Monday, January 30, 2006

Out of A Continuing Thought

Yesterday the lectionary text that we looked at duirng our meditation was 1 Cor. 8. I find that this is a difficult text because we are so distant from the type of circumstances that it is discussing, and we tend to equate much lesser matters - like how I feel about what you're doing or how what you do makes me uncomfortable or offends me - with what was at stake in dining in the temples of idols.

Something that came to me this morning is that we are not just looking at how to form people to be moral, but we are forming them to be like Jesus. For sure, being like Jesus means being moral, but it is possible to form people to be moral without them being like Jesus.

One of the scariest parts of the this passage is the radical freedom that Paul talks about - where he has no problem, per se, with believers eating food off the altars of other gods. The temptation for us is to quash such freedom to make sure that we form people to moral. But if we form people to be moral through legalism (and it certainly can be done - as Paul knew as a pharisee) they are not moral out of the love of God, that is, moral as Jesus was moral.

Morality through legalism is not the same as morality born out of love. To form people in the image of Christ we must talk about radical freedom.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Yesterday's Lunch

I was blessed yesterday to share lunch with Father William Wilson. We immediately have struck up a closeness that can only be in God, and is fueled by the similar ways that we have been formed - though we started from very different places and have come through dissimilar traditions.

I have much to learn from Father Wilson: his focus on the love of God through Christ's Passion and the Eucharist, what he's learned about spiritual disciplines in 25 years as a Trappist monk and seven years in silence, and his theological training (he is quick to point out that our lives are not about religion and orthodoxy, though there is a place for doctrine, but rather about the love of God).

He is so transparent about his struggles, and we share some of the same. We talked about so much yesterday - the power of ego, of the way in which scripture informs our lives in Christ but must not take center stage in our faith, about being open to what the Spirit is doing and recognizing that movement in so many diverse gatherings of believers, and Christian mysticism.

As he remarked yesterday, this is what being Christians is about - people getting together and having discussions about Christ, and sharing the good news of God's love - that it is given completely and unconditionally to each person, without preference or degree, but fully to every individual. Talking to one another about this gift and learning to live within it, this is so much different than being religious.

Because we come from such different worlds in Christianity, when either one of us references a movement or discussion, the other is completely unaware of it - which shows me how the Spirit is doing much of the same work in all parts of the Church even when those parts aren't in regular dialogue.

I am looking forward to Father Wilson, as he prefers it, having some conversation and dialogue with the gathering of believers at Disciples' Fellowship. How amazing - he prefers communal conversation to one person lecturing! Who would've guessed????

Saturday, January 21, 2006

A Gift of Grace

I am having way too much fun, and should be feeling more guilty for enjoying life so much. I have even stopped worrying that it's sure to end in utter catastrophe (it might, though).

Marsha and I enjoyed the show Thirtysomething before we left for Africa. I know that the series got panned by some as trite, but I thought, and still do, that it dealt with real issues in real ways. They were just the problems of a person living with oneself and others - and not issues of larger scale.

I remember the show where Michael Stedman is told that he can't enjoy the now because he's always waiting for the Cassocks to sweep down and destroy the village. Maybe I've always been a little that way. Always pushing to do, and not enjoying the being in the here and now enough. Didn't know the sacrament of the present moment.

By some mystery of God's grace, I am now in a place of peace and joy and am not even worrying about when it will end. The realization that it could all end tomorrow doesn't even fill me with anxiety, though I am in no way in denial about the fact that something will happen, sooner or later.

I don't think that I am to indulge in these gifts selfishly, though. Actually, being "in" these gifts helped me to truly "be" with a good friend, David Emerson, and his children as David's wife, Beth, passed away 10 days ago. Sitting in the waiting room, going into the ICU ward to pray with the family, and accompanying them when the end came . . . without the grace of these gifts I don't think I would have ever been able to truly "be" there . . . unselfishly, without self-conscious concerns, and open to letting God's grace touch them.

I say this not boastfully, but in true awe. I used to be a person who fled from emotional situations, was extremely uncomfortable around death and dying, and tried to ignore suffering. I confess that I "thought my way through" much of the suffering I encountered in Africa, often not acknowledging the real hurt - afraid it would be too crushing to think about. How astonishing that God could change me this much.

If I can see any design of God in my life, one clear pattern is that He moves me to a place of "being" which then becomes obvious as a means for some service of His planning.

