Thursday, April 17, 2014

Whispers and Shouts

(Random thoughts for Easter Sunday's Contemplative Service)

When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead he called out in a loud voice 'Lazarus, come forth' - John 11:43 Jesus raises his voice and calls out in a shout that reaches all the way beyond the grave. A shout that leaves no question about who holds the keys of death and hell.

When Jesus raised Jairus' daughter from the dead, he simply took her hand and said 'Little girl get up' - Mark 5:41 Jesus tells the mourners and musicians who were weeping and wailing to go away, and in a scene of quiet intimacy he whispers life back into the girl.

Resurrections happen in our lives in shouts and whispers.

There are parts of my life that need to loudly raise my voice and proclaim the ancient Easter greeting 'Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.' I need to shout resurrection at a volume louder than my fears. I need to shout out in a voice that reaches into the dead places in my life and declares their resurrection through the power of God. I need a shout that resounds in my ears when faith fades away, a shout that keeps echoing through the gaping canyons of my soul.

Other parts of me need to whisper the resurrection. A loud shout sends me scurrying away in fear like wild deer. I need to whisper as a gentle invitation that I will not be met with condemnation. I need to whisper so I know I will be greeted with understanding. I need to whisper because at times that is all I I can do, and therefore if resurrection can only be shouted I am excluded. I need to whisper because parts of me are so fragile that a shout would destroy them and I would crumble like the walls of Jericho. I need to whisper because God is a God who speaks in whispers as well as shouts.

An honest whispered 'Help me' can contain more resurrection than a fake shouted 'Hallelujah!'There is loud exuberant praise in Heaven, and there is also intimate silence.

When you reflect on your life right now, do you need to whisper or shout?

Friday, April 04, 2014

I Am a Platypus

I've posted on this theme before (see this post on ice cream) but I found myself reflecting again this week.

In 1799 the naturalist George Shaw, Keeper of the Department of Natural History at the British Museum, received a truly bizarre animal specimen from Captain John Hunter in Australia. It appeared to be the bill of a duck attached to the skin of a mole. Shaw dutifully examined the specimen and wrote up a description of it in a scientific journal known as the Naturalist's Miscellany, but he couldn't help confessing that it was "impossible not to entertain some doubts as to the genuine nature of the animal, and to surmise that there might have been practiced some arts of deception in its structure."

Despite Shaw's doubts about the reality of the animal, he gave it a name: Platypus anatinus, or flatfoot duck. The scientific name was later changed to Ornithorhynchus anatinus, but it popularly remained known as the Duckbilled Platypus.

Other naturalists were equally suspicious that the creature was just a hoax. The surgeon Robert Knox later explained that because the specimens arrived in England via the Indian Ocean, naturalists suspected that Chinese sailors, who were well known for their skill at stitching together hybrid creatures, might have been playing some kind of joke upon them. "Aware of the monstrous impostures which the artful Chinese had so frequently practiced on European adventurers," Knox noted, "the scientific felt inclined to class this rare production of nature with eastern mermaids and other works of art."
It was only when more platypus specimens arrived in England that naturalists finally, grudgingly, granted that the creature was real. This made the platypus one of the more famous instances of a hoax that proved not to be a hoax after all.

(taken from the website Museum of Hoaxes)

George Shaw did not want to believe the Platypus was real, even when presented with the evidence in front of him. His belief system of what a mammal should be, combined with his scepticism born of fear of falling for a hoax made him unable to see the evidence before him. I could imagine him saying "They don't fit my paradigm of what an animal should look like, therefore I refuse to believe they exist."

The Christianity of my youth was very narrow and rigid. I had a tightly controlled set of beliefs and practices and if you didn't fit into them you weren't a 'true christian'...which to be honest was a coded way of saying you weren't a christian at all.

I remember the first time I encountered a practicing catholic - Mike. Up until that point Catholics had existed in my life only as a category - a group of people who (in my thinking at the time) belonged to the false church as mentioned in the Book of Revelation. Mike didn't fit in my box labeled 'Catholic'. He had a thick Brummie accent (in my mind all Catholics were Irish or foreign), and an obvious deep abiding spiritual life. He and I were touring in a musical together, he played Jesus and I played St. John the Divine. So here I was onstage most nights having to act like he was part of the Godhead while wrestling with having been taught that Catholics were only one step up from satanists.

