Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanksgiving to Advent to Winter Solitude


The time of year is here for listing reasons for attitudes of gratitude! In my heart I hold thankfulness for nothing if not for God's matchless gifts of Church and Sacraments, and above all for Jesus Christ, Gift of Gifts. I bless God that in baptism I am paradoxically both dead and alive in Christ—both dead to the world and alive for the world; that the Good Gift of the Eucharist connects me with all creation everywhere in every age while challenging me to discern the body within the community where I find myself at that particular moment in time and space. I give thanks that I am bound by water and the Word yet claim the liberty of the children of God—bound above all by grace! This Thanksgiving 2006 I give thanks for nearby neighbors and emerging friendships, and amazingly, for a pair of online sites that have shown me (the physical, tangible gospel person) that community, trust and friendship can happen over the internet! Who would have thought?!

I give thanks for shelter, warmth, food, creation, beauty of every kind, the year-long Design School program I finished a month ago at the local branch ("expression of" as we'd say in the Church) of the New Media Consortium—I especially give thanks that God knows to keep putting options in my path sufficiently late to force me to make quick decisions! For the IMCP I interviewed and attended orientation on a Friday in early January, started classes at 7:00 the following Monday morning.

With Rascal Flatts ["Bless the Broken Road"– 2004] I bless the broken road on which I've tripped and frequently fallen. I am increasingly grateful that the God of the bible, Lord of the Church, is a servant God Who Self-reveals not in ornate finery but in the Cross of Calvary Hill and in extravagant unmerited gifts of grace given in spite of me, in spite of us, sometimes because of the messiness, brokenness and devastating shatteredness of life disintegrating into simple survival. And surely the Best News arrives to the dis- or less-enfranchised, to the broken and empty?! (I don't need to mention smelly shepherds quite yet, or do I?) If the upcoming days were not shorter, darker and a little depressing even here in Southern California, how else and why else would anyone ever be motivated to look for the light that would be invisible if not surrounded by night?

To Advent

Sunday we'll celebrate Reign of Christ, and then the season of Advent, with its retrospect and prospect of judgment, repentance, renewal, redemption and hope will be upon the world once again! In the Bethlehem manger we meet the God Who comes to earth amidst silent darkness, pleased to share our common lot—of casino-style payoffs, fast bucks, fast cars and fast career tracks? No, not—because surely brokenness, estrangement, stranger-ness, strangeness, disappointment, disillusionment, loneliness and betrayal are far more common than what the world out there deems success?! God comes to earth incarnate not only into the thick of human need but in human need, too...Jesus born in Bethlehem, Little Town of House of Bread, reveals to the world the God Who forms us, shaping our identity in situations and relationships full of uncertainty and precariousness—not in the assurances of institutions of higher learning like Harvard Business School!

To Winter Solitude

I hope to make the coming season into an experience of real, near-total winter, getting as close as possible to a somnolent hibernation into darkness in the midst of the city. What with everything going on in my heart and in my head, estivation would have been helpful this year as well, but being in the thick of design school during summer 2006 effectively zapped any estival options. Three days and three nights in the heart of the earth: heart is "earth" written with H at the beginning rather than at the end! Heart as an organic metaphor, a spatial one or place where emotions, will and humanness reside.

To Wintersong: this far by faith

Check out my blog for Epiphany 2006, where I quote Marty Haugen's version of the Service of Light that opens evening prayer or vespers:

  1. Joyous light of heavenly glory, loving glow of God's own face,
    you who sing creation's story, shine on every land and race.
    Now as evening falls around us, we shall raise our songs to you,
    God of daybreak, God of shadows, come and light our hearts anew.

  2. In the stars that grace the darkness, in the blazing sun of dawn,
    of the light of peace and wisdom, we can hear your quiet song.
    Love that fills the night with wonder, love that warms the weary soul,
    Love that bursts all chains asunder, set us free and make us whole.

  3. You who made the heaven's splendor, every dancing star of night,
    make us shine with gentle justice, let us each reflect your light.
    Mighty God of all creation, gentle Christ who lights our way,
    Loving Spirit of salvation, lead us on to endless day.
© 1990 GIA Publications, Inc.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Charismatic Contemplative Blog

Here's another essay on another chapter of a Generous Orthodoxy; I'm not sure how many more I'll blog, at least at this time.

A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I am a missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative,...emergent, unfinished... by Brian McLaren on Amazon

A Generous Orthodoxy coverIn general I'll also go with the softer Charismatic rather than the harder-edged Pentecostal. In the chapter's first paragraph Pastor Brian says his "life was deeply and forever enriched by association with charismatic (or Pentecostal) Christians." I can say the same thing, especially during my most recent sojourn in Massachusetts. The first couple months I was there I worshiped at a mostly Black (African-American and Caribbean) Pentecostal church and later on Cape Cod sometimes attended Sunday evening worship at the Mid-Cape Assembly of God. I also painted a float and did some other stuff for that Dennisport AG's involvement in the annual Cranberry Festival. Pastor Henry Perry's officiating at Heather's dad's funeral was a real personal and theological class act, but after all, he'd been an engineer who heard God's audible voice telling him to become a pastor! That I would learn to listen and to hear...

