”Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23

Dear fellow travellers, I come here with a backpack of curiosities. Let me lay them out here with tender care for your thoughts, your views, your love …

For last night I heard an odd phrase. It was on a bus in a carpark. One “Christian” telling me about another “Christian” … “Blah blah blah blah – and right now he is on a journey of faith.” As though they themselves, or I for that matter, had concluded our own journey successfully.

And then later that evening I also saw two “Christian” bloggers resisting each other in their own blogs. With some history of baring their teeth at each other in the past, it seems they now show their love by either ignoring each other, or by “not” baring their teeth. Which is quite civil, but still allows “seepage” – what I call “sniping”.

I have also been informed by other “Christians” that the reality of unconditional Love is “nice” but not “enough”. As though somehow unconditional love is too “unconditional”, that it needs some backbone to be of any real benefit – which means, of course, a few rules to help things along – rules that let a chap know where he is – that keep things in order – which give perspective – keeps us all trundling along the same narrow path “together”.

I am curious.

My Lord and Father made things pretty clear in the bible: Love is the greatest direction I can give you. He went willingly to “that cross”: Love is the greatest gift I can give you. He willingly absorbs every bitter, twisted, depraved, perverted, trashy toxic excrement I ever have and ever will emit: My Love is always unconditional.

And despite all that … that appears to be “not enough”. We still need additional reassurance. The affirmation that “I am right”.

And the problem I am seeing more and more is that for me to be right – you either have to agree with me, or be wrong. It is one or the other. And when you agree with me – where is “unconditional love”? And where you disagree with me – then where is “ordinary love”? So “love” short-circuits and fizzles out (and “unconditional love” never gets a look-in).

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”

We seem to have taken “self-denial” to heights never intended by our Holy Father. The self-denial of self-delusion. The delusion that somehow we must be right if “we” have found God. And the longer “we” have found Him, the better “we” understand Him. So the less time “you” have found God, the more “I” know and “you” don’t. So it is “my” job to keep “you” on the narrow path. And if “you” see a twist or turn “you” wish to explore, then it is also “my” job to police this stretch of narrow path and keep “you” from straying.

(and God help those who “found God” and now find they are finding a different God, a more personal God, a more living God – a God who is big enough for any and all questions. Those “Christians” aren’t really “Christians” at all! So we must insulate ourselves from them – for they will infect us and our purity for God – and they may take many of us “with them” as they crash and burn.)

Which takes the form of spoken and unspoken comments. Like “we have arrived, not like him – he has just found God”. Like “I must love you, so I will snipe lovingly – your heart is in my crosshairs”. Like “love is all well and good, but where are the rules?”

This morning I came here with seventeen other verses I wanted to lay on the floor – verses He spoke through. Yet “verses” seem to be at the heart of this conundrum – simply another way of finding room for fault. My fault that I haven’t been taught the right way to see what God really meant. Or that if I knew my bible properly, I would know that those other verses over there bring a totally different meaning … and we do it all over again … and again … and again … without even being aware we are doing it.

But I must unpack these verses. And if they speak to you in any way – that is His way – just as He spoke to me in “His way”:

“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’ “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’ “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” Matthew 20:8-16

(the passage is verses 1-16)

Hew drew me to this first:

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. verses 1-2

We “good Christians” have accepted eternal life with open arms. It is our salvation. We know that. We aren’t thick or stupid or missing a few grey cells – we are each perfectly created by Him. We each said “Yes Please Lord”.

“ … then they began to grumble against the landowner … ”

So why are we “good Christians” so protective of eternal life? Why are we so protective of salvation? Why are we in self-denial as the guardians of God?

Because that same “in denial” misses the point that when we “grumble” about other “good Christians” (let alone the lost world, the poor folk yet to find God, the atheists yet to be struck dead by lightning, the Muslims who have missed the point completely, the perverts who sleep with their own kind, the women who dress in such a way as to cause men to sin, the … I actually get bored nowadays writing out the list of all those excluded – more and more angry – just so very bored listing the many categories) …

It means that WE grumble not against each other – but WE grumble against God (the very same God we profess to love, have given our lives for, have sacrificed so much, that we carry His heavy burden for Him, that we carry His heavy cross for Him … the God we love)!

We tell Him – day after day – with our grumbling against each other: “God – You got it wrong!”

I am curious. How does that work?

When Steel Doors Clang!

Posted: August 7, 2015 by Little Monk in Uncategorized

The Postmodern Mystic

Prison Bars Twas the Night Before Christmas, and all through the Big House… earsplitting sirens blared, the clank of great steel doors slamming shut assailed us from every direction, and a stentorian voice bellowed down every corridor, “Everyone stand still, stop where you are, and wait. This facility is now under Lockdown.”

