Sunday, June 15, 2008

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Contemporary Communion

I came across this song for the first time today. I like some of these more contemporary approaches to traditional practices that I am beginning to see.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Prayer Habits

Will recently confessed using the word "continue" too often in pastoral prayers while making visits. I agree with a comment he received noting that "continue" is an appropriate word in prayer as it acknowledges God's work before we've vocalized the prayer.

However, like anything that is repeated, Will is right that any recycled word or phrase begins to make unwanted impressions. I notice in the news media certain words that become trends. During the 2006 political cycle, it seemed that someone was always being "slammed" by one person or another. As we head into another intense cycle, I will be looking for new verbs and adjectives that come up. One I have heard talked about already is the phrase "thrown under the bus."

It has occurred to me that in addition to the potential wear a repeated word may cause, it is equally possible that the same form of prayer may become a bad habit.

For instance, I don't like long prayers, so I typically get right to the point--for grace before a meal, I might say, "Thank you God." That is all we really mean to say at a mealtime grace, isn't it? I am cautious that if I say more, particularly in a formal setting, I may be praying in such a way that I will be heard by others rather than speaking a prayer to God. The problem is, ever since seminary, I have somehow become the designated grace-sayer at almost every meal I eat. How many times can you pray "Thanks, amen." before some come to believe that you are insincere in your prayer?

Perhaps the real question for me is whether or not being the spiritual leader of a community requires a change in prayer style. I have always been fairly informal in my prayer habits, and yet it seems my role calls for times of more formal prayer. My fear is that if I, an informal prayer, work to hard at offering more formal prayers, do I sound disingenuous, or worse, become disingenuous?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Kissing Bugs

In the last few months, my 21 month old daughter began giving kisses. Both my wife and I have fond memories about those first few kisses. I have written before about my kiss goodbye ritual with my daughter and how it was a special thing that when shared with grandma caused a bit of envy to rise up in me. But today it got a whole lot worse! We spent the morning at the playground, where we saw a small millipede dangling from one of the metal bars. My daughter noticed it with glee, exclaiming "bug!" This is behavior we encourage as we want her to appreciate nature. But then she began blowing kisses to the bug! Kissing a bug?!?!

I thing it is great that she is so compassionate, but how am I supposed to feel special when she kisses me if the kiss is something that she also freely gives to bugs?

Perhaps this the one of the maddening things about grace. God's love is special, and it is wonderful to know that God loves you. But it can be hard to remember that one of the reason God loves us is that God loves even the bugs--the most annoying apparently useless creatures (both bugs and humans) are loved by God; and perhaps that makes us feel less special. But perhaps it is also comforting that in our most honest times of self-reflection, when we see all that would make us unloveable, we can know that God even loves the bugs.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Freedom Vs. Equality

Last night as my wife and I began packing boxes, we caught a little of Stephen Colbert's interview with conservative George Will. In a more serious moment, George Will succinctly described what he sees as the difference between political conservatives and liberals.

The competing values are freedom and equality at all times. Conservatives tend to favor freedom and are willing to accept inequalities of outcome from a free market. Liberals tend to favor equality of outcome and are willing to sacrifice and circumscribe freedom in order to get it.

i think this accurately describes the nature of the debate in our country, but the problem is it assumes that freedom and inequality can coexist or that vice versa, freedom and equality cannot coexist.

All of this ultimately depends on how we define freedom. American independence (freedom) is at its roots freedom from british rule, also perhaps freedom from being ruled by any other nation-state. However, when we occupy Iraq at least in part to "spread freedom" it doesn't occur to us that people living in Iraq may not want to feel as though they are being ruled by us. Nor, in our commitment to free-market economy, do we consider that we are bound to and limited by our need to endlessly grow the economy. And perhaps most troublesome is in our freedom, how often is inequality the result of not being free from sin, the cruelest master of all. Regardless of policy, sin is often what stands in the way. Trickle down economics may make sense academically, but it will never work if the people at the top believe their freedom is to keep as much as they want, making the trickle a very slow drip. Likewise many social programs are in good heart, but may be abused by some who believe their freedom entitles them to work the system rather than use it to get their life together.

For me the question is not a balance between freedom and equality, but one about the source and nature of freedom.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Being the Church in Postmodern Times

On Saturday Morning of the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference, the guest preacher, Rev. Dr. Janet Forbes preached an eloquent, enjoyable, and thought provoking sermon on the need for the church to adapt to the changing cultural landscape. Describing herself as a "postmodern" she went on to describe postmodernity as the current era in which we live--a response to "modernity" leading to a new era which she estimated would begin around 2020 (she named this era, but I don't recall it).

Through a series of effective illustrations, she showed modernity to be a struggle between conservative and liberal, both of which rested on a core precept of modernity--that right belief is important and truth can be known. Likewise she showed postmodernity to be a cultural phenomenon in which authority is questioned, and truth is obscure and unimportant. In postmodernity, there is much access to knowledge and many claims to truth, but what is important is right actions. (I am sure I am not doing justice to her sermon, but this was the gist of a small portion of the sermon).

The call in the end was for the church to become postmodern in its ways -- a speaking the language of the new culture; a kind of modern (or postmodern?) pentecost.

As I reflected on the sermon, a few things struck me. The first was that Christianity is ultimately a claim to a particular truth. What would it mean to preach the gospel (the truth that Jesus came to die that we might have life and have it abundantly) in a postmodern way? The second was that by the time the church could effectively make such a conversion, we will be into the beginning of the next era and we will be trying to shed our postmodern ways. A final reflection was that projecting postmodernity as a path the church needed to travel runs against the postmodern assertion that there are many claims to truth none of which may be valid. The claim for a need to become postmodern is in itself a truth-claim that should be questioned by a true postmodern.

It seams to me that the least desirable moments in church history have been times that we have too closely reflected the cultural moves of the day. We can explain dark and gory depictions of Christianity with the mid-ages. The corruption of church leadership that led to a need for reformation was a time the church too closely resembled the feudal system in Europe. During the early/mid 20th century in America, Christianity became so entwined with American patriotism that it has become difficult for some to distinguish between the two. In short, perhaps the church is at its best when it simply is the church and doesn't worry about adapting to the ebb and flow of the surrounding culture. That isn't to say that the church doesn't engage culture, or that there is no overlap. Only that I don't know that we should be constantly trying to "catch up" only to find ourselves always behind a changing world and increasingly confused about our own identity.

Perhaps postmoderns are disillusioned by the church's claim to truth in part because we have become cloudy about what that claim is as we have tried to keep up with previous shifts in culture. The enduring 2000 year old story never ceases to be relevant unless we make it irrelevant by devaluing it every time there is a sociocultural shift.

(These are not researched thoughts, only my first reflections. Please feel free to correct me on the details of postmodernity or point out flaws in my rough thoughts on history).