice' were part of communist and nazi rhetoric. History isn't my expertise. However, to understand the meaning of words we must watch the context in which they are used. The scriptures I mentioned above provide the context for what 'social justice' means in the Church. While communists and nazi's may have used the same words (although, I doubt Beck knows history any better than theology)the context is very different. By context I mean, violence. The words 'Social Justice' IF they were used by communists and nazi's in those cases would have been used in the context of violence, imprisonment and enslavement as opposed to the Scriptural context which is peace, freedom, and prosperity.

Think about the phrase 'Shut-Up.'

Now, we don't really know what that means unless we know the context. We have to know the conversation that preceded using the phrase. We have to know the tone of voice and the facial expression. 'Shut-up' could be an expression of anger demanding that the other stop talking. 'Shut-up' could also be a friendly expression of surprise or disbelief, or even delight. It depends on the context.

Or 'He's a friend of ours.'That could be a coded way of speaking about being Mafia, OR, I could simply be introducing a friend to another group of friends. Beck is suggesting that one use of the words social and justice, one possible context, Communism and Nazi Germany, is the only possible context for understanding the words. While there is a rich biblical narrative and church history that provides a very different context for understanding the words. In this case Beck is either putting his ignorance on display or purposefully misrepresenting social justice.

But why should we care? I have read some bloggers criticize Jim Wallis for speaking out against Beck. Why bring more attention to him? Here is the thing. Recent polls have shown that fewer and fewer people attend worship or belong to a church or even claim association with any particular faith... BUT they still 'believe' in God. As if that was the point. It appears as if the predominant view of 'faith' is that it is an intellectual activity, or perhaps emotional. If I hold the 'right' idea, that there is God, and 'feel' peace because of that idea, I have faith.

But that is a very different idea of 'faith' than what Jesus himself taught when he told the disciples to take up your cross. Discipleship, or, faith, is about idea's and beliefs, but it is also about actions and practices that follow from these new ideas. Social Justice is a vital part of the Christian Tradition because it is a voice reminding us that we are not called just to think different thoughts, but engage in alternative practices, such as generosity, forgiveness, peace-making, and compassionate care. And this is why Wallis is right to do what he is doing. He will not change Beck's mind and he will not succeed in a boycott of Beck's show... but perhaps he can help re-establish the fact that Christianity is not just about a personal emotional and spiritual experience, but about living a life of justice and mercy in the world.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Social Networking: Web 2.0 vs. John 15.1 or Are Virtual Relationships Authentic Relationships

Will facebook kill the church? Has it already?
This is an interesting question posed at Experimental Theology Richard Beck, who posts this blog offers much to consider. Millenials are leaving the church in droves and Beck thinks it has to do with facebook and other social networking options on the internet. Millenials, like other generations find the church annoying, but have no need of church for socializing because they have twitter, facebook and myspace.

This came up in Adult Sunday School today as we considered John 15.1:‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower.' Particularly the bit about the pruning of the vine. Will the church really die? I don't think so. But it may change radically. If social networking via the web is the preferred way of relating for Millenials and younger generations (?) having a church building, a regular meeting site and time may not be a priority. One could simply twitter a bible study, worship, mission time and place and work with whomever gathers. Is this really relational though. In John 15 Jesus seems to suggest that the intimacy of the community of faith is integral to the working of the Holy Spirit, which is in turn integral to the presence of Christ.

John seems to present a very high ecclesiology especially in chapters 14 and 15. Jesus is one with the Father, and his glorification will enable the Paraklete or Comforter to come to the church. Where disciples gather, the spirit is present and so then is Christ. This is a slightly confusing, but strangely comforting web of relationships that promises the ongoing creative presence of God with the church, but also places a high priority on human relationship in the worshiping community. Does this Christology and Ecclesiology adapt to twitter and facebook relationships?

I am eagerly awaiting 'You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto. I'm borrowing it from a friend and from what I've read, Lanier offers an interesting critique of web 2.0 connectivity.

Right now I'm experimenting with twitter, facebook, blogs and a website for the church. But I am not as optimistic as Richard Beck seems to be in his essay about the reality of social networking relationships. Briefly, I find that fewer and fewer people know how to live in community or intimate relationship. Influenced by Hauerwas I'm sure, I'm of the opinion that twitter and facebook are an extension of the consumerization of relationships. We want to feel connected, but post-modern consumers do not seem to really want to be committed to any long-term relationship. We want to be free to buy any product we want, and to change brands if we wish, and I think we see this influencing our ability to socialize and the way in which we socialize. regardless of what Beck says, I'm not convinced that even the very best of friends that I have on facebook or twitter, would be such if we relied on internet social-networking. Facebook is a useful tool, but not legitimate replacement of life together in community, like church.

What do you think? Are Facebook, Twitter, and Myspace and YouTube the future of the church, tools for the church that cannot replace a time and place and community of worship, or a phenomena to be resisted?

Friday, March 05, 2010

The Mind of Christ: Lenten Discipline 7

Which is the more valuable virtue; Certainty of our beliefs and perspectives, or, the courage to question our own opinions and willing adopt new understandings?

As a preacher I should be sure of what I believe right? I should be the one with the answers. But I don't. It frustrates me. Sometimes I can't make up my mind. I don't mean boxers or briefs by the way. I can't make up my mind about real issues.

Like music in worship. Sometimes it just seems like the traditional hymns do not speak a language that people understand; I mean, what is an 'ebenezer' and how do I raise it anyway? from the hymn 'Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing'

On the other hand, so much of modern worship music has no theological content. I don't mind if the music is simplistic, but most of these songs, understandable thought they are, don't communicate anything of value. I can't make up my mind.