For 70 or so good-hearted church volunteers, carolers, and choristers, there crept the growing realization that they were now, however briefly, actually incarcerated in a State Penitentiary. Corrections Officers on high alert, conducted civilians from our several buildings and ushered all into the Cafeteria where I (as the only Staff Chaplain in the Facility that night) was asked to help all remain calm and host our visitors, explaining what was going on.

Simply put, there had been an escape(!), we were now in Lockdown, and these wonderful church folk who had intended nothing more complicated at 10 p.m. than bringing…

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I’m not big on “Handy Hints per ReBlog”, but this article by Chuck Lawless really spoke to me, and I thought it may be helpful here. These elements seem to apply as easily to writing, as to preaching.

I wish I had written it!

See what you think 🙂 — LM

 

15 Ways to Improve Your Preaching or Teaching.

 

Hope

Posted: April 22, 2015 by Little Monk in Uncategorized

The Life Project

CB2014 032-LR

It has been said that the only force that is stronger than fear is hope.

People who have hope will often do amazing things, while people who are without hope will march quietly to slaughter.  One of the great tragedies of life is the fact that so many people are living without hope, just carrying on not really living, but existing.

I heard a story one time about a guy who was near the end of his financial rope. He had a great idea that he knew could save his situation, but he didn’t have the money to get started.  At the urging of friends, he spent the last of his money travelling to New York City to meet with potential investors in a desperate attempt to raise capital.  As he went from prospect to prospect, he felt more and more hopeless; why should they invest in someone who was…

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depression“Are you saying you want to kill yourself today?”

“Well, I wouldn’t have put it that way, but… yes.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I have a friend, a brother deep in my heart who, in this year 2015 has endured devastating losses. Relationships… career… finances… physical health… professional esteem… sense of personal esteem… All that — devastating. This is not to say that he has not participated in, made decisions that have led to, much of this loss. (Some would say “all” of it, but perhaps it is more fair to say “most”.) Some people, both in general and regarding him specifically, respond with, “Well… he’s made his bed…” or its more “Christian” counterpart, “Well… he’s sinned, so if/when he repents…”

News Flash: My friend, my brother, is a “sinner”.

Stop the Presses: So am I.

Random Conjecture: So is every reader here.

So… chalking suffering and pain up to the presence of “sin”, may be “theologically accurate”, but I’ve never found it particularly “helpful”. That is not what this discussion is about. The questions I find most meaningful in these days are no longer questions of “What?” or even of “Why?”… but rather, the question of “How?” In the midst of devastating, breathtaking pain, How do we go on? How do we “live”, when even breathing hurts? How?

This post is not being written to evoke darkness, despair, hopelessness or depression. (In fact, this isn’t even a technical consideration, or intended to have a primary focus on, depression. If pieces of this discussion address some of that, good. But that’s really not what this is about.) This post is being written to communicate the precise OPPOSITE… I seek to proclaim Hope, Purpose, Life, and Light. But here we are, right here, right now, in the trenches… in the nitty-gritty of darkness… WAY past the place of “preaching” or “platitudes”. These hurts, these fears, this despair can run so dark, so deep, so bloody… that “quoting verses” doesn’t even scratch the surface.

Seldom… thanks be to God it is ever so seldom… am I in a moment where reflecting this depth of darkness is appropriate in this place, this blog, before you, Gentle Reader. But this is one of those moments, and I am irresistibly moved to repeat to you what I’ve just shared with that brother on the phone in a second call this day.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Context:

First, I will not share the sequence of events, decisions, or circumstances that have brought my brother to despair of life and its meaning. That would not be appropriate professionally, spiritually, or relationally both with God and with him. You do not need that information to hear truth in these words. Just imagine that you have lost your connection with everything in your life on earth that you hold dear, and you can find common ground with the heart of my friend/brother.

Second (last): “There but for the Grace of God…” Believe me when I say, *I* am by no means “superior” to this friend/brother in any dimension of Christianity. He is as “called and gifted” as I, most would say more so. He is as “highly trained and educated” as I, in fact… demonstrably more so. (I have one doctorate, he has two.) He is as “experienced in ministry” as I, as many years of service. He has counseled as many in pastoral counseling as I, perhaps more. He has as much “denominational stature” as I, in fact… demonstrably more. Believe me when I say to you, set the two of us side by side in columns on paper… pick ANY criterion of “evaluation and job performance” you choose… in ANY regard (Christian, community, professional, pastoral, financial, you name it…) and you’ll grade him as “superior” to me EVERY time. That’s just the truth.

