Posts Tagged ‘Spirituality’

 

 

One of my favorite Christmas songs isn’t a hymn – or likely even a song that most people know. It’s Come Darkness, Come Light by Mary Chapin Carpenter.

 

John Wesley talked about assurance – that sense of peace that comes when we realize the depth of God’s love for us. That’s a concept that I sometimes struggle with. I know it in my head – I’m just not always able to consistently connect it to my heart. But this song – poetry really – enables me to connect head and heart. It helps me realize just how wide and how deep God’s love for me really is. It helps me realize that no matter what state I may find myself – broken or whole, doubting or sure – I can come to the door of the stable…

 

Come Darkness, Come Light

Mary Chapin Carpenter

 

Come darkness, come light
Come new star, shining bright
Come love to this world tonight
Alleluia

Come broken, come whole
Come wounded in your soul
Come anyway that you know
Alleluia

There’s a humble stable and a light within
There’s an angel hovering
and three wise men
Today a baby’s born in Bethlehem
Alleluia

Come doubting, come sure
Come fearful to this door
Come see what love is for
Alleluia

Come running, come walking slow
Come weary on your broken road
Come see Him and shed your heavy load
Alleluia

There’s a humble stable and a light within
There’s an angel hovering
and three wise men
Today a Baby’s born in Bethlehem
Alleluia

Come darkness, come light
Come new star shining bright
Come love to this world tonight
Alleluia

 

This Christmas I’m on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth, asking him to strengthen you (and me) by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength. It’s my desire that Christ will live in you (and in me) as we open the door and invite him in. And I’m asking him that with both feet planted firmly on love, we’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God. (adapted from Ephesians 3:14-19, The Message)

 

Peace, love and joy to you this Christmas.

 

 

 

RethinkChurch has a great way to be a bit more deliberate about your Advent practice this year – by participating in their photo-a-day project. I’m a little late to the game, but thought I’d give it a try. Can’t catch up on the all that I’ve missed but thought I try for December 2 and today (December 4). More to follow…

 

December 2 – Bound…

M/H Colorado

 

December 4 – Time…

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I was an English major in college, but it’s been a long time since I’ve read poetry on a regular basis. Then I had the opportunity to be with Ellsworth Kalas for a few days and he reawakened my love for it. Such a wise man….

So as we enter this season of Advent, here is a bit of poetry to start the week….

 

BE STILL IN HASTE (Wendall Barry)

How quietly I
begin again

from this moment
looking at the
clock, I start over

so much time has
passed, and is equaled
by whatever
split-second is present

from this
moment this moment
is the first

 

Thanks also to Jason Vickers for reminding me of the wonderful Wendall Barry…

This was seen last week on a billboard in Memphis, Tennessee. I’m so excited to be able to team up with Jessica LaGrone and Babbie Mason for a great teaching event this Thursday. I’ll be teaching from my new book, The Christ Centered Woman. If you’re in the area, click here to register! It would be great to have you join us!

 

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Christ United Methodist Church

 

4488 Popular Ave

Memphis, TN

 

 

WA circle logoA Wesleyan Accent is up and running! We launched October 9 and have been posting articles on Wednesdays and Saturdays. We plan to add Mondays starting in November.

Check out today’s sermon by Robert Gorrell. He pastors at United Methodist Church of the Servant in Oklahoma City. This was the sermon he preached in the aftermath of the deadly tornadoes that struck Oklahoma earlier this year. It’s a wonderful message of strength and comfort in the face of tragedy and loss.

I hope you’ll check out A Wesleyan Accent. This new venture is exciting and meaningful and I believe holds great promise as a source of nourishment for spiritual our journey and renewal for our church.

 

Occasionally things happen in life that call us to pause. If we heed that call and pay attention, we often realize that we’ve been privy to something really special. That kind of thing has happened to me over the last several weeks.

Owl

Murdock the owl

We live in an ordinary suburban setting in West Lafayette, Indiana – nice front yard with neighbors a little over a driveway width away on either side. When we arrived in 1993 our back yard was lovely but our neighbors were in plain sight – no privacy whatsoever. In the years since, we’ve planted wisteria vines and built a pergola and our back yard turned into what our children have come to call the secret garden.