Or a serious issue. Abortion. I was raised in a more biblically literal church in which abortion was always wrong. Just look at Jeremiah. God knew him while he was in the womb. Those who follow God should hinder the ongoing creation of God, ever.
Then I started to run in more 'liberal' circles, where we talked about women's rights, are pregnancy due to abusive 'relationships'. I changed my mind. But now it seems like we are doing theology more focused on 'human rights' than on the call of God, and I go back and forth, I can't make up my mind.

I just changed my mind again recently. Didn't even realize it. two conversations in a week on the same topic... two different opinions. Wasn't trying to be political for my own gain, or play games with people. I really just couldn't seem to decide where I was.

Should have been silent.
Which is the connection with my Lenten Prayer Discipline.

1 Corinthians 2.16:
‘For who has known the mind of the Lord
so as to instruct him?’
But we have the mind of Christ.

I pray the Divine Office so that I can seek the mind of Christ. that is hope anyway. I'm just not as certain as Paul seems about the whole thing.
Seeking the mind of Christ means quieting my own mind, and the more I think of it, my mouth too.

Prayer as time to have my mind changed. Prayer as time to wait and listen for wisdom that just might change my opinion, my perspective. If I only get around to prayer when I have time, or when I am frightened or frustrated, might have a purpose. But I'm not sure that prayer changes me. Paul seems to think we will have the mind of Christ. That takes time, patience, silence, and a willingness to change.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Lenten Discipline Update 6

The current challenge of the Divine Office is that even though I find myself in the rhythm, carving our 20 minutes four times a day for prayer, my thoughts do not always cooperate. Especially during the work week, yesterday and today for example, as I close my eyes to breath and center, and then go to the book of prayers, my mind wanders to all the other things I 'should' be doing. I find myself watching words go by as my mind is planning the activities to pursue after this brief interlude. Especially when I begin to recite Ps 63 which I am memorizing for Lent, I am bombarded with frustration at the interruptions of the day that have prohibited the work I hoped to get done, and then I begin to recite the list of things undone, the things that are important, but I can't find time to do. Then come regrets at choosing some things over others. I have been studying Paul for a bible study, but perhaps I should have been preparing the Mark study guide for new members and their mentors. Then find frustration slowly becoming anger as I imagine the people who would criticize these decisions and the use of time and it almost becomes unbearable to pray... it is a waste of time.

I came upon this reading by Nouwen that I go back to again and again...
a life without a quiet center, easily becomes destructive. When we cling to the results of our actions as our only way of self-identification, then we become possessive and defensive and tend to look at our fellow human beings more as enemies to be kept at a distance than as friends with whom we share the gifts of life.

I've been reading this during my prayer time. Prayer time is slowly changing, the list of things to-do going away. I find that I enjoy prayer because my day is no longer so much about what I must be doing so as to prove my worth to God or the church or others. My day is about this quiet time in which I am worth something just because I am. I needn't do anything to be loved and cherished by God. As a matter of fact, sometimes the work and the list of things to accomplish, inhibit this relationship... the relationship, even minstry, is more about getting things done than about growing closer to God. What am I teaching folks at church about faith, if I live a life of constant action that really doesn't accomplish the goal of the Christian life, to grow in God's love.

The benefit of this time is that the rest from planning and thinking and doing and acting has allowed me both the time to prioritize my tasks, and to find peace to respond when others might not understand this prioritizing. That is a benefit, but the ultimate gift is simply the quiet time.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Mustard Seeds

Some of the things I'm reading:
A few weeks ago I shared a post by Jesus Radicals regarding Goshen College's recent decision to begin to play the National Anthem after 116 years of abstaining from this action. Sheldon C. Good recently posted a blog at God's Politics regarding this ongoing issue. What I especially appreciated about his perspective is summed up in this brief quote: So the question becomes: How might we draw on the best traditions of all three allegiances (country, world, God)? Perhaps it is through compassionate peacemaking as global citizens. Because in a violent world, Jesus, our Prince of Peace, has a message of peace that is ordinarily radical.

In my post on this topic I took a pretty weak position. Having not wanted to engage in a debate at my church about our allegiances and the presence of the American Flag in our sanctuary, I didn't offer much of a reflection. I like Good's response... see what you think.

I have recently discovered Duke's Call and Response Blog
Specifically I am enjoying thinking about two posts on this blog that engage theology and economics: One by Dan Rhodes and a response by James Howell Frankly I'm still thinking this over. While economics does need to be engaged with more theological vigor in the church, I feel more comfortable thinking in the realm of the church, and not theorizing about how banking itself should change. It is an important thing to do, I'm sure, but above my pay grade. I tend to spend more time thinking along the lines of John Howard Yoder In Body Politics Yoder highlights how the traditional practices of the church offer a political witness to the world. In the area of economics, Yoder sees Communion, the sharing of the common loaf and the common purse as a practice of alternative economics that the church lives and offers the world. Ben Witherington III has a new book on this topic that I have on my wish list, and having viewed some of his blog posts that summarize the content of this book, I think I this would be a useful read for many in this area.

I've discovered a new blog I like very much Groans from Within The latest blogs are dealing with a similar issues, ethical buying. I have been doing some reading in the area of consumerism and so find this blog really engaging and well thought out.
finally, I discovered this little gem by Shane McGowan formerly of the Poques, with Nick Cave, Johnny Depp and others. A little benefit tune for Haiti.
hope you enjoy.

Final note, at the bottom of the right side of little blog here you will see a link, 'My Music on RYM'. Rate Your Music is, obviously the musical equivalent of LibraryThing. On this you will find a listing of my music, what I own and what I covet. I know you've been dying to find out what I listen to for music, so here is your chance to peep in on my ipod.