And those are the only critical information you need to hear the truth I seek to speak in this post. There is not an ounce of “superiority” or finger-pointing in me towards this friend/brother… he is “better than I” in every measure for what we have dedicated our lives to, and I accept that as true, so you can as well. I am painfully aware that “there but for the grace of God go I” as I walk with him, and I walk in the holy “fear and trembling” of deep humility as I speak with him.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Here’s What I Have Come to Say:

My friend/brother has experienced devastating, catastrophic, losses in every arena of his life this year. He spent considerable time, energy, and resources initially in denial of these losses, and then in trying to combat them and recover lost resource. Now, only now, is his grief reaching “acceptance”, and in that acceptance he is finding is pain so great and his life so empty… that he is considering relieving his pain by ending his life.

This is the call I got first thing this morning, that my friend/brother had come to this point in his walk, in his life. This was the call that contained the opening two lines of this post.

THIS, this “bottomless pit of unrelieved darkness”, THIS is the “reality” the “battlefield” of real “spiritual warfare”. (There are many others, of course… but this is certainly one of them.) And this one is life or death, right here right now.

I embraced my friend/brother on the phone. I “loved on” my friend/brother on the phone. But I love/loved him too much to “feed into his spiral”. I was not going to say all the “warm, soft, fuzzy words” that were going to roll off him like so much rainwater off a duck. You know what I mean… words like, “Just trust in God.”, “This too shall pass”, “People love you.”, “Time will heal this.” or quoting any of dozens of appropriate scriptures.

Why? Why would I not say those words? Because in that moment, he would not “hear” them. He was trapped in a “death spiral”, a place nearly dead to hearing and vision, trapped in thrall to an image of himself in a mirror… the image of his miserable self, against a backdrop of a life he did not have and could not re-acquire… a mirror image filled with the “sorrow that leads to death”. He was trapped in what Eric Berne would call the “Yes, but… Game” (Games People Play). He wanted me to float “warm fuzzy balloons” that he could dart and destroy in his misery, justifying his resolve to quit, to give up, to die.

I floated no such balloons. Instead, I said a couple very blunt things, couched and cushioned in many “gentling words”. I’m going to put the “bald statements and questions” out here before you now, but please understand they were not expressed this starkly… but rather nested in softening words that he could hear. OK?

Statement of Observation: “My brother, you have found that when stripped of your ‘stuff’, your money, prestige, resources, and your own plans… you have lost your will to live.”

Statement Two: “Good! You and I share the same background and know the same things. I don’t have to… I CANNOT… ‘preach’ to you and I refuse to try. You’re better than this! You know better than this! You know as well as I that OUR lives, at least… CANNOT be grounded in our ‘stuff’. If you had forgotten this, and are being reminded of this, I grieve for your pain, but I am grateful for the insight.” “WE, at least, CANNOT ground our lives, our purpose, our meaning… in our STUFF. This is what we try to communicate with others, that’s a false foundation and it will not, it cannot, sustain us. I cannot tell you this, you know it as deeply as I.”

Challenging Question: “You consider ending your life because so much has been lost. Well, then I ask you this… ‘Why are you ALIVE in the first place? Why do we have life? Why are WE here?'”

And I shut up… for a long time to silence on the other end of the phone…

His Response: “I’m not comfortable with this conversation any more, so I don’t want to talk to you. I’m going to let you go now, so God Bless!” And he hung up.

For the next hour I pondered whether I had just killed my friend and brother. I prayed, I pondered, I studied, I listened, I realized…

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

An hour after that realization, I phoned back… and he answered (the first of my calls he’s answered directly for weeks). I said… “Please hear me out and don’t hang up. I’m not going to yell at you, preach at you, and I’m not mad at you or disappointed. OK? I just want to ask you a question…”

“OK, so ask…”

“OK. How much money, how much would it be worth, how much of your resources would you spend, if I could put one human soul in front of you… just ONE… who was destined to go to hell for eternity, but you could write a check and buy him/her out and head them to heaven, instead? What would that be ‘worth’ to you, of your holdings and accounts, or your reputation, or whatever?”

…. long silence… then a weary sounding, “I don’t know… I can’t answer that…”

“Well, *I* know… because I know you, I know your heart and its generosity and what you give, and have given, all your adult life to rescue souls from hell. And here’s why that’s important…

“You, at this moment, are buried in pain so terrible that you despair of life and hope all together. I understand that. I’m not denying it, or minimizing it, or any of that. Life, right now, is walking across glass shards into blazing coals. I agree…

“But here’s the thing… we, you and I, are here for a very specific purpose. A purpose of rescue. ALL Christians are, actually, but most aren’t aware of that. We ARE aware of that. If you die today… your timeline, your road, comes to an end in this world. Your pain would end, true.

“BUT… so would your encounters. You and I are not here for the ‘pretty cobblestones’. We are here because we carry Him in us, and we love, and we encounter people in their darkness with hurts as deep as any we’ve ever known, and we can offer them Light, and Love, and Hope, and Life. Not only in the here and now, but in eternity.

