Category Archives: Theology

Study Materials

I will try this day to live a simple, sincere, and serene life, repelling promptly every thought of discontent, anxiety, discouragement, impurity, and self-seeking; cultivating cheerfulness, magnanimity, charity, and the habit of holy silence; exercising economy in expenditure, generosity in giving, carefulness in conversation, diligence in appointed service, fidelity to every trust, and a childlike faith in God.

In particular I will try to be faithful in those habits of prayer, work, study, physical exercise, eating, and sleep, which I believe the Holy Spirit has shown me to be right.

And as I cannot in my own strength do this, nor even with a hope of success attempt it, I look to thee, O Lord God my Father, in Jesus my Savior, and ask for the gift of the Holy Spirit.

A Morning Resolve, Forward Day by Day, inside front cover; Cincinnati, Ohio: Forward Movement. www.ForwardMovement.org.

I got to spend over an hour on the phone with my brother, Bill, last night. We got caught up on each other’s lives – work, family, weather, etc. As usual, we also talked about what we are reading for pleasure and for work. We both agreed that almost any field of inquiry, almost any subject, can be a doorway into a deeper and transcendent reality – it just depends on our approach.

It’s true when I dive into something by the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu. It’s just as true when I study origami directions.

It’s just not as obvious.

May I have the wisdom and faith to recognize in whatever I study a doorway into God’s love.

This is one in a series. For more, click “A Morning Resolve” above.

Morning Prayer

In particular I will try to be faithful in those habits of prayer, work, study, physical exercise, eating, and sleep, which I believe the Holy Spirit has shown me to be right.

[A Morning Resolve, Forward Day By Day, inside cover, Forward Movement, Cincinnati, Ohio; www.ForwardMovement.org]

As I write, my local Shaw’s is out of toilet paper, chicken, diaper wipes, and sanitizing cleaners. Fear has caused a number of my neighbors to buy enough staples to last half a year or longer, leaving the neighbors who cannot afford to stockpile such things in immediate need. The problem isn’t the one or two people who take so much more than they need, it’s the ones who see them doing it and follow suit. Fear is catching.

But how should we live our faith in our shopping? None of us wants to be left without, having to depend on others for daily needs, and none of us really wants to live at the expense of those around us. Since we don’t know what the immediate future brings, it’s difficult to make faithful decisions: what if we make the wrong choice?

It’s been my habit for several years to recite a prayer when I awake, before I get out of bed and begin the day’s work: Lord, grant me to greet the coming day in peace. In all things, help me to rely upon thy holy will. In every hour of the day, reveal thy will to me.

It goes on, but the rest is really a riff on these first three sentences. It transforms my day from a series of tasks and encounters to the grace of God’s daily gift of life. Peace as the basis, not anxiety, panic, or ambition. Reliance on God’s abundant love for all, not on my own self-centered plans; awareness that I can’t comprehend God’s perspective, and that I must continually pray for guidance throughout the day.

I make mistakes, and I come up short. I act without kindness, and I forget my neighbor. But in times like these, it’s only by beginning the day in God’s peace that I have any chance of holding the needs of my neighbor in my heart along with my own. God, give me the strength and wisdom to begin and end in prayer – especially now, when it’s difficult. Amen.

[Mr.Mister, Kyrie, Welcome to the Real World, RCA records, Recorded October, 1984-April 1985, released November 27, 1985. Purchased from iTunes]

Fleas

In 2010, our cat’s flea medication stopped working. We returned from a two week vacation to discover a house full of fleas. When flea bombing didn’t work, we called an exterminator. He sprayed the house and left instructions:

  1. Throw out food exposed to insecticide.

2. Wipe all the surfaces in the house.

3. Vacuum every inch of the floors and furniture daily for four weeks. 

The first we had already done. The second was a one-and-done. The third, something else:  two hours devoted to vacuuming every sofa and chair cushion, every baseboard heater vent, and the floors of every room in the house. Then repeated twenty-seven times.

For the first week, it felt like undeserved punishment: it wasn’t our fault, but we were stuck with the consequences anyway. Even worse, we would still see a flea every so often.

Week two wasn’t much better. There was a lot of swearing when the children weren’t around, and silent swearing when they were. The fleas appeared to be gone, but who knew if the eggs were still around?

