Sunday, February 25, 2007

Variety is the ...essence of life?

Trinity @ 7
February 25, 2007

There is a lot we can learn about God and ourselves from nature. Perhaps this is not news to you – perhaps you’ve felt all along that a hike in the woods is more than just a nice walk, that a waterfall is more than just lots of water going from there to here, that that brief and exquisite moment where you looked the hawk, or bear, or deer in the eye was more than just a fluke of nature. Perhaps you already knew this – or, you deeply suspected it, or maybe it was just a niggling little notion in the back of your head that kept popping up at random times. Perhaps you already knew.

I, from time to time, have suspected it, but you know, then when that moment with nature has passed, well, I move right along and I’m back to feeling like “nature” is something apart from who I am and it’s as if the moment has never occurred. I continue on along with my life, seemingly unchanged by the experience. There are a lot of reasons why my reaction might be common, and I think our culture plays a big part. By that I mean that our culture – personified in the average American – doesn’t assign any intrinsic value to nature, to the natural world. That is our culture assigns no intrinsic value to nature besides, maybe, beauty, which is subjective at best.

But you know, the Plains Indians, for instance, have a spirituality that is deeply rooted in nature. All the Native Peoples do. There’s a sacred symbol for the Plains Indians, called the Medicine Wheel. There’s a bit of a write up about it in the front cover of the Worship Guide tonight. That write up will tell you what the circle means, and what the lines mean, and what the feather means. But you know, the most fascinating thing – from my own perspective – about the Medicine Wheel, is that there are a certain few parts of the symbolism that are pretty universal to every person and every tribe that incorporates it, but beyond that, the symbolism is going to change from tribe to tribe, even from individual to individual. To be exact, the circle has a specific meaning: it’s the sacred outer boundary of the Earth. The horizontal line has a specific meaning: it’s the sacred path of the sun. the vertical line has a specific meaning: it’s the sacred walk of humanity. The point where the two lines meet has a specific meaning: it’s the center of the Earth, which is where you stand, when you pray. (What a thought!) And the Eagle feather that is tied to the center has a specific meaning: it’s the Great Spirit, that is present and powerful. Those are the specific meanings.

But there are also the four directions – and their meanings change from tribe to tribe, individual to individual. And there are the associated animals – and their exact meanings, their placement, their quantity is all subject to change from tribe to tribe, individual to individual.

I find this utterly fascinating because in all of these different interpretations, I’ve not heard one word of argument. I haven’t heard of one tribe being angry at another tribe’s interpretation. I haven’t heard one person denouncing the viewpoint of another. And perhaps that is because it’s not about getting the interpretation ‘right’ – that misses the point. The point is that this understanding of the spiritual life offers wisdom, inspires a healthy way of living with other people, with the land, with yourself, and with the Great Spirit. This understanding of the spiritual life offers comfort when comfort is needed, and it offers challenge when challenge is required. To offer all that it has to offer to such a variety of people, the meanings gathered from the Medicine Wheel need to be flexible, and the variety of interpretation is a strength.

What a lovely thought – a variety of interpretations as a strength, not a weakness. I know a few institutions that could learn from this model. What would it mean for our political structure to value the diversity of interpretation as a strength instead of something to be conquered? What would it mean for the church to do so? Not just this church, or the National body of churches that this particular one belongs to, but every Christian gathering everywhere?

What a radical thought. It would mean a lot of changes, I bet. Mudslinging and character assassinations would be the first to go in politics, maybe. And in the Church? Well, theological debate aside, the entire dichotomy of orthodoxy and heresy (orthodoxy being ‘the one, correct way to believe’, and heresy being ‘the wrong way to believe’) it goes right out the window. Orthodoxy and heresy goes right out the window, because suddenly a variety of interpretations is a strength, again. Just like it was in the first three hundred years.

The Medicine Wheel. It’s an interesting symbol. And if we think about the wisdom this symbol has to offer us - and more than think, because sometimes we get stuck in the thinking – if we act on the wisdom this symbol has to offer us, what would that mean? What would that mean in our lives, and in everything our lives touch?