My interaction with Mike caused me to throw out my definitions of Catholic.

Mike was a platypus.

The way we react to someone whose theology is different to ours is crucial. One denomination ordains women, another asks them to worship in silent submission....and both are doing so because they believe it is biblical. Calvinists, Arminianists, Creationists, Theistic Evolutionists. Those who affirm gay relationships, those who oppose - Everyone believes their way is biblical...and someone exists who believes being biblical means believing the opposite.

We are all a platypus to someone else.

(As a side note I find it strangely hilarious that their is no consensus on the plural form of Platypus. Options include Platypus, Platypuses and Platypodes. Apparently the only incorrect one is the one that is most common Platypi.

We all need to learn to respond to the platypuses we encounter with grace.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Fasting and Feasting

Lenten Fasting and Feasting  
by William Arthur Ward

Fast from judging others; feast on the God indwelling in them.
Fast from emphasis on differences; feast on the reality of life.
Fast from words that pollute; feast on phrases that purify.
Fast from discontent; feast on gratitude.
Fast from anger; feast on patience.
Fast from pessimism; feast on optimism.
Fast from worry; feast on trust.
Fast from complaining; feast on appreciation.

Fast from negatives; feast on affirmatives.
Fast from unrelenting pressures; feast on unceasing prayer.
Fast from hostility; feast on nonviolence.
Fast from bitterness; feast on forgiveness.
Fast from self-concern; feast on compassion for others.
Fast from personal anxiety; feast on eternal truth.
Fast from discouragement; feast on hope.
Fast from facts that depress; feast on truths that uplift.
Fast from lethargy; feast on enthusiasm.
Fast from suspicion; feast on truth.
         Fast from thoughts that weaken; feast on promises that inspire.
Fast from idle gossip; feast on purposeful silence.

Gentle God, during this season of fasting and feasting,
gift us with your presence, so we can be a gift to others
in carrying out your work.


Tuesday, March 04, 2014

40 Journaling Questions for Lent

“Lent is the shadow the Cross makes on the world in the light of the Resurrection”.

Traditionally Lent is a time for reflection and commitment. These questions are designed to be used as springboards for your personal journaling. Attempt to write an answer to one question a day and also try to write a prayer a day as a response to your own journaling (you get Sundays off). If you feel a question does not apply to you or you are unwilling or unable to answer it, journal about why this is so.

Wed March 5th 1. How would you describe your current relationship with God?
Thurs 6. What activities help you connect with God?
Fri 7. Where are you encountering joy in your life at the moment?
Sat 8. What gives you delight and how is God in that experience?

Mon March 10th 5. Describe a time you felt especially close to God.
Tues. 11. Describe a time you felt especially far from God.
Wed. 12. How does God delight in you?
Thurs. 13. What does God say when He looks at you?
Fri. 14. What emotions arise when you think about God? Why?
Sat 15. What has shaped your image of God?

Mon March 17th 11. What strengths do you have?
Tues 18. How are you unique?
Wed. 19. What are you afraid of?
Thurs. 20. What do you dislike about yourself?
Fri. 21. What do you like about yourself?
Sat. 22. Write about one aspect of yourself you would like to change.

Mon March 24 17. What was one great thing about growing up in your family?
Tues. 25. What was one frustrating thing about growing up in your family?
Wed 26. How are you like your parents?
Thurs. 27. How are you different from your parents?
Fri. 28. How have your parents influenced your perception of God?
Sat. 29. What are your favorite memories of your childhood?

Mon March 31st 23. What are you angry with God about at the moment?
Tues. 1. How do you feel God has let you down?
Wed. 2. Where do you need to experience God at the moment?
Thurs.3. What kind of person feels ‘unsafe’ to you?
Fri. 4. How do you react when you feel threatened?
Sat. 5. How does God feel ‘unsafe’ to you?

Mon April 7th 29. What is your favorite bible verse and why?
Tues. 8. Are there any parts of the bible you wish weren’t there? Why?
Wed. 9. What is your favorite bible story and why?
Thurs. 10. What lies do you tell yourself?
Fri. 11. What do you want people to say about you when you die?
Sat. 12. What is your biggest struggle and how have you encountered God through it?

