Saturday, March 23, 2013

Sabbatical Journey Day 9

I don’t have that much to report.  I’ve been home several days now and getting into the rhythm of being home.  Nothing much exciting to say, but I do have some random thoughts.

First, not watching television and most especially ‘the news’ was such a blessing.  If you ever had a doubt that our political process is insane and irresponsible, take a few days off from it and see it with new eyes.  The House passed a budget that has no chance of becoming the budget.  The Senate passed a budget that has no chance of becoming a budget.  Both sides have buried their positions on concrete.  It’s like a double siege; two armies sitting in forts waiting for the other side to come out of their fort and neither side actually doing anything to the other to actually make them want to come out of their fort.  Everyone is well fed, plenty of to drink and there is no danger….except to the nation that has been hung out to dry.  Thanks leaders!

The two Popes met for lunch today.  Interesting meeting, I would imagine.  They both knelt to pray and the only thing I could think of was who was going to say ‘all done’ first?  I wonder if it became a ‘holiness competition.’

I was reading the other day about becoming great at humility.  It sounds rather oxymoronic to be ‘great’ at humility.

NBC seems to be sending Jay Leno out to pasture.  I was thinking that they did the same thing with Ann Curry and that worked out so well for them.  They seem to have an inability to deal gracefully with personnel transitions.

Meanwhile, some show interviewed Joan Rivers about Leno.  Joan Rivers has made a career of being nasty to people and saying nasty things about people.  She also hates Leno.  This gave her an opportunity to say venomous things about Jay Leno.  I hate when people feel a need to share venom; and even worse, for networks to encourage it.

In hearing about how poorly our veterans are being, and I use the phrase carefully, ‘cared for,’ after two wars, is a disgrace.  Politicians LOVE to send young people to war, regardless of the cost to those young people, and then show no willingness to care for those who were so grievously damaged by the way.  They do, however, LOVE to wear American flag lapel pins to show how patriotic they are, however…

And, let’s see. Lindsey Lohan was in court again today and Tiger Woods is dating Lindsey Vonn.  Why did we need to know this?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Sabbatical Journey Day 5


I have been mulling something since Sunday. I went to Mass at the Abbey and the homily was excellent. Of course, the Table was closed. The Table of the Lord was not open to those people who are not Roman Catholic.

In the midst of great hospitality, which I have received, and the spirit of most monasteries, there would seem to have a desire to fulfill the hearts and minds and spirits of all people who come in the door. When one has a feast and one invites people to the feast, it is presumed that all those invited will be welcome at the table. In this case, ‘sorry Charlie….”

People who are not Roman Catholic are always invited to come forward and when they get to the priest, cross their arms and instead of giving the person Holy Communion, the priest then gives the person a blessing. To me this is like, “Hey, glad you are here at the feast and I won’t feed, you, but I sure will greet you well!” I stayed in my seat. Frankly, it seems pretty patronizing to me.

Truthfully, the Roman Catholic Church has a different teaching on Holy Communion than Protestant churches do. This is certainly true, but does access to the Table of the Lord demand absolute adherence to a church’s theological perspective? Did I miss when theological perspectives over took faith? Did I miss in Jesus’ commissioning of eating his body and blood had the addition of a theological litmus test? I wonder what Jesus’ answer would have been at the Last Supper if someone had queried him about transubstantiation…

Did I miss, perhaps most of all, when the Table of the Lord morphed into the table of the church? When did it happen that this was no longer God’s Table, but now belonged to a church which had the right to pick and choose who came to dine?

I am a minister of the United Church of Christ for a variety of reasons. One is this. When we say the words, “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey,” we mean them. When we invite you to the feast, you are always welcome at the Table of the Lord. After all, it’s only hospitable to do so.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Sabbatical Journey Day 4


This is my 4th day at the monastery. Needless to say, I’ve spent a lot of time alone. I’ve had spiritual direction for an hour each day and today was the last day for that. Prayer time has been alone or in the church with the monks, but largely alone. I am working my way into a pattern.

One of the things I have been doing is reading and reflecting on the Rule of St. Benedict. His rule was written in the 6th century and so it’s been around a while. His rule is interesting and, in many ways, is a classic rule on how people can live with one another and grow as people and as Christians.

Benedict sweated out details because he is looking to make life disciplined for people, but not so difficult that it becomes impossible to live.

