Monday, January 28, 2008

Handbook of Spiritual Ecumenism 1a

Last Wednesday was the first of three Faith, Order & Witness meetings we'll read and talk about A Handbook of Spiritual Ecumenism, by Walter Cardinal Kasper; here's my first blog about the book. Handbook of Spiritual Ecumenism coverAlthough we won't meet to discuss chapter 2 until late February, I decided to add to my earlier thoughts, both to comment post-our group discussion and tamely and politely (I trust) write a little about how some of Cardinal Kasper's assumptions about protestants and Mariology surprised me. For lack of time but primarily because in print and on the computer screen the reader has neither the face nor the inflection of the writer, last week I hesitated to write anything, so I didn't. For example, on page 14 he uses the phrase, "Mary, the Virgin Mother of God," which no protestant I've ever known could agree with, but like many others I'm cool with Theotokos—God-bearer; pages later, starting with a heading, Mary, the Mother of God and onto page 34 he suggests, "Together, Christians can
  • acknowledge the place of Mary in sacred Scripture and ponder with her the great things that God has done in salvation history [yes, of course, to both of those ideas, at least from where I sit]
  • study the witness of early Christianity regarding Mary…[I'll agree to this, as well]...
  • promote mutual knowledge and appreciation of various traditions in devotion and spirituality related to the Mother of God in both the East and West…" [my Roman Catholic and Antiochian Orthodox committee colleagues distinguished "veneration" and "adoration", so I can go there as long as Mary is God's-bearer and not God's-mother…]"

But in a far more radiant light, everyone in our group appreciated the ecumenicity of Cardinal Kasper's section headed Martyrs and Witnesses unto Death starting on page 35, and I love his quoting John Paul II's Tertio Millennio Adveniente, "Perhaps the most convincing form of ecumenism is the ecumenism of the saints and of the martyrs. The communio sanctorum speaks louder than the things that divide us." [page 36] He follows the JP II citation with examples including, "Together, Christians can
  • offer ecumenical prayers for Christians of all traditions who still are victims of persecution and violence...
  • publish locally or regionally updated registers and biographical notes regarding recent witnesses to the faith unto death; this can be done ecumenically, reminding everyone that the shedding of blood is a common inheritance of all Christian traditions."

Then, on page 38, without specifying names other than "the four Evangelists and the Apostles" Kasper seems to consider holy persons and redemptive actors from all Christian traditions Saints, apparently not limiting sainthood to those in the Roman Catholic or Orthodox canon. It's not clear to me if this is like "saints" in a Pauline salutation or something other-than.

In my first blog on the book I said, "I'm curious about the implications and resonations of the word spiritual with a lower-case "s". Even non-church people often talk generically about spiritual aspects of existence (and hey, everyone's heard "I'm not religious but I'm spiritual" far too many times)." One of our members sort of equated "spiritual" with "prayer," so I'll leave that alone for now.

We also had a short-go-around about ecclesial communities and valid sacraments/eucharist, as well as my own near-craziness about Catholics under Rome's aegis not qualifying their name with Roman; to that Fr. Vince, a retired *Roman* Catholic priest, told us he had been ordained a priest (in other words, lots of church experience) when someone in England or elsewhere in the UK asked him if he was "Roman Catholic," and he'd replied, "No! I'm Irish Catholic!" He told us that was the very first time he'd ever heard Roman Catholic!

During August 2004 in Culture Bound (Culture, identity, home, belonging, etc.) I wrote:
As those cultural anthropologists insist, each of us inhabits a range of cultures; more than a single culture encumbers each of us. We see, hear and feel; we remember, dream and hope through the senses our cultures have given to us and we've inadvertently received; and to some extent, our cultural identities constrain and limit us.
From July 2007, here's my blog about my experiences at the Orientale Lumen conference. Although I'm considering seriously attempting to ferret out the claim of the Antiochian Orthodox Church as the only, most true church, though they credit Roman Catholic and other Orthodox church bodies with valid sacraments because of apostolic succession, last July I found the Orthodox Eucharistic liturgy very eastern, highly un-western in style and expression. Clearly I have a habit of bringing Pastor Martin Luther into a lot of my blogs and live-talk, and Luther famously lists as one of his marks of the true church prayer and hymn-singing in the vernacular—in spoken, visual, symbolic, and cultural speech people in the pews can comprehend! But of course there's valid argument for liturgies that are more formal and elaborate in terms of music, visuals, and gestures sometimes helping people more easily imagine the Reign of Heaven here on earth, assisting their belief and trust in something "other than" the mundaneness of routine everyday existence.