During good weather, we eat many of our meals under the pergola surrounded by wisteria and trumpet vines. A few weeks ago, as we were eating with friends we noticed a bird nestled in the wisteria – not the kind of bird we were used to seeing. It was a young screech-owl, about 12 inches tall, who had apparently been watching us for some time. We watched each other that night, and the next, soon naming him Murdock (after my grandfather who would also watch quietly, occasionally dropping some gem of wisdom or wit) and regularly checking for his whereabouts in the branches of the wisteria. Until one day he was gone.

That was a sad day.

owlet

Oscar the Owlet

But then another evening rolled around and John and I were out enjoying dinner in the shade of the pergola. John looked up and thought he saw Murdock! But no, it wasn’t him. It was a small owlet, so new he (she?) still had his fuzzy just-hatched feathers – and he had been watching us. So we named him Oscar (I’m not sure why) and began watching, checking every day to see where he might be nestled. Oscar lost his fuzzy feathers and fresh new, grown-up feathers took their place. He watched us and we watched him. And then Oscar was gone too. Another sad day.

But that’s when I realized that I had been privy to something special – nothing miraculous mind you, but definitely special.

Kim Reisman

Kim Reisman

An ordinary part of nature – owls – opened my eyes once again to the amazing glory of God’s creation. And it reminded me not to take things for granted, but to pay attention. So I am. Deliberately. Because I don’t want to miss meeting those who share my garden.

 

Then God said, “Let the waters swarm with fish and other life. Let the skies be filled with birds of every kind.” So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that scurries and swarms in the water, and every sort of bird—each producing offspring of the same kind. And God saw that it was good. Then God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply. Let the fish fill the seas, and let the birds multiply on the earth.”

…Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good! 

Genesis 1.20-22, 31

 

Emory - Brent Strawn

Brent Strawn ~ Candler School of Theology

Brent Strawn, Associate Professor of Old Testament at Candler School of Theology, Emory University, posted the following article on MinistryMatters.com. It also appears in the Justice in the Church (Aug/Sept/Oct 2012) issue of Circuit Rider. It’s an excellent reflection…

 

When God Seems Unjust

I make my living teaching the Old Testament, so I’m quite aware of its “problems.” You might say it’s a job hazard in my line of work. Even if people can’t cite chapter and verse, they often have a strong feeling that things in the first half (actually, the first seventy-eight percent) of the Bible aren’t quite right—that there are some disturbing things over there if you ever bother to read it (most don’t), and many of them have to do with God.

Just a week ago I was called in for something of an emergency “Save the Old Testament!” session for a Disciple Bible Study group at my own local congregation. There I heard yet again what seems to have become the standard interpretation among far too many Christians: “God is mean in the Old Testament, but everything changes with Jesus and the New Testament. What gives?”

This is a big question connected to a large number of others. I can’t solve the first, let alone the rest, not even if I had many times the space I have here, because the “best questions,” or in this case, the most difficult ones, simply don’t have any easy answers. That doesn’t mean we are relieved of having to try, however. The Mishnah has a famous saying to this effect: “It’s not your job to finish the work, but you’re not free to walk away from it” (Abot 2.21). So, here are four thoughts on the matter.

1. It’s Not Just an Old Testament Problem

The problem is not just an “Old Testament” one. It is, through and through, from top to bottom, a biblical problem in at least two ways:

(1) The New Testament also has its share of violence and wrath—“mean God” kind of stuff for short. One need only think of the Book of Revelation, or the story of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5), or sayings of Jesus that are far from “meek and mild” to get this point clearly (e.g., Matt 5:25-26; 10:34-36; 16:2-3; 23:1-36; Mark 10:38; Luke 12:49-53; 13:3, 5; 14:25-33; etc.).

(2) The Old Testament has just as much “nice God” kind of stuff as the New Testament. Indeed, much of the New Testament’s “niceness” comes directly from the Old Testament: The Great Commandment concerning the love of God and love of neighbor, for instance (Deut 6:5; Lev 19:18), but also love for immigrants (Lev 19:34) and good deeds for one’s enemies (e.g., Prov 25:21; cf. Matt 5:39; Rom 12:20). Or, more directly to God’s wrath, consider Isaiah 54:7-10, which acknowledges God’s abandonment and anger “for a moment,” but now promises great compassion and everlasting love (vv. 7-8). It culminates in the statement that God will never be angry with Israel again—never, just as God will never flood the earth again (v. 9)! Then:

“For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed,
but my steadfast love shall not depart from you,
and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,
says the LORD, who has compassion on you.” (v. 10)

What text anywhere else in the Bible could rival this one in raw mercy and unbounded grace?

