Friday, January 3, 2014

Some Rhythm and Relationship in the New Year

I've been reading some of the works of Dr. Bruce Perry, M.D., Ph. D. on brain development and our need for Rhythm and Relationship.  Dr. Perry works with traumatized and abused children, and I heard him speak at a conference I attended for Kids In Distress Services (K.I.D.S.).  He spoke then of our hard-wired need for rhythm and relationship and how much those two things are essential for our development, our healing, and our health throughout our lives.

Our biology is rhythmic (heartbeat, breathing, walking, etc.), and from infancy, we depend on others in loving relationship (parents and other caregivers).  Take away rhythm and relationship, and our lives become increasingly chaotic, disjointed, and broken; we end up with anxiety, anger, fear, apathy, depression, listlessness, etc.  According to Dr. Perry, our bodies were not meant to live in the kind of world we have created.  Our lives used to follow the rhythms of nature (even sunrise and sunset); we walked and used our bodies more; we had more established patterns of eating, sleeping, working, etc. 

Now, much of our time is blurred together - work and leisure interact with each other constantly with phones and computers.  Our lives and work don't stop when the sun goes down.  Patterns and rituals are overrun by the huge number of activities with which we fill our time.  We have lots of multi-sensory, fast-paced forms of entertainment which are more than our brains were constructed to integrate in a healthy, calm manner.  We enjoy many things, but we aren't grounded in a rhythm of life as our bodies are intended to be.

We generally have relationship deficits nowadays as well.  Dr. Perry wrote that for much of our history as humans, we had a 4:1 ratio of primary loving adult caregiver to child.  That ratio is now closer to 1:4.  We have great rhythm and relationship deficits in our modern world.

While I don't have a cure, I do recommend adding some rhythm and relationship to your life in the new year.  Slow down.  When you are with friends and family, be with those people; put down your phone, and be only with those people actually present.  Add some rhythm to your life, some daily ritual or routine to help ground you.

People who read this may come from all kinds of faith traditions (including non-belief), and so I am writing from my beliefs as a disciple of Jesus in the Episcopal Church.  Part of my rhythm is to attend weekly worship to slow down and connect with God and other disciples of Jesus.  I realize that for many, weekly worship on Sunday morning or evening is not possible due to work or transportation issues.  You can worship at other times and with your friends, not only at a church building.

With weekly worship, I then, add daily prayer and scripture reading.  This can take as little as 15 minutes...or 5.  Take time each day, the same time each day to pray and read some scripture.  Allow for some silence.  Offer your problems and troubles to God.  Pray for God's blessing upon your loved ones.  Pray for God's presence throughout your day.

Finally, spend time with people whom you love.  Pray together with these people.  Share deeply with each other.  We have done some of this on Sunday mornings at my church with "sharing faith coffee hours" at 9:45.  We've talked about the Gospel reading for each Sunday, not so much learning about it as learning from it, sharing where the Gospel story interacts with and creates our stories.

The Lord bless you and keep you,

Brad+


Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Time for Reconciliation


Lent is a time for reconciliation. Historically, people who had been removed from the church because of “notorious sins”, used Lent as a time to be reconciled to the people against whom they had offended and to rejoin the church community at Easter.

None of us has been removed from the body of the church. We all still, I would guess, have people against whom we have offended in some way. Lent is the perfect time to seek reconciliation with those people. We can pray for them, for their well being, and for God to bless them. We can try to make reparations for whatever wrong we have done. Finally, we can seek to renew the relationship we had.

In seeking reconciliation, we live the very life of God. We embody God’s love for us in becoming human and being reconciled to us. Perhaps reconciliation can be a Lenten discipline for us all as we journey together over the next 40 days.

The Lord bless you and keep you, Brad +

Monday, October 10, 2011

The World Beyond the Veil

I recently had an experience of God’s presence with me.  I was getting ready to go for a run, lying down outside doing some stretching.  Looking up at the stars, I had a feeling of peace and love come upon me.  The world looked different, somehow, more beautiful, and yet it hadn’t changed. 

