Journey: Peace March

Read “Peace March” today (Palm Sunday) without an accompanying meditation from me.

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Journey: So…what?

[Note: this meditation is coming to you on Saturday, as a way of synchronizing it with McLaren’s writing, which next corresponds to Holy Week]

Read: “The Choice is Yours”

Every good preacher ends a sermon with some kind of decisive moment.  Jesus is no different.  The end of the Sermon on the Mount is essentially asking the question, “So, what are you going to do with what I have said?”

McLaren does a good job summarizing Jesus’ message.  Read his summary slowly, carefully, and prayerfully–because after you do, the Holy Spirit will be there asking, “So…what?”

It is this question that moves theology into practical divinity.  It is this question that moves theory into practice– information into formation—doctrine into discipleship.

Notice that the Jesus way does not bypass, diminish, or leave behind theology, theory, information, or doctrine.  We cannot obey what we do not know.  We cannot follow what we have not seen.  We cannot live what we have not learned.

But…when we have seen and heard, when we have received and considered—we must respond and enact.  The Jesus way says, “Believe and behave–profess and perform.”  That is why decisions always come in pairs, as McLaren shows,and why we must always choose one or the other..  That is why “So…what?” is the unavoidable question whenever we have been addressed by God.

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Editorial: And Jesus Wept

The passing of Indiana’s religious freedom act yesterday–along with similar laws already on the books–is eerily familiar to the civil-rights’ era which scarred our nation and still leaves an open wound to this day.  To say that it is not discriminatory flies in the face of human sinfulness (called ‘ethnocentrism’ by sociologists)–the need of one group to have another group it can judge, look down upon, and refuse to serve.

To say that yesterday’s law is compatible with Christianity suffers from the amnesia of history, allowing us to forget that Christians put “No Coloreds Allowed” signs in their store windows.  Racist political leaders, mayors, city council members, school board members, and law enforcement officials belonged to churches, and were considered dedicated members and fine upstanding citizens in their communities.  The Ku Klux Klan dared to call itself a Christian organization.  And in our darkest moments, lynchings and murders were justified by some Christians as ways to solve the race problem.

No, yesterday’s law is discriminatory, because anytime in the public square we allow anyone to be treated as “less than,” we make that square less safe for us all.  History supplies libraries full of evidence to support that lesson.  We are a weaker people and a lesser Church to divide person from person and use a counterfeit claim to “religious freedom” to justify it.

When 5,000 men gathered on the hillside–with additional women and children besides, they doubtless came from every walk of life and all stages of faith.  Jesus fed them ALL.

When crowds lined up outside the house where Jesus was staying to be healed, they had all kinds of diseases brought on by all sorts of causes.  Jesus healed them ALL.  And when he sent the apostles out preach and to heal, he did not tell them to go to some, but not to others.  They went everywhere and ministered to ALL.

All either means ALL, or any of us are only one law away from being on the outside, passed by anyone who uses an ideology, religious or not, to justify prejudice.  All of us are only one law away from being the rejected group.  And whenever that happens, we will no longer like the “religion” that was used to cast us aside. When we are the oppressed rather than the oppressors, it won’t feel like “religious freedom” that locked the doors and told us we were somehow less than the rest.

We are a weaker nation today, and to the extent we have called our weakness “religious freedom,” we are a weaker people of God.  Jesus wept whenever man’s inhumanity to man won the day.  He still does.

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For the Bride: Holy Experimentation

Years ago, I heard Richard Foster say that prayer is to the spiritual life what experimentation is to science.  In early Christianity, the monastic communities understood this, and they practiced prayer in an “ask, seek, knock” spirit.  We have come to call this kind of praying discernment.

As schools of love, the early Christian communities knew that the principle of love had to be applied, and that it could be done in a variety of ways.  So, prayer became the means for deciding what the life of love would look like in a particular location.  As one community gave birth to others, these expressions became a Rule which gave the quality of common life to the larger fellowship without eliminating the necessity of specification.

Holy experimentation was born in a realization that there is no one-size-fits-all pattern to the Christian spiritual life. It was practiced in a spirit of humility that acknowledged there was no guru who could know in advance of praying what the life of love would look like in every detail.  And it was a discernment process which left open the likelihood that even good decisions would need further refinement, including the confession of error and the requisite amendments that get individuals and communities back on track.

We need holy-experimentation in our prayer life today as much as ever.  We are too much given over to having to get something “right,” which only forces a perfectionism on discernment that is too heavy to bear.  The way of love calls for a recovery of purity of intention, which includes the honoring of desire to glorify God while acknowledging that such glorification will always be a work in progress.

This kind of praying is liberating, and in such liberation we always make better decisions than when we feel we must be “right” from the outset.  That only puts undue pressure on us, and it erodes our ability to confess where we got it wrong and our need to do further work.  Holy experimentation creates a team of respectful colleagues, not camps of resentful competitors.  And in that atmosphere, the way of love survives and thrives.

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In-Sight: The Impossibility of Consistency

Over the years, I have sometimes been charged with being inconsistent in my theology.  When it happens, I remember Emerson’s statement, “Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.”