“If your life were to end today, there are people God has stationed along your future road, encounters He has planned to happen, people He has intended for you to love and lift up Christ to and for… who will never encounter you. They will never hear you. They will never be loved by you, and perhaps they will never hear and see the Christ you would show them, to embrace Him.

“You are here, you live, dedicated to rescue of the lost. You’ve done it your whole life. You  know what I’m talking about. You can remember those you have personally loved into the embrace of Jesus. Well, my brother, they are not the ‘only’ ones you are destined to meet.

“There are more, there are others, but they are stationed on the other side of this pain you have now. How much pain would you endure, what would you suffer, what would you pass through… how much glass, how much flame would you walk across… if I stood at the end of that track with a group of broken, suffering, lost and damned souls that it was your destiny to love, heal, and let Jesus rescue… through you and your presence in their lives?

“How much pain would you bear? How much resource would you spend?”

… long pause… hoarse whisper of response… “Everything, anything… I’d give anything…”

“Good. THAT is all I called to say. Your pain is horrible and real. I don’t deny that. I just deny its relevance to our lives. We are here to carry what dwells within us to people who desperately need to see, feel, be touched by that… through us, and embrace… Him. And when everything, and I mean EVERYTHING else is stripped away… even our “gracious feelings” and our piety, and our devotion, and our sense of His presence…. When we are left naked and whimpering in a darkness so thick we can’t even BREATHE for its choking us… when religion fails… intelligence fails… sentiment fails…

“Sometimes all we have left is sheer ‘stubborn’. You NEVER quit. You never EVER quit. If not out of obedience, or devotion, or even ‘love’… You are a competitive man, I know that. You are as stubborn as I, I know that. You simply cannot quit, because underneath all of that, ‘faith’ will energize the ‘good form’ of your pride… if you quit, the enemy wins. Ministry stops. Grace and love through you and your present life here, stop. And he, the enemy, wins.

“I am going to let you go now. I don’t know if you’re comfortable or not, but I have faith that you are too competitive, too stubborn, too proud… to quit this contest and walk off the field, losing by forfeit. If you cannot continue to rescue people out of obedience, or duty… then do it out of love. But if even THAT cannot be felt in this moment… ask yourself if you really want to throw up your hands, forfeit this battle, and concede… letting the enemy win.

“I know you. You can’t let that happen. There’s just too much to be done yet, and too many out there to love that you haven’t met yet.”

…. and we blessed one another and hung up.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Gentle Reader, I don’t know if you personally have ever been in that dark place. I have. I pray I never need to return, but I know that place. We can be stripped, just like Job, of every sense and sentiment of grace and blessing we’ve ever known. When all the trappings, all the ‘stuff’ of our Christianity, all the percs and comforts, are removed from us and all we feel is abandonment, despair or hopelessness…

Within us, there is yet a Flame. Within us, there is yet a Servant. Within us, there is yet Love that Gives Life. He can resuscitate life within ourselves, but only when we acknowledge and embrace that our Purpose is to share Life with Others through Love.

I hope this has not come off as a “depressing” post, or even a “depression” post, because that is far from my heart…

My heart proclaims a wondrous Truth… The God of Hope dwells in every Christian, seeking and saving that which is lost, lonely, hurting. He does this, amazingly, through our frail and fragile selves as vessels of love. When we lose sight of this, when we become distracted by mirrors or the barns of our stuff, we can find ourselves dizzy, disoriented and confused. But when we embrace the Light within us, when we cherish Him and rejoice in His embrace, then our feet find our right road and we encounter wondrous adventures of rescue all the time.

This is not the “Minister’s Job”, or the “Pastor’s Job”, or the “Preacher’s Job”, or the “Counselor’s Job”, or the “Deacon’s Job”, or even the “Churchgoer’s Job”…

This is not a “job” at all… This is a “definition” of our very Selves. This is Who we are, What we are, called and anointed, commanded, simply… to love.

Every one of us, when we love another and connect heart to heart, provide the conduit of Light necessary for Him to reach across and spark Life in the other. For some, for those also dwelling with that Light inside their spirit, such touch offers comfort, encouragement, endorsement, affirmation of Life. For others, for those who have never trusted to or embraced that Light and Truth, this touch brings Life Himself.

We offer love, that the other may receive, embrace, reflect and refract love, and thus live..

Why are we here? To love and carry Light, Life, Love in our steps. There is Purpose in that. There is Meaning in that. There is Life in that. There is Love in that. And there is Joy in that. This, to me, is the deepest meaning of “Grace”.

Why are we here? To bring Life through Love.

Why? Because we can, and we are privileged to do what Our Father does… always. Little else is worth worrying about. And, oddly enough, when we remain focused on our purpose, other worries seem to fade into insignificance.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Amen

tardisOK, this may be a confession… but I love “Dr. Who”, don’t you? It’s one of those wonderful areas of overlap that both my daughter and I are “fans” of this decades-long running series of stories.