Week three: cursing wasn’t necessary – we just got on with the business of getting it done. We didn’t even look for fleas.

At the fourth week’s end, it was over.

Every so often, circumstance requires more effort and time than I’d like to give – “getting rid of fleas” work, in the symbolic sense. Sometimes this is of my own making and sometimes it isn’t. Either way, I still have to put in the work. These days, I do my best to skip the whining and cursing and just get on with it.

exercising economy in expenditure, generosity in giving, carefulness in conversation, diligence in appointed service, fidelity to every trust, and a childlike faith in God. 

[This is one in a series. For the full prayer, click “A Morning Resolve” above.]

 

Impure Thoughts

I will try this day to live a simple, sincere, and serene life, repelling promptly every thought of discontent, anxiety, discouragement, impurity, and self-seeking.

Whenever anyone uses the phrase impure thoughts, isn’t it always about sex? But if I define impure as anything that reduces another living being to an object or a means for my own gain or satisfaction, then the scope widens way beyond sex. When I intend to gain at the expense or damage of another, when I think about taking without giving in return, my motives and thoughts are impure.

Even with the best of intentions, I may inflict harm out of my own limitations and ignorance. But when I do so knowingly, the damage I do to others is mirrored in the internal damage I inflict on my own soul. Best not to go that route – in thought, word, or deed…

Rock and Pond

I will try this day to live a simple, sincere and serene life…

[A Morning ResolveForward Day by Day, November 2019 – January 2020, inside front cover; Forward Movement: Cincinnati, Ohio. www.ForwardMovement.org]

Chalk Pond, New Durham, New Hampshire:

It’s a sizable rock,  jutting far enough into the water to see the fish and turtles that don’t come right up to the bank. Sitting there most any day, I see the sun dance on the breeze blown water, throwing light in all directions. On clear nights,  the water stills to a mirror; the rock connects the stars in the sky to their reflected images: heaven above and heaven below on full display. In such a time and place, I am serene.

But if I make the shift from being serene to living a serene life, where I am in this shifts from rock to pond. Pond life grows and changes constantly, and remains mostly unseen by those on the outside. Its surface is moved by whatever the day brings, and that movement plays with and scatters whatever light comes its way. When the day’s activity falls into night’s calm, the pond becomes a living reflection of the starlit heavens – active and alive inside, serene enough to be a small starlit heaven on the outside.

Lord, help me make of this day something that fosters life in its activity and reflects your light in its stillness. Help me live this day a serene life. Amen.

chalk_newdurham

 

Simple

I will try this day to live a simple, sincere, and serene life…

Simple and easy aren’t interchangeable. It’s simple enough to learn a basic crochet stitch, but not easy to crochet an afghan. It’s easy enough to memorize the Jesus Prayer [Lord, Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me (a sinner)], but letting go of all other thoughts and feelings to pray it isn’t so simple an act.

Simple and simplistic aren’t the same. Simple is when what is beside the point or tangential is removed, revealing something’s true nature. Simplistic is when something’s true nature is interpreted as less or fundamentally different from what it is.

So what am I praying when I say I will try this day to live a simple life?

  1. I’m asking God to help me avoid the simplistic version of reality that makes God and others objects in a world of my own making. Instead, I will recognize that I am an infinitely small and infinitely beloved creature in God’s holy creation – and so is everyone else.
  2. I’m praying for the strength to do today’s sacred tasks without complaint or resentment, and the wisdom to recognize and leave undone everything else.

Isn’t that more than enough?

[Forward Day by Day, A Morning Resolve; front inside cover, November, 2019-January, 2020; Cincinnati, Ohio: Forward Movement; www.ForwardMovement.org. For the full prayer, click A Morning Resolve above.]

I will try this day

On the inside cover of Forward Day by Day, you can find a prayer called A Morning Resolve. This being the month of resolutions, broken and unbroken, I thought it a fitting time to dive in and take a closer look. It’s a longish prayer, with words that address heart, mind, and spirit. Word by word, line by line, let’s take a good look. The place to start: the first five words.

I will try this day

There are infinite possibilities in this God-given world, but there are no repeats. If I do not seek God this very day, I live a lesser version of life than what is offered. Will I choose to live into today’s unique and holy offerings? Will I try? Will you?

[For the full prayer, click A Morning Resolve above.]