Christians who advocate the “standard interpretation” mentioned above are revealing nothing so much as their ignorance on two fronts: (1) their lack of knowledge of the entirety of the Old Testament, including its many “good parts”; and (2) their lack of knowledge of the entirety of the New Testament, including its many “bad parts.” Once again, the problem of God’s violence or wrath is thoroughly a biblical one—not just an Old Testament one.

This means, in turn, that the solution to the problem cannot be only a New Testament one, since the New Testament itself has the same blemishes. The fact that so many Christians don’t know either side of this equation reveals profound biblical illiteracy. That problem, in turn, is especially acute because it prevents Christians from findingbiblical solutions to the very real difficulties posed by biblical texts concerning violence and wrath.

2. There Are Biblical Solutions

Happily, there are solutions to the problems of violence and wrath posed by the Old and New Testaments. Let it be underscored that these are biblical solutions, not restricted to one testament (invariably the New) over the other (inevitably the Old). These solutions will not satisfy everyone, and each difficult text deserves separate, case-by-case attention. It must suffice here, and speaking only of the Old Testament, to again highlight that it knows as much grace as the New Testament (recall Isaiah 54), and that it built into it what might be called “strategies of containment.”

One example: the problem of the conquest and settling of Canaan, and thus the problem of Holy War, bothers modern sensibilities. How could this be part of God’s purposes and plans in the world? Here again is a serious issue; it cannot be addressed simply or simplistically. That granted, it is worth noting that the Old Testament does not repeatedly enjoin this kind of military activity on subsequent generations of Israelites. Nor does it continually evoke the conquest as a metaphor for faithful life with God.

This should be quickly contrasted with the exodus, which is everywhere mentioned and used as a way to describe even much later acts of God, such as the return from exile. The point of comparison is that, in the very way the Old Testament speaks of these things, it suggests that the conquest of Canaan is a limited, time-bound phenomenon never to be repeated; the exodus, however, is the way God works, period (cf. Amos 9:7). That doesn’t fix all the problems with the conquest, but it is a start.

3. It’s Not a New Problem

The problems of violence, wrath, and the like—as well as the “standard interpretation” of these—are nothing new. They are very old indeed, running back at least to the arch-heretic Marcion in the second century.

Marcion was the first to articulate the standard interpretation in full-blown fashion and he ended up throwing the entirety of the Old Testament out (interestingly enough, his position also required jettisoning a good bit of the New Testament!). Marcion’s theology was predicated precisely on antitheses like evil/good, judgmental/merciful, old/new. The church declared Marcion a heretic and resolutely retained the Old Testament (and a fuller New Testament).

The early church father, Tertullian (ca. 160-225), wrote five books against Marcion. Among other things, Tertullian said that a God who disapproves of nothing (that is, who lacks the capacity or disposition to judge or discipline), is unable to approve of anything and thus cannot save or deliver those who experience injustice. Marcion’s “god” may be unambiguously “good” but this goodness makes no (biblical) sense and cannot provide justice for those who suffer. One must be very careful to define what one means by the word “good”—and it should take more than a sentence or two! Moreover, robust Trinitarian theology means the Three are One. To say that one (the Father) is mean with the other (the Son) nice is to introduce unorthodox distinctions into the Godhead. Anyone who believes that a “mean God” inhabits the Old Testament and a “nice God” lives in the New, is making divisions that are not only uninformed, biblically-speaking, but also far too simplistic—even, dare one say, heretical.

4. There Is No Simple Solution

Finally, the previous point means we must steward ourselves to prevent any speech or thinking about God that is too simplistic. God, the Infinite, can never “get said” quite right—not even with many words or even all the books in the world. If we can imagine a situation in which God appears to be as dumb as one of the Three Stooges, we aren’t thinking about God or the problem with sufficient complexity. It would be a mistake to think that we are smarter than God, or the book about God.

Again, that is not to say that the problems of wrath, violence, and so forth (and there are many of the latter!) aren’t real or significant. They are both, and just as they admit of no easy solution, they are not easily understood. Then again, maybe they aren’t meant to be solved or understood. St. Augustine said the following in a sermon:

“[Scripture] can only be understood in ways beyond words; human words cannot suffice for understanding the Word of God. What we are discussing and stating is why it is not understood. I am not speaking in order that it may be understood, but telling you what prevents it being understood. . . What I am saying is how incomprehensible is the passage that was read to us. But in any case, it wasn’t read in order to be understood, but in order to make us mere human beings grieve because we don’t understand it, and make us try to discover what prevents our understanding, and so move it out of the way, and hunger to grasp the unchangeable Word, ourselves thereby being changed from worse to better.”

