Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Sacred Compass 1

Sacred CompassOh, I've been so slow getting this written and posted, but maybe not too slow, after I've followed Spirit's leadings. It's now almost an entire month since I finished reading Sacred Compass, the latest book by Brent Bill, my friend who's a Friends (Quaker) pastor who lives in Indiana and sometimes hangs out on Facebook. Brent blogs at Brent Bill dot com and at the highly sacramental-sounding Holy Ordinary. I need to write this blog about discerning, trusting and following the direction(s) of Jesus' leadings in my life, but even more I need to pray, ponder and take yet another faith-filled leap into a relative unknown, trusting God cannot waste or squander any experiences, but will wrap them up and use them for the benefit of many in ways no simply human person ever could. I love the size and heft of Sacred Compass and the jacket design is beautiful, featuring my favorite yellow and blue color palette! For the past few weeks Martin Page's song from the mid-1990's, "In the House of Stone and Light," has been cycling through my head; when it was current it seemed as if every time I drove from Salt Lake City to West Valley City that song had to play on the car radio! Here's a lyrics selection:
O Mount Kailas uncover me
Come my restoration wash my body clean
I've been walking along a crooked path
Where the walls have fallen and broken me in half
I'm telling you I will not rest till I lay down my head in the house of stone and light
My spirit's been at war...
I will not rest till I lay my head in the house of stone and light!
Of course, the Rock is Jesus Christ is The Rock, Light of the World, calling us to live as His dwelling-place, house and home in the Spirit. I've probably mentioned an incident from long ago when I was teaching kids in VBS—I asked them what it means "for us to be the Body of Christ" and one of them replied, "That we can be city lights!" Exactly right!

In a (semi-obnoxious) hint of 1990's rhetoric, Martin Page also mentions "awake the child inside," leading me again to remember the diverse, activist inner-city church to which the Spirit led me and that re-birthed me in a way I cannot live differently from. Ten days ago we celebrated the Day of Pentecost, sometimes referred to as the Church's Birthday, while the secular calendar marked the same day as Mother's Day. People who know anything about me may have a clue about my fragmented, fractured situation with my human biological birth mother, but I still easily can identify gifts that brokenness has bestowed and enabled me further to give to the world. But out of necessity I frequently mark several places and times other than my initial official coming into the world as sources I find myself full-circling back to or more accurately, being sent back to. Witnessing a baptism or participating in the Lord's Supper sometimes gently, sometimes in a brilliantly illuminating manner reminds me of my origins and birth in Christ along with His promise and the Church's pledge to journey with me, however imperfectly and haltingly that occurs. After all, I've made and I've renewed those same covenants time and time again, and never fulfill them perfectly, either! Just as I've been doubly birthed in watery wombs and been sourced and re-created as part of the earth, the circular rhythms of the liturgical year do keep coming round again, despite our insisting God of the prophets, God of Israel, God and Father of Jesus Christ is God of history one of my old commonplace books I quoted, "You won't know where you're going if you are always looking back!" But I'll also cite a car (Toyota?) commercial: The need to make it home is basic, instinctual, undeniable...on the same page of the same yellow covered commonplace book I filled with mostly green writing, The road that leads you away will turn and lead you home.

A couple weeks ago I listened to one of the author's podcasts; Brent read the chapter about signs we need to look for, read and interpret. God engages us as whole people with mind, body, intellect, emotions, spirit (etc.), and I recalled a few observations that started me off in God's direction; I'll describe only one for now. Ages ago on a brief visit to Albuquerque everything about the Southwestern desert absolutely enchanted me; several years later I needed to seek new employment because I'd been serving a term call that was winding down and for some excellent reasons I'd rejected the local nibbles and overtures I'd gotten. I got a wild inspiration to find a job in NM, so I sent my updated ministerial profile to the judicatory that included New Mexico. When I read about Brent's ambivalent feelings about the Indiana farm his wife considered an instance of Paradise, I immediately revisited my own feelings when I found myself invited to interview for a church - in New Mexico? no, not! - in the Great Basin high desert with its dry cold winter climate along with snowy surroundings. Yes, I got the call to serve that church, and during those years some phenomenally significant happenings unfolded in my life—in God's way, believe it or not, but in ways God had been perfectly preparing me for.

After worship on Reign of Christ 2006, in the course of talking with Larissa (she was visiting from up north a piece, where she currently lives and works) on the church patio in a burst of recognition I said to her, "God called me to this church, Old Condo Shadows, just as definitively as God called me to any congregation I served on staff." I knew it in my head, I felt it in my emotions and in my body.

