Monday, May 2, 2016

The Prophet as Agent of God's Time

[A version of this was delivered as part of Barclay College's "Spiritual Emphasis Week"]

In the last post I discussed one way that time and eternity function in theology and in lives of faith in a direct experience of the indwelling Christ. These two posts address how a realizing eschatology changes the possibilities for spiritual transformation in the present, how God’s eternal promises are invading our lives at every moment, an apocalypse of the heart. Christ lives in us in His fullness. He dwells in our hearts in his completion, not as parceled out and obscured but as God’s revelation to the world. Christ resides in us as the crucified one, the resurrected one, and the glorified one. Christ is not only crucified, Christ is not only resurrected, Christ is not only glorified by the Father. The salvific and eschatological promises of the past and the future are directed incarnationally into every time and every moment.

Crucified, resurrected and glorified.

And the paradox of paradoxes is that Christ is all three eternally and dwells in us as this eternal presence. And according to Second Peter, we are “partakers” of this nature made incarnate in us (2 Peter 1:4).

What I want to say in this post is that the saints, the ministers, the faithful prophets of God, are those who see time for what it is. They are those who see the reality of time and are commissioned by God to proclaim the meaning of time and to embody the fullness of time. These are prophets. Prophets are those who can see God’s will and can call our brothers and sisters to a more living understanding of our place in God’s world, of our relationship to the fulfillment of God’s presence.

Monday, April 25, 2016

John Woolman (1720-1772) and the Apocalypse of the Heart

[A version of this message was given during Barclay College's Spiritual Emphasis Week]

In this post and the next one I want to mine theological resources from the Quaker tradition and interpret them for our day and age, for the spiritual power and hope God has called us to embody. I want to think about time, and the ways in which the future time of God’s fulfillment is already a present reality. Our faith traditions can be a teacher, an encourager, and a partner in our spiritual walk. My tradition, the Friends, have been that for me and have taught me ways for faithful living I have found meaningful. We look to the cloud of witnesses that have preceded us to relativize and deprioritize our self-obsessions and the the idols of our own day. We look to the past for perspective, to be educated in a different way of thinking, and to be shown the varieties of God’s mercy.

And for me, no one since the time of the bible has knocked me out of my self-absorption like the eighteenth century Quaker, John Woolman.

Monday, December 14, 2015

What to Get Jesus for Christmas

Preached at McKinley Hill Friends Church, December 13, 2015

The Birth of Jesus
About that time Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for. So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David’s town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancĂ©e, who was pregnant.
While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel.
Luke 2:1-7 (MSG)

Each year many of us go through some sort of dance-like maneuvering to find out what would be a meaningful gift for our brothers, sisters, children, and grandchildren. We want to give a gift that’s useful, that shows we care, but it is not always apparent to us what that gift would be. The needs of each generation are so different and, unless we are a member of that generation, we really can’t predict what gift would be helpful.

Look! A laptop!
I can’t remember a single one of my fellow high school students lugging a computer around with them from class to class. Today, many Middle Schoolers and High Schoolers are required to have with them a tablet computer the size of a manilla envelope, but more powerful than any of the computers readily available when I was in High School, fully loaded with all sorts of "apps" and software programs. Many of their textbooks are now carried around on tablet computers. How am I to know what they need for their classes? Do I sound old? Gifts can be tricky things, especially when generations are so separated by rapidly changing technology and cultural expectations.

Each year, the hint is usually dropped to me via my wife that I need to suggest a few things I want for Christmas, because our families are asking what on earth I want. I usually just say a couple inexpensive things off the top of my head, mostly so that my family can feel like they got me something I needed. The best part of giving gifts is the experience of being generous and helpful to someone else. The truth is that most of the time we don’t really need very much. We are surrounded by affluence and the fact that I often can't readily identify a need simply confirms the depth of my own cultural privilege as a member of western society. Clothes are cheap and easy to come by. We have food and we have a roof over our heads. I am usually just as tickled to get chex mix and homemade jam as more expensive gifts that I don’t really need.