These is part of Chapter 39,

We think it sufficient for the daily dinner,
whether at the sixth or the ninth hour,
that every table have two cooked dishes
on account of individual infirmities,
so that he who for some reason cannot eat of the one
may make his meal of the other
Therefore let two cooked dishes suffice for all the brethren;
and if any fruit or fresh vegetables are available,
let a third dish be added.

Let a good pound weight of bread suffice for the day,
whether there be only one meal or both dinner and supper.
If they are to have supper,
the cellarer shall reserve a third of that pound,
to be given them at supper.

But if it happens that the work was heavier,
it shall lie within the Abbot's discretion and power,
should it be expedient,
to add something to the fare.

Benedict wants people to have options because he knows that people can be picky. He also does not tell people that they must starve themselves to be monks. While he does, later on, have an admonition about heating meat from animals with four legs, he really isn’t interested in people fasting themselves miserably.

But that’s not really the point that has struck me as so fascination. Look at the last words:

But if it happens that the work was heavier,
it shall lie within the Abbot's discretion and power,
should it be expedient,
to add something to the fare.

There are always exceptions to the rule. He goes into great detail in the Rule to explain how the Psalms should be ordered and prayed. Then he ends it with, unless someone has a better idea, than use the better idea.

It reminds me of Jesus indicating that the Sabbath is for people, not people for the Sabbath. Rules, and the Rule is a guideline made for people and there are always exceptions to the rule. Whether one is a monk or a person of faith, no matter which faith one belongs to, the ‘rules’ are not there for their own sake, but to help us have guidelines for our growth. Everyone needs to live in some parameters, but the parameters need to be flexible.

Benedict remembered that he was a person with faults writing for people with faults. It’s a good lesson we all need to accept about ourselves.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Sabbatical Journey Day 3

One of the early Priors of the Carthusian Order, Dom Guigo wrote: Reading seeks, meditation finds, prayer asks, contemplation feels.

There are times when I get the impression that God is trying to tell me something. I was listening to a DVD by Tobias Colgan, one of the monks at Saint Meinrad and he cited this from Guigo. Last night, while reading the book A Litany of Little Hours again, the quote, Reading seeks, meditation finds, prayer asks, contemplation feels.

There is much to ponder.

Reading does seek. Sometimes we seek entertainment and we read books that may entertain us. Often, we read to learn things. We seek to learn and we seek to understand, and so we learn from reading. Often when we need to know an answer to something we seek it; and we often seek it by reading.

In the spiritual life, however, reading is not really adequate. If we read Scripture for example and we read it to ‘seek’ that is all well and good. However, if one approaches the Bible with any sense of humility and even reality, there is one thing evident about reading the Bible. The Bible often asks more questions than it answers. I have, over the years, listened to numerous sermons preached on the Parable of the Prodigal Son and am amazed at all the different takes people have on one story. I actually disagree with most people on how this story ought to be interpreted and so it always strikes me that so many people can disagree on what is, at face level, a simple story.

But meditation is that which finds. When we read we seek, but we really do not begin to find what we are looking for until we take the time to be still and reflect. When we meditate we begin to reflect on the words we have read and begin to understand how those words impact us. Those of us who preach often read the Scripture for the following Sunday, and read about it, but, at least in my case, it takes me a few days before I actually write something. A lot of time is spent meditating and pondering what those words mean. That is learning to find what we are looking for.

Then there is prayer. Prayer asks. Please God, help me….. Fill in the blanks. Please God, forgive me…. Please God, can you do something about the weather? There are all kinds of prayer, thanksgiving, praise, and petition. We often petition God. We ask. We may not always ask for ourselves and we may pray for others, but we usually always ask God. This is a good thing, by the way. I suspect if we are always asking for a new car it may not be all that great, but asking for God with open hearts and minds is a good thing.

Then there is contemplation feels…..

Contemplation is often using a breath prayer, or mantra, or focusing on an image and being completely still and empty before God. According to Guigo, this is the one way we actually feel the presence of God.

I have a lot of ponder…

The Loving Kindness and Mercy of Jesus Not Being Present

The last few days I have been at a monastery on retreat. In praying and reading I have been encountering and embracing the loving goodness, mercy, and kindness of God. Today I listened to a brilliant sermon about how Jesus was the only person who looked at the woman caught in adultery as a person. To others she was objectified as either a dirty sinner, an object lesson, or, in actuality, bait for Jesus to make a false move.