Though I enjoy the peace and clarity I now have, I think I've be graced with this for a purpose . . . to share this grace. The hard part, at least right now, seems to be having something I believe i am supposed to share but not knowing exactly how to do it. In what way am I to impart this peace and grace? I interact constantly with so many who are in such turmoil and I don't know what I am supposed to be doing. What I do manage to offer, seems so little and ineffectual. This grace is not given to others easily.

Okay . . . time to stop writing. I've simply been thinking out loud in this post. No plan . . . just write whatever comes . . . and then have the guts to click the "Publish Post" button. Here goes . . .

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Gift or Vice?

Steve raises a good question - is charisma (our choice for naming a personal attractiveness which draws others) a gift which is redeemable though also able to be abused? Or is it like being born hot-tempered or with addictive tendencies - always a source of personal struggle and what, if left unchecked by God's grace and strength, will lead to all sorts of problems.

If it is the latter, then the redeeming aspect is that it is a thorn in the flesh, something to be mortified and which constantly reminds one to be humble and how thoroughly sinful the human heart is.

For many, this human attractiveness is unquestionably a gift which we should cultivate and employ, because it is useful in 'bringing people to Christ'.

An innate self-assurredness may also tend to foster security and confidence in others, but it may be nothing more than pride. If people want someone to 'follow' who exudes competence, that might be more appealing than someone broken and humble, but that doesn't make personal competence a gift to be used to God's glory.

I am not convinced that charisma, the natural way some people can draw individuals to themselves, is good. If they have a 'natural' skill at this that could easily be used to draw people to anything - even that which has nothing to do with Christ - then I truly wonder if this is a gift to be turned to God's use, or a temptation to be avoided.

Paul was trained in rhetoric, but chose to keep his proclamation simple and free from such techniques. Why didn't he use his training to help 'advance' God's cause - redeeming all that schooling? Can't the wisdom of men be put to redeemed use in the Kingdom of God?

We are not told to draw people to Christ, but that God/Christ will draw people to the Son/Himself. The charisma of a person should not draw people, but if anything should draw others toward an individual, then it should be only and nothing more than Christ in that person. There should be nothing about the person that we should desire him/her - isn't that what was said of Jesus?

Just because people (some people, certainly not all) were drawn to Jesus, must we conclude that he had a personal or innate charisma? Maybe the scripture is right - there was NOTHING about him that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected. He couldn't be ignored because he was radical and thrust himself into the nation's debate, but were people drawn to a magnetic personally? Or did seekers find in this most unlikely of backwoods tradesman something of God, and that drew them because he was a teacher come from God?

I believe we want to think that what we find personally effective should be good - it's good if it gets results. But have we lost too much along the way?

Okay . . . I know . . . I'm outside the popular opinions on this type of stuff . . . and I irritate others by even raising such questions. I will try and mortify, and others may try and redeem . . . and we will all trust in God.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

More on Charisma

During a recent lunch with a man who was a Trappist monk for 25 years, we were discussing charisma. He noted that priests are trained to restrain and diminsh themselves, to nurture public self-abasement so that they might allow the focus to be on the Eucharist that they administer.

Is personal charisma generally helpful - or does it tend to obscure Christ? I tend to think that the ancient traditions which seek to spiritually form their ministers to restrain themselves probably have the right idea.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Random Thought

Sometimes I think about something in a strange circumstance - when it doesn't seem to connect to what is going on. Usually those ideas just go away . . .

While loading my car in the Sam's parking lot (plates, cups, coffee, etc . . . all the "stuff" we consume in fellowship) this popped into my head:

Charisma wins out over integrity. People may admire integrity, but they often choose charisma.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Prayer for Starting the Year

We struggled last night through what to pray about for the coming year. No one suggested their own vision of prosperity - which was good and no less than I would expect.

Last week we listened to and talked about 'Peace of Mind' by Boston, and then tried to think of what would be our orientation for seeking God's life in ours through this next year - or at least how we understand that here at the beginning.

Every one had good thoughts, and were confident enough to be self-revealing about struggles and doubts. In some ways our small group sounded glum, but then surprizingly we were also confident.

Through the discussion I was thinking over what I had said to someone earlier in the week: that I am dangerously content.

So my prayer comes out as longing to be thirsty and hungry while enjoying being filled and satisfied. I guess I see some dangers in God's gifts - namely me and my ability to take something good and twist it to my own destruction.