Category Archives: Theology

Coffee Wars

It does not insist on its own way. I Corinthians 13:5, NRSV

[For the full text, click I Corinthians 13 above.]

The coffee pot was moved back to the corner, and thus began the battle…

The church kitchen had been a disorganized mess for years, so the youth group took it on as a way to contribute to the life of the community. Cupboards that hadn’t been opened in years, much less emptied, were given a thorough scrubbing; what was broken or dangerous was removed; what was left was cleaned, organized, and labeled. The walls were degreased and repainted. It took hours, but the transformation was spectacular.

One of the best things: the coffee station had been relocated to a space near the service window. Everything was within easy reach, and it made coffee hour so much easier for hosts and guest alike. The youth group did the honors that first Sunday after the reorganization, hosting the coffee hour and revealing the new kitchen.

The grumbling started within hours. How could the teens change the kitchen without asking (they had permission from the church leaders)? How could they toss things out without permission (only broken and expired things were thrown away)? What right did they have to change anything?

The next Sunday, the coffee pots and machine had been moved back to the corner by persons unknown, recreating the old set-up. The youth, assuming someone didn’t know about the new place, moved it again. The next Sunday, it happened again. And again. And again. Finally, the youth gave up. Their hard work and best intentions had run into a communal unwillingness to change. The coffee making status quo was restored, but the damage was significant: the youth no longer believed that their efforts or their presence were welcome.

I doubt the adults who moved the coffee pots were intentionally causing damage to the teens of the church. I’m almost positive that there wasn’t a conspiracy intent on rejecting and dismantling the gift of time and effort given by the youth. This was just a typical knee-jerk reaction, a reclaiming of turf, an exercise of power. I wish the adults had asked themselves this question:

What is more important: keeping things the way I want them or honoring the gift offered by others?

The true and most disturbing question: what would have been their answer?

I Am Nothing

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

[For full text, click I Corinthians 13 above.]

Let’s assume I have good intentions, and my wishes for prophetic powers, perfect understanding and knowledge, and abiding faith are all answered. All I lack is love – meaning good things for others and sacrificing to bring them to fruition. I could still do so much good if I don’t use my gifts to harm, couldn’t I?

Doubtful. Not because I couldn’t accomplish amazing things, but because I’ll miss the point and purpose of those amazing things. Intelligence, knowledge, accurate prediction, and belief aren’t enough. Add them all up, and they still won’t give me the one thing I need: wisdom.

Wisdom assumes love – it’s why there are evil geniuses but no evil wise women and men. If I perform miracles without love for every living thing, I’m likely to manipulate others rather than invest in their uniqueness.

Wisdom recognizes limitations. Amazing abilities take their toll if fueled only from personal resources. The well runs dry eventually because no one is meant to live outside loving relationships with God and others. A car with an empty tank cannot fulfill its potential, even if it’s a top-of-the-line model.

Without love, I would be destroyed by my own abilities, a null and void self – nothing. God being gracious to everyone else, whatever I did manage to accomplish would bring blessing. God being gracious to me, creating me to be something rather than nothing, the wish wouldn’t be granted in the first place.

And So It Begins…

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 

Words have the power to shape reality, pointing us to what is good and holy and staring us in the face. Words have the power to maim reality, and wound all that is good and holy and seeking life. What I say to you and about you, what you say to me and about me – these words matter.

As I write, the airways are full of words and the Ukraine full of violence. A string of words from a powerful leader, words without love or thought for the lives that will be lost and damaged, has put this whole world on a dark path. The noise of gongs and the crashing of cymbals, the whistle of bombs and report of gunfire are in that string of words without love.

What words can I say or write? How can I speak a quiet word of love in the cacophony of loveless syllables? Without love, my words will add to the destruction – no matter how beautifully or cleverly I craft them.

I best watch my tongue and do my best to speak love in this time that most desperately needs to hear it.

Love Letters, Old Style

Origami heart, last steps…

Valentine’s Day decorations are still up in windows, on shelves, and in the 75% off aisles of Target and Market Basket. Yet, less than a week beyond the day, it all seems a bit half-hearted and tattered. If love is strong, such things are a nice extra, but not necessary; if love is not strong, even extravagant trimmings can’t fill the void.

It’s a truth we all know but don’t often say aloud: love has to be more than a fleeting feeling and a paper doily heart. It’s time for something constant and substantial, something strong enough to steady our feet and grow us up.

It’s a letter that was never meant to be reduced to romantic love, no matter how often it is read at weddings. It’s Paul’s letter to an entire community that was playing the Whose gift is best? game. As we view Valentine’s Day in the rearview mirror and move forward into Lent, let’s take another look at this old, old-fashioned love letter from Paul…

 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.

It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.

It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophesies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end.

For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully even as I have been fully known.

And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

I Corinthians 13, NRSV

The First and the Last

Readings: Psalm 90; 2 Samuel 7:18-29; Revelation 22:12-16

“See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay everyone according to everyone’s work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolators, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and descendant of David, the bright morning star.” Revelation 22:12-16, NRSV

[Revelation is an example of apocalyptic literature – a graphic and larger-than-life depiction of the end of everything. It is a genre written for those in dire situations, who are already living in calamity. It is gospel, good news, for the oppressed because it offers this truth: there is nothing that prevents us from returning to the God who created us and loves us.]

All that is comes from God, from the first moment of creation through this very moment. That includes you, me, and everyone else. There is no one who didn’t come from God’s loving, creative act; there’s no one who won’t return to God’s loving embrace. It’s the here and now that seems to be a place of separation – from God, each other, and the earth itself.