Regarding various varieties of theology and expression, again I'm considering my own experience as someone who didn't grow up in the Church or on its peripheries; I first met Jesus, the Church, and the Spirit within a context powerfully related and completely relevant to my own cultural background, passions, and hopes: a small, very urban, passionately worshipful, liturgically variable, socially and politically activist community that demanded, expected, and guided my full participation and commitment in all those areas. How many times have I told myself (probably) none of the congregations I've formally served on staff nor any I've attempted to get involved with since then wouldn't have attracted me at all, because I'd have been unable to discern the reality amidst the unfiltered and uninterpreted apparent clutter. And although these days I'm a good-enough cultural anthropologist, I know sufficient theology and understand the Western (and the Eastern) Churches' historical liturgy so I'm able to get a clue to the texts, actions, and meanings I experienced during the Orthodox Liturgy, I cannot imagine any person who's a product (literally) of Western culture and sensibilities comprehending Orthodox Liturgy as much more than an Adventure in Anthropology or in Comparative Christianity.

Listening for God blog 1

Listening for God cover The first RevGals book for almost new year 2008 is by scripture scholar and pastor Renita Weems—Listening for God. Not that Amazon was exactly slow shipping my super-saver order, but I took a long time choosing books from my wish list I could justify buying at this time of scarce $$$ resources, so I was the stuck one in the transaction, and as a result my shipment didn't arrive until last Wednesday. As usual, I'd planned to read this entire RevGals monthly book selection before tuning in on anyone else's blogs, but given that it's already the last Monday of the month and book discussion day and the sun has gone down, before reading further in the book I'll reflect on the preface and chapter 1, "The Mystery of Silence and Prayer" I've read so far, all of which encompasses almost half the pages of the book, not so much in detail but as to how the author's ideas reflect and relate to my own experiences, especially of the past dozen years.

A few years ago we discussed another of Renita Weems' books in a group I belonged to, but neither by searching my bookshelves nor by checking out Amazon could I remember the title, but I do remember appreciating our discussions and I'm also very proud that group was one of the few things in my entire life I've actually quit...though it took too long for me to do it! Nonetheless, I'm well aware my habit of sticking with whatever it is coupled with often making too many excuses for people has served me well, since it's the same person who has tolerated lots of %&*#%^* in order to keep on keepin' on toward what she's wanted and felt called to achieve. And to do.

In the preface, bottom of page 18 to top of page 19 Renita explains "...much of what has been written in recent years appears to be directed to the novitiate, the recent traveler, the newcomer to the inward journey...What about those of us who are beyond the first blush of the spiritual journey..." Then on page 20, "If God was going to speak to me, God would just have to do it amidst the clutter of family, the noise of pots and pans..." Needless to say, but every one of us requires reminders from someone else that God is walking and will continue to walk alongside and go before us, wherever we are and to whatever place God calls us. Last summer I insisted, "Yahweh's specialty was constant, unmediated presence with creation; so was Jesus' and so must ours become..." So many times I've said we people of faith, who sometimes trust in the humanly incredulous and who often journey without being able to rely on our physical senses like hearing and sight, also need to live with ambiguity and paradox. With mystery, too? Oh, yes—that one, also! Picking up on a few ideas, at least once I've blogged about my observing ages ago in the Monday evening Bible study that met at my house "people have seasons," and how everyone immediately picked up on that not-at-all-novel idea, so I especially like the way Renita discusses human heart, mind, body, spirit and soul seasons in this first chapter. Related to seasons (assorted ambient situations and environmental conditions, textures to use Renita's word I found on page 31, typically not related to our own plans or agency) in which we find ourselves, in ages past we used to talk a lot about living "as if," in Wendell Berry's words, to "Be like the fox who makes more tracks than necessary, some in the wrong direction. Practice resurrection." I also find myself in the habit of doing a lot out of plain obligation, oughtness to God, to humanity and all creation.

