Saturday, March 22, 2008

Holy Saturday: Prayers for the Healing of our Land in the Tomb of Christ

The terrible suffering of our world, in many places and forms has been esspecially on my heart in the last weeks of Lent. I've been feeling close to the suffering of Jesus, and the belief that Jesus, the "God who is with us" (Emmanuel) of the Christian tradition is esspecially present with the suffering of our world. It seems to give many people's hope in the face of problems and injustices which seem overwelming.

As someone who grew up esspecially close to nature, the sufferings of our non-human neighbors is esspecially painful to me as well. I shared an experience I had in Salem at our Good Friday service in Salem last night- walking along the shore of the inlet by the train, currently low from the receeded tide, I was struck by the beauty of the setting sun- then with sadness as I saw the heaps of garbage close up. I had just been reading of discoveries of traces of Oceans and hints of life on other worlds (Mars and Titan, Saturn's moon), yet now literally stumbling through filth we have made of our own life-giving waters.

For generations (a class is being taught at Harvard now on this, actually), many religions and cultures have believed in the cleansing power of water, that the world's waters could wash away any stain. We have, tragically used this as an excuse to throw most of our junk in the ocean, with the result that there are now massive, island sized drifts of toxic garbage in the Pacific Ocean:

I know that many Christian groups have been leary of "environmental" issues in this country, although that seems to be changing recently with growing talk of "Creation care" and stewardship. I think the reasons for this are complex, though at least some are a sense of this world's fallen/passing nature and fear that care for the earth is "New-Agey" or worshipping nature. The unfortunate result I have seen, tragically is that people get the impression that Christians only care about Heaven, and end up supporting the abuse of the world since its going to end soon anyway.

I'm a strong believer that each religion needs to address these issues, but should do so from the heart of its own beliefs. There are many Christian strands of love for the earth, and reminders (in the Eastern churches esspecially) that God is redeeming/ultimately renewing ALL of creation, not just disembodied souls. While that final healing is in God's hands, many Christians down through history have seen a deep call to work towards it here too.

There are many calls in the ancient traditions of Native peoples which inspire me, and strongly echo deep things in our own tradition. A reminder that the care of this earth, of all life IS a care for people too, that we're all connected because the Creator/Great Spirit/Great Mystery made it that way. Scientists are literally realizing the rainforests our world's lungs, they produce the oxygen we breathe and cleanse the air of toxins and excess CO2. Every tree is literally helping to keep us going! Native peoples have long believed this, and call for a deep recognition of our failings to honor what we have been given, to purify ourselves and pray and work deeply for the healing of our land. The Plains idea of prayer is called "Crying for a Vision," where you fast (purify) and humbly pray deeply for holy wisdom in a time of great need.

The ancient Hebrews, who also felt deep closeness to their land as a gift have a similar call, one I think might help Christians recover some of our own concern for Creation:
"If my people which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from Heaven, and forgive their sin, and will heal their land." 2 Ch 7:14

At the Salem Gathering, talk of sharing one's faith in the different ways we have been called seemed for many to embody Christ's healing in a hurting world. For me, I think this is a big part of mine. I'd welcome people's thoughts on these ideas, which I might share more at some point.

I offered a sea-shell at our Good Friday service in our contemplation of the "Tomb" like old bank vault- a beautiful pearly purple piece I found amidst the garbage. Christians believe that our world's sins and pains have died with Christ, that we might all rise to new life. Such is my prayer for our wounded world, its peoples... and its Oceans and trees, this Holy Saturday.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Three prayer requests, in the spirit of the Celtic saints

I won't be "celebrating" St. Patrick's day with beer tonight... partially because work keeps me from it, because its Holy Week, but also because of some difficult issues facing our world this week. I thought I'd raise three up, with requests for prayer/action as one feels led.