Of course, we’ll not discuss the fact that MY iconic Dr. Who is Tom Baker, and HERS is David Tennant, but… well… we’ll just move on.

But whether we’re speaking of H.G. Wells or Dr. Who, I think people are fascinated by the topic of “Time”, and have a quiet, but deep desire to somehow “manage” time.

One of the most tremendous “powers” of human consciousness is that we are not bound by time or space. We can visualize, imagine, conceive, and discuss… ideas, even realities, that transcend time and space. For example, I can imagine and discuss ideas about Australia. I’ve never been there, I’ve never held anything in my hands from there. I have had friends from there that I’ve met, known, loved… but, for me, “Australia” is a matter of “faith”, not “experience”.

I have no problem at all with that. My beloved puppy, however… brilliant as I find him to be… cannot share that experience. He cannot imagine or conceptualize “Australia”, or “Victorian times”, or “Jesus’ Triumphal Entry”. Even if he were THERE, he couldn’t conceptualize it, as distinct from the here and now.

This freedom, this transcendence over time and space… this is a “human” thing. This is a spiritual faculty, a part of our Image-of-God-ness.

And yet, we are fascinated by our mental freedom over time, and most of us hold a quiet fascination, perhaps even a yearning, to be able to “act” in time… to change things in other times, whether past or future.

Well, what if we could!? What if we can!?

What if we can transcend time through prayer, just as we realize we can transcend space? I mean, clearly, when you pray for the recovery of Aunt Tillie in Australia in her recuperation from gall bladder surgery… you are using prayer to transcend “space”. You are applying your life, dedicating and donating your own breaths and heartbeats, directing these moments of your life to God in the interests and intercession for Aunt Tillie. You open a “window to grace” where she is, by spending some of your own precious and limited life for her where you are.

So… what if we could do the same thing with time? What if we could engage in Gallifreyan Prayer, transcending time?

For instance, let’s suppose someone has stolen something from me. The Lord says I am supposed to forgive that. But, suppose I have trouble with that? Suppose every time I think about that stolen item I become angry. Suppose every time I think about that person (assuming I know who stole the item), I become angry and feel no love for him/her at all? Worse, suppose I sense my own desire to hurt them? I am not a person who wins such will-contests, such moral arm-wrestling matches with myself, easily.

Several years ago God taught me this cool thing… that I have the power to “redefine the stolen item, as a gift… not a stolen object”. That then, I can redefine the “theft” into a “person collecting a gift to them from me”. Now, is THAT person still accountable before God for the theft? That is between them and Him… above my pay grade. But as to myself, I no longer have to struggle with my mixed feelings about the person. After all, it’s hard to give a gift to someone you don’t love, offense is no longer an issue, and forgiveness is no longer the struggle that it was.

See? When we begin to pray across time, much of 1 Corinthians 13 becomes vastly easier.

Anyway, I just wanted to commend this possibility to you… Try Gallifreyan Prayer, transcending time, particularly regarding issues of “offense” and “forgiveness”.

Grace to thee — The Little Monk

Who Are You?

Posted: March 27, 2015 by Little Monk in Christian, Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,

Question-MarkI woke a few days ago realizing an amazing thing. It was one of those “Upside Down” things we do with God so readily.

If someone were to ask me, “Who are you?” The odds are that within my first three statements I would speak of what I “do for a living”. I would probably first give my “label” (“Little Monk”), and then perhaps my “title” (“Minister of Whatever”), and then I’d describe what I “do”, what my “actions and behaviors” are.

Being human, it seems I “construct my identity” out of my control of what I do. I define myself by my choices of act and behavior.

When I woke up the other day, God pointed out that He works things from the exact opposite direction. He gives “Identity” first, “Relationship” first, and THEN… OUT OF THAT… come actions and behaviors.

For example, Adam in the Garden was first given his identity and relationship

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Then God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to every thing that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food”; and it was so. God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.[Genesis 1:26-31a]

I mean this is no big deep piece of theological or metaphysical writing, just this really neat thing God put down next to my coffee that I found delightful, and I wanted to share with you. But if God really saw this “identity” thing the way I, for one, tend to do… then Mankind’s Principal Identity would not be “Image of God — Joint Heir with Christ”, so much as it would be “Farmer”… (since gardening was our first assigned task and behavior). See the problem here? I did, once the Lord was kind enough (and patient enough) to point it out for me.

Simply that FIRST, God gave man identity and relationship… as His Image… His Creation… and THEN sent him off to tend the garden to work. It was like he discovered ever more of who he was, as he acted and worked through behaviors.