On last week's winter friday 5 I wrote, "I've learned to appreciate the subterranean, near-silent growth that happens during the colder seasons, closely parallel to the vast amount of life underneath the immediately apparent top layer of the desert..." and every one of my commenters picked up on that phrase! From pages 63 through 67, in a section headed "Ordinary Time," she equates the less sensational, less festive, more routinely mundane "green" seasons of the liturgical year with similar periods in each of our lives, immediately followed by the wonderful "Saint Fallow" section lining out parallels and similarities between plant life and our life. In my blog Earth Day 2007, which really is about my (award-winning! yay!) Earth Day postage stamp series, I said, "The images – all slices from my digitized analog graphics – aren't from my specifically bible-based or liturgical art but about our living green everywhere in faithful stewardship of creation. Interesting that we call Sundays in Ordinary Time "GREEN" Sundays!" In so many places Renita affirms exactly what of necessity I've been doing for what feels like a far too long forever; for example, on page 28, " is enough simply to cling to the memory of a memory with God." And of course, as I've been bloggin', talkin' and teachin, maybe especially in my own ecclesiastical context of emphasis on God's persistent (and paradoxical!) presence in Word and Sacrament, by grace the Spirit of Life helps me remember and assists the community in recalling, re-appropriating the narrative and the reality of our deliverance from death to life, in re-membering our identity as a people of God in this place and time.

Beginning on page 39, the ambiguity, sometimes paradox that can exist between theological scholarship and living within Christian community is something else I easily relate to. Unlike Renita, I don't hold a doctorate in theology, I didn't do an academic theology degree, but people have suggested I didn't get into my "safe" seminary because the interviewers thought I'd be getting a PhD or ThD and teaching at seminary level. Recently I've been told and tried to hear, "Leah, you could be teaching in seminary now, but you don't have the academic credentials—do you want to go back to school?" No, I don't. And from another: "Your Greek is so much better than mine!" Maybe it is, and maybe not, but I've claimed and made excellent use of the time I've had to work through a lot of the texts. Had God called me to become an academic theologian? My best guess is no, because I cannot believe I'd've been that obtuse and unresponsive, and I trust the possibility would have crossed my mind and heart more than once, but whatever God's past calls to me, all I can do is go on from here, and Renita's clear articulation of the messiness and chaos of existence and of life helps affirm that reality.

Amidst all the pain, seemingly endless disappointments and rejections, and everything else I won't enumerate, like Renita, I need to live out my baptism not only in the world, but within a worshiping, confessing and witnessing community of faith; I need my more formal theology to become my biography! For quite a while now, I've been telling myself and even other people I cannot go on this way, using my gifts, skills and education to such a small degree; despite realizing my experience post-deciding not to finish seminary and not to continue serving FT in the church would have been very different had I returned to Cambridge (for example), I also recognize my wisdom in choosing a parish church, one that's geographically near (in my current case, so geographically proximate to Where I Live that I walk out of my condo parking lot into my church parking lot), but I also need to grasp and risk acting on the wisdom to reach out for more possibilities within other communities claimed by Jesus' death and resurrection and called to faith by the Spirit.

