Louisiana

New Orleans, Louisiana (NASA, International Sp...

New Orleans, Louisiana (NASA, International Space Station Science, 11/18/06) (Photo credit: NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center)

I am in Louisiana for a few days and then to a rather special place in Alabama.

Traveling always puts me into a sort of reflective mood, or mind-set. Maybe it is the destination. After all, I left Louisiana years ago. I left for a variety of reasons and excuses, but more than anything, I just wanted to get away from all that Louisiana was and is in my life. Bad family, bad religion, and just bad.

Leaving West Virginia, the place and I am unnaturally attached too… if you aren’t attached to a geographical locale, I cannot tell you what I mean. But West Virginia represents more than just an unexplainable attached to the land…but good family, good faith, and (believe it not) progressive change.

I got to see the same roads and the same places as I once did. But, they aren’t the same. Things change. Things grow. Cities grow. White people move. What was once pasture is now a hotel and McDonalds. What was one the first “mountain” we saw leaving Louisiana is now a Sam’s Club and a parking lot.

It is a good time to reflect on where I am and where I am going. When I left, I never thought I would be able to return. It is an expensive trip. I’m not saying I can go every week, but I am able to go at least once a year. I have become much closer to my Great Aunts – and great in every sense of the word. Other things, as you know, have changed.

Still, the only thing I really miss here is the food… and I’m not even sure that is the case anymore. Last night, we stopped at Don’s Seafood, a local eatery who I have only later found out has been purchased way from the family owners. The food was… less than stellar. It tasted plastic. It was…boring. But, I still get my Community Coffee – shipped up from Amazon.

And this morning…I get to go to a Southern Baptist Church.

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Hope

OnceYouChooseHopeThis Sunday is Palm Sunday and also the Sunday that I will join my local UMC. It is technically a transfer as I have moved, but that does not make it any less momentous for me. It is really the perfect day to join the church I think. Palm Sunday is, of course the day that we celebrate Christ riding into Jerusalem to set into motion the events that would change everything. It is the Sunday that we are reminded that our purpose is to continue to change ourselves through the continuing conforming to the likeness of Christ and also through our service to a world in need. This Sunday, it is also the reminder of hope.

Hope is defined as a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen. That is, I think, what the local church is at its best. The expectation and desire for our own transformation, for the transformation of our neighborhoods because of our transformation and so on and so on. The expectation and desire for the return of Christ and the new heaven and earth that we are all desperately in need of. The expectation and desire of the unity of the body. The expectation and desire that not only can it be better, that it will be better so long as we remain in that perfect hope that Christ brings. 

In the world today we are constantly reminded of all the reasons that we should lose hope. The 24/7 news cycle making sure we are aware of every evil that exists, of the conflicts in the protestant and catholic church. The personal struggles and failings of pastors played out on a national stage, etc. The local church and its reminder of the hope in Christ seems to be the best, and perhaps only option, to not be consumed by all the other things we see and hear.

Coming up is Palm Sunday, then holy week and eventually Easter. The promises of this time are many. The promise of resurrection, the promise of salvation, and the promise that there will come a time when the world is as it should be. Those promises are for the future and are wonderful and comforting to hold on to, but don’t forget the gift of hope. That gift is what allows us to all hold on until the promises are fulfilled.

 

Perspective

It’s been a rough day, so just a short example of how the ways we choose to view things affect how we see the world an circumstances around us. “God is nowhere” and “God is now here”. See, it’s all in how you look at it. Take a breath, step back, give the struggle some space and then make a decision on how to respond. After all some space can make all the difference.

When Christians love theology more than people

http://sojo.net/blogs/2014/01/22/when-christians-love-theology-more-people

I really wish that I could claim writing this particular blog. (I also wish I knew how to make the link clickable, sorry for you having to copy/paste in the browser) It is insanely insightful and relevant to the practice of a lot of Christians in this day and age. Oddly enough, my evangelical and conservative Wesleyan brothers and sisters would say that this is a very liberal approach etc. I would say that it is actually the very nature of who we are called to be, and the very tradition that we sprang from. This is how I try to deal with people in general, and I think the point the above piece is trying to make. If someone doesn’t know Jesus, that is all I am going to try to show them. After all, theology didn’t die on the cross, Christ did.