Jesus first and foremost knew who He was and what His relationship with God was (as far back as the finding of the boy Jesus in the Temple at age 12)… and FROM THAT knowledge, He did the will of, spoke the words of, and did the works of His Father. Jesus never seems to have had the experience of “becoming the Son of God”… by the teaching and preaching that He did or the miracles He worked. Everything worked the other direction round.

Even His statement of us, and the Companion Disciples, He commanded that we love one another as He loves us, and that the world would know we were His disciples by the love we showed. He didn’t say or imply that our love would MAKE us His disciples. Simply that our love would be our hallmark, our means of being “recognized” for who and what we are.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

So there you go, Gentle Reader. Just one of those random lovely Roses that the Lord sometimes leaves on the table. You are who you are… Prince/Princess of Kingdom. You have the relationship you do with Him… cherished and beloved beyond imagining or measure. And FROM THAT… can emerge the grace and love of your acts and behaviors. But whether you do that well or badly, His will moves in one direction only.

Our actions don’t “define us”, only He can do that. But when we act rightly in Him, they do indeed help others recognize us, in our right names.

Grace to thee — The Little Monk

Awakening Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their hosts. By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.

This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made earth and heaven.

Now no shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the Lord God had not sent rain upon the earth, and there was no man to cultivate the ground. But a mist used to rise from the earth and water the whole surface of the ground.

Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. [Genesis 2:1-7]

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

There’s this question that keeps coming to me…

“What did Adam know?”

I mean, think about it for a moment. All our preaching/teaching/debate regarding “culture”, “worldview”, the “fallen world”… all that…

A friend spoke to me the other evening about a sermon they heard about Adam at the Creation. He spoke of Adam’s great intellectual endowments and prowess. How magnificent must God’s First Perfect Created Man have been! True… all true…

But I had to respond with a question the Lord has buzzed in me for a long time… “What did he know, in that first instant?”

This all truly has a point which will develop over the next few days, but before that I’d ask that you spend a few moments building the foundation of this discussion and

Imagine… God fashions Adam from the dust of this (new) material universe… God “breathes spirit” into him… Eyes open and here, for the very first time… very first moment in all of history there is…

Human… consciousness…

But… there is nothing else! Adam opens his eyes and sees… the Face of God.

Adam knows nothing about God. No memory. No “intrauterine” memories or sensory stimuli. No parents, no culture, no nursing and nurturing… not even language.

Adam… is the ultimate tabula rasa, the blank slate. God now must grave onto and into Adam all the knowledge, the learning, Adam needs to live fully as a human…

Before anything else happens in the Garden, before there is even speech, just consider this question, “What did Adam… what COULD Adam… know in those first moments when he opened his eyes?”

Until tomorrow…. Grace to thee… The Little Monk

spiral-galaxy-ngc1300-nasa-1600Have you ever found yourself in “The Zone”, Gentle Sistren/Brethren?

This experience… being “In the Zone”… is very difficult to describe clearly, but very easy to remember if you’ve had it. Perhaps you are a musician, and remember a time where you seemed to “enter into the music“, or you’ve been an athlete (golf, tennis, bowling, or baseball/softball come to mind), or you’ve flown a plane or ridden a horse where you “became one with” your machine or your horse, or perhaps you are an artist, or sometimes it can happen at an extraordinary moment of natural beauty… a sunrise, sunset, thunderstorm.

It’s a moment when time seems suspended or distorted, and… more than anything else… there is an overwhelming loss of the sense of self. In that time, in those moments, however fleeting or prolonged, there is the sense of being unaware of the self but rather simply “Being…”  Period, not “being me”.

If those words make no semantic sense, I’m sorry. I’ve never seen nor found the words adequately to describe such moments. I have only seen or found words that can prompt the recollection in another, if they have had such moments. Strange as it seems, even though there may be audible sound in the surrounding environment, even music being sung, around the self… the self seems to enter a wondrous cone of silence. There is no need there, no thought, no questions, no ideas, not even cognition of prayer… there is just stillness, peace, presence.

A friend of mine once described what I believe are such moments, thus:

There is a life and aliveness in silence and stillness that is “other than” the best and richest of life that is sound and action.  While there will almost always be, in our waking hours, sound and action – at the center of life there is silence and stillness.  We do not “go to” this silence and stillness, we live continually in it and our outward sounds and movements are profoundly informed and changed by it.  Outward sounds and movements are important but not essential to our aliveness.  It is the silence and complete stillness that houses the well spring of our aliveness, which is Jesus Himself.

Strange words.  Trying to explain the unexplanable. [sic]

Nothing said thus far is “new”. It may be “lovely”, but it is not “new”. So, why do I bring this up? Because all this came to mind last night, with a startling realization. We are all familiar with the dialogue surrounding “ritual” or “worship formats” among differing denominations, cultures, even between generations of the same denomination and culture (e.g. should “church music” be traditional or contemporary? etc.). That dialogue may be more or less acrimonious, depending on how far apart the positions, and how passionately attached to one’s own given position.