Lies and living in hope; journaling as a form of prayer. In "The Longest Prayer," on pages 60-61 Renita observes: "By dusting off and rereading my journals, I get to relive the past and to retrace the hand of blessing in it. I get to relive the past and to redeem it. I get to relive it and to reinterpret the parts that once felt unsurvivable. More important, through my journals I get to play back God's voice." Further down page 61: "I've changed so little and yet changed so much." Me, too! I began this post talking about ambiguity, and in sometimes obsessively reliving and trying to make sense of past pasts, etc. I've noted both a typical female (human, probably) tendency to discern kernels of truth and partial truths in my attitudes and behaviors, and despite untruths (lies, whatever word you prefer) at times being facts of life, I'm realizing my incessant rationalizations and explanations aren't so much about stereotypical shades of gray as about near-absolute truth existing within my reasons and excuses for overstaying situations that no way are yielding fruit for me or for anyone else. That was oblique (gray?!) but I need to post this, so I'll conclude with words about journaling on paper. I haven't regularly kept a journal for quite a while, though a few years ago at one point I filled 4 or 5 70-page spiral notebooks within 4 or 5 months. When I knew I needed to get into a journaling phase and asked a friend who has taught English and writing with exceptional creatively, she insisted the ideas need to go "from head and heart to hand to paper; afterwards you can do whatever you want with what you've wrote." She also emphasized – as long ago I'd learned – to not use a lovely, beautiful, fancy journal book, because you won't want to ruin it with your writing. My experience with digital design has been exactly the same: despite sort of being in the process of developing what I refer to as an independent digital style and despite having produced maybe a dozen really cool pieces, maybe because I didn't grow up digital like younger denizens of this society, but most likely because of the way people are wired - wired was intentional, trust me - the only way I can design well digitally is to begin in analog format, scan what I've done (however detailed and/or complete or not) and then go on from there. Similarly, when I'm learning a complex piece of music on piano or organ (think Beethoven Sonatas, J.S. Bach's Prelude, Toccatas and Fugues), I'll learn the basic notes first, often commit them to memory and become technically adept at the piece, then it's always time to put is aside "for a season," maybe a few weeks or even several months.

I've no idea when I'll read and blog more about this book, but even if it's not for a long while, this chapter has been so very helpful and assuring.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Handbook of Spiritual Ecumenism 1

In an attempt to keep myself on the local map or possibly re-map myself, I sort of volunteered but mostly got drafted to facilitate this coming Wednesday's Faith, Order & Witness Committee discussion. For the most part we've gone roundabout in typical traffic circle style a series of documents we hope will bring our local group (Roman Catholics, one Antiochian Orthodox, mainline Protestants from several theological traditions) to a convergence of faith; our discussions have included several World Council of Churches Faith & Order papers along with sundry and assorted "others." For the next three meetings we'll read and talk about A Handbook of Spiritual Ecumenism, by Walter Cardinal Kasper, published by New City Press, site-described as "the North American publishing house of the Focolare, an ecclesial movement approved by the Roman Catholic Church…"

The book description on Amazon includes:
This Handbook offers practical suggestions for implementing and strengthening spiritual ecumenism… It is grounded in the documents that have shaped the Catholic Church's engagement in seeking Christian unity, those of the Second Vatican Council, as well as others such as the encyclical Ut Unum Sint and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Amazon also gives biographical info about the author:
Walter Cardinal Kasper, born in Germany in 1933, was ordained a priest in 1957. An accomplished theologian and author of many books and articles, he studied at the University of Tübingen and taught at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. Wide respect for Kasper's ecumenical work led John Paul II to appoint him president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, a position he has held since 2001.

I'll get to comment and facilitate discussion about the 3-section Preface that touches on three subjects (A Handbook; Spiritual Ecumenism; Growing in Communion) as well as the 2-part Chapter 1, Deepening Christian Faith (The Word of God in Sacred Scripture; Witnesses to the Word of God). Although I trust our group discussion will enlighten me, from my perspective something is un-okay, especially given the copyright dates of 2006 and 2007.

Handbook of Spiritual Ecumenism coverFirst, I'm curious about the implications and resonations of the word spiritual with a lower-case "s". Even non-church people often talk generically about spiritual aspects of existence (and hey, everyone's heard "I'm not religious but I'm spiritual" far too many times), which includes the Holy Spirit's call to us and claim upon our lives, whether or not we actively admit to it, along with the Spirit of Life's sanctifying actions in human persons and communities, in the Church and the churches, throughout creation and pervading the world, *even* institutional, organizational, and bureaucratic structures—Jesus made hash of the power and principalities… Churches of Reformation heritage long ago cited Word and Sacrament as essential for the local (and global) presence of the Church, with other things being not-so of the essence, or adiaphora. Days of forming new church bodies out of the old on a basis of structural, organic union followed by re-denominating most likely are over, but the protestant mainline (is the concept of culturally, socially, and theologically mainline still viable, still a reality?) remains committed to conversation and exploration of ways to attain and to thrive with full-communion agreements and related enduring partnerships under the sovereignty of Jesus Christ. In all of this, it's not simply about spiritual aspects of the gospel, but about the fullness of redemption Jesus Christ brought to the world and calls the church to continue doing.

