Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Road Trip

Today is my 7th day of a vacation that has been very unique for me - a road trip away from home.
And tomorrow we begin the trek back home again.

It has been a good time and I just want to record some of the highlights

1. Lake Tygart - this year I have found state parks to be pretty great places to visit - often restful and beautiful.  I found Lake Tygart online - a West Virginia State park.  It was restful - but not actually too beautiful - the Lake - manmade - was shrunk and kind of sad.  Wednesday was the beginning of the "big freeze" across the country and we didn't really want to walk.  So we rested.  There was pretty much NO ONE staying at the lodge which was nice and sort of creepy.  But the benefit was that we could eat by ourselves in the dining room and like it was OK to play gin rummy at the same time.  So....Lake Tygart was memorable.

2. The driving was another aspect to this whole trip.  Chuck and I have a few basic differences - he likes maps and I like mapquest and in a pinch - a GPS.  And so we had a few issues along the way - especially when I realized his map was 12 years old and then when we found out that the GPS had the wrong address in it when we were visiting his sister in Richmond.  And I won't even try to describe the "conversation" between us driving to Geoff's in Southport NC when I am trying to follow Geoff's directions and he is struggling with his OLD map.  Let's just say we both decided that this is why we like cruises so much.

3. We had a wonderful visit with Miranda and Audrey doing the things that I love on vacation - talking, eating and playing games.  Unfortunately Audrey has now introduced me to a NEW game - TriviaCrack and it is addictive.

4. It was really interesting to go to church with Audrey at First Christian Church in Lynchburg.  Cyd is their brand new minister (this was her 2nd week) and we got to meet her and her husband Ben on Friday night.  I found myself thinking back 11 years to coming to Karl Road Christian Church as the new minister - and realizing that in another year someone else will be coming there.  It is good for a church to have new leadership and you could see how energized people were with the possibilities that she brings.

5. We then went to Richmond and visited with Chuck's sister Jan and brother Don.  They are getting ready for a major move in their life - leaving the house they have lived in for 51 years to go to a retirement community.  I remember talking to Don about this 3 years ago and hearing how difficult the decision is.  Now the decision has been made and they are beginning the arduous task of discerning what to keep and what to give away and what to throw away.  And in this, too, I found myself thinking about the move that is ahead for me in just getting out of my office.  You do accumulate STUFF over the years!

6. Monday we made it to Southport North Carolina where Geoff and Vicky now live.  And they are so happy in this beautiful place.  Married less than 2 years, they have left the northeast to make their first home together and to really be married!  Their home is beautiful but what is most heartwarming  for me is to hear them talk of their friends, their church, their community involvement already.  They are making a life here - a new life and it is good.

And so I write this as I prepare to go home and begin the last weeks of my ministry at Karl Road Christian Church. 

I do feel like I have rested and had some time away mentally from what is ahead.  And know that endings lead to beginnings - both for me as a minister and for my church. There are goodbyes ahead and cleaning up the loose ends and then there will be some hellos and new experiences beyond my imagining today.

But in the meantime - two days of driving for me and Chuck.  Let us hope that the route Chuck and Geoff have come up with is well marked.  I don't want to get lost again.

Monday, November 3, 2014

SBNR Revisited

It has been a couple of years since I heard Professor Linda Mercandante speak on the subject of her recent book and research - the SBNR people who are growing in numbers.  Saturday I heard her again in a talk she gave for a Wellstreams Fundraiser - it was called "Spiritual, Religious. Restless?"

SPNR - is shorthand for "Spiritual but not religious." More people (25%) identify themselves this way in our country and   around the world.  It speaks to the decline in the confidence of religion

She spoke of the social factors:
1. Rise in diversity of religion and thnicity in our country
2. Decline in :"felt" importance of religion.
3. Disaffiliation and unaffiliation.  I learned that there were more people who just had not been exposed to religion and fewer of the "church hurt" folks
4. More "mixed" marriages - people who come from different religious traditions and do not raise their children in either
5. Fewer children raised with religion period.,
6. Competition in the religious marketplace with the growing "commodification" of relgion.
7. Concern over mixing of religion and politics

She also spoke of the intellectual changes over the last 50 years.
 - distrust of authority
 - commitment is less valued
 - no claims of universal truth
 - we have lost our "meta narrative" and each person creates their own meaning and identity.  She introduced the term "spiritual tinkerers" as people are finding their own faith journey.