Friday, February 23, 2007

Lent, Day 2

Tai Chi: slacker.
Meditation: check!
Creativity: check! ...that is, if planning creative projects counts. I've been planning out some new curtains for my office door, as well as a possible scrapbooking project for the very near future. I'm hoping to implement those plans tonight, over some pizza.

I've been craving pizza.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Ash Wednesday Check In

Well, alrighty then.
Lenten Check-in: Ash Wednesday

Tai Chi - check!
Meditation - check!
Creativity - ...not so much. By the time I got home at 9pm, there just wasn't much left. Kind of a sad and uninspiring start to Lent, in that way. But, I console myself with the idea that in fact, Ash Wednesday turned out to be every-so-slightly busier than I had expected it to be. And in general, it was a great start to Lent.

And btw, those ashes are kinda unweildy. Nobody warned me about that. I got ashes everywhere.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday, 2007

It has been my experience that Ash Wednesday is a moment of solemnity in the year. Perhaps not a moment of outright grief, as Good Friday is, but certainly a time to make an attempt at humility, a time to recognize mortality, a time to deny ourselves the comforts of habits and vices and food, and as much as anything else, it’s all done to mark the beginning of this season that has just begun today, Lent.

Lent – this is a church season which most of us have had experience with in the past, and for most of us, maybe even all of us, that experience of Lent has been one of penitence and denial, based on the popular assumption (an assumption embraced by a significant portion of Christians world-wide) that we, the Children of God, are inherently sinful beings.

But this idea, that we are inherently sinful beings – this idea is not native to the Hebrew Scriptures that we call the Old Testament. And it’s not native to the four Gospel accounts of the ministry of Jesus found in the New Testament. And it’s not native to the Early Christian interpretation of this new movement we call Christianity, also found in the New Testament. No, this ‘inherently sinful’ idea came much later, four centuries years later.

Having said that, while I find it hard, very hard, to subscribe to the idea that we are inherently sinful, I think it is very useful to us all to set aside time every year to be introspective. I think it is very useful to, as our opening prayer puts it, “engage in a fearless moral inventory,” and then seek to be reconciled with God, with other people around ourselves, and to seek to be reconciled within ourselves. Because in the end, Lent isn’t about punishment, and it’s not about denial. It’s about encountering God, and it’s about daring to look unflinchingly at our own soul – unflinchingly, that is, with great honesty, and with great compassion.

And so, if you haven’t decided what to ‘give up’ for Lent, or if you’ve decided not to ‘give up’ anything this time around, or if you’ve already decided to ‘give up’ chocolate, or tobacco, or whatever, I urge you to compare your decision to this idea of encountering God, and looking unflinchingly at your own soul. Does your deicison help you, on a daily basis, to encounter God and …or fearlessly examine your own soul?

If it doesn’t, is it really worth spending your valuable time and energy on?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Lenten Discipline

As I sit here and write my Ash Wednesday sermon, it dawns on me that I ought to post what I'm doing for Lent. Let's begin with a little prayer.

Gracious and merciful God, you hate nothing that you have made and forgive the sins of all, blessing those who have engaged in a fearless moral inventory and sought to be reconciled with you, with one another, and within themselves. Create in us now, O Lord, new and reclaimed hearts, so that when we turn to you and confess our sins we will have opened ourselves fully to accept the forgiveness that you have already given. Amen.


Part One: rededication to my prayer life. An hour of Tai Chi and two sessions of silent meditation, daily.

Part Two: one half hour of creativity, daily. This could take many forms.

Part Three: blogging my daily efforts and checking in with Fran's blog, as she goes through the same thing.

...Yay! Lent! (I love Lent.) And my fat tuesday celebration? Espresso with a lot of sugar.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

the Interior Castle

Trinity @ 7
February 18, 2007

There was a woman who lived long ago named Theresa, and she had a vision of the inner life that I’ve always found compelling. She saw the soul as a castle – a huge, beautiful, solid crystal castle that glowed from some inner light. The Interior Castle. Like any such fortress it had many different areas, and different lines of defenses. There were the fields outside the moat, there were the courtyards within the outer wall. There were rooms, each one holding something interesting and beautiful. The farther you went in, past more and more defenses, the more beautiful the rooms became.