So I'm asking what lower-case "s" spiritual ecumenism is all about! The gospel does have a spiritual aspect, but also physical, social, and cultural dimensions; while almost easily acknowledging essential unity, although there are many reasons The Protestants no longer are going for organic union between church bodies, reconciling differing polities along with more structural organizational arrangements has been one of the major concerns and difficulties in the past. Every one of us lives in a world bounded by language, geography, and an array of other factors, and we gotta live together with and despite those differences. In addition, the redemption and sanctity of all creation – not simply human creatures – is a huge part of the Bible's and Jesus' reality, and I'm wondering how the Roman Catholic Church, maybe especially with its emphasis on sacraments and a sacramental worldview, complacently can focus even primarily on the small-"s" spiritual?

At this time I've read no further than my assigned portion, but throughout chapter 1 Cardinal Kasper constantly references ecclesial communities, a phrase I first became aware of from the current Bishop of Rome when he was Cardinal Ratzinger. After Ratzinger's election to the See of Peter I exclaimed, "But that's the guy who called us 'ecclesial communities!'" My conversation partner responded, "Ecclesial community is a big step up from 'heretical ministries!'" Agreed…and as I prepare for continued participation in several geographically, culturally, and theologically nearby (near-to-where I live in every sense) heretical ministries, I know I'm participating as a part of the church in apostolic and prophetic continuity, and I know those church bodies belong to the church catholic, so would you Christians under the authority of the Petrine See please begin calling yourselves not simply "Catholic" but "Roman Catholic?"

Thursday, January 17, 2008

any good book friday 5

any good book friday 5 from Rev Gal (Guys, Friends) Blog Pals...

intro: hosting today, Heidi says, "...some books ARE better than others, " and I totally agree.

1. a book from the last 6 months that really has stayed with me—my checkbook, thankfully;

2. One of my favorite childhood books—Charlotte and the White Horse by Ruth Krauss, with Maurice Sendak's enchanting, dreamlike, delicate, etc. illustrations:

Charlotte and the White Horse jacket
This is the song of Charlotte
and Milky Way, her horse...
–the winter is going,
the wind and the rains are gone...
–the time of my singing is come.
Arise, my love, my fair one
my milk white Milky Way —
...the flowers appear on the earth.
Then the multitude gather and sing
Happy Birthday, dear Milky Way,
and when he hears his given name for the first time
the tears come up in his eyes ...

3. Favorite book of the Bible? Do tell? Just for now I'm telling you Deuteronomy, with its constant refrain into the land, into the land, into the land...please see my bonus regarding The Land!

I and Thou cover4. I could and have and probably will keep on reading over and over again Martin Buber's I and Thou;

5. For at least daily reading during Lent I'd recommend...Reflections for Ragamuffins by Brennan Manning, and why? He's been there, done that, bought the redemption, realizes the only way out is through, slices through to the root drive, cuts out and drains out the gunk and never spouts the stupid platitudes most Christians do in order to make me feel better but that actually wound further;

And because we all love bonus questions, if you were going to publish a book what would it be? Who would you want to write the jacket cover blurb expounding on your talent?

Working title: Justice, Freedom and Redemption: Divine Image and Creation's Glory, and in July 2004, I posted the bibliography I'd read thus far, but since then, the book has been sidelined, mainly due to my doing so much theology...I'm not sure who'd write about the author, but my Community Economic Development (mini-MBA) classmates called me "Renaissance Person," so I'd love someone to pick up and elaborate on that accolade! Thanks for the earliness, Heidi.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

sea dreams among the mesquite

road with cattle right road center with cattle

I posted a basic and perfunctory Noel 2007 reflection over on an inactive blog, but about a third of the way into January I have a really good one for today! For starters, during my recent visit to Tucson, the ride toward the international border as we drove out to Rio Rico-Rich River was amazing! Remember, this is the Sonoran desert with its exceptional biodiversity that absolutely for sure does not include coastal, shoreside, seashore, seaside or beach habitat. I love the title I gave this post—back in my cultural anthropology classes, the professor frequently commented on people stereotyping to such a degree they talked about customs, etc. "among the whomever whatever whichever" culture in question, but today I truly am writing about things I witnessed amidst desert plants like the (yes, stereotypical, usual) mesquite and similar. The fun thing was the street names that included nautical language like océano, mar, ballena, mariscos, embarcadero, muelle, playa, langosta, huracán, agua linda, agua salada, (plus Finlandia and Dinamarca).