Their rejection of religion has to do with rejecting what seems superstitious on the one hand and then claiming exclusive truthfulness on the other.  There is a fear of religion taking away freedom.  And what she said is that people want to be "customers" and not subscribers."
  She also said that people seem proud to assert this identity - "Spiritual but not religious" because it is seen as non-offensive.  Unlike perhaps the way Christians can be seen to be  judging and recruiting!

There was alot of content to her talk and it has me thinking.
There were two aspects that I found particularly interesting.  One of the learnings for me was the fact that they believed (as I do) in this energy force of divine power  however - unlike me - there is often not a sense of personal encounter with God.
And the second was the sense of community on our own terms - as in a meditation community or a yoga class.

I found myself thinking about this as I stood in front of the congregation on Sunday morning at the table.  And realized that this is what is central to my understanding of religion.
We separate our communion into two parts - first the congregation passes out the bread and we eat it individually and then I come to the table and invite us to drink the cup together.
And that represents both aspects of faith in a religious community like the church - we do have a personal relationship with God.  The God who calls us by name and invites us - not only into relationship - but also a life of growing in love and service to others.  I have - throughout my life - experienced that very real guidance.

At the same time in the Christian faith we are called into community, church  - we call ourselves "the body of Christ" which is a mystical union with God. There are ways that God  is present and guides us together that are holy and truly awesome.  The church  also is an institution made up of very flawed people.  That is the "both - and" of being in a church.  We sometimes call our church a "family" and it is like a family in which we are stuck with each other - and some people without a doubt rub us the wrong way.  But also like a family, when we are in trouble we find there is genuine love and care.

I certainly understand the lure of being spiritual but not religious.  As I prepare for retirement I do not know what the religious community is going to look like in my life.  However, I also know that without it - I lose that sense of being really challenged to love. I miss out on the modeling of a life of following Jesus in the saints and I miss out on the  possibility of working together to make something new happen that I could not do myself.

And so, I am spiritual for sure.....and also find comfort and challenge in religion. .  Call me an SBR.  Spiritual but Religious!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Circle of Life

It has been a long time since I have posted a sermon - but I thought I would like a record of this one for myself.  So, here it is

 This month I want to spend some time with the Psalms –
After two months of Practical Faith – lets explore a little bit what Walter Brueggemann calls "the most reliable theological, pastoral and liturgical resource given to us in the biblical tradition.   In season and out of season, generation after generation, faithful men and women turn to the Psalms as a most helpful resource for conversation with God about the things that matter the most."
There are 150 Psalms and they are often poetic as they express the gamut of our speech from profound praise to anger and doubt.  And this month I am going to lift up three of them.. They represent the  different catagories of Psalms – according to Walter Brueggemann
Today’s Psalm 33 – is a Psalm of orientation – which represents a confident serene settlement of faith issues. As we say in one of our most common table graces: God is great and God is Good
Life is well ordered by God – and it is in many ways a NO Surprise world – and therefore a no fear world.  Invite you to open your Bibles and follow along
Organization of the Psalm  - 22 verses, the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. This is not a classic alphabetic acrostic (each verse beginning with a successive Hebrew letter) but a case can be made that the versification is deliberately intended to show the coherence of the psalm’s message.  God is great and God is good and God is in control.
And it reminds us that God has order in this life   - we see it every day as the sun comes up  – we see it in the seasons of the year – and the seasons of life – a time to be born and a time to die.
And so the Psalms are God’s people praying to God and this kind of Psalm is a Psalm which is God’s people praising God – it is about the primacy of praise.
Psalm 33 is a psalm without a title. We do not know who the author of the psalm was nor the occasion of its composition, but we do know that this psalm exhorts the people of God to praise the Lord with passion, freshness, and skill.
1Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous. Praise befits the upright.
2Praise the Lord with the lyre; make melody to him with the harp of ten strings.
3Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.
This exhortation is given in six commands in the first three verses: Sing joyfully, praise the Lord, make music to him, sing to him a new song, play skillfully, and shout for joy. –
And then the rest of the Psalm tells us why  .  First, God is Steadfast –
4For the word of the Lord is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness.
5He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.
God can be counted on – three times  - steadfast love, hesed – changes around us, changes within us, changes in relationships , changes in job circumstances, changes in weather, changes in the stock market.  Change is constant – but God is steadfast
And steadfast means with us in our goodness and our badness, in our responsibility and in our times of rebellion,   And it means loving us, forgiving us, strengthening us, healing us. Steadfast -
Second, God is Creating–
  • 6By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth.
  • 7He gathered the waters of the sea as in a bottle; he put the deeps in storehouses.
  • 8Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him.
  • 9For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.
powerful word – creation – creating babies, creating the  Grand Canyon, creating butterflies.  creating  grasshoppers – poem by mary Oliver –
Who made the world?  Who made the swan, and the black bear?  Who made the grasshopper,
This grasshopper I mean – the one who has flung herself out of the grass
The one who is eating sugar out of my hand
Who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down
Who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washer her face
Now she snaps her wings open and floats away
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention…..