She had a theory that some people never got beyond the moat of their own castle.

I think she may be right.

I mean, sure it may sound silly at first – who would be stuck outside the castle of their own soul? But it’s not like locking your keys inside your car. Anyone who clamors to have the drawbridge lowered – they’re not ignored. So you see, it’s not a matter of being trapped outside, but choosing to remain outside, choosing not to explore, discover, and adventure inside. Literally, they choose not to search their soul.

Because of course, along with beautiful rooms inside this castle, there are dragons as well.

Dragons. Kind of a dramatic metaphor, but then, so’s a castle.

Dragons – I’m sure you could name a few, if you thought about it. Maybe you already have. I can think of a few. The Dragon of Fear. The Dragon of Anxiety. The Dragon of Self-Loathing. The Dragon of Apathy and Indifference.

But these dragons don’t work like the ones in the fairy tales, where you need a hero to slay in them in mortal combat. In fact, these dragons may be the of the cuddly and misunderstood sort, because you don’t have to kill them to disarm them. No, you just have to have the courage to face up to them. To look them in the eye and dare them to tell the truth – about themselves, about their placement in this castle of your soul. All you, all I have to do, is look them in the eye and dare them to tell the truth about ourselves.

When that happens, fear turns into love, anxiety into joy, self-loathing turns into inner peace, and apathy and indifference turn into boundless compassion.

But of course, none of that happens if we don’t dare to venture inside. Because, without having stared the dragon down, it rampages, and it rampages with our permission – tacit though it may be.

So I invite you, as you come up to light a candle or two, light a candle for your own interior castle – for its sheer beauty, for the wonder of its rooms, for the light that shines throughout it, and for the dragons, each one for you to face.

Going to the Mountain

Last Sunday in Epiphany, 2007
Year C

In the readings today we hear about Moses and Jesus both doing a very similar thing. They both go up to the mountain, they both pray, they both return transformed (in this case, their transformation is marked physically by a glowing face), and they both go from there and act. Their actions are slightly different from one another – Moses goes on to lead his people in a wise and just manner. Jesus goes on to be crucified by the Roman Authorities for being a trouble-maker.

Now, I don’t know about you, but when I read this, I occasionally fall into a pretty common trap. I get this misty-eyed and wistful desire to just chuck this crazy, consumer-driven life and go live on a mountain top in Tibet. But you know, I think this is unhelpful in a number of ways.

One of those ways in which this is an unhelpful thought, is this: If I have managed to distill this text down to one misty-eyed and wistful desire that I’m never going to fulfill, then what I’ve really done is taken a wise text that could provide insight into my life and turned it instead into a Disney World fantasy that is as unhelpful as it is unreal. And so long as I focus on the Disney World fantasy version, I don’t have to worry about any kind of self-examination that this text might be leading me to.

That’s one trap, but there’s another too. Cam hit on it last week as well, when he pointed out that not everyone is called to be a disciple of Jesus. There are people that are called to go live on a mountain top, just as Jesus and Moses were called to go and retreat to a mountain top to pray. And then there are the rest of us, for whom mountains are limited to skiing, hiking, and the occasional postcard from a friend. No, the wisdom of this passage isn’t about encouraging us to sell our belongings and move to the mountains, whether they be the Himalayas, the Alps, or the Rockies. For us, the mountain is a metaphor, and a useful one, too.

And in fact, we’ve got a metaphorical mountain coming up this Wednesday. This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, and it’s the beginning of Lent. It starts this Wednesday, and it ends on Easter Morning, April 8th.

Now, I know that the chocolate industry takes a hit every time Lent comes around, but I deeply suspect that Lent isn’t about giving up chocolate, or caffeine, or deserts. It’s a tradition, to be sure, to give things up for Lent. But it’s also a tradition to think of ourselves as inherently sinful beings, hence our desire to give something up, a symbolic gesture of our desire to be ever-so-slightly less sinful. But you know, neither one of those are traditions are supported by the Gospels, and neither one of those traditions lead to healthy transformation.