This year I put a little bit more forethought into what gifts could be useful. I started writing down what I would like as a gift whenever the thought occurred to me throughout the year. It’s mostly simple stuff to fill in the gaps of things I already have, or things that I need for the next year. By jotting down what I need throughout the year, I’ve saved myself the frustration of trying to remember, all in one afternoon in early December, what would be a meaningful gift. So this year my Christmas list includes the basics that keep me going: razors, shaving soap, new tires for my bike since the old ones are cracked and need replacing.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

A Simple Way to Pray: The Apostles' Creed

 The Apostles' Creed
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
      creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
      who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
      and born of the virgin Mary.
      He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
      was crucified, died, and was buried;
      he descended to hell.
      The third day he rose again from the dead.
      He ascended to heaven
      and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
      From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
      the holy catholic church,
      the communion of saints,
      the forgiveness of sins,
      the resurrection of the body,
      and the life everlasting. Amen.

     This is now the third and final post that looks at Martin Luther’s prayer advice to his barber. Luther was one of the key leaders of the Protestant Reformation of the early 1500s, and one of the leading theologians of all time.

     He was also a pastor who had a deep relationship with Christ, and wanted others to experience the same deep intimacy that God holds out to all people. Luther’s advice to his barber is to ground his prayer in the words of the Lord’s Prayer, first of all, then to move on to the Ten Commandments, and, finally, to The Creed.

    Prayer can start with the Lord’s Prayer, Ten Commandments, or the Creed, but it finds real traction when the Holy Spirit steps in and prays through a person. Luther’s suggestions in this letter to his barber are to be seen as suggestions that open the door for the Spirit to step in and pray through you.
We’ve already looked at Luther’s teaching on the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments. Luther’s final suggestion to his barber is that if he still feels drawn to prayer after praying through those first two texts that he turn his attention to The Creed as a springboard for prayer.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

A Simple Way to Pray: The Ten Commandments

Exodus 20:3-17 (The Message)
“No other gods, only me.
No carved gods of any size, shape, or form of anything whatever, whether of things that fly or walk or swim. Don’t bow down to them and don’t serve them because I am GOD, your God, and I’m a most jealous God, punishing the children for any sins their parents pass on to them to the third, and yes, even to the fourth generation of those who hate me. But I’m unswervingly loyal to the thousands who love me and keep my commandments.
No using the name of GOD, your God, in curses or silly banter; GOD won’t put up with the irreverent use of his name.
Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Work six days and do everything you need to do. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to GOD, your God. Don’t do any work—not you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your servant, nor your maid, nor your animals, not even the foreign guest visiting in your town. For in six days GOD made Heaven, Earth, and sea, and everything in them; he rested on the seventh day. Therefore GOD blessed the Sabbath day; he set it apart as a holy day.
Honor your father and mother so that you’ll live a long time in the land that God, your God, is giving you.
No murder.
No adultery.
No stealing.
No lies about your neighbor.
No lusting after your neighbor’s house—or wife or servant or maid or ox or donkey. Don’t set your heart on anything that is your neighbor’s.”


In the last post, I wrote about Martin Luther’s little essay, "A Simple Way to Pray." Martin Luther was a Catholic monk who became the leader of a movement of renewal and reformation that spawned the Protestant churches. He was a pastor and a theologian and all of his writings had the intent of helping other people experience a deep spiritual life. His essay, "A Simple Way to Pray," was written for his barber, who had asked him for practical instructions on prayer.

Luther encouraged his barber to take prayer seriously. In order to do so, he said his barber should clear himself of distractions. No cutting people’s hair with one hand while holding a prayer book in the other. Rather, a barber should cut hair when he is at work and give a separate time every morning and evening for a short and simple prayer. There is wisdom in this. As much as we can and
should make our whole lives an act of prayer, this life-prayer is sustained by regular periods of focused prayer.

Luther said that true prayer only happens when the heart is properly inclined to it. In other words, there is a communion of Spirit and flesh that takes place in prayer and we can’t short-cut it by removing the Spirit. That would not be real prayer. So we are to ask God to listen to our prayers and have faith that God does. That God listens to our prayers is not magic, it is not some power that we hold over God and we can order God around. It is God’s act of free grace that we respond to with humility and gratitude.

Luther told his barber that better than trying to sound all religious in his prayers was to simply respond to what the church affirms as God’s teaching. Luther gives three specific examples: 1) The Lord’s Prayer, which we looked at last time; 2) The Ten Commandments, which we will look at today; and, 3) the Creed, which we will look at next week.