Without Darkness

Readings: Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
[Isaiah 9:2-7]

Darkness. Deep darkness. Yoke of burden. Rod of oppressor. Boots of tramping warriors. Garments rolled in blood. These are not the words we want to hear on Christmas Eve. So often, they are edited out of this passage, so it jumps from a cursory acknowledgement of darkness becoming light to the wonder of a child given to us. We’d prefer it that way, I think. It is easier to avoid all that other stuff. We want to focus on the good stuff, especially on Christmas Eve.

And yet. How can we yearn for light if there is no darkness? How would we even know what light is? Even more, how can we know that we need a savior if we are not burdened, oppressed, trampled upon and bloodied. How would we even know what a savior is?

The key to the preparation we need during Advent is coming to grips with those things we wish were not a part of our living. We need four weeks to overcome our natural resistance to this task because it is something we would rather not do. Christmas Eve is an important time, perhaps the most important time to be in touch with these difficult realities. This, of course, does not mean that we do not experience hope, peace, love and joy throughout our lives. We do. And it is a great blessing. But that is only part of the story. There is darkness in the world. There is also darkness in our own spirits. If we don’t acknowledge that truth, we cannot truly appreciate our need for a savior. If we cannot acknowledge that truth, we can never truly experience that fullness of the wonder that comes to us on Christmas Day.

On this last day of Advent let us acknowledge the darkness in our living. When we are able to do that, we are at last ready to welcome the birth of the one who truly is a Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God and Prince of Peace. When we are able to do that, we are ready to receive that Savior whose gracious, loving, redeeming presence with us we celebrate on Christmas Day.

Offered by Jeff Jones, pastor, author, walking home to Bethlehem.

[Four Rowhouses, 2018-2019, by Colin Fredrickson]

It’s the End of the World (but not as we know it)

Readings: Psalm 146:5-10; 2 Peter 3:11-18; Luke 3:1-18

Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob…who made heaven and earth, the sea, an all that is in them; who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. [Psalm 146:5a, 6-7, NRSV]

But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home. Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish. [2 Peter: 3:13-14, NRSV]

I’ve lived through three “end of the world” days; I’ve had doomsday pamphlets handed to me in front of the post office, and an agenda for the apocalypse (day one) left on my windshield. The few interviews I’ve seen with the leaders who predicted these end times weren’t filled with visions of peace and renewal: they were full of dire judgement – a now you’ll get what’s coming to you, complete with a good finger wagging. Nowhere to be found was the patient love of God, the lifting up of the poor and oppressed, or the revolutionary idea that the end of the world is its transformation into its true nature – a leaving behind of partial peace and fleeting compassion and the arrival of their fullness.

The day of the Lord is coming, true enough. But if it’s anything like the coming of God in Jesus, it’s not going to be the ultimate smack down many expect. It will be life renewing itself, precious as a new baby; it will be justice which offers mercy for all shortcomings. It’s not torture for all those who didn’t get the Jesus memo, or got lost somewhere along the way. It’s the entire creation becoming home, where no one is lost and everyone is welcome. Rest for the weary, food for the hungry, peace for the troubled spirit. In other words: a new heaven and a new earth. Amen.

Lord, walk with me, traveling home to Bethlehem. 

 

[Two Rowhouses, 2018-2019, by Colin Fredrickson]

Walk in the Light

Daily Readings: Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24: 36-44

In the days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all nations shall stream to it.

Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.”

For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judged between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.

O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!

Isaiah 2:1-5, NRSV

The Lord’s house may crown the highest mountain in holy light, but the hills that surround it are real – lesser realities and smaller aspirations that diminish and darken human existence. That just may be the point. Isaiah’s vision of peace among peoples isn’t a dream of perfection standing alone: it’s reached by people walking toward God’s house from the imperfect, hilly places in which all of humanity lives.

Darkness and light suffuse the path we walk. Our feet take us through shadowy hills on the way to the high place where all we see before us is God’s light. We won’t get there unless we leave the hills behind, walking in trust when the shadows darken our way and rejoicing in every glimpse of light that draws us on.

Take heart; we don’t walk alone along an unknown path. We are walking home together, beloved children of God, on the road Isaiah and so many others walked long ago.

Guide my feet, O God, on the long road home to Bethlehem. Amen.

[Rowhouse, by Colin Fredrickson]