On page 195, Brian McLaren says, "If charismatics gave me my high school diploma in the ways of the Spirit, it was from Catholic contemplatives that I entered an undergraduate degree in the liberal art of the Spirit." He writes about the RC tradition locating experiences of the HS "in the very center of normalcy" rather than "one step beyond the normal." They've got it! Just like the church we read about in Acts, the same church that moved outward from Jerusalem - all the way to where I am and where you are - led by the Same Pentecostal Spirit!

What you could call Father Thomas Keating's Centering Prayer Movement (though it's not really his at all—he wonderfully helped recover the ages-old practice) has been a gift to me and to the ecumenical church, besides crossing and often almost obliterating differences and distinctions between Christianity and other faith traditions.

That's all for this blog.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Methodist Blog

Brian McLaren writes primarily about the Wesleyan (holiness, too? not in this chapter) movement that started as an Anglican offshoot and its then subsequent offshoots; I'll begin my Methodist Blog with my own experiences within today's American United Methodist Church and its antecedent denoms.

A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I am a missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative,...emergent, unfinished... by Brian McLaren on Amazon

A Generous Orthodoxy coverAges ago I spent my first undergrad stint at Boston University, nominally Methodist (Methodist hymnals in the chapel pews, and BU 's divinity school, referred to as STH for School of Theology, officially is a UMC-affiliated seminary). However, in reality BU is a large, pretty much secular urban school, despite a lot of students attending on Methodist Scholarships and even aspiring to high degrees of holiness.

When I lived in the Intermountain West, I sort of attended a small local UMC for a while and also became pianist for a Tongan UMC, splintered off from another Tongan UMC that practiced glossolalia. Last winter in my Book of Daniel blog (these days I'm not linking to much of anything, though probably at some point I should go back with live links, esp to books and blogs) I mentioned a few of the large number of church bodies, denoms and groups and factions that once had trod the Canterbury Trail, including, of course, the Wesleyan-Methodist movement. Apparently I had a great- or great-great-uncle who was a circuit rider, so he probably was Methodist, despite his biological relative, my grandfather, insisting on being Southern Presbyterian. BTW though, some of my readers likely know about Henry (Heinrich?) Muhlenberg, a renowned Lutheran circuit rider, quite surprising since denoms of continental European origin were under- to almost non-represented as Protestant Christianity moved westward.

Then again, in Tucson on Christmas Eve 2005 I attended the late in the day liturgy at a UMC and oh, would I ever love the Artist in Residence position the keyboard person at that church holds! From everything I could figure out, the church wasn't especially theologically or liturgically substantial, but that has to be my dream job!

Of course, with my being such a Daughter of the Reformation in so many ways, at times I make the sometimes false Reformed/Arminian distinction. Yes, false. But how some ever, whether one is Roman, Reformed, Free Church, or what some ever, we all possess, know and love all those amazingly wonderful hymns by Susanna's sons! Bottom line?

But this is supposed to be another blog in my series on Brian McLaren's a Generous Orthodoxy and as much as I'm enjoying getting back to reading the book, I want to read a lot of other things, work on some theology projects and also finish and begin some design stuff. After all, graduation was three whole entire weeks ago and I've flaked far long enough! On page 244 Pastor Brian says, "Luther and Calvin created Protestant intellectual systems (a kind of conceptual hierarchy) that replaced the Catholic organizational hierarchy. But nobody created a new system of spiritual formation and nurture to replace the richly developed Catholic system of spirituality that had developed during the Middle Ages...until the Wesleys. People had Protestant doctrine, but they didn't have tracks or pathways or methods to help them put that doctrine into practice." My note: actually, Luther never wrote a systematic theology, he was so busy passionately emoting, but I catch McLaren's drift.

At chapter's end he hopes, believes and prays for "a new methodism" that will recognize the importance of small groups, baptism's essential ordination to ministry, queries that help search one's soul and "discipleship as the process of reaching ahead with one hand to find the hand of a mentor a few steps up the hill, while reaching back with the other to help the next brother or sister in line who is also on the upward path of discipleship."

To me what is so key about that reaching upward and backward is to know and live as if all of us are at different stages in every aspect of our journeys in Christ—spiritual, emotional, intellectual, etc., because every one of us can learn something from someone else who is at a different stage in some part of their own journey.

evangelical Blog

11/4/2006 3:52 PM

A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I am a missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative,...emergent, unfinished... by Brian McLaren on Amazon

A Generous Orthodoxy coverAgain I'm beginning with some of my own thoughts before reading Brian McLaren's.

