Sunday, October 19, 2014

Alternate Prayer Language

I was corresponding by Facebook message with a grieving friend.  She said she couldn't stop crying.  She said she wasn't good at prayer.

I wrote, "We pray in all sorts of languages--sobs aren't often discussed as prayer, but they are."

I am an English major, an old-fashioned believer in books.  So after some additional interchanges, I wrote, "Anne Lamott wrote a great little book on prayer. She says the most common prayers are 'Help me' and 'Thank You.'  The language of gratitude and the language of sobs--common prayers."

All day long, I thought about the language of prayer, the languages that we might not think of as prayer, but they are.

For example, my pastor, Keith Spencer, takes amazing photos and pairs them with Bible verses.  You can see his wonderful work at this blog site.  His process strikes me as a form of prayer, the kind of prayer that praises God and God's creative power.

What other non-word prayers do we offer?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Called to Health on the Feast Day of St. Luke

I first wrote this post for the Living Lutheran site.  It's been several years since they ran it, so I'm hoping they won't mind if I feature it here.

On October 18, we celebrate the life of St. Luke, a creator, an evangelist, and a healer. Some churches might have a healing service in honor of Luke’s role as patron saint of doctors and surgeons. But St. Luke was so much more: he’s also the patron saint of artists, students, and butchers. He’s given credit as one of the founders of iconography. And of course, he was a writer--both of one of the Gospels and the book of Acts. As we think about the life of St. Luke, let us use his life as a guide for how we can bring ourselves back to health and wholeness.

The feast day of St. Luke offers us a reason to evaluate our own health—why wait until the more traditional time of the new year? Using St. Luke as our inspiration, let’s think about the ways we can promote health of all kinds.

Do we need to schedule some check-ups? October is perhaps most famous for breast cancer awareness month, but there are other doctors that many of us should see on a regular basis. For example, if you get a lot of sun exposure, or if you live in southern states, you should get a baseline check up from your dermatologist.

Many of us don’t need to visit a doctor to find out what we can do to promote better health for ourselves. We can eat more fruits and vegetables. We can drink less alcohol. We can get more sleep. We can exercise and stretch more.

Maybe we need to look to our mental health. If so, Luke can show us the way again.

Luke is famous as the writer of the Gospel of Luke and Acts, but it’s important to realize that he likely didn’t see himself as writing straight history. He was maintaining a record of amazing events that showed evidence of God’s salvation.

It’s far too easy to ignore evidence of God’s presence in the world. We get bogged down in our own disappointments and our deeper depressions. But we could follow the example of Luke and write down events that we see in our own lives and the life of our churches that remind us of God’s grace. Even if it’s a practice as simple as a gratitude journal where each day we write down several things for which we’re grateful, we can write our way back to right thinking.

As we think about St. Luke, we can also look for ways to deepen our spiritual health. In popular imagination, Luke gets credit for creating the first icon of the Virgin Mary. Maybe it’s time for us to try something new.

We could experiment with the visual arts to see how they could enrich our spiritual health. We might choose something historical and traditional, like iconography. Or we might decide that we want to experiment with something that requires less concentration and training. Maybe we want to create a collage of images that remind us of God’s abundance. Maybe we want to meditate on images, like icons, like photographs, that call us to healthy living.

St. Luke knew that there are many paths to health of all sorts. Now, on his feast day, let us resolve to spend the coming year following his example and restoring our lives to a place of better health.

 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Support Your Local Church Pumpkin Patch

I am part of a church that offers a pumpkin patch every year.  It's a huge undertaking, from the offloading of the pumpkins to the selling of them.

Our church funds a variety of special projects and ongoing ministries with this pumpkin patch.  When we had a traditional Sunday school, funds went there.  We've used the funds to help repair the roof that covers the part of the building that is more used by community groups than by the church..  We continue to use the funds to pay for Vacation Bible School, an event which is attended by more neighborhood children than church member children.

I love the fact that the pumpkin patch itself is a form of community outreach and a service of sorts.  I love that it funds other community services.

So, this week-end, as you prepare for Halloween, drop by a local church pumpkin patch.  Your dollars will go further than if you bought a pumpkin at a grocery store. 