This experience was short-lived, like other similar experiences I’ve had, and it is a moment which I treasure.  It brought assurance that God really is here with us in and through this world.  In spite of how difficult things may get, there really is nothing to fear.  It was a glimpse of the world beyond the veil, God’s presence, made knowable for a moment. 

“O God of peace, you have taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and confidence shall be our strength.  Lift us, we pray, by the might of your spirit to your presence, that we may be still and know that you are God; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.”

Friday, September 16, 2011

Talk about faith: Truly knowing who we are

Talking about religion had always been rather difficult for me.  I could talk about my faith with other Christians, so long as we had fairly similar views.  If we didn't, then I often (though not always) felt like we were stepping on each other's toes.  At times, I've had other Christians try to convert me to their particular type of Christianity.  That was never a welcome experience for me.

Talking about religion with non-Christians was, even more difficult, though there were exceptions.  A couple of times when I was growing up, I had some great conversations about religion with non-Christians.  The beauty of those talks was that we were each learning from and about each other, not trying to convince each other of anything.  I loved those conversations and felt a connection to those people, even though they were brief acquaintances.

For the most part, however, religious conversation has been difficult, largely because a stated goal of Christianity is evangelism.  That word actually just means "sharing the good news".  I'll get back to that.

Much of the "evangelism" I have experienced or been taught has been had a hidden spelling "c-o-n-v-e-r-s-i-o-n".  There has always been an ulterior motive in sharing the faith.  "Sealing the deal" as some would call it.  To be fair, there are many who don't believe this, but those that do caught my attention, and I kept thinking that I too had to convert others.  So, I had a difficult time talking about religion because I always felt duplicitous.  

Over the last several years, however, I have given up any need I felt to convert others.*  As a result, I have been able to have many wonderful talks with people of many different faiths about religion.  I again found these conversations beautiful.  In them, I (and I think we) learned about the other's faith, and I also learned about the other person.  

I also realized that during these conversations, in which I had no intention of converting the other person to Christianity, I was doing evangelism.  I was "sharing the good news", the Gospel, by telling people about my faith.  I wasn't sharing some absolute truth that they needed to know for salvation, I was simply sharing my faith and thereby sharing one of the deepest parts of who I am.  

People's faith, whatever their faith may be, is an integral part of who they are.  In sharing faith stories with people of others faiths than my own (including many Christians), I've found how similar we all are.  I've found beauty in the world and in others which I hadn't previously known, simply by having conversations with people about faith.  I've also found my own faith to be changed and enriched by these conversations.  My prayers have changed.  My views and understandings of God have expanded and become more beautiful.  My faith brings me more peace and allows me to see more love and beauty in the world than it ever has before.  

I've also found deeper friendships with people once we could discuss our faiths together without any barriers.  My closest friends are (alphabetically) Christian, Heathen, Jewish, and Pagan.  Knowing and sharing our different faiths have brought us closer together, not divided us.

*  See my previous post "Unbound" for more of my faith journey. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Which Gods do We Follow?

As a Christian and a priest, it may seem rather strange to ask the question, “which gods do we follow?’. Don’t we Christians pretty much follow Jesus?


Yes, of course we do, and we likely at times follow other gods too. In his fictional narrative, American Gods, Neil Gaiman tells a story in which all of the gods in whom Americans have believed over the centuries are here, in America, walking among us, and they aren’t all old. Some are very, very new.

In the book, Media is a god. Cyberspace is a god. Television is a god, the altar before which many of us worship for hours every day.