Augustine wrote that about John 1:1-3! If it holds true for that text, then certainly it holds true for even more perplexing texts. And so it is that one finds a rich history of interpretation in both Jewish and Christian circles about the most difficult of texts—including and especially ones concerning God’s wrath and violence.

Much more could be said. Much more should be said. But this is a beginning. Perhaps if ministers spoke more about these texts, addressing them in ways like I have done here but adding to that and expounding upon it, the “intractable” problems of the Old Testament would suddenly become tractable after all, and people would find themselves confronted afresh and anew with the whole counsel of God, not just the last 22 percent of it. That would be a victory in more ways than one!

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Making Life Matter

 

Making Life Matter is a weekly 30 minute Christian inspirational and teaching program hosted by Maxie Dunnam and Shane Stanford. Next Step partners with Kingdom Catalysts to bring you MLM, which tackles issues of faith and life in order to deepen discipleship and encourage strong connections between following Jesus and living in today’s world. Mark your calendars to visit Next Step and listen regularly. Click below to hear today’s program.

Higgs Boson and God’s Remarkable Universe

Higgs boson

Higgs Boson

 

Before I get too far into my musings, I need to admit that I know virtually nothing about Higgs, physics or bosons of any kind. And my understanding of the working of the universe is inversely proportionate to my awe and wonder at its magnificence. That being said, I’ve really enjoyed the excitement over the Higgs boson ‘discovery.’

It began about two weeks ago when John and I were visiting the National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh, Scotland where we stumbled upon the Pioneers of Science exhibit that included a portrait of Peter Higgs.

Peter Higgs

Peter Higgs - Lucinda L. Mackay, artist

The caption read, ‘The theoretical physicist Peter Higgs is known for the particle named after him – the as yet undiscovered Higgs boson.’ Here was a man who had a particle named after him that hadn’t even been discovered yet. I thought that was pretty amazing.

When I arrived in Durham for my graduation festivities, I mentioned my excitement about seeing Higgs’ portrait to my supervising professor, David Wilkinson. David has been an amazing source of wisdom and guidance to me as I’ve worked toward my PhD.

David Wilkinson

David Wilkinson, Principal, St. John's College, Durham University

 

With a PhD in theoretical astrophysics and a PhD in theology, you can imagine how intriguing our conversations have been over the years. At any rate, David told me more about Higgs, but added that his boson was no longer theoretical. In the next several weeks, he said, there would be an announcement confirming the existence of Higgs boson.

And now of course, everyone is talking about Higgs boson. The connections continue – this morning our local paper reported that the parents of one of my youngest daughter’s soccer teammates, both physicists, have been intimately involved in the CMS experiments leading up to the discovery. Who knew?

I’m not sure why I’m so intrigued with Higgs boson. Actually, it’s not the particle itself or the theories that explain it that has captured my imagination – that would require me to actually understand all this stuff. What has captured my imagination is the process that led up to the final confirmation by the scientific community that Higgs was correct – there really is a Higgs boson.

That kind of process is about the whole idea of knowing something, or intuiting something, or being convinced of something – and then asserting it, laying claim to it, standing by it – having faith in it – in the face of doubt or skepticism, and without absolute proof. That captures my imagination because it reminds me so much of the life of faith.

Being a Christ follower is in large part about laying claim to something in the face of doubt or skepticism and without absolute proof. It’s about living with confidence in the loving work of the creator God who is so much bigger than our limited ability to understand – a God wise enough to create something as amazing a Higgs boson and generous enough to give humans the ability to ‘discover’ it.

Kimberly Reisman

Kim Reisman

But being a Christ follower goes even beyond that. It’s not limited to the ‘how’ of the universe – even though astounding developments in science like the Higgs boson definitely point to how awe-inspiring and remarkable God’s universe really is. At its heart, being a Christ follower involves the ‘why’ of the universe. It’s about laying claim to the (as yet ‘undiscovered’ by some) truth that in creating the universe, God has actively entered into the space and time of that universe – transcending it, but also engaging it and relating to it in a personal way.

