Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Don't Ask It's a Mystery

Dear Friends, this will be my last post on this the Christ Church Bible Blog website. I will continue to publish readings and reflections based on the upcoming lectionary schedule on a new site entitled Word to word:

I look forward to your joining me in the future.

We celebrate those events in the life of Christ in the Gospel as stories that are meant to be lived as we are inspired to live them. I’ve come to realize that if I understand something and feel that I can explain it, it’s no mystery. Yet, there’s this undeniable urge to put our ego front and center and do our best to try to explain things that defy explanation. I was reminded when I heard Adam say, I was afraid, because I was naked. To which God answered, who told you that you were naked? (Genesis 3:8-19) Too often modern believers tend to place their trust in therapy more than they do in mystery, a fact that’s revealed when our worship resorts to the jargon of ego-satisfying, self-help and pop psychology: Let’s use this hour to get our heads straight or revisit our perspective. Really? Sure, let’s use this hour because we’re too busy later, after all, we’ve got the kids, or I don’t want anything to get in the way of my Super Bowl Sunday. Let’s use this hour, and get it over with and you can send me a bill… later I will zip off a check in the mail. There, that’s done. But the mystery of worship which is God’s presence and our response to it doesn’t work this way.

Somehow, the mistrust of all that has been handed down to us, has led to a failure of the imagination, evidenced by language that’s thoroughly comfortable and unchallenging. Our prayers become a self- indulgent praise of ourselves as we purport to “confess” our weaknesses. These prayers are anything but the lifting of our hearts and minds to God. There’s no attempt to at least meet him half way and listen and stop talking.

And so now in this fourth week of Advent we focus on the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38), a mystery of epic proportions that defies rational explanation. It stuns us to hear some attempt to reduce the virgin birth to a mere story of an unwed pregnant teenager. Have we come to a time when anything that did not stand up to reason or that we couldn’t explain, should be characterized as primitive and infantile? Why do we think that an almighty spiritual being is confined to man’s intellect and his feeble language to communicate? Do we not see how metaphor and poetry reveal meaning, not explanation, on a deep personal level?

Last year we had an opportunity to travel through Eastern Europe, making our way from the Black Sea to Amsterdam. I was taken aback by the devastation in human lives caused by the failure of the “great social experiment,” that created societies whose wealth was shared but only among those at the top. So great buildings were erected for the personal aggrandizement of the elite while sacrificing the welfare of the people who were desperate for food and who desired a modicum of personal enrichment. On the other hand, I was impressed with the number of churches and cathedrals that were reopened after decades of being forced to close. These were flourishing, and while they served as much to support tourism as worship, they were a major presence.

Looking at the beautiful classical paintings and art in these churches made me wonder what it was that inspired the artists to create poetic images and visual metaphors depicting the “mysteries” of Christianity. It occurred to me that their art was spoken in a language all its own and derived its source from inspiration and not the intellect, and while the cynic might deride the image of the Angel Gabriel appearing to Mary, the artist understood it completely. Art and music are languages of the soul and bypass our rational being to speak to us at a level we cannot explain or know but do we really need explanation for something we feel down deep?

When we allow God’s love to break through into our consciousness as we contemplate the Mysteries of the Annunciation and Virgin birth, do we run from it? Do we ask it to explain what it cannot? Or are we “virgin” enough to surrender to our deepest self and allow it to fill our being? We cannot ask it to explain what it cannot.[BR1] 


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Leaving Home...Going Home

Wishes teach us that we could have been something or someone other than who we are. We became who we are not because we exhausted our potential in one direction but because we are directed to take one path and not another. God does not make wishes come true; he makes reality work. To dream of what shall never come to pass is to dream in the manner of Jesus. To dream only of what shall come to pass is to become a wise planner, someone who projects accurately. To dream also of those things which may not likely occur but of which men are capable is to be a prophet a disciple of Jesus. John 1:6-8, 19-2
The human heart was made to be “at home” with itself. It is this aspiration which is at the heart of all yearning. The most redemptive of all experiences is that by which the human heart is reconciled with itself. Evil comes from fear and fear comes from an inability to live with oneself, to make a truce with one’s own life, to settle the conflict which goes on inside the person who cannot find a home and who never comes home. Jesus promised us a home... One day, our apparently unheard knocking shall yield to welcome as all the doors open to us in love and peace. (Dawn Without Darkness, Anthony Padovano)

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Who Was That?


In January of 2007, The Washington Post videotaped the reactions of commuters at a D.C. Metro (subway) stop to the music of a violinist. The overwhelming majority of the 1000+ commuters were too busy to stop. A few did, briefly, and some of those threw a couple of bills into the violin case of the street performer. No big deal, just an ordinary day on the Metro. Except it wasn't an ordinary day. The violinist wasn't just another street performer; he was Joshua Bell, one of the world's finest concert violinists, playing his multi-million dollar Stradivarius. Three days earlier he had filled Boston's Symphony Hall with people paying $100/seat to hear him play similar pieces. The question the Post author and many others since have asked is simple: Have we been trained to recognize beauty outside the contexts we expect to encounter beauty? Or, to put it another way, can we recognize great music anywhere outside of a concert hall?

So, this makes us wonder: Can we detect God only in Church when we are immersed in liturgy, hymns and organ music? I'm afraid that we can't. Even more, perhaps the Church gets in the way and contributes to this state of affairs. Church, as we have come to know, is not the structure or the inner trappings, it’s the people, the community. How do we find God when there is confusion and “turmoil?” In his book, The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace, M. Scott Peck says that community has three essential ingredients: Inclusivity, commitment and, consensus.  Based on his experience, he cites that community building usually begins with the need to address dysfunction or what he terms Pseudo-community: “This is a stage where the members pretend to have a bon home with one another, and cover up their differences by acting as if the differences do not exist. Pseudo-community can never directly lead to community, and it is the job of the people guiding the community building process to shorten this period as much as possible.” If our Sunday hour does not abide in our life Monday through Saturday, or if that hour runs counter to our ability to draw closer to God then…and in the other 167 hours of the week…how long can we expect to keep coming back?

John was sent to prepare us for Jesus. How many times have we read (Mark1:1-8 ) or heard John’s words: "The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals?” Do we walk past him as the commuters did Joshua Bell?  Please, please help me, help us all to see God at work in and through all the "ordinary" elements of our lives so that we might come running back to church each Sunday ready to hear of God at work both in the biblical world and our own. Who knows, we might even come to church eager to share where we’ve seen God at work in and through our lives Mark 13:24-37)?   in the world. And then who knows what might happen!