The author paints a compelling picture. Anything to which we devote ourselves can become a god. We may worship without even realizing it. Even those who say they believe in no god at all may worship a god of some kind. As a non-Christian friend of mine wrote:

What I find even more dangerous, is a failure to recognize our various religions as religions. A person who comforts himself saying that because he has no “invisible people in the sky” he therefore has no knee-jerk reactions of faith (because he’s too rational for that) is deluding himself. Know which gods you follow. Money? Power? Relationships? Food? Mine may be invisible sky people (who are real, thank you very much), but they encourage me to be loyal, honest, generous, and strong. A lot of the gods we choose to follow aren’t so noble.                - Jax Garren, http://www.paganprincesses.com/on-the-danger-and-necessity-of-religion/
Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” As such, Jesus leads us to love God and to love each other. We can test, therefore, if in our efforts to follow Jesus, we truly are doing so.

Taking a hard look at our lives, do we love God and love other people? If so, then we are indeed following Jesus. If we find, however, that in our lives we are not loving God and loving other people, then we are likely not actually following Jesus, even though we are trying to. We are likely following other less noble gods.

If that be the case, there is hope! There is resurrection. That’s a huge part of the Gospel. God is always calling us back. God is always offering us course corrections along our journey through life. Perhaps we’ve veered off the way in our quest to follow Jesus. We can always veer back, with God’s help.

The Lord bless you and keep you,

Brad

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Unbound

Folks have been all in an uproar over Rob Bell's book, Love Wins, in which he suggests that salvation may be possible for non-Christians. I have begun, but not finished the book. What I have read so far, I have found refreshing, thought-provoking, and resonating deeply with questions I have had for years.


Are we Christians allowed to question and wonder? Are we as Christians allowed to consider the possibility of salvation for God-seekers who do not seek God through Jesus? Are we left seeking God through Jesus out of fear of hell?

This is a primary concern for me.  Why am I a Christian or why would I offer Christianity to anyone else?  Do I love God, find connection to God through Jesus and therefore follow him?  If so, then that is a beautiful faith that brings life, peace, and love.  Am I, on the other hand, afraid of this place called hell, convinced of my destiny to that place after I die, and therefore following Jesus as a way of avoiding a terrible place?  Such a faith is one based on fear and self-loathing.  Even if such a faith leads to love of God and neighbor, the foundations of the faith are terrible things.

Further, such a faith necessarily leads to exclusive claims of salvation, leading to further negative effects.  Believing first that I (and all humans) are going to hell unless we believe in Jesus, I must then believe that all non-Christians are necessarily going to hell (deathbed conversions not withstanding).  Hooray for me and all Christians, and too bad for everyone else. 

Now, if I cared about people in this heaven/hell system, then I would want to get them to believe as I do in order to avoid this place called hell.  That seems like a fairly kind thing to do.  We might call it opening people's eyes to the reality of their rather unfortunate situation.  If true, such eye opening certainly is the kindest thing to do, but doing so is also extremely belittling, is it not?  To get someone to follow Jesus in the heaven / hell system, I need to get that person to believe that he or she is a terrible sinner, a terrible person, and destined for eternal torment.  As unsolicited advice goes (something rarely accepted), such aspersions on one's character are not likely to go over especially well. 

Look at such a system on an individual level.  A person is born through no fault of his or her own.  Two people (completely unknown to the soon to be born) decide to have sex (having asked no consent from the soon to be born), and then, 9ish months later, this brand new person is thrust, unasked, into the world and immediately destined for hell.  Then, this person is told that he or she can avoid this place called hell by following Jesus, the son of the very God who has sentenced this person to hell. 

How could anyone not want to follow God?

If we must believe the exclusive claims of salvation for Christians only, then we have a faith with the foundations of fear and self-loathing.  We are therefore adding fear and self-loathing to the world.  We have the further problems that such exclusive claims in the heaven / hell system lead to division.  In this life, if the Christiansonlygotoheavenallothersgotohell system is how I operate, then I would want to stay away from non-Christians and keep those I love away from non-Christians, lest we be infected by their non-belief and risk going to hell.  The one exception would be that I would want to be around non-Christians in order to Christianize them, but that would lead to belittling others or to friendship with ulterior motives, rather than simply loving people. 