If you're in South Florida and you want to support my church, it's Trinity Lutheran at the corner of 72nd and Pines Blvd, across the street (but on the same side of the street) from the South campus of Broward College.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Monday Report: Two Great NPR Stories

Monday was a day for interesting programming on NPR, programming which has much to say to religious folks.

There was this brief story on the millennial generation and how they give money to charity.  It may or may not surprise you to realize that this generation is distrustful of all sorts of charitable institutions.  This generation needs to feel invested.  And then, the story analyzes new technological platforms and how charities might utilize Facebook and other platforms which might be less familiar to the rest of us.

The highpoint of Monday was this discussion on Diane Rehm's show about the future of the Catholic church.  She assembled a great panel of guests, people who are quite knowledgeable about the Catholic church, some of whom are practicing Catholics.  It was a great discussion about both the future of the church, about religion, and about Catholicism more particularly.

In a time of such bad news, it was wonderful to have the good news contained in these stories.  In a time of quick clips, it was wonderful to have depth and insight.  In a time where religion and religious values are often ridiculed, it was wonderful to see them taken seriously.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for October 19, 2014:

First Reading: Isaiah 45:1-7

First Reading (Semi-cont.): Exodus 33:12-23

Psalm: Psalm 96:1-9 [10-13]

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 99

Second Reading: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

Gospel: Matthew 22:15-22

This week's Gospel contains a saying of Jesus that is probably familiar: "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's" (Mathhew 22, verse 21). Even people who have never set foot inside a church are probably familiar with this saying, although they may attribute it to somebody else, like Shakespeare or Ronald Reagan.

I love how Jesus realizes that the Pharisees have set a trap for him, and he manages to avoid entanglement. This passage also shows Jesus reacting to the legalistic outlook of the spiritual leaders. He seems to tell us not to be so rigid in our formulas of our finances. We know what we must do. We have bills and obligations (among them, caring for the less fortunate); we cannot escape those worldly cares. But in figuring out our tithes and taxes, we should not lose sight of the larger spiritual picture.

God calls us to more than a rigid formula of living. Instead of dividing up our budget into tight categories, we should always be on the lookout for ways to love each other. Some days/months/years, that love might be manifest in monetary ways. But in a way, just writing a check is much too easy. God calls us to be involved with each other's lives. That doesn't mean we need to hop on a plane to personally respond to every huge disaster. Look around--you'll see plenty of opportunities just outside your door.

My mother has a theory about tithing money. She posits that in our society, giving money isn't the same kind of sacrifice that it would be in earlier times. Most of us have more money than we know what to do with. You might disagree, but if you compare your income to the rest of the world's, you are rich beyond compare. I would argue that we buy so much stuff because we have that much disposable income. Do you really need more than one outfit a day? Is your closet overstuffed, like mine is? There's a disconnect.

My mother says that the more precious commodity in our culture is time, and I think she's right. Most of us can barely find time to phone each other. Have you tried to have anyone over for dinner lately? It seems to take the scheduling skills of those people who used to organize Superpower Summits. My mother's theory is that if Jesus spoke directly today, he'd tell us to sacrifice time, not money.

What if you gave 10% of your time? There's 168 hours in a week. If you gave 17.8 hours to God, how would you need to change your life?

And the reality is, that God wants and needs more from us than a mere 18 hours a week. God wants an ongoing relationship with each and every one of us. And that relationship should transform us to do the tough work of transforming creation, of creating the Kingdom of Heaven right here and now.

In these days of financial insecurity, the message of Jesus seems more prescient than ever. If we save up our treasures on earth, moth or rust or inflation or deflation or bad policies or any other kind of ruin you want to name will leave us bankrupt.

The way we live our lives moves us closer to God or further away. If we devote our lives to God, our whole lives, not just an hour on Sunday, then we'll find a relationship that we can count on in good economic times and bad. And that relationship can help us transform not only ourselves, but our families, our communities, everyone we touch.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Pet Funerals

I confess that I haven't given much thought to theology as it concerns our pets.  I've thought about how much money we spend on our pets and how we often care for our pets in a much better way than we do for ourselves and the humans around us.