Mon April 14th 35. What image comes to mind when you think of God?
Tues. 15. How has God used you recently?
Wed. 16. How has God shown His love for you during this season?
Thurs. 17. What is God trying to say to you at the moment?
Fri. 18. Which question was the hardest to answer honestly?

Sat. 19. How have you changed/grown through answering these questions?

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Naked in the House of God

"Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society." ~Mark Twain

"Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
But not expressed in fancy—rich, not gaudy,
For the apparel oft proclaims the man,
And they in France of the best rank and station
Are of a most select and generous chief in that". ~ Hamlet Act 1 Scene 3. Shakespeare

For the past few weeks in the Contemplative Service we've been considering clothes as metaphor. Here is Part 1 and Part 2 

This week I've been reflecting back on the first appearance of clothes in the bible.

In Genesis chapter 3, Adam and Eve eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. There first response after swallowing is to realize that they are naked and and sew fig leaves together to make coverings for themselves. They hide their naked selves from each other and then proceed to hide their nakedness from God. 

In their original state Adam and Eve had no concept of Right and Wrong, and no concept of naked or clothed. Every animal they were surrounded by was naked, and they saw themselves as no different. After eating the fruit they suddenly become self conscious about they way they present themselves to each other. Being vulnerable and naked is suddenly no longer an option because the wisdom gleaned from the fruit tells them it it wrong. Not only does it feel wrong to each other but it feels wrong to be that way before God.

Adam and Eve can no longer present themselves to each other or God as truly themselves. The knowledge of Good and Evil has removed that possibility. They craft an image of themselves that is not who they really are. Their real selves  are not acceptable to each other any more, and they believe they are not acceptable to God either. 

I find it interesting that God in his rebuke does not demand that Adam and Eve remove their clothes and become naked again. After God curses them He chooses to re-clothe them in animal skins. Once you become aware of Good and Evil it seems that you cannot forget it again.

And so we have dressed ourselves ever since.

Clothes; that began as a way of hiding our 'bad parts' from God and from each other have transformed into a way of presenting our 'best selves' to God. They become a way of crafting an image ourselves. They become a way of altering our mood. We dress to impress, to intimidate, to conceal weakness, to protect ourselves from harm. I have so many different versions of myself that I present. The Sunday Best, The Gym, The Hang Out with Friends, the Conference. I subtly dress different at these places and present myself different as well.

Naked I came from my Mother's womb,  and naked I will return - Job 1:21

All these thoughts of clothing and metaphor over the past few weeks can be paralyzing. I can spend so much time obsessing over what image I am presenting to the world that it becomes an excuse for inaction. I need to do the best I can and trust that God sees the intent behind the clothing.

The gospel writers say that Jesus was stripped of his clothing at the crucifixion. Most pictures of Jesus on the cross put some kind of loin cloth on him. It was Roman practice to strip the prisoner naked however. God, stripped of power and might, of majesty and glory hangs naked before the world. 

Where we could not become naked before God, God became naked before us

God invites us to him, clothes and all. God accepts not just our best selves, but our worst. Not just who we desperately want to be, but also who we are afraid that we might be. There is not a single part of ourselves that cannot be hidden in God.

And as God clothed Adam and Eve, he offers to clothe us in Christ. 

My work is not critique others of their Right and Wrong, I have too many beams in my own eye for that. My work is to slowly exchange my clothes - the many layers of my false self, for the life that God is building within me.

If Mark Twain and Shakespeare are correct that the 'clothes make the man', then I need God to be my Master Tailor.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

What should I wear?

Last Sunday I led worship not in my Sunday best, but in jeans and a tee shirt that said 'I make stuff up' on the front of it. For the reasons why click here

On Sunday we are inviting the congregation to come just as you are - to dress however they feel comfortable instead of how they feel they 'should' dress. I've spent much of the week debating what I should wear this time. I feel an uncommunicated expectation that I should wear something funny or thought provoking, it's what I am known for....and it's a role I enjoy. It's another image I project.