cattle crossing cattle in the mesquite

I've blogged and posted some pictures from the seafaring town of Harwich, Massachusetts and about Salem, Massachusetts―we'd drive up the shore from Boston to Salem when we lived in Boston and later up the Shore to Marblehead, Ipswich and Gloucester when we lived in Salem, but in those cases you'd expect the vocabulary to align with the land- and seascape, which it sometimes did, though lots of streets and roads and churches and buildings got named after historical people or happenings.

On our exodus out of Rio Rico, we enjoyed cattle crossing―javalina, too, but didn't get any pics of the javvies. Given the considerable size of the bovine population cohort, we were able to get some great cattle pics; you can see four of the best right here!

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Epiphany: arise, shine!

isaiah 60:1
1Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. 2For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. 3 Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. 4Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms. 5Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. 6A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.

Isaiah 60 NRSV

Saturday, January 05, 2008

church prayer rug 2008

My response to this household's 2nd reception of a C(hurch) P(rayer) R(ug), which providentially occurred during Lent 2005 explained a lot of particulars of the CPR's theology of glory:
In my mailbox this week I found what may become an Lenten annual: another blatant example of idolatry, another human attempt to create a god in its image, another slot-machine divinity of jumbo payoffs, a deity completely congruent with one of contemporary American society's most brazenly unsubtle gods—consumerism. From a skinny envelope I unpacked purportedly a face of Jesus, sketchily represented crowned with a thorny tiara; four-color printing is the graphics industry standard, but this is a two-color likeness! In addition, nowhere in the mailing could I find either a web address nor an email address—in this year 2005?!?!?!
During Lent 2006 I received another CPR, but that year's blog was more tempered, less sarcastic, more formally theological and conceptually broader: Remembering and Belonging; to quote briefly from that post:
The Tithe: who owns us? To what Lord do we answer? Of whose property and assets are we stewards? It's about caring for the gifts we have, about sharing and using them in service to others--Church Prayer Rug and its ethos notwithstanding, the way of the prophets and the way of Jesus of Nazareth is not exactly about petitioning heaven and getting a windfall in investment capital, real estate or social position! Yahweh of Shalom sufficiency is the God of Jubilee Justice, Lord of commonwealth, not a deity of superfluous particular wealth. Jesus' God is the One who gifts with extravagant mercy and boundless love and whose Spirit draws us together in Pentecostal fire. Now really, does that sound like the tawdry emptiness of the Church Prayer Rug god's casino-style payoffs?
Last year, in 2007, I didn't take time to reflect on the CPR, but the opened envelope still is in the diminishing stack of papers, etc. atop the rosewood table in the living room because I thought I might need something to blog about, never imagining so very early this year I'd receive my very own Church Prayer Rug right in time for Epiphany! A giant plus: this letter clearly was meant especially for me, since the street address read:
Resident - to a Friend, #### Xxxx St Paradise XX #####-####
Now I have new information and revelations! Besides the same pair of pieces as in the previous mailings, this year they included two more: a letter headed Sunday, January 2008 and in ALL CAPS, "PROPHETIC WORD GIVEN FOR YOUR SPIRITUAL EDIFICATION." And hear this message:

IMPORTANT - Only break open this sealed prophecy after you have put this Church Prayer Rug and your prayer requests back in the mail [by the way, on the section that features a full-color likeness of Jesus ascending on a cloud, it tells me I need to return the prayer rug and prayer page "before sunset tomorrow or the next day to this 57-year-old church ministry"].

