Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Monday, June 10, 2013
I can see how the Friends doctrine of the Inward Light of Christ could lead to spiritual arrogance. If I believe that Jesus speaks to me directly, why listen to anybody else? This is a real temptation, especially for those of us who live in a culture that exalts the individual above almost all else.
But this kind of pride cannot survive long in the real presence of Jesus. In him, I encounter a God who is far beyond my own narrow ways of imagining the world. The revealing power of his light forces me to see how self-interested and feeble my attempts at love really are. All of my hopes, dreams and lofty ideals are brought low in his presence.
Monday, June 03, 2013
In case there was any confusion, Jesus concludes with this startling bit of encouragement:
Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart also be.
OK, Jesus! I could get on board with the whole no hording thing, and I could embrace the whole birds and grass thing as a nice metaphor about trusting God to provide. But what’s this about selling my possessions and giving to the poor? And what kind of crazy are you talking about heavenly bank accounts? You don’t expect me to take this literally, do you?
Friday, May 31, 2013
How could we ever have missed it? From start to finish, from Genesis to Revelation, God has consistently revealed that the wages of sin is death – not just for us, but for all life. We learn in the story of the Fallthat humanity’s choice to turn away from God is directly connected with the twisting and destruction of the creation. Throughout the Old Testament God repeatedly reminds humanity that the earth belongs to him, and that we are merely tenants in the land. And in the Book of Revelation, we are warned that God will destroy those who destroy the earth!
God has so much more love than we usually imagine possible. Not only does God love each one of us, and all of humanity, with unceasing faithfulness; he loves the whole of his creation just as much!
Tuesday, May 28, 2013
It would be easier if this cycle of desire and disappointment only applied to bad things. If this were so, I could focus on only desiring the good things, and then I could be satisfied. Instead, I have found that some of the most insidious temptations come clothed as angels of light. Even the things of God – the Bible, the Church, works of mercy and justice – can all too easily become idols. Anything that takes my eyes off of Jesus leads me astray, and that can include the very ministry that I believe he has given me to do!
It is easy to be deceived. When a person is addicted to drugs, alcohol, pornography or ostentatious wealth, the problem – and its solution – is often clear: Get sober; stop watching; share your resources with others. But how about when my addiction is the approval of the church community, or the good feelings I get from feeding the hungry? What if the warm fuzzies I get from worship become a habit-forming dependency? How will I recognize when the good things in my life become a stumbling block in my walk of discipleship to Jesus?
Thursday, May 23, 2013
When I made the decision to follow Jesus, I encountered a whole new kind of fire. I began to perceive that my choice to surrender my life to God would involve a kind of agony I had never allowed myself to experience before. Startlingly, when I told Jesus that he could have control over my life, he took me up on the offer!
One moment that drove this reality home for me was a conversation that I had shortly after committing to become a disciple. I had done something thoughtless. I was careless with the feelings of another person. I acted selfishly. And when they confronted me about how my actions had been hurtful, I wanted to shrug it off. It wasn’t such a big deal, really, I told myself.
Then came the words I’ll never forget: You talk so much about Jesus, yet you act this way!
Monday, May 20, 2013
Jesus sends his followers out in utter vulnerability. He instructs them to take nothing with them for the journey – no money, no supplies, not even shoes! We know from the previous chapter that Samaria is not a safe place for the Jewish disciples. Rejection – possibly even violence – is a realistic expectation for these missionaries being sent into cross-cultural ministry. Jesus sends them out in pairs, so at least they have each other, but they’re basically defenseless.
As disciples of Jesus who find ourselves called to live in the midst of Empire, there is a great temptation to look for ways to protect ourselves. We live in a culture that is constantly retelling the story of domination: Money makes the world go ’round. Might makes right. You get what you deserve. It is an enormous challenge to remain open, to see the signs of the kingdom of God in our midst. And even when we can see it, the way of peace that we find ourselves called into by Jesus is so intensely counter-cultural that we have to wonder: Does following Jesus mean becoming a social outcast?
For many of us, this begs the question: What is the point of having shared beliefs at all? If the whole point of the gospel is right action, could it be that intellectual beliefs are superfluous at best – and, at worst, even harmful? In a world with numerous competing belief systems, holding firmly to a particular set of beliefs – for example, about who Jesus is – might seem exclusive or narrow-minded. In this environment, why not just focus on loving others as best we can, without all the barriers that belief often seems to present?
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
Some of our ways of perceiving the world are helpful; others are harmful. But all of our worldviews have the potential to become destructive when we make the mistake of placing them at the center, in the place of God. Rather than allowing our worldviews serve as a lens that makes it easier for us to see what the Spirit is doing the world, we often begin to worship the lens itself. We begin to assign ultimate meaning to the eye rather than to the light that allows us to see.
One of the most powerful worldviews we find ourselves enmeshed in today is that of the money economy. Even 2,000 years ago, Jesus taught of the dangers of pursuing and accumulating wealth. The lure of wealth, power and security is immense, yet Jesus warns: No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.
Thursday, May 09, 2013
I recently read a post by Suzannah Paul, in which she reflects on her own experience of living in a culture of isolation. She describes the present era as one in which our common experience is intense loneliness, where genuine community seems always out of reach. Of course, most of us have become quite adept at hiding our anguish. Judging by photos on Facebook, one would imagine that almost everyone has dazzling social lives! The illusion that everyone else is doing great only intensifies the alienation we feel. Paul writes:
Tuesday, May 07, 2013
Friday, May 03, 2013
Spring took its time arriving this month in DC. We experienced several major shifts in weather – from the high eighties several weeks ago, down to the forties more recently. The climate here has shifted back and forth: We have seen hot and cold; muggy and dry; overcast days and others full of light. Sometimes, when things got really cold, misty and gloomy, it was hard to believe that we were in springtime and headed towards summer.