I have always thought such acrimony to be distracting. To me, from very early on in Christian service, given 28,000 Christian denominations on earth… the question of “Who has it right, God?” has rather seemed to miss the point. The essence of salvation, redemption, and eternal life does not lie in dogma or theological rectitude. They lie in relationship. One’s relationship with Jesus, as the Christ, is the critical element.

At age 18, as I sought to understand the simple question, “What is a Christian?” the Lord was kind enough to give me (for myself) the only criterion I’ve ever found reliable. (I’m not defending this with proof-texts, or footnotes, and I don’t state it as authoritative to anyone else. If this does not fit for you, please cast it away)… The statement Jesus seemed to give me was, “All that matters, Little Monk, is, Who is your King, and how are you prepared to live to back that up?” Across the years, that has met all my needs.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Now, I’ve realized for years that the early part of a worship service place a congregation into a spirit of worship. That’s not to say that someone may not arrive in a spirit of worship, or that there is anything magical about that early part. But whether there is music alone, or music and prayerful preparation, there is a true “call to worship” involved with the early stages of a service.

Anyway, what I realized yesterday was that the hypnotic nature of the Call to Worship, whether that is litany and music for one denomination, or praise choruses for another, can help us focus, relax, release into the presence of God without rational interference. Have you ever had one of those days at church where the repetitive nature of a praise chorus just seemed irritating? Where you felt impatient, asking yourself… “why didn’t someone write a verse or two in here?” (I’m not too proud to admit… I have had those days. Not often, but I’ve had them.) And then there are those other days… where that same piece of music just makes your heart and soul soar? Or, the same can be said of devotion to the Rosary, or recitation of the Divine Office. Sometimes, it just seems there is blind duty, and other times there is true devotion and worship that happens?

I realized that by whatever denominational or religious means one chooses, ritual satisfies and occupies the cognition, the reason, the earthly mind. It comforts and lulls, bringing the programmed, familiar, hopefully safe-feeling associations of the presence, love, grace, and protection of God, into our own immediate experience-space. When the rational, the cognitive, the logical natural mind is no longer available to interfere or dominate over our entire consciousness, our spiritual awareness, our spiritual supernatural mind is now free to “enter the silence”.

I’m not proposing some “split personality” or anything so dramatic. I’m referencing something we have all experienced, but is really difficult to express in words. That is where the connection is, the tie together is, between the “silence” I spoke of in the opening of this post… and “ritual”.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Bottom Line: I have often questioned the utility of “ritual”… largely because I have seen the disputes, debates, the rancor and damage so often caused in relationships and communities because of slavish adherence to the belief that “mine is better than yours, and by the way, yours is totally wrong.” Because God and grace are active throughout time, space, and culture, it has always seemed self-evident that He is not married to one “Winner Ritual”, and uninvolved with thousands of other “Loser Rituals”. There’s just nothing I can find that is scripturally consistent with such a view.

[Now, a quick disclaimer here: I am not saying that there is no Truth, or Right, or that there are no absolute theological fundamental precepts. Of course there are… God is One, and there is Truth to and about Him, and there is untruth about Him. Scripture, in my view, is complete and inerrant. Yes. These, along with the Holy Spirit’s revelation of Truth and the Word of God, are our anchors to all that is True and Real.]

But just as we have two kinds of “knowing”… one that is informational and cognitive, and one that is much deeper, intimate, and experiential… so, too, we have these different sides of ourselves involved in worship, in prayer, in presence. There’s the mind of “this world”… the one of sounds, sensations, music, ideas, thoughts, sermons and Bible Studies. Then, there’s the mind that can enter “the silence and complete stillness that houses the well spring of our aliveness, which is Jesus Himself.”

The idea that has occurred to me, the resolution of my concerns about the utility of ritual, is that perhaps BOTH types of “experiencing God” are necessary to our humanity in this life. Like two sides of a coin, the utility of ritual is to direct that (left-brained) cognitive mind towards God, peace, comfort, presence… so that at the same time the (right-brained) intuitive spiritual mind can access our immediate relationship with Him.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

OK, there it is… this thought. I won’t say it is expressed with “elegance”, but perhaps it is expressed with the closest I can come to “clarity”. Certainly this is by no means the only way to conceptualize prayer, or silence, or any of that. But what this thought has led me to is the possibility that it is through “ritual” and all the comforting characteristics of presence and safety in God’s embrace, that paves the way and makes possible our access to “The Zone” when, if, we can enter the silence.

If you are familiar with what I’m referencing as “The Zone”, or Alpha Prayer, or Prayer of Silence… the awareness of the Stillness… is it possible that one beneficial aspect of ritual and religious exercises is the “calming the winds and waves” of our everyday consciousness in order to “be still and know” that He is God?