So then, if Lent isn’t about giving something up, if Lent isn’t about a symbolic gesture, then it must be something concrete, something real – something that isn’t symbolic, but actual. To understand what that actual thing is, I suggest we revisit Jesus, and Moses.

They went to the mountain. They had an encounter with God. They were transformed. They acted.

Let me say that again:
· They went to the mountain.
· They had an encounter with God.
· They were transformed.
· They acted.

Now, this? This is a four-fold plan I can get behind.

So how do we do it? We know what it looked like for Jesus and Moses, but since we’re neither Jesus nor Moses, how will it look for us?

Well, our mountain is coming up. Lent. And in lieu of giving up chocolate or caffeine, or whatever thing it’s typical for you to give up, I suggest something more in line with what Jesus and Moses did on that mountain: pray.

Praying is the A, Number 1 method of putting yourself in the way of an encounter with God, just like stepping out into oncoming traffic puts you in the way of an encounter with a car. But be warned: this prayer may not be what you suspect.

By this I mean, if you have a method of prayer that works for you, do it. Pray everyday. If you already pray everyday, step it up this Lent: pray twice a day. But if you don’t, if you don’t have a method of prayer that works for you, or if you find your prayers leaving you cold, I suggest you think outside the box and try something new.

Ever tried silent meditation? What about painting? Yes, painting as prayer. Or sculpture. Working with wood, or pen and paper. Pray with a mantra, or a crayon. Pray with movement: a knitting needle, or a snow shovel, or a sponge and soap. Pray with an animal, or a child. Pray with music: whether you listen to someone else or create it yourself, let it fill your senses.

Prayer: it’s not about asking for what you want. It’s about encountering God. And that is step two.

Step three: Allow yourself to be transformed. Listen with all your senses. Have your ears pricked to the wind, your skin sensitive to the brush of a feather, your eyes adjusted to the darkness, your tongue and nose sensitive to the scent within the scent, the taste within the taste. Prayer helps with the listening, and the transformation, which looks different for everyone, comes naturally afterwards.

And after the transformation, comes action. And the action will come, because it naturally follows transformation. And the transformation will come if we allow it, because it naturally follows encounter with God.

What is up to us, is to pray – to set ourselves in the path of an encounter with God. That is where our choice lies. We can do this, or we can not do this.

And so, I encourage you: make this Lent your mountain. Find a way to pray, or experiment with a new way to pray. Allow yourself to be transformed. And when April 8th, Easter Morning comes around, let’s take an inventory and see where we need to act, and what we need to do.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Reinventing Christianity

The Mentor's blog is going to be wicked interesting.

His description: "This blog is not about me it is about a community engaged in listening to the whisper of God and our struggle to re-invent Christianity for the 21st Century. Christianity came to be caste in the image of the Roman Empire even though Jesus and the earliest Christians were about as far from emperors and coercive autority as imaginable. We are engaged in the process of remaking Christianity without the vestiges of empire and colonialism that has marked so much of our theology and the way that we fashion "Church". I hope you will will find the sermons and reflections on this blog to be life-giving and energizing. Welcome to the struggle. "

Friday, February 9, 2007

Wicked Cool!

So, alright, I'm an idiot - or I can be, at times. I'm happily swimming in my little LJ world, content with my writing communities, but lo & behold, all of my former classmates have Blogs. I've just discovered a bunch of them. It's kind of exciting. It's a brave new world.

It's kinda cool - I'm not sure where to start...

Well, alright, I know exactly where I'm going to start... ::grins:: I'll keep you posted.

Have to have a blog

Right. So, I suppose I have to have a blog. Iffn I want to post on a blog, I probably need one, right?

But what if I already have an lj I love and adore? It's a rough world. These are the sacrifices you make for a job you love.

Behold, the blog. ...Ykno, it's kinda like having a work email and a personal email. I have a work blog and a personal blog... Multiblogging. If it's anything like trying to juggle multiple fandoms, it's not going to be pretty. Hopefully, it's nothing like.