why is it that we find peace and illumination in a walk in the woods – we become aware of the creating work of God – there is something so deep about it all -  may we pay attention!
Finally, God gives Oversight –
  • 13The Lord looks down from heaven; he sees all humankind.
  • 14From where he sits enthroned he watches all the inhabitants of the earth—
  • 15he who fashions the hearts of them all, and observes all their deeds.
looking over us – from a distance – no where we can go that God is not seeing us.  Not in a Santa Claus judgmental way.  In a way of care, concern, God is free of the world and utterly attentive to it and to us
Psalm  139 is about the unescapable God   Begins like this:
Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
    and are acquainted with all my ways

And so, for Israel – they need not be anxious – there is confidence in God’s love, creating work and attention to us!  We pray this today – joining Christians who have  prayed and sung the psalms for 3000 years.  Because something happens to us when we say these words and remember this God
And here it is – our praise enables our spiritual sight.  Our praise of God lifts us up beyond our little lives, our provincial concerns, our fears, our anxieties   And we start to Read God in creation – our praise enables our spiritual sight. 
So that when we sit at the bedside of an aging parent or friend and they leave us – to go to the next destination – we remember that this is part of the circle of life.  That there is birth, life, death, new life.  It is a circle – it is not a tragedy – it is all God’s plan for life.
I love that All Saint's Day we remember and celebrate those who have touched our lives. I love imagining that this is one of the times (because of our attention to such things) that the veil between the daily, ordinary and spiritual is very thin.  And in our spiritual sight feel that they are not so far from us.
We celebrate all saints and this psalm and know that we are all saints in our own way, worthy of love and memory.  And with god – we are passing that love along.
And so we praise God through psalms like this – so that we can see God and the new world that God is creating.  And the climax of this Psalm is found in verse 18 which is translated here as TRULY – but better as BEHOLD – the eye of Yahweh is on the faithful -  - those who fear him and who HOPE IN HIS Steadfast love
18Truly the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love, 19to deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine.
It is our faith – our praise – our looking up pass the mess of the moment to recognize the HOLY GOD who is here
It made me think about a man  who recently had cataract surgery. He realized he needed the surgery when he could no longer see where his ball went as he was playing golf – he has he had priorities straight!  Once the cataracts were removed, his vision was a lot crisper and clearer.
It’s easy for us to  develop cataracts over our vision – layers of worry, fear, cynicism, expectations of how things  ought to work and then disappointment when they don’t work out that way – which can cloud our vision so that we cannot see clearly what is in fact there (just like a  golf ball which  was someplace out there – hopefully on the green) God’s kingdom, God present and at work in  our world.
And the more we live this new song praising a new world of God’s justice, the more we see evidence of that new world around us  And the more we sing and the more we sing, the more we do and the cycle just keeps going.
I have made an announcement this month – about my upcoming retirement – which I see to be part of the circle of life  For a while I have had a sense of God breaking through and telling me that it is time – to prepare myself for the next chapter in my life – which will not be full time ministry any more.
At the same time, the God is preparing someone to  be your next pastor  - someone younger with new ideas and ways of growing disciples and reaching out to share the gospel.
And I know God is s preparing you to go through the stages of grief and excitement that this kind of change brings to a church.
And this is – of course the circle of life. And this is part of God’s work in this world.
We don’t sing songs of praise for God without ignoring the reality of the world,  - that change is hard for all of us - but in the face of those realities singing this song reminds us that God is steadfast, creating something new and watching over us.
The Psalm concludes the words that we all need
20Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and shield.
21Our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name.
22Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you.

Let us continue to be people of faith.  To go back to the very first verse – Praise befits the upright  May we praise our God and  live with our eyes looking for his presence
God’s steadfast love anchors us through all the changes that are part of the seasons of life
God is great – God is good.  Amen