Applied to the theological task, Emerson’s words simply mean that our reach is always exceeding our grasp.  The yearning of the heart inevitably sends us on journeys beyond our current understanding of things.  And it is in the region of the unexplored where transformation occurs.

Of course, great harm can occur there too.  But to avoid danger is to surrender discovery.  To deny risk is to diminish revelation. To enthrone always being “comfortable” with our theology is to dethrone the possibility that God can speak a new word to us.  We remain stable, but become stagnant.  Information eclipses imagination.  We confuse wisdom with an experience from long ago that never changed.

In theology, we often hear of a person’s early period and a later period.  This is our way of saying that the person continued to ask, seek, and knock–and in doing so, their beliefs deepened and widened, sometimes in significant ways.

When we make consistency the standard, we are essentially saying we will only accept additional information that we can fit into our previous knowledge. Our theology is what we make of it, not what God may seek to make of us.  Mystery, wonder, surprise, and challenge are largely avoided in favor of remaining anchored to what we already know.

The Church invites inconsistency, while guarding us against contradiction.  It happens through the Creeds.  Within the fixed points of affirmation, there is enormous space to explore and experience every statement of faith that we make.  There is indeed a wideness in God’s mercy, and in that wideness insights are born.

Within creedal faith, new opinions are not heretical; they are fresh interim reports about eternal realities.  The Spirit that inspired the Church to produce the creeds is the same Spirit that inspires us to live creatively within them.  And along the way, we learn the difference between essentials and non-essential–between doctrines and opinions.  And most of all, we learn that in all things there can be love.

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Journey: From the Inside Out (2)

Read: “Why We Worry, Why We Judge”

I see this chapter in tandem with the last one, so I have titled this week’s post and last week’s the same.  The difference is that last week, I noted that healing comes from the inside out.  But this week, McLaren shows that our sicknesses do too.

I remember the day I saw a friend I had not been with for some time.  I knew something was wrong as soon as I laid eyes on him.  His skin color had changed, and so had the whites of his eyes.  He noticed the look on my face, so he began our visit with the announcement, “I have liver cancer.”

In terms of the spiritual life, McLaren is correct:  anxiety, judgmentalism, and feeling unloved “discolor” the soul–as do other things as well.  When we see bitterness, condemnation, and hatred expressed by people toward others, it is because the person is eaten up with such things on the inside.

We may never know how their interior life became jaundiced, but we can always know that, just as a cancerous liver discolors the body, a contaminated soul sours the spirit.  We spew out what is on the inside.

That is why the Bible says “be filled with the Spirit.”  When the Holy Spirit is inside, the fruit of the Spirit is manifested on the outside in both our character and conduct:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.

This is the Christlike life, and that is why Paul said it is “Christ in you,” that is our life and our hope of glory.  When Christ lives within us, the disease produced in our soul by things like anxiety, judgmentalism, and lack of love is healed.

So, mark it down—when others spew out vitriolic, negativity, arrogance, unkindness, or any poison that wounds us or some one else, it is coming from deep within their own deformed soul. 

And when we find ourselves thinking, speaking, and doing things that harm others, we must not put the blame on them, but rather pray with David, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my heart.  See if there is any hurtful way in me…” (Psalm 139:24).  The river of bitterness always has its headwater in our own heart.

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For the Bride: Love With Skin On

The schools of love established by the early Christians made the curriculum of love concrete.  While they could engage in deep studies about love and participate in inspiring conversations about love, eventually they had to love a real person.

Love, like any other virtue, must sooner or later have skin on it.  The word must become flesh, or the word remains word.  And that is too often what occurs–even on blogs like this–where words are the media for something that only becomes real by incarnation.

Even though I believe God has called me to make writing part of my ministry, you would be surprised to learn how tired I get of doing it.  I have lived long enough to know that we all talk (or write) a better game than we play.  I believe in the power of words, but I also know how cheap they can be.

An old phrase captures what I am trying to say: “I would rather see a sermon than hear one any day.”  And so it is with the way of love.

When it comes to love, the thing to pay attention to is not what the sender says or writes about love, but rather whether the receivers say they feel loved or not.  The question is whether the word became flesh, or not.

I saw this played out not long ago in a conversation between two Christians. The older person began by stating in words his love for the younger.  Trouble was, that was all it was–words.  The attitude of the older man was immersed in arrogance and condescension.  His facial expressions and timed chuckles were obnoxious. Honestly, it was sickening–in and if itself–but all the more so because the older man had predecated the whole conversation on a love that was so clearly missing in his life!

Here is another reason why the early Christian communities were schools of love–they were laboratories, not lecture halls.  Actual expressions of love were being tested day after day.  In fact, where many monasteries were places of enforced silence, the only way to verify the presence of love was through deeds.

Love must have skin on it.  People must feel loved by us. It is the receivers who verify the assertions of the senders.  It is the target that determines the accuracy of the arrow.  Otherwise, our words evaporate like dew on the morning grass–all fluff, no stuff.

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