I’ve watched little news. One of the biggest news stories has been the election of Pope Francis who has been a remarkable witness to the loving goodness, mercy, and kindness of Jesus. His thoughtful humility has been refreshing. My hope and prayer is that his message of grace and charity is one that permeates large amounts of discussion.

Several things in the world of politics were noteworthy, I would imagine.

One was Rob Portman changing his mind about gay marriage. He said the other day:

"I'm announcing today a change of heart on an issue that a lot of people feel strongly about that has to do with gay couples' opportunity to marry. I've come to the conclusion that for me, personally, I think this is something that we should allow people to do, to get married, and to have the joy and stability of marriage that I've had for over 26 years. That I want all of my children to have, including our son, who is gay. "

This was not a political statement, this was totally personal. His son is gay and he loves his son and wants everything in life for his son. He changed his position on the subject.

The response to him has been, in part, something very troubling brings me to the other observation. CPAC met this week. This is not a Republican group as much as it is a ‘conservative group’ within the party. I’m not sure it should be called CPAC as much as MPAC, with M being mean.

Many people responded to Portman telling him is he ungodly and unchristian and going to hell. There was not much of the loving goodness, mercy, and kindness of Jesus in many messages and responses to Portman.

At CPAC the loving goodness, mercy, and kindness of Jesus was not in session. Mean was in session. Some people spoke of their concern over some of the issues of the day. Whether one agrees with them or not is really not my concern. Many said it was ‘red meat,’ but I greatly disagree. It was a lot of mean spirited rhetoric. Jeb Bush, to his credit, did not fall into this trip when he said, "We're associated with being anti-everything . Way too many people believe that Republicans are anti-immigrant, anti-woman, anti-science, anti-gay, anti-worker. Many voters are simply unwilling to choose our candidates because those voters feel unloved, unwanted, and unwelcome in our party.”

He didn’t get nearly the applause lines that other people received. Many of those other people mocked and barbed people they did not agree with. It wasn’t so much political, it was personal. In many of the speeches, ‘Christian values’ were raised, minus the loving goodness, mercy, and kindness of Jesus.

There is no justice without mercy and there is no Gospel without the love, the mercy, and the kindness of Jesus at the center.

Over the years I have been mean to others and have used some amazingly cutting barbs, mostly written, at others. I’ve shared them on Facebook and probably on here. I regret that. The more I ponder being a person of faith the more aware I am that unless we embrace and live the loving kindness and mercy of Jesus, we are missing the mark.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Sabbatical Journey, Day 2

Some thoughts in terms of reflection and spiritual direction.

One connection that was made for me yesterday, and is resonating with me is the connection between the word ‘disciple’ and the word ‘discipline.’  I believe myself to be, and I strive to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.  I am also, however, an incredibly undisciplined person.  To be a disciple of Christ requires a certain amount of discipline and that is something I greatly lack.  It is, obviously something I will be working on.

A second thought, something I have always felt, but never really put into words is seeing all people we encounter in a Christocentric way. This is a fancy way of saying that we see Christ in all people; and we treat people the way we would treat Christ.  There are, of course, lots of implications with this.

The third thought comes from reading the Rule of St. Benedict.  Benedict believed in moderation.  In my reading it is likened to the Talmud whereas if a person moves too far into the cold, one will freeze to death. If a person moves to far into the heat, the person will be burned to death.  The wise path is to walk in the center.

In our day and age of extreme polarities, it would seem that the center is the wisest place to be.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Sabbatical Journey, Day 1

I put this down as day 1 but I am not going to necessarily update this every day.  But today begins the journey.

I have been off for close to two weeks. I took two weeks of my vacation as a time to decompress before beginning this journey in earnest.  I have, however, been reading and reflecting a good bit.

I have done some odd reading, to be sure.  I read Mary Johnson’s An Unquenchable Thirst, which is the story of her 20 years as a Missionary of Charity.  This is the religious order of nuns founded by Mother Teresa.  Johnson’s journey was difficult and she left after 20 years for a whole host of reasons.  She does not view Mother Teresa in an unkind light by any stretch of the imagination.  There were times Johnson was frustrated, but she’s pretty honest that this is her frustration more than anything else.  Still in all, the book sadly concludes with her pretty much losing her faith.  It reminded me of Through the Narrow Gate by Karen Armstrong. Armstrong began a long journey away from faith and has found herself a believer, again.  Interesting book, to say the least.