Before making the obvious observation that Evangelical in today's USA basically refers to a particular style of politically, doctrinally, socially individual ("I even get my very own personal Savior all for me") Protestant Christian, often associated with the Religious Right, I'll mention the Reformers called themselves Evangelische, meaning Protestant and non-Roman Catholics in Spanish-speaking countries and cultures simply style themselves evangelico/a. As you've likely observed from my blog title, McLaren designates this chapter with a lower-case "e". Ages ago I heard very theologically (and otherwise) liberal Krister Stendahl say, "I hope we are all evangelical!" In other words, he hoped all of us Christians were bearers, speakers and doers of the Gospeled Good News. Are we?

11/4/2006 8:17 PM

Page 128 of a Generous Orthodoxy: "the word Evangelical can have some pretty negative connotations. But it's a word I would rather not abandon, if I can help it. In fact, I am happy and honored to consider myself an evangelical."

Pastor Brian mentioned both negatives (similar to my list) and positives associated with capital-E Evangelicals. But then, on page 130, he says clearly, "When I say I cherish an evangelical identity, I mean something beyond a believe system or doctrinal array or even a practice. I mean an attitude—an attitude toward God and our neighbor and our mission that is passionate." He also admits "...Evangelicals have painted themselves into a lot of corners—theologically, politically, socially. But evangelical passion for spiritual experience, for spiritual understanding, for mission is precious. ...Even though it can't be bottled, it can be acquired because, ultimately, 'it' is the Spirit of Jesus, and Jesus gives himself freely to all who ask. Both Evangelicals and evangelicals know that." I like that a lot, and completely agree!

On the last page of this chapter he refers to Dave Tomlinson's term "post-evangelical," meaning coming from, emerging from, growing from, and emphasizing both continuity and discontinuity. Agreed. I'm gonna get this onto my blog so I can move on with this book and with the rest of my life. Thanks again for the gift of the book, Scott! You know it was on my Amazon Wish List!

Mystical Poetic Blog

Today I'm returning to my blogs about some of the chapters in Brian McLaren's a Generous Orthodoxy.

A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I am a missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative,...emergent, unfinished... by Brian McLaren on Amazon

A Generous Orthodoxy cover11/3/2006 3:47 PM

Before getting in to the chapter at all, I'm going to comment on the chapter title from my own immediate perspective.

Mystical: of course the medieval Christian mystics instantly come to mind, but I also recall an evangelical (in the current popular American sense of the term) wannabe who really was mainline – a guy I knew ages ago – who kept insisting we wanted nothing whatsoever to do with mystic, because "mystic" implied "unmediated" and left out Jesus Christ.

Poetic: without reading much of anything I noticed McLaren references Walter Brueggemann's book of language for proclamation I read last winter or spring, Finally Comes the Poet. As y'all y'all know, I am a major WB fan! I'm also fondly recalling Marian Conning from the old UCC forums referring to moi as a "poet theologian" at the end of our online discussion of Alan Roxburgh's The Missionary Congregation, Leadership, and Liminality.

11/4/2006 9:57 AM

Having read this chapter, yes, me too: I consider myself mystical and poetic. For me, the most helpful things in this chapter were the quotes from Brueggemann, Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, Barth, et al.

From Walter Brueggemann: "By prose I refer to a world that is organized in settled formulae, so that even pastoral prayers and love letters sound like memos. By poetry, I do not mean rhyme, rhythm, or meter, but language...that breaks open old worlds with surprise, abrasion, and pace."

From Roman Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar: "God needs prophets in order to make himself known, and all prophets are necessarily artistic. What a prophet has to say can never be said in prose."

On page 165, Brain McLaren observes, "But mystical really is a wonderful word, suggesting ways we partake of mystery, mystery beyond the grasp of reasonable prose."

And then quoting G. K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy: "The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits..." Then again Pastor Brian reminds the readers of Chesterton's observation that the Greeks made Apollo was patron god both of poetry and of healing.

This is a great chapter, even though I'm quoting rather than doing much thinking of my own. I love C. S. Lewis' Perelandra describing the season of spring as "ancient and young."

Roman Guardini (previously unknown to me—he was John XXIII's chaplain during Vatican II) wrote about the human who tries to speak about the Divine: "In the end he...says apparently wild and senseless things meant to startle the heart into feeling what lies beyond the reaches of the brain."

Kyriacos Markides, author of The Mountain of Silence, gets quoted, too: "Christianity, a Catholic bishop in Maine once told me, has two lungs. One is Western, meaning rational and philosophical, and the other Eastern, meaning mystical and otherworldly. Both, he claimed, are needed for proper breathing."