What do ye think, Gentle Readers?

The Kingdom Belongs to Such…

Posted: February 4, 2015 by Little Monk in Christian, Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,

jesus-and-childrenWhere do “Youth” and “Youth Groups” fit in Church as we know it?

I just read a blog post discussing “Integration of the Congregation” focusing on the debate over whether or not Youth Groups are appropriate for a local church. (See Church debate… again!) and I’ll manfully resist the urge to get pulled into the debate and start flinging quotes hither and thither.

Instead, let me just put forth a “Tale of Two Churches” (both of which I was privileged to serve as staff).

Church One: Medium sized semi-metropolitan (small-ish city in the margins of major cities). Mixed congregation in age and income. Extraordinary pastor with the singular mission to lift up Christ, that He draw all to Him. There was Sunday School (for each age group and lifestyle (men’s, women’s, couples, singles, children’s). The Worship was one hour long, began with music, then offertory, then solo.. and all families attended in an “Integrated” fashion…

THEN, at 25 minutes past the hour, the Pastor would call all the children up to the front, sit down on the top step of the platform (if that made it hard for the grownups to see… oh well… this was the Childrens’ time.)… and he would give a FIVE MINUTE Children’s Sermon, telling a story that gave the Big Idea of today’s sermon text. (The kids loved it). And he would then dismiss them to Children’s Church, led by Children’s Worship Leaders for 30 minutes, as he would mount the pulpit and deliver the Sermon, Invitation, and we’d pray to dismiss.

He felt children, indeed, should have the opportunity to worship in the sanctuary with their parents. But at the same time, he knew that to ask small children to sit still and quiet in the pews through all the sermon (most of which was over their heads), too often resulted in children coming to hate church because they found it boring, or they would get in trouble there.

It would , by the way, provide a great “overview” of the sermon for all the grownups (and… to be frank… I think a lot of the grownups got more from the Children’s Sermon than the big one… just sayin’).

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

In contrast, I served with a different church…

Church Two: Again, mid-sized, in a mid sized city in the midst of a rural area. But the churches were comparable sized.

Here, there was a very different view of youth… rather than recognizing that youth were part of families, that needed to be served as a whole… Here, youth often came on their own. Many of our youth came from unchurched families. The youth ministry became large and dynamic, started to become something of a “force” for/of youth in this city that saw its share of delinquency, gang presence, drug offenses and the like. It was quite something to see…

Then came the day…

That the Trustees of the Church sent a letter to our pastor saying… that the Youth Ministry consumes considerable budget. The youth do not tithe, nor do they come from families who tithe. This is a ministry that is not cost-effective. Furthermore, the youth often take ‘seconds’ at the Wednesday evening supper, and eat more than others. We cannot justify this expenditure of church resources.

[I kid thee not…]

The pastor, knowing my heart, did not share that information with me until significantly later, when none of us (me, that pastor, and that youth minister) were still serving in that church. (In keeping this from me, he preserved me from probably my own sin… I would have thoughtlessly reacted, probably offensively.)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

So… am I recommending “Integration” or not? Neither one. I think such things vary from one church to another. Church composition determines how many families with young children… and the biology of attention span and physical space determine how to best minister to active young children.

Finances? That’s a real concern. I think more than one church is swayed to reduce or eliminate youth ministry due to budget considerations. But it is poor fiscal practice to underestimate the power of bringing young people to a love of being part of their local church experience, realizing that in 5-10 years those same young people may be employed attenders.

Sometimes… (dare I say this? Aw… why not?) Sometimes… it is easy to look upon “children” as “inconvenient” in church. They’re noisy, they’re scruffy, they’re messy, they’re distracting, they’re whiny. All that. Have you ever wished you just had grownups to deal with on Sunday? I mean, wouldn’t that just be a whole lot easier?

After all, what would we miss?

Well, I think we’d miss a whole lot. I don’t think God only teaches about Himself through “lecture”, “sermon”, and “Bible Study”. I think… in fact, I KNOW… He teaches an awful lot through pure relationship. Trust, joy, laughter, tears, comfort… lots of things that are pure experience. Children experience much more directly, much more openly, than grownups. I’ve learned an awful lot about God from children. How about you?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

But for me… simplistic though it sound… the most serious caution to this entire matter is Jesus’ revelation about children:

15 And they were bringing even their babies to Him so that He would touch them, but when the disciples saw it, they began rebuking them. 16 But Jesus called for them, saying, “Permit the children to come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 17 Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” [Luke 18]

However we choose to go about it in our churches, I think it behooves us to “celebrate our children”. Maybe we can even learn FROM them. After all, that kingdom of God that we so ardently seek, already belongs to such as them… maybe they can help lead us there.

Grace to thee! — The Little Monk