At it's worst, the division and attempts to Christianize others would lead to anger and violence (as it often has in the past).  So now we have fear, self-loathing, division, belittling, ulterior motives, anger, and violence as the effects of the Christiansonlygotoheavenallothersgotohell system.  I realize we have all of these problems even without such a system, but I can't think of any good effects in this life for such an exclusive system, and I can think of all of the above-mentioned negative effects.  Judging truth by effects, I wonder if such an exclusive system might not be particularly true.  Jesus said in John 14:11, "Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves."  His works were works of healing and love.

Perhaps we Christians can let go of the exclusive claims of salvation.  We Christians have found / been given a way to God through Jesus (whom we believe to be God). We Christians have found / been given a beautiful way of life in which we love God, love others, seek justice and mercy, live in hope and faith, pray and work for the restoration of the world. Must we claim more than that? Can we not be grateful for what we have found / been given without insisting that others believe as we do? Can we not be joyful for salvation found / given to us without denying the possiblity of salvation for others? We are saved through Jesus. Must the flip side of that coin be true?

I don't know the answers, and I won't know the answers in this life. Further, I don't have to know the answers for salvation belongs to God, not to any of God's followers. Paul tells members of the Church in Rome not to ask who will ascend into heaven or who will descend into the abyss. (Romans 10:6-7) While part of a longer discourse, we would do well to heed such advice. We have found / been given salvation through Jesus. We needn't hold the flip side of that coin to be true.

I at least no longer do.  I have been unbound by the fear that I held for so long.  It is still there in small amounts, but I refuse to operate out of it.  I still believe in Jesus because of the works he did, because of his teachings, and because I love the idea that God became human and lived as one of us so that we might know God, trust God, and be with God.  That, to me, is salvation:  to know, trust, love and be with God, and to live the life of love that flows naturally from dwelling with God in trust and love. 

The Lord bless you and keep you,

Brad

Monday, January 17, 2011

Becoming Who We Are

Ancient Israel was a mighty nation, a kingdom dedicated to worshipping God, serving him, and being a light to other nations. They were more successful at some times than others at being who they were, but that was their identity: a chosen people, dedicated to serving God. Before they were a nation dedicated to God, however, they were a collection of tribes with common ancestry living in Egypt.

They were still God’s chosen people, but they had not yet become who they were called and formed to be. They were not yet a nation, and they had not yet been given the law of God by which they would live and relate to God. With God’s help, they escaped from Egypt, crossed through the red sea, and then spent 40 years in the wilderness, becoming a nation dedicated to God. They had to become who they were.

On Sunday two weeks ago, we remembered Jesus’ baptism. Having escaped to Egypt as an infant and then returned from Egypt as a boy, Jesus went through the waters of baptism as a man and then went into the wilderness for 40 days. He followed the path of Israel in order to become who he was. Jesus was always God. He was also a human who needed to grow and be formed into the fullness of himself. Jesus was God, and he was formed into his identity through his faithfulness to God, the decisions he made, and the love he had.

We too, then, are constantly becoming who we are. Our faithfulness to God, the decisions we make, and the love and honor we show to others are constantly forming us. At our core, we are all children of God, made to love him and to love each other, to live in deep relationship.

We may not be able to change who are are at our core, but at times, like the nation of Israel, we do a better or worse job of being who we are. We often talk of ourselves as sinful, as incapable of being perfect, and that certainly seems to be the case. The purpose of following Jesus, however, is not to be perfect nor is it to remind ourselves that we fall short. Of course we fall short, and God is obviously ok with that fact, otherwise he wouldn't have forgiven us.

We follow Jesus to be like him in that we seek to be in closer and closer relationship with God, living out God's life in our own lives. The purpose of following Jesus is not to become who he was, but to become who we are. We are God's children, loved and blessed by him. By following Jesus' faithfulness to God, his teachings, and his way of life, we find ourselves becoming who we already are, God's holy and blessed children.