As part of writing our stories, Brent suggested answering why we have chosen or stayed in our particular church tradition—a great one for me to ponder, especially given the countless times I've dared open up enough to tell people I've felt "deeply betrayed by the church" and in response to their asking, "What church?" I always reply, "the protestant mainline, the only church I've ever really known." That ecclesiastical tradition, or maybe those ecclesiastical traditions whose theology, liturgy, activism and style first attracted, then enticed, then captured me and continues to shape and form me. However...originally (from pre-kindergarten!) I'd planned to become an artist, ideally to design textiles. I constantly feel and think in color and obsess about typography and I've taught art and freelanced some as a designer, but my narrative includes telling people "a greater Love than art found, claimed, and continued drawing me." Despite a few sojourns elsewhere, I've remained mostly in this Reformation tradition because of its consistent ecumenicity and catholicity, an emphasis on the sacraments and a sacramental worldview, a justice and advocacy oriented public identity and confessional theology (something meaty to sink my brains into—I do not believe I've ever mentioned in a blog that I've actually taught Book of Confessions...); besides, these are the means of grace churches! As I continue teaching and engaging in theological conversation with people in the pews, I'm constantly aware my own theological, political and social perspectives are far closer to those of the national denominational leadership than they are to most of the folks in the pews; almost every day I advise myself "shut your mouth and open your ears!"

I feel and I know I've spent too much time without significant otherships, but maybe they're not quite as important as discovering or following the Spirit's compass to a community that has a clue as to who I am, that can call me by name. Am I asking too much? Possibly, or more likely I haven't demanded enough of others—or of myself. This road I've been traveling almost alone has broken me badly, while all these years I've kept inviting others to join me and to friend me in real life, simply to help me stand at times. Our (my) survival depends on the health of our (my) environment; healing and remaining healthy takes both grace-filled time and open space.

For a while one of our local radio stations syndicated John Tesh's radio show—Intelligence for Your Life; on one of the shows John suggested we not ask what the world needs but the correct question is what makes you alive! After all, the world needs people who are fully alive. Brent Bill suggests the test, "does this choice generate life (or death)?" Absolutely true that spending my early years in a decaying inner-city neighborhood and then serendipitously (is "serendipitous" biblical theology?) being discovered by an activist congregation full of people who knew they could help change their neighborhood, the city and even influence national politics has led me to keep insisting, "I prepared for a life of service to the church and to the world," and I still need to see my worth validated by measurable, observable outcomes. In a note to Brent I mentioned how Reformation church types don't typically count the softer spiritual practices and disciplines among their specialties; in his reply Brent observed one doesn't often hear about presbyterian mystics!

John Heinemeier in The Other Side for May 1988 observed "A spiritual revival means a revival of confidence, of hope, of the ability to affect one's own future." (page 15) Spiritual revival, renewed confidence and hope and trust I can affect my own future while I continue this precarious trek by faith rather than sight is what currently I'm seeking, and I cannot bear to hear one more person tell me, "God laughs at our plans" - "Life isn't fair" when both my earlier experiences and the witness of scripture have demonstrated God has greater plans for us than we can imagine, and God also stewards everything about us and around us in ways no human could invent. One more commonplace book quote—this one's way well-known:
God will not send you
beyond where your heart can defend you;
God will not lead you
beyond where the Spirit can feed you.
After posting this I'm going to go to the Sacred Compass page on Facebook to post this blog link and especially to discover what other people have been saying. Pre-publication at least one person commented on the April1, "April Fool" publication date. I so love the Motown favorite, "Endless Love," sung by Diana Ross and Lionel Richie, with its recurring, "And love, I'll be a fool for you." In Christ Jesus, God becomes a true fool for love of the world, love of humanity, love of all creation. How about us?

Recently I've written and talked about ways my theology can become my biography becomes my theology...discerning and trusting changes in the directions of my own Sacred Compass as well as observing those around me helps make that happen; regarding that reality, I have a few more events and incidents to blog about, but given that it's time to sleep and dream again, I'll post those in a few days. It might help if I'd refer back to the book before writing that post, because I know I've left out a whole lot that impressed me and I also missed the contest Brent announced—next time, then!

A closing observation for this evening: Brent mentioned his wife sending him visual cues and clues when he's preaching; one of them is "slow down"; another, more important one is "heart"...I tend to talk fast and I try hard to moderate my rate of speech, but I also know when my words begin running over each other, that's when my head's gotten out of the way and my heart's right in gear!

More on this topic in a few days; thanks so much, Brent!

my Amazon review: circles, angles and trajectories

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Pentecost 2008

Acts 2:1

And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. Acts 2:1-4 KJV

Sunday, May 04, 2008

visions, dreams...

visions, dreams—Acts 2:17
As we live in the reign of the Spirit, yet anticipating the Church's celebration of the Festival of Pentecost next Sunday, here's a design for the day.

You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I, the LORD, am your God and there is no other. And my people shall never again be put to shame. Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Joel 2:27-28 NRSV

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, "Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o'clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 'In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.'" Acts 2:14-17 NRSV