For Christ followers, the how of the universe may involve Higgs bosons and all manner of other fantastic things, but the ‘why’ of the universe involves relationship and covenant. Our God is the source of all creation and is irrevocably connected to its unfolding history. That’s why it’s impossible to fully understand the universe without reference to its intimate and essential connection to God. Not only that, but as Christ followers we believe that Jesus Christ is at the center of all this amazing creative activity. He is the means through which the Creator and covenantal God is supremely known. Jesus as the ‘image of the invisible God,’ (Colossians 1.15) – the projection of God into the dimensions of space-time in a way that reveals God’s true nature.

That’s a lot to lay claim to in the face of doubt, skepticism and without any absolute proof. But I like to think of myself as a theological or spiritual Peter Higgs. He might not appreciate that comparison since he’s an atheist, but I still like it. He asserted something he truly believed in, despite skepticism and doubt, despite numerous other theories being offered in opposition in that they depended on there being NO Higgs boson, despite 50+ years of inability to confirm his assertions – until one day…

We Christ followers are spiritual/theological Peter Higgs. We lay claim to a truth greater than many can grasp – greater than we ourselves can grasp. But one day…

 

 

Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2.9-11)

 

 

2012 IN AC logoAt the Celebration of Ministry Service at Annual Conference in Indianapolis last week, I was struck again by how we in the Methodist tradition continually strive to invoke the Holy Spirit upon the life of the church and upon those who are to order and lead it: in the midst of conference and bishop, in the call to itinerant forms of ministry and accountability, we confess how dependent we are upon the Spirit to share in the mission of the whole church. I was struck by the way we are to order our lives not simply toward God but toward one another, and by the way our guiding vision always takes a particular shape during a particular time regardless of the challenges. It was a grace-filled moment, to be sure, but also a reminder of the true end to which Christ calls each of us.

In a letter to John Smith on June 25, 1746, John Wesley, in reflecting on the Methodist movement, wrote, “What is the end of all ecclesiastical order? Is it not to bring souls from the power of Satan to God? And to build them in his fear and love? Order, then, is so far valuable as it answers these ends; and if it answers them not it is worth nothing.”

Wesley’s quote captures the deeply missional thrust of the people called Methodists: a church’s pattern of organization and authority – or polity – must be oriented toward the church’s mission of saving souls or making disciples. How we order our lives must somehow support that basic mission. As Wesley would say elsewhere:  if we can’t find ways to organize the church toward these ends, then we might as well let the devil win!

As United Methodists we have spent a great deal of energy over the years trying to align our organization more purposefully with our mission. As historian Russell Richey of Emory University has stated, Methodists have always tried to develop appropriate structures that would sustain and nourish their mission depending on the era. What have remained constant over time are those elements that have been distinctive to Methodists from early on: conference, episcopacy, itinerant ministry, and forms of accountability. While these aspects do not provide a full account of Methodist polity, the loss of any of them would diminish something unique to the Methodist way of sharing in God’s mission.

To be sure, it’s a tall order to keep these four elements together, especially during a time of historic transition. It would be easy, for example, to fall into the trap of wanting to do away with one of these principles at the expense of another. It would also be tempting to see the role of the Holy Spirit as only working in our individual lives or congregations as against the structures of the wider church as an institution. And yet, as our history indicates, our polity has persisted through time not just because we have the right structures but because we are actively seeking to respond to what the Spirit is doing.

Such characteristics, of course, are not unique to United Methodists. Other Pan-Methodists and Wesleyan Holiness churches have also struggled with matters of discipline and order – African Methodist Episcopal and Free Methodists come to mind. They are reminders that questions of mission and polity go hand-in-hand in the Wesleyan tradition.

Andy Kinsey

Andy Kinsey

Celebrating in worship at Annual Conference, and praying for those who were being commissioned and ordained, I was moved at how Methodism seeks to order its life as a mission-driven community of faith. Again and again, we invoked God’s Spirit as we sent out those who will serve among us, sharing in ministries of mutual accountability, and renewing our covenant to be faithful to the example of Christ. It was a hope-filled moment, to say the least.

However, as we think about the future of the United Methodist Church, we may also want to ask ourselves why these four elements in our polity have persisted throughout our history. We may want to ask what these may mean in light of our present challenges. As General Conference in Tampa revealed we have much work to do.

 

 

Andy Kinsey serves as the Wesleyan Theologian on the Leadership Table of the Indiana Conference of the United Methodist Church and as pastor of Grace United Methodist Church in Franklin, Indiana.