The trees knew, though. Despite all the ups and downs of an increasingly unpredictable weather cycle, the plants knew the signs of the times. Even in the midst of bitter cold, the trees began to bud; flowers bloomed and leaves slowly began to emerge. While I entertained doubts about whether we would ever see spring, the trees lived in hope.
The quiet hope and determination of the trees serve as a sign to me. This is how I am called to live: not being blown about by every change of conditions, but instead rooted in faith that God is sending the rain, sun and temperature I need to grow and thrive, even if I can’t quite imagine it yet.
Just like the trees, Capitol Hill Friends is a living, growing organism. As a community following Jesus, we live in hope. Though the outward conditions of life here often run counter to the loving relationships that we sense God calling us into, we persist in trust that the rain will fall, the sun will shine and the Spirit will blow among us.
Monday, April 29, 2013
Thursday, April 25, 2013
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Thursday, April 11, 2013
Tuesday, April 09, 2013
Thursday, April 04, 2013
Monday, April 01, 2013
God has a way of sneaking up on me. For the last decade or so, a constant theme of my life has been amazement and surprise. Ten years ago, I never could have guessed that not only would I become a Christian, but that I would go to seminary and dedicate myself to a path of ministry. When I first came to live in Washington, I did not imagine that Faith and I would end up settling down and buying a house here. When we started Capitol Hill Friends, we did not suspect that God would call us to a form of community life that is very different from that which we originally envisioned.
In every step along this journey, God surprises me with the way he gentles me, slows me down and humbles me. In a slow process of transformation, the Spirit is mellowing me out. She is balancing me, making me less erratic, less swept up in every high and low of my personal experience. The Spirit is softening me while at the same time deepening my constancy. I am being re-formed into someone who can be relied upon by a local community.
Just a few years ago, my self-image was almost entirely based in moving around – “traveling in the ministry” as it is fashionable to call it. I definitely did some ministry, and I might have even been helpful sometimes, but the traveling part was at least as much about my need to explore and personally develop as anything else. And, at a certain point, it becomes clear that travel can be a way of escaping certain uncomfortable facts: I cannot do everything. Commitment is required (even not committing is ultimately a commitment). People, places and things change – relentlessly. Sooner or later, I am going to die.
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Marriage equality has always been a no-brainer for me. As a child, I got to see my father and another important leader in my church have their ministerial credentials revoked by the Quaker Church because of their openly expressed conviction that gay relationships were not inherently sinful. The fact that they came to this conclusion out of a process of prayer and serious engagement with what the Bible says (and does not say) about homosexuality did not seem to matter. They were run out of my childhood church like heretics.
So why do I feel so conflicted about the current debate happening at (and outside of) the Supreme court?
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Though there are certainly dangers in the single-pastor model, I have also observed that when leadership is everyone's job, it often becomes no one's job. In my experience, a lack of explicitly recognized leadership can be a mask for hidden and informal structures that, when dysfunctional, cannot be questioned. It is extremely difficult to critique faulty leadership in a community that does not admit to having leaders! I have been part of communities where the refusal or inability to recognize and empower Spirit-led leadership has resulted in conflict, dysfunction and stagnation.
In spite of the risks that I see in the traditional pastoral model, I cannot deny the advantages of designating particular individuals as leaders within the community. At the same time, the single-pastor pattern of many churches just does not seem to work very well in our present situation, if it ever did. The work of the church is simply too great a burden for any one person to carry.
I am increasingly convinced that we need a way forward that is trapped neither in the informal power structures that can suffocate and stagnate our communities, nor in a pastoral system in which all responsibility and decision-making is vested in one person. What might an alternative model look like?
Friday, March 22, 2013
Monday, March 18, 2013
In the old days, Friends called this phenomenon damaging another’s service. The greatest risk in ministry is not that we will say the wrong thing, but instead that we might prevent another person from delivering the inspired, God-breathed message for that particular moment.
We all mess up sometimes, of course, and occasionally a person will rise and speak when they really should have remained silent. Usually, this poorly-discerned contribution in worship is not particularly harmful. A spiritually grounded group of worshipers can handle unhelpful speaking quite well, without it unduly affecting the quality of the worship.
The most important reason that we must have discernment when speaking is not the risk that our speaking might upset the group; instead, it is because our poorly-timed words might get in the way of the true message that God wants us to hear. For example, there have been times that I have had a clear message from the Lord to share, yet just as I was about to deliver it, another individual stood up and shared a good idea. Though it was certainly not their intention, they unknowingly blocked the work of the Spirit in the group.
The traditional Quaker meeting for worship is sort of like a spiritual fire drill. It is a rehearsal in discernment, learning when to speak and when to be silent; when to act and when to be still. These same principles of discernment apply in the rest of our lives, in the work that we do out in the world and in the roles and relationships that we live in. Do I take care to be discerning about how both my action and lack of action impacts the life of my community?
Am I damaging another’s service by taking on tasks that are not mine to do? Do I block the work of the Holy Spirit by interjecting my own ideas when it would be better to listen?
Thursday, March 14, 2013
That is still an open question, but the answer began to take shape yesterday when the assembled cardinals emerged to announce, habemus papam. The newest pope is Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina.
Monday, March 11, 2013
Thursday, March 07, 2013
Monday, March 04, 2013
Thursday, February 28, 2013
Through this lived experience of Christ's indwelling love - and through the practical application of his love in community - we come to know who God really is. Through this process of growing and maturing in faith, we come to believe and share the core teachings of the New Testament. As we grow in love, we are drawn together in the reading of Scripture, the retelling of the gospel story, and the application of biblical principles to our lives.