As I stared at my tee shirts and tried to pick one I became aware that every item of clothing I wear communicates something about me. Even the cheap Target plain white tee shirts are an attempt to communicate an aura of 'I don't care what I wear, I've set my mind on more important things'.

Normally I just grab the same pressed shirt and pants and race out the door. I don't think about it, it's like wearing a uniform to work. This week I've spent a lot of time wondering about what is exactly the right message I want to convey in the clothes I wear...and it is exhausting.

And it's not just clothes. My haircut (or lack of it) , my facial hair, earring and tattoo all present a particular image. Everything I post on Facebook communicates something about me. How I choose to spend my money, the subjects I choose to steer the conversation towards, the books I read, whether I'm an iphone or an android guy, Mac or PC, it all influences how I want everyone else to perceive me, and advertising knows that and tries to present their product as vital if you want to present the 'right' sort of image.  Even when I talk about being vulnerable and authentic there is still some part of me that wants to be known as the person who is vulnerable and authentic.

All of this analysis paralysis is rushing through my head while I'm trying to pick clothes for church!

And now I want to find some deep meaningful thought to end this post, something insightful and provoking....

...and that desire is also about what kind of image I present to you.

I've got nothing.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

'My life is no longer mine'....wait....what???!!!

(Random thoughts for Sunday's Contemplative Service)

Every Sunday I get home from Chapelwood and immediately go upstairs and put on something more comfortable. The clothes I wear to church on Sunday - my 'Sunday Best', represent a little of the ideal me that I want to present to the world. The stretched stained tee shirt and pajama flannel shorts that I wear around the house seem inappropriate in the house of God.

As Jerry said last week, along with dressing up our outsides, we feel the pressure to dress up our insides. We hide the stains and tears that mar our souls and try and make ourselves as spiritually presentable as possible. It is as if our wounds, jealousies, hurts and fears are as inappropriate in church as tee shirt and shorts.

There is the Ideal Me - the me of the Sunday Best, the me I aspire to be, and then their is the Real Me. On any given Sunday I am at various places on the continuum. The gift of Contemplative Worship has been allowing me to bring whatever me I am currently experiencing into the presence of God.

The very songs we sing reflect this tension, some of our songs express an ideal - All To Jesus I Surrender, All to Him I freely Give. That lyric expresses an attitude of surrender that I may never attain in this lifetime. Other songs express the reality of our comfortable clothes Take, O Take me as I am, summon out what I shall be.'

Over 15 years ago I wrote the song My Life Is No Longer Mine:

My life is no longer mine, to do with as I will
I gave all my rights away
When I gave myself to You
Surrender all I am, giving all I have to give
I'm trusting in You alone
To give all I need to live

When You gave Yourself for me
You gave all You had to give
When I give myself to You
I can give no less
Take my life now, take it all
Do with me as You desire
I surrender to Your love
I can do no less

Take my life, take my all

(To listen to it, click here)

It's proved to be one of my most popular praise and worship songs........and it bites me in the butt regularly.

It expresses a 'Sunday Best' ideal that at times I aspire to, but at other times I wish I hadn't written - if the composer cannot live up to his words and sing them honestly how can anyone else?

Gave all my rights away....Surrendering all I am....Trusting in You alone....When I give myself to you I can give no less

Well actually I can and frequently do give less than my all.

Do with me as You desire....

Err...not so much.

Sometimes this song expresses who I want to be, other times it feels that every line is an excuse to beat myself up for not being the kind of Christian I think I should be. My inner critic loves to berate me for not measuring up to some impossible christian ideal, and this song lyric becomes another yard stick that I can measure myself by and find myself wanting.

I would much rather sit with the lyrics to another song of mine.

Love, like a waterfall, falling on us
Flooding our hearts with grace and peace.
Healing waters flow, flowing on us,
Flooding our hearts with love.

Every moment of every day God is loving us,
Showers of mercy and waves of forgiveness are covering us

Love, like a waterfall.....

(For an explanation of how that song came to be written click here)

Some days I respond to the bold spiritual challenge, other days I feel so fragile that all I want is for God to hug me in silence....and I'm grateful that whether I'm reaching for ideals or wearing my wounds like an armor, I have a place I can just 'be' who I am in the presence of God.

What does your 'Ideal Me' look like? When do you feel at your most comfortable?