One of those days…

This took place a few days ago (the 17th I think) and had a profound effect on me. I have probably missed several lessons in this experience, but perhaps it will affect you, and perhaps you can help me with the lessons I inevitably missed:

I don’t maintain a blog as there is not often a time when I have something particularly profound to say, but today I do, so pardon the length and indulge me for a moment if you will. So far, this Lenten season has been difficult at best. It has been filled with personal and health difficulties, issues with the apartment management where I live, car troubles, and financial challenges that have unexpectedly cropped up. This morning I had a meeting with the manager of the used car lot and the manager of the service department to deal with an ongoing issue with the car that has not been solved…check that, several issues. Filled with frustration and the conviction this was going to be unpleasant at best, and an argument at worst and most likely, I woke up early to go over the warranty, technical details of the issues and the notes from my conversations with other service departments, including the corporate KIA technical advisers. I was as prepared as I could be and ready to commence the fight that was certain to ensue. Upon arrival, I found out that the service manager was unexpectedly out for the day, so they would not be attending. My hopes sank immediately as I was now certain not only would it be a fight today, but I’d have to come back another day to fight as well. As I stepped into the lot manager’s office, an odd thing occurred as a sudden peace and calm washed over me. As I opened my mouth to begin my arguments, I found myself instead saying “thank you for meeting with me and all the work that you have done.” As I prepared to rail against the repairs that had been done and not solved the problem, I found myself saying “I am especially thankful that these repairs were done as they will assuredly head off future problems.” As I was reaching what I was certain to be my peak of frustration and anger going over what the corporate people had told me, I instead found myself calmly explaining things and expressing my concern and frustrations rationally and with a calm head. The service manager thanked me for my humility in approaching the problems. He took diligent notes and came to a more than reasonable solution to the issues. I thanked him and shook his hand and he said “Don’t worry, I will take care of you in this.” Today God protected me from the biggest enemy I often have, myself. That is worthy of Lenten reflection. Today I heard the voice of God and it didn’t come as a still small voice, or in the storm ala Job, it sounded a lot like Jeff, the used car lot manager, and it said “Don’t worry, I will take care of you in this”. I think that is worthy of Lenten reflection as well.

Sunday Morning Sermon @Ravenswood1UMC

I… I just got here. To the United Methodist Church, I mean. I didn’t survive the time the conservatives split to support slavery while the progressives supported abolition. I didn’t survive the battles against women ordination when conservatives threatened women pastors, ridiculed them, and left the UMC because of it. I didn’t survive the rounds of talk about divorced and remarried clergy and how we should affirm a call rather than a mistake.

I believe Scripture, however, therefore I do not believe anyone should leave. As a matter of fact, progressives need conservatives to provide a Scriptural foundation. Conservatives need progressives to provide them a heart and grace.

My sermon is based on Genesis 12.1-4. It is about the move from one place to another, from fear to faith. It is essentially a “why the UMC” sermon. The first sermon was for inspiration and authority of Scripture but against inerrancy, infallibility, and being locked into a “bible only” or a “bible must” mentality. The second was about Grace. So, it was a build up, a lead in series.

Anyway, here you go.

Fierce Afraid: Lenten Reflection

In this season of Lent, I have been thinking a lot about wilderness- the place of no words; I have been reading the stories of the ancients, some who chose to walk out into the bareness believing that it is only in suffering we truly commune with God.
Jesus’ own wilderness wandering is not unlike that of Old Testament prophet Elijah, the man of God who called down fire from heaven to smite 400 prophets of Baal on the high point of Mt. Carmel (I Kings 18). I know this story well, Elijah is my favorite biblical character according to aptitude tests administered upon my acceptance to seminary. Those who read the bubbles colored in with a number 2 pencil said, I chose Elijah because his is the character with whom I most identify. It seems I have some deep resonance with this one who was fed by ravens when the famine took the land, Elijah who revived the widow’s son from the grave, Elijah who prayed and upon whose word the rain ceased to fall; Elijah prophet fierce and wanderer afraid.