Luther recommended the Lord’s Prayer as a starting point because it was the prayer taught by Jesus. Rather than merely repeating the Lord’s Prayer, Luther said that he would meditate on the Lord’s Prayer by repeating a phrase from the prayer and then adding his own prayer; then he would move on to the next phrase and add his own prayer, and so on. In this way, the form prayer Jesus taught became the foundation for personal prayer. The words of Scripture led Luther to reflect on them and to apply them in his own prayers by expanding them to include the people and events of his own life.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

A Simple Way to Pray: The Lord's Prayer

Matthew 6:5-15
5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
9 “This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from the evil one.'"


     The next three posts will focus on prayer, and how we can pray creatively and personally and directly. These posts will be based on the teaching of one of the most important theologians, Martin Luther (1483-1546). Martin Luther was probably the most significant figure in the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s, which separated the Holy Roman Church from the Protestant churches. So, we all owe a lot to Luther, and his teachings remain valuable for us. I am going to take Luther’s ideas and modernize them, making them my own prayers. The title of the essay by Luther I will be working with is A Simple Way to Pray, which was written for Luther’s barber, one Master Peter Berkendorf, in the Spring of 1535. I don’t think we know much about Peter Berkendorf, except that he was Luther’s barber and wanted to know how to pray. Luther was a top-notch theologian, but, like all theologians worth their salt, he was primarily a church leader who helped people express their faith. So when confronted with the very simple question of how to pray, he gave it some serious thought and wrote an eleven page essay. Luther says that there are three great catalysts for prayer:
The Lord’s Prayer
The 10 Commandments, and the
Apostles Creed

     Today, I want to look at what Luther says about the Lord’s Prayer.

Martin Luther (For a nice overview of Luther and his accomplishments, see Justo Gonzalez's A History of Christian Thought, vol. III)

Martin Luther was a somewhat moody young man with strong religious inclinations. He enrolled in a Catholic monastery in 1505, at the age of 21, with the goal of becoming a priest. He did not take his vows lightly. He was a dedicated pupil and was ordained as a priest. During the first couple of years of Luther’s studies at the monastery, there is no indication that he found Catholic teachings to be troublesome or that his vows were a burden to him. He was willing and eager and exemplary.

In fact, he enrolled in the monastery for the purpose of making himself right before God, or purifying himself. And so he led a strictly disciplined life, which included excessive fasting. In later years he would say that he thought the fasting he undertook in those days had resulted in some permanent damage to his body, but he found that it did little spiritual good and so he became disillusioned with his spiritual progress. Real concerns began to grow in Luther when he saw how the Catholic Church of his day was abusing the relics and indulgences that were to be used to grant forgiveness of sins. He saw that the Catholic Church’s use of indulgences was insufficient and he began to doubt Catholic doctrine.

Following the advice of a friend, Luther gave himself to studying the Bible and found therein a doctrine of justification different from the one he was taught in the monastery. Then, in 1517, Luther composed his ninety-five theses, which challenged the doctrine of indulgences. The ninety-five theses were like the spark that sets off a powder keg and from that point on Luther garnered support from others who were dissatisfied with the Catholic Church and from that point on we talk about the growth of the Protestant Church.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Grow Potatoes in Trash Cans

I am always on the watch for efficient and effective ways to grow food. I want to tell you about one of those methods in this post.

Potatoes are always good, but potatoes grown organically in nutritious soil are GREAT! If you are hesitant to dig up your yard to plant potatoes, or you have only a small yard and not much space, you can grow potatoes in a trash can, barrel or other type of bin.

This works particularly well for potatoes because the potato plant grows vertically and then puts out spuds every foot or so. In a large field, farmers will periodically "hill" the potato plants by raking soil to cover all but the very tops. After the plant grows a little taller, they will "hill" the potatoes again, thereby increasing the growing space vertically.

However, using a trash can to grow potatoes keeps the "hilling" in a tidy, confined space so that you could grow them on a balcony or walkway.

Here is what you need to get the job done.

You will need to purchase soil and fertilizer (or prefertilized soil) for the trash cans. Depending on how big the bins are, you can figure about two bags per trash can (2 cu. ft. bags). And here is the chief downside to trash can potatoes: you have to buy bagged dirt every year. Good soil costs about $8-12 per bag, so that can add up quickly. You do not want to reuse the same dirt for growing potatoes year after year because potato plants are highly susceptible to pests, which will become entrenched in the soil if you don't rotate the dirt out. However, if like me you have many different pots going, you can simply rotate the dirt from those other pots into the trash cans and move the dirt in the trash cans into the pots. You would just need to keep track of where your dirt has been.