Many people don't know, but St. Patrick has a strong connection to liberation- he was a former slave himself, finding himself led by dreams to return to the people who enslaved him... and during his time in Ireland, he at one point he widely circulated a vitriolic attack on a tribe of bandits who kidnapped an entire peaceful community of new Christians, men women and children. He called on all local chieftens and leaders to condemn/act against this barbaric act, roughly 1200 years before the British/American abolition movements.

The first is the recent uprising/repression in Tibet as we approach the Chinese Olympics. I was at the UN this weekend for a conference on religion and peace work amongst the churches and non-profits, and we saw a large protest there... some people actually got arrested, I think for crossing the line while we were just upstairs. I spent a few moments respectfully joining them in silence and prayer. This article in the Times looks at the current situation and the Dalai Lama's response... not sure what else one can do at this moment besides prayer...

Amnesty posted this concern, for a man in Georgia convicted in a seriously questionable murder case who is yet again facing execution. I was following this when it came up last year, if people could send a quick letter it would be a huge deal:

Lastly, if people could pray for my community... we're facing another election tonight, of two Village board members. Our people are unopposed at the moment, but with all that's happened we're hoping the other side isn't planning to quietly do a surprise write-in. People seem frustrated and discouraged with everyone at this point, it hurts me to see my homeland in such turmoil, even the plan I support has its drawbacks, but I still believe its the best course. Its a hard time though, and we don't know what's going to happen.

A prayer, inspired by St. Francis and the Celtic saints:

God be with us, before us, behind us, in our rising and our falling. Light of sun, rush of stream, dancing mist, soaring rock, by all the living beauty of this Creation, in the company of saints and all who have come before. Peace be upon our world tonight, Lord, near and far. Grant us peace, peace beyond all understanding, in a world that bleeds. In the name of Jesus, God who suffers with us, Amen.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

(Most of) a Free Philip Yancy Book on Googlebooks

I linked this in my first post, but feared it wouldn't be noticed. There is a wonderful recent book by Philip Yancy on prayer, inspired by an article he wrote years earlier on "prayer/does God change?" Its a googlebook, most if it seems fully readable.

If you haven't read Yancy yet, check him out. He's one of the most graceful, broad, and intellectually vulnerable Christian writers I know, had the "emergent" spirit, I'd say years before any of us started talking about it! He recaptures so much of the richness of the Christian tradition and shares it so freely, you always feel he's completely honest and asking questions he himself has pondered for years. Many have hailed him as coming close to a next CS Lewis. :)


Reaching for the Invisible God, The Jesus I Never Knew and What's so Amazing About Grace are other classics. Soul Survivor is a personal testement to the authors and persons who have shaped his spiritual journey profoundly, from Henri Nouwen to Tolstoy/Dostoevsky.

Wrestling Angels, Standing at a (Cross)Road, Listening to the Wind (aka why I'm a sucker for theological multitasking)

Took me a while to get this place up and running, wanted to be sure it began on the right foot, so to speak.

"Holy Wrestling" is a lifelong practice of mine. Whether it was demanding exact details on the afterlife as a four year old or spending hours in the woods looking for God as a teenager, I've always had a mind to meet life, personal and theological problems head on. I'd grab a sports drink, head out into the wilderness and tackle whatever problem or angel came my way. Diving straight to the source, which usually led to the "Ultimate heavyweight" Him(El)self.*

Wrestling with God? Isn't that blastphomous? Well, I seem to be in good Biblical company. From Abraham trying to argue God out of torching cities, to Jacob's bronze-age WWF action, to the obvious example of Job, the Bible's full of this stuff. Which makes sense, because anyone who's been in a genuine relationship knows it takes hard work to maintain (sometimes a full mediation team!) But if you love someone, you're willing to take that trouble, 'cause you believe there's something good on the other side. As a Christian whose worships the Ultimate Source of Love, being faithful means making sure I, my faith*** AND God are living up to that standard.

Scripture and my own experience lead me to believe that wrestling is worth it, that sometimes it takes wrestling to be blessed (but beware of broken hips!). And so I'm creating a place where I can do that, along with anyone interested in the ride.