Our friend who rents our cottage had a bird who had been with her for 29 years.  Yesterday, the bird died.  Our friend feels deep grief.

I worried that I might insult her, but I sent a Facebook message with the offer to help her bury the bird in our yard.  Far from insulting her, she saw it as a gift.

Come to find out, it costs $200 to cremate a bird--shocking!  It only cost us $325 to cremate my mother-in-law.  Our friend didn't have the money for a cremation, and she wasn't sure what to do.  She was happy to have our yard as an option.

I knew that my spouse would play the violin.  I wondered if I should create some sort of liturgy.  But in the end, we kept it simple.

My spouse had already dug a hole, which was good.  Our friend had wrapped the bird in some fabric from one of her old shirts.  I said a prayer, with references to God paying attention to the fall of the smallest bird and death not being the final answer.

Do I really believe in the resurrection of animals?  Yes, in some ways, I think I do.

Do I believe in a Heaven where our pets wait to be joined with us again?  I am less sure.  In the spirit of full disclosure, let me say that I am less sure of answers to all questions that concern Heaven.  I am fairly sure that Heaven will not be the way that most of us envision it--it's much too saccharine sweet a vision.

Once we prayed, we put the bird in the grave and replaced the dirt.  Our friend had collected a variety of natural objects, which she laid on the grave.  I offered a variety of glass objects that I collected when we were working in mosaic.

Then we sat in the twilight as our friend wept some more.  Finally she was ready to return to her cottage to try to get some sleep.

I am already thinking of some of the ways we could have had a better burial.  I am already thinking about the ways that funerals help us deal with death and the need to come to terms with the fact that a loved one has gone.  And even if the theology is shaky, a pet funeral may be a significant way that we can minister to those who grieve.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Spiritual Questions on Columbus Day

Today we celebrate the federal holiday of Columbus Day, although October 12 was the actual day of the first sighting of land after almost 2 months at sea. I’m always amazed at what those early explorers accomplished. At Charlestowne Landing (near Charleston, SC), I saw a boat that was a replica of the boat that some of the first English settlers used to get here. It was teeny-tiny. I can't imagine sailing up the coast to the next harbor in it, much less across the Atlantic. Maybe it would have been easier, back before everyone knew how big the Atlantic was.

In our spiritual lives, we may be feeling a bit like Columbus. Let’s ask some questions prompted by Columbus Day, questions that may lead us to some meaningful meditations.

Below, when I talk about our spiritual lives, I’m talking about our individual lives and expressions of spirituality, as well as our corporate spiritual lives, the lives we live in the company of fellow believers.

--In our spiritual lives, are we the explorer or are we the native populations of new continents? Or are we members of the Old World? In other words, are we always striking out for new lands? Or are we waiting to be discovered? Are we so tied to our traditions that we can’t even imagine how our lives could be different?

--As spiritual people, how long are we willing to be at sea? I’m part of a church tradition, mainstream Protestantism, that looks back longingly to the 1950’s, when it seemed that everybody made time for church. Many of us hope that we will soon return to a time when church returns to its central location. But we may have only started our time at sea, on a voyage of discovery. Can we trust God? Can we continue to hold onto our faith when we're in the middle of a vast ocean, with nothing but our instruments and the stars to guide us, with no sense of how far away the land for which we're searching might be?

--We may be certain we’re on a quest to find one kind of wealth. In the process, we may discover something completely different, something far more valuable? Will we recognize the value of what we find?

--The explorations in North and South America changed our cooking forever. Imagine a culinary life without corn, sweet peppers, tomatoes. Imagine life without chocolate. What ways can our spirituality enrich our cultures?

--Of course, if I was looking through the Native American lens, I might say, "Imagine life without smallpox." What are the possible negative impacts implicit in the collision between secular culture and sacred culture? Can we mitigate those? Should we mitigate those?

--These explorations wouldn’t have been possible without the patronage of the wealthiest of society members. In our current world, many of us are some of the wealthiest people on the planet. North Americans may not feel like it, but we’re the Isabella and Ferdinand of our time. What projects should we be funding? What spiritual projects will make the kind of lasting legacy of funding the voyage of Columbus?