I admit, I love the parts of the stories where Elijah is bold and fiery, when he mocks the prophets of Baal, rolls right around on the ground laughing at them. I am in awe of the conviction with which he stood before Ahab unflinching and am humbled by the unwavering stance of his commands. It is the part where he’s so afraid, so frail and insecure that makes me squirm in my seat. My face flushes pink and I wish he had not run away from Jezebel, regret that he threw in the towel and was brought low by his fear, I twitch, I writhe, but I know.

I know what it is to lose faith, to lose composure, to lose the power to maintain the strong face you want to present to the world. I know what it means to be brought low and need help, to buckle at the knees and be found at the end of my own strength, again. In some ways this is the gift of the wilderness, when we find ourselves stripped of all comfort and assurance uncertain of our own ability to survive, it is here where what is mystical is manifest and we find the solace of God.

It is in this deep poverty of spirit where heaven meets earth, when words are scarce but presence is real; it is here in the dust when the angels attend us. Perhaps it is wilderness that helps us speak our raw, real need; “help!” And they come, with chicken noodle soup and chocolate chip cookies, with soft blanket and fuzzy slippers and valentines stamped with baby’s footprints. The words roll in text messages delivered with stardust, facebook posts, emails and cards through the mail and this is oxygen, the humidifier in your childhood bedroom that helps you breathe, in and out and you concentrate on doing just that.

You begin to realize out there in the wilderness, that fear is a part of you. That you’ve fought so hard to keep fear at bay, to stamp it down and keep it covered to no avail, maybe you have to pick fear up and take it by the hand, acknowledge it is a part of you so you can make peace with it and move on.

For all of us, fighting great battles may the angels attend you as your fear as part of your faith. May your lungs fill up with the oxygen of presence so that you might be revived and walk on.

Final thoughts after the Revival

The Immaculate Conception

The Immaculate Conception (Photo credit: Lawrence OP)

I used the REB, clutched my rosary tightly, and preached about prevenient grace this morning. Friday, I preached of inspiration and Tradition while on Saturday, I preached about Grace and how it is out of proportion to sin. All while holding my rosary, speaking of Wesley, and hoping no one would run me out of town. This morning, as I set through the hymns and such, I prayed the rosary’s prayer, prayed to St. Mark and the three St. Johns (the Evangelist, the Damascene, and the Cross) and made mention to Brother John.

I’ll post the sermons this week and two videos, I believe.

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Abraham as Allegory for the Mind (St. Ambrose

Saint Ambrose as a Doctor of the Church. Detai...

Saint Ambrose as a Doctor of the Church. Detail from the manneristic frescos by Carlo Urbino on the ceiling of the altar chapel in the Cappella di sant’Aquilino in the Basilica di San Lorenzo Maggiore in Milan, Italy. Picture by Giovanni Dall’Orto, May 18 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Abraham represents the mind. In fact Abraham signifies passage. Therefore, in order that the mind, which in Adam had allowed itself to run to pleasure and to bodily attractions, should turn toward the ideal form of virtue, a wise man has been proposed to us as an example to imitate. Actually Abraham in Hebrew signifies “father,” in the sense that the mind, with the authority, the judgment and the solicitude of a father, governs the entire person. This mind then was in Haran, that is, in caverns, subject to the different passions. For this reason it is told, “Go from your country,” that is, from your body. From this land went forth the one whose homeland is in the heavens. ON ABRAHAM 2.1–2. 1

I am preaching on Genesis 12.1–4 next Sunday, so I am studying the Fathers and Doctors of the Church. Here, Ambrose presents a highly allegorized version of Abraham. A century after him, Caesarius of Arles would carry this vision on. It is interesting to see Ambrose give Abraham almost a philosophical (Platonic?) flare. Note the use of “caverns” as the place to leave.

  1. Mark Sheridan, ed., Genesis 12–50 (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 2.