This has all been spurred by some profound experiences of community and the Holy Spirit's stirring in new ways in my life over the past few months. I'm deeply grateful for what I've been given, and wish to be faithful to it and my future calling/ministry by taking some time to do some passionate seeking/discernment. I admit to sometimes pondering such issues in isolation, so I'm welcoming you, my online community along the journey.

It should be noted that this blog is a place for wrestling, "working out" and experimentation. Like myself, it's a work in progress. Like many "Emergent" Christians I will ask tough questions, challenge assumptions and risk trying new ideas. One should not assume this is my definitive theological view, but neither should such questions, the good ones at least, be taken lightly. Its my observation that the questions I ask as a devout Christian are often the same which many people within and outside the church are struggling with. Paul teaches us that much of the spiritual life is lived "through a glass darkly" (1 Cor 13), but perhaps in honest, friendly conversation we can help each other in the journey.

As a result, I encourage discussion, critique and challenges, though I ask, above all that discussions occurring here aim to be in a spirit of Love. Religion can all too easily hurt people, and this is intended to be a safe place, a Sanctuary.

As for actual content, it will be evolving, but expect range of reflections, discussion questions and prayers. I'm also hoping to get in on my friend Pastor Phil's monthly global synchroblogs, and joining my Jeff the Gent's plan to do some monthly "Live-bloggery" of Boston-area Emerging/Emergent communities. If you have any other thoughts or requests, let me know!


*It should be said, from the start that I do not consider God to be "an old man". Jesus taught us to pray to Abba/Daddy, but then you have him and the Psalms (4, 17, 36, 57, 91) longing to gather us like a mother. Its taken more than a few brave feminists to remind us of what should be an obvious point, imho. I will generally refer to Jesus as "he," since the incarnation does have specific human features, but also recall elements of Sophia/Holy Wisdom which have ties to ancient understandings of the 2nd person of the Trinity. If all of us equally bear God's image, the Son/Word would need to affirm/in some mysterious way uphold the female as Divine as well. Jesus' treatment of women, perhaps unequaled in the Bible would could hint at this. Some have argued the very plausibility of the Resurrection has stronger grounds today because Jesus first appeared to women, who in that time could not testify in court. If the Gospels accounts were fully "doctored," why leave that in?

English doesn't have a neuter personal pronoun, but perhaps that's for the best- it challenges us to creatively ponder God's uniqueness. I don't like saying He/She, and God certainly doesn't deserve "It!" So I've stolen Christian author Madeline L'Engel's habit of referring to God with one of the oldest names in the Bible, "El." VERY deep in the linguistic history of the middle east, I understand it to also share roots with the name Allah (which, for the record has been used by not simply by Muslims, but Arabic-speaking Christians for centuries).

Still, I am a man/limited by my own perceptions, and I find myself relating to God the Creator as male sometimes. To balance this, I've reclaimed ancient conceptions of the Holy Spirit as feminine, and I also reserve the right to throw all these rules out the window on occasion. I blog like I pray, which means making generous use of the box cutter. :P

I don't seek to impose these rules on anyone, and welcome discussion. But I thought I'd make my phrasing clear for folks here.

**Does this mean I think we can change, even correct God? Good question! The Bible seems to have God changing and not changing El's mind in different places. While there are some interesting writings on this, my lived experience has generally been that God's bigger than any of my expectations, so maybe I'm wrestling to see more clearly. But for any relationship to be truly reciprocal, not to mention interesting it takes some mutual learning. The Bible and my own experience uphold this possibility. Why would God create humanity with free will if El didn't want a few surprises or wonders along the way (the mystery of Omniscience notwithstanding, I think there is something qualitatively vital about our being free/able to co-create with God)?

***Faith is for me not a modern rationalistic belief but a combination of holistic felt/known
beliefs ( Buddhists talk about a heart-mind, which I love! ), lived practice, and a hope that transcends both. I may ponder the roll of all three as a form of "witness" in future posts