If for any reason you are not going to return this Church Prayer Rug, then this sacred prophecy must be destroyed, unopened and unread,
[but I've already opened and read it and have no intentions whatsoever of destroying this valuable cultural and ecclesiastical(?) artifact] because this is a sacred, spiritual prophecy, sealed word, concerning you and your future. Remember, the Bible says,

"Let your requests be made known unto God." Philippians 4:6
However, the two websites (finally!) were the true revelation, because they helped me discover this St. Matthew's entity is sort of what we in the mainline would consider a denomination (denominated "St. Matthews") or a church body (there sure are lots of member branches (hundreds), and the about PrayerRequests site informed me, "You who attend one of Saint Matthew’s Churches know who we are, from our church’s free literature that you receive from us." I guess that's not me, or maybe it is, since this is the 5th time I've been a recipient of their free lit! I'll describe St. Matthew's as a church chain or chain of churches, possibly patterned after a retail chain store model, but the folks of St. Matt's expect a pay-off rather than to be paying-in according to a standard, conventional consumer model.

From the "About" site you can:

Open the Door to a New Tomorrow;

About St. Matthew's Churches;

read a lot about it, get phone numbers and general info;

After all, for a fact, Old time Bible prayer really does change things;

and a resource for Daily Prayer.

This Bible ministry of prayer was established in 1951. ©

Most of the website pages are images I assume are copyrighted, so I'm not displaying any of them here, but you can follow the links and check them out for yourself.

To continue, I'll include a few prayer request suggestions from on the mail-back-to Prayer Box 21210, Tulsa, OK 74121 page, all of them solid: do you need, do I need St. Matthews' to Pray for my family and me for...My Soul; A Closer Walk With Jesus; Confusion In My Home; My Children; A New Car...[to reliably get to work, appointments and church]? ooops! I was supposed to read my "faith, Holy Ghost instructions on the enclosed, sealed prophecy, only after [mailing] this Prayer Rug back to the church." Then maybe it won't work for me, after all. In addition, I was supposed to "Use this unusual, important, Church Prayer Rug for tonight only."

To conclude on this Eve of Epiphany, this year I'm again tempering and softening my words about the CPR...

Most of the protestant mainline and to a lesser extent some of the churches and church bodies that are further from the center and closer to the edge and that historically have been on the edge (at this moment I'm thinking of Mennonite and Brethren Churches, as well as of the Moravian Church that has been one of the ELCA's full communion partners for the past few years) have been considering the nature and mission of the church, especially in terms of the how to be missional and incarnational, since our corporate "we" has read out of scripture missional and incarnational as the way (probably) to be authentic and effective (yes)! followers of the Way of the Crucified and Risen One. A few days ago in my layout for 2008 on this far by faith, I described how I'd be
developing a 3- or 4-class series for both of *my* congregations, basically based on Reform Jewish scholar Mark D. Nanos' The Irony of Galatians: Paul's Letter in First-Century Context. ... Galatians was the first ethnic church, and in both [congregations] we need to acknowledge our own, sometimes unconscious ethnicities and learn realistically to contextualize our outreach and proclamation authentically yet inoffensively within our neighbor's identities...imagining surprising ways to contextualize its witness and proclamation to nearby neighbors.
On this Epiphany Eve I'll acknowledge St. Matthews' entities are right-on about our needing to pray, about God's faithful, abundant response to prayer, and about our need for basics like "enough", shalom-full food and housing, good relationships and decently-built vehicles that don't break down in the process of getting us where we need to go. In his Small Catechism, Martin Luther explains:
What is meant by daily bread?

"Everything required to satisfy our bodily needs, such as food and clothing, house and home, fields and flocks, money and property; a pious spouse and good children, trustworthy servants, godly and faithful rulers, good government; seasonable weather, peace and health, order and honor; true friends, faithful neighbors, and the like."

Regarding the CPR, for this year once again I'm asking "where is the cross?" in all this printed material, though I'll admit they (sort of implicitly) acknowledge Jesus' sovereignty by including an ascension pic. But from my own, basically mainliner side, as I jump into researching demographics and funding sources while doing some numbers-crunching and anticipating preparing more teaching and worship materials I hope and trust will bless and enrich others' lives, I know all too often my prayers in preparation for my own work and ministry too frequently are perfunctory to the point of "Of course I need to get God in on this endeavor" and I still trust myself and my own efforts far too much. IOW, I'm almost reluctant to raise my own needs, desires, heart and efforts to heaven. Then has the CPR taught me something, have I learned and grown from this series of mailings, despite it all? I hope so!

from the High Weirdness Project!