Most of us, not all, are not living in a living hell that cannot be changed no matter what actions we take. For us, Revelation’s stark images and larger-than-life metaphors don’t give comfort because they aren’t written for us. But they can spur us to act for those living in those dark places. They also remind us that God is the last word as well as the first – our end as well as our beginning.

Jesus, show me how to trust in you in this space between the first and the last. Amen.

The Examened Life

It’s November. The days are getting shorter, and the separation between Halloween and Christmas seems to shrink a little bit more every year. I don’t want to lose this month of harvest and giving thanks.

Last year, I wrote a pandemic curriculum for Thanksgiving based on the Daily Examen of Saint Ignatius. In a time when many activities were out of the question, and many people were questioning their life patterns, it seemed like a good idea. I put it in the form of three questions:

What was good? What was hard? Where did you see God?

Families were encouraged to take some time each day to answer them together, and were given paper of various shapes to write their answers down. It was my way of offering a specific spiritual practice for God’s beloved children of all ages.

This year, even with the restoration of some of our pre-pandemic patterns, I’m returning to the three questions of the Examen for the Thanksgiving curriculum. What was good this day/week/month/season? What was hard? Where did you see God? I hope you will join me, adding your own answers and spending time with the creator who loves you beyond measure.

Click here to add your thoughts on these three questions;

https://padlet.com/ccpsundayschool/1cb2vk2xkdnyrxeh

Noonday Prayers

I pray in the morning, I pray in the evening, but I don’t pray at noon on any kind of a regular basis.

I’m familiar with Morning Prayer and Vesper liturgies, but not the Noonday service.

I say prayers throughout the day, depending on what I see, hear, and feel; I don’t say mid-day prayers as a routine activity. There’s no “noonday prayers” on my calendar. Why is this?

Our Muslim sisters and brothers pray at noon as part of their every day faith, stopping in the middle of activities to orient themselves toward God. Isn’t it time I give this a try?

I hope you’ll join me. With these words, let us begin…

O God, make speed to save us.

O Lord, make haste to help us.

 

Proud Thoughts

Keep back your servant also from the insolent; do not let them have dominion over me.

Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression. Psalm 19:13, NRSV

Keep back your servant also from proud thoughts – the alternate translation of that first part of the verse. This isn’t a prayer for God to keep me away from the insolence of others: it’s a prayer to God that I don’t become insolent. But, as like attracts like, if I hang with an insolent crowd I’m probably guilty of the same vice.

Proud thoughts (the ones that make me see myself as comparatively better than others) aren’t the same thing as self-confidence or self-love. Proud thoughts are those internal conversations that demean others so that I can feel inherently superior. They shrink my soul even as I diminish the worth of others. There is no doubt: this is a great transgression. Evil comes easily from such thoughts.

The Buddhists list right thought as one of the chief elements in a holy life. This is having the right perspective more than it is the lack of thinking mean thoughts. Their point is that everything else springs from this basic starting point. Wrong thoughts cannot lead to right judgement, speech, or action – harm will come from the wrong perspective, damaging others or damaging self, and often both.

Perhaps there’s no better way to avoid proud thoughts than asking for God’s help. Knowing I cannot rely on my own strength of character, and knowing I can rely on God’s love, is a good starting point.

 photo by Donna Eby

It’s Not Just About Me

…the fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever;

the ordinances of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.

More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold;

[Psalm 19:9-10a, NRSV. For the complete psalm, click psalm 19 above.]

 

English doesn’t quite get the point across. This isn’t fear in the sense of afraid-for-my-life/scared-to-death; this fear of the Lord is the quickening of the pulse, the scared-to-life sense when holiness shows up. This isn’t fear that harm will come, but keen awareness of the difference between creature and Creator.

This awareness of my own limitations, this encounter with the love that created all that is, this is what I should desire more than gold. My finitude in the presence of the loving Infinite doesn’t diminish me: it just gives me the slightest glimpse of God’s sacred love of everyone and everything else.

It’s a wonderful and humbling gift of truth: I am God’s beloved, and I walk a world full of other beloveds.

 

Big Picture, Human Law

The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.

Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.

There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard;

yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.

In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy, and like a strong man runs its course with joy.

Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them; and nothing is hid from its heat.

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the Lord are sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eyes;

the fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever; the ordinances of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.

[Psalm 19:6-9, NRSV. For the complete psalm, click psalm 19 above.]

What revives your soul and makes your heart rejoice? What makes the simple wise and enlightens the eyes? My off-the-cuff answers:

Beautiful images revive my soul.

The moon path on the water makes my heart rejoice.

A compassionate heart makes the simple wise, and meeting a beloved enlightens the eyes.

I can’t say that law comes to mind as the answer to these questions, but it should – especially the law of the Lord. Maybe something like this…

Not looking at my neighbors’ possessions with envy makes it possible, even inevitable, that the sight of them will bring joy.

Avoiding eating and drinking to excess honors the work that went into growing and preparing the bounty on my table, and keeps my body nourished.

Laziness wastes the precious hours, days, years, and decades I have been given; using my time and energy wisely (including rest!) satisfies my body, mind, and spirit.

Loving God above all other things keeps me from enslavement to money, status, and other harmful masters.

Seen this way, the Law of God is a gift, the path to a loving, joyful, sacred life. Not fetters, but freedom.

How is it that the Law of God is so rarely framed in this way?