Monday, November 24, 2014

Two quizzes, five kinds of people

I was reading Richard Gibala's article, "Drawing Out, Leading Out" in the April-May 2007 edition of Pastoral Music and ran across two quizzes. It made me think of the people I'm most grateful for in my life. Here's the first.
How'd you do (without clicking)? I didn't do well, but I don't mind.
Try this quiz instead.
  1. Name the teachers who helped you most on your journey through school
  2. Name three friends who have helped you through a difficult time
  3. Name five people who have taught you something worthwhile
  4. Name a few people who have made you feel appreciated or special
  5. Name five people you enjoy spending time with
I'm doing better on this one. Getting every question right. And it's taking a long time, not because I have to wrack my brain for names but because each person I think of is taking me down a path worth walking slowly, and others are joining the journey as I think of each.

Thanksgiving is around the corner. There's so much to be grateful for. High on my list: the marvelous people who've challenged, helped, comforted, taught, appreciated, pushed, pulled, and never let go of me. And the ones who still do.

Grateful to God right now, and glad to share it.

Blessings and Peace.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Words of Institutionalism

I've been praying my way into the tension between the radical, real, challenging table "prepared before me in the presence of my enemies" (Psalm 23) and the temptation to force my enemies to the table on my terms. Which prayer do we pray: Words of Institution or Words of Institutionalism?

I don't know when
the non-conformist
Words of Institution—
spoken revolution
of a poet-prophet-
harbinger of God—

became the lockstep 
magic Words of
the cross a tool of schism, 
Caesar's domination:
"Go and buy a sword." 

Coopted now
the counterculture
vision cataracted, 
purpose counteracted
flimflam shaman shimming 
up esprit de corps,

the whim of him
or her, but rarely
her, still patriarchal
(ugh), the high ideal 
of "freedom from" becomes
the rule of thumb, of war.

The mystery 
of hoc est corpus 
meum*  loses focus,
decays to hocus pocus,
insubstantial banter
pooling on the floor.

I wonder when
my Corporate Christ
will set the sword aside,
becoming Jesus' body:
extending broken bread 
to share and wine to pour.

*"This is my body," a parody of which some linguists suggest to be origin of the old magical phrase, hocus pocus.

(Photo shamelessly acquired from Lauren Shockey's Fork in the Road blog at The Village Voice,

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Scrambled sacramental eggs

Some preachers hate preaching on stewardship. But I love it. Wrestling with money and faith is some of the most liberating spiritual work I do. 

So now I'm preparing Sunday's sermon on one of the truly disgusting sayings of Jesus. It's from John's version of the words of institution, just without a last supper scene. It's the moment Jesus says, "Eat me." And I run across something amazing from Andre Dubus. It's a must read:
"Yet still I believe in love's possibility, in its presence on the earth; as I believe I can approach the altar on any morning of any day which may be the last and receive the touch that does not, for me, say: There is no death; but does say: In this instant I recognize, with you, that you must die. And I believe I can do this in an ordinary kitchen with an ordinary woman and five eggs. The woman sets the table. She watches me beat the eggs. I scramble them in a saucepan, as my now-dead friend taught me; they stand deeper and cook softer, he said. I take our plates, spoon eggs on them, we sit and eat. She and I and the kitchen have become extraordinary: we are not simply eating; we are pausing in the march to perform an act together; we are in love; and the meal offered and received is a sacrament which says: I know you will die; I am sharing food with you; it is all I can do, and it is everything." ("On Charon's Wharf") 
I can't help setting this alongside Jesus, saying:
‘Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live for ever.’ He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum. (Jn 6.53-59, NRSV)
And the good folks at the Jesus Seminar in their Scholars Version give a great take on the next verse:
When the disciples heard this, many responded, "This teaching is offensive. Who can take it seriously?" 
Well, I'm working on it. Death, life, eggs, love. Maybe a saucepan. We'll see what's cooking by Sunday.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

A Baptist and a Catholic walk into a ...

No, not a bar. You've heard the joke:
Jews don't recognize Jesus as the Messiah.
Protestants don't recognize the Pope's authority.
Baptists don't recognize each other in the liquor store. 
But this is no joke. A Baptist and a Catholic ... share what's so great about Disciples. Dr. Elizabeth Flowers and Dr. Darren Middleton teach in the TCU Religion Department, and if you've ever wondered how a denomination can call itself Christian while insisting on intellectual rigor and religious diversity at the same time, read what they have to say about The C in TCU. Go ahead. It's worth the click.

What felt so refreshing in reading this was remembering my own intellectual and ecumencial awakening in college. Even as the son of a Disciples minister and college religion professor, I hadn't had my presuppositions really challenged until I got away from home and had to start framing my own questions. I couldn't get by just figuring out derivatives or memorizing the names of the cranial nerves. In interdisciplinary study of the sciences, arts, and humanities I came face-to-face with both existential despair and what Viktor Frankl called the "search for meaning."

This became life-giving because I was in a university whose religious heritage didn't demand conformity. Instead it demanded honesty and a willingness to risk my worldview. My professors expected me to read hard stuff I couldn't unread. Not only Augustine, Aquinas, and Hartshorne, but Sartre, Nietzsche, and Camus; Ruether, Daly and Gilligan. And not just to affirm or deny, but to understand. Not to arrive at answers once and for all but to help me get clear about my own questions and learn how to keep asking them better.

It kind of makes me want to go up and down the street knocking on doors. But instead of handing someone a tract with a bunch of questions and answers, I'd hand them a card that asks, "What questions matter most to you?" assure them I'm not there to force my answers on them, but if they want a community that likes exploring such things, we're down the street.

Drs. Flowers and Middleton have captured in a few paragraphs something most American Protestants really do believe and might be surprised to find that lots of church leaders do, too: intellectual rigor and the valuing of human diversity are not the enemy of Christian faith but are instead a vibrant expression of it. The intellectual richness required for religion to become worthy of human striving doesn't fit in a sound byte. It's relational, not propositional.

It feels healthy to be part of a movement that lives into the tensions of faith without minimizing ambiguity or reducing others to caricature (at least not very often, and when we do, we apologize). I'm glad we're the kind of church that supports colleges where someone asks, "What's the C mean?" and discovers that it's a Christian faith that welcomes questions.

In many of our Disciples congregations, the next few weeks we will receive our Thanksgiving Offering. It supports students at 14 member undergraduate colleges or universities and seven seminaries or divinity houses. Which schools? Click here for more. Thanksgiving offerings helped me when I was at TCU and at Disciples Divinity House at the University of Chicago. To support students in Disciples higher education, click here and designate your gift to the Thanksgiving Offering.

Blessings and Peace,