I am currently reading Joan Chittister’s book, The Rule of Benedict: A Spirituality for the 21st Century which is very much a part of my Sabbatical plan.  I’m also reading the book entitled, An Infinity of Little Hours:  Five Young Men and Their Trial of Faith in the Western World’s Most Austere Monastic Order.  This book was written by Nancy Klein Maguire and is the journey of give young monks in a Carthusian Charterhouse (a type of monastery) in England in the early 1960’s.  A Charterhouse type of monastery is a monastery that is really a collection of hermitages.  Carthusian monks are hermits who live in their own cells, but all under one roof.  They speak very, very little and their lives are austere.  Under my spiritual director here, I have watched the first half of a very fascinating movie, Into Great Silence.  The movie is set at the Charterhouse in France and is fascinating.  I haven’t seen the entire movie as of yet, but it is essentially a slice of life with the Carthusians.  It is visually amazing, but it’s a documentary and has virtually no speaking.

I am not a monk and will never been a monk so one might ask why this fascination with all things monastic.  The answer is very simple.  I am on a journey of grounding myself to my faith in some new and significant ways.  Being raised Roman Catholic and educated in Roman Catholic seminaries, I find myself spiritually nurtured by much the Roman Catholic Church has to offer in terms of prayer.  I live the Liturgy of the Hours.  I was never big into Marian devotion and so I do not venture there.  As for the Mass, again, that’s not something that really appeals to me.  Frankly, if it is a banquet that I’m invited to attend, but not invited to partake in the meal, I have little interest in that.

I realized this the other day.  I went to the Noon Mass at a church in Louisville staffed by Dominican priests.  I came close to joining the Dominicans many years ago and have always appreciated their intellect and their preaching.  I went to Mass in the  hopes of hearing a good sermon.   I had never heard a bad Dominican sermon before.  On Wednesday, however, that streak was broken.  His theology was, at least in my mind, shallow and the sermon was really a bunch of pious platitudes.  Furthermore, the blissful silence I was enjoying was broken by the rosary recited by the whole congregation.  I’m not Roman Catholic and haven’t been for a long time.  It had been years since I attended a Mass and the experience was not all that wonderful.  Oh, and the responses that were changed.  Ugh.  What a mess.

I am a United Church of Christ minister and I love my denomination a great deal.  The older I get, the more I appreciate the family of faith I have chosen to be a part of.  This journey is reminding my and nurturing part of where I am from; and affirming where I am now.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Random Musings for a Monday

I’m starting week 2 of  being off. On Friday I begin my Sabbatical journey in earnest by heading to Saint Meinrad.  I will be having a five day retreat with some intense spiritual direction, reading, and prayer.  I’m really excited about that.

My time off has been stepping away and decompressing.  It felt odd to not be out the door yesterday leading Worship and preaching.  But a good kind of odd, to say the least!

Lots of things going on in the world.

North Korea has tested a nuke and is working in missiles and making increasingly bellicose sounds.  They, just today, said, again, that the 1953 treaty between the two Koreas was invalid.  They seem to be wanting war.  I find this painful and, frankly counter-intuitive and evil.  The people of North Korea live their lives under really dreadful conditions.  There is not enough food and the regime is brutal.  Instead of trying to make the lives of the people better, they seem hell bent in trying to create a war and make the lives of their own people, as well as other people, a living hell.  Why?  I have no clue.  It is painfully tragic.

The President took twelve Republican Senators to dinner last week and they seemed to have a good time and everyone said nice things about one another. I sense that no one really likes the sequester, and no one has the willingness to bend to end it.  I keep thinking they should all read “Everything I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” and learn some of the lessons.  It make help them move forward.

In other news, Valerie Harper was diagnosed with untreatable brain cancer.  She has been the epitome of class in her response to that and has been an inspiration to everyone.  Justin Bieber has been a petulant child.  It is not that any of this is news, per se.  Valerie Harper has always been graceful and class and Justin Bieber has always been a petulant child.

Meanwhile, in Rome, the Cardinals are going to enter the Conclave to choose the next Pope. I love press speculation on what is going to happen; like anyone from the press has a clue as to what is going to happen.  I suspect there has been a lot of discussion amongst the Cardinals already-----but one never knows what is taking place.  I have no clue as to why someone would want that job.  Seriously.  Whoever becomes the Pope inherits a difficult scenario and if that person takes it seriously, it will be an almost impossible job.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

So It Begins

My Sabbatical has begun!  I have deactivated Facebook until June.  I shall keep my blog up to date, however!