Monday, March 29, 2010

Don't be a Part-Time Christian during Holy Week!

The photograph is from my church in Brandon yesterday - Palm Sunday. If you're checking in with this blog as a reader of "The Unmaking of a Part-Time Christian" then this post should have something to contribute to the conversation.

Peace - DEREK

Some of us have been preparing for this week ever since Ash Wednesday. For others, yesterday's Palm Sunday observances served as a reminder "That's right - Easter must be next week!"

Whatever our route to this particular Monday morning, some of the momentum from the celebration-charged energy of Triumphal Entry probably still remains - at least enough to make some kind of a difference this morning. But is it enough to get us through the week?

Even those fortunate enough to have been physically present (in Jerusalem, the day Jesus rode a donkey into town) ran into a stone cold wall of reality before the "Hosanna's" ringing in their ears ever died down. It wasn't too long before they caved in to the status quo that seems to exact its levy with ease, facing only token resistance much of the time. It's a kind of taxation of the spirit.

Jesus calls us away from "The Way Things Are":
There's a great story I heard from my friend Trevor Hudson a while back: Passover, as we know, was a huge deal in ancient Jerusalem. Jews from all over the known world converged for the celebration, literally crowding the streets with people. The Romans knew this, too, and took steps to assert their ascendancy and reinforce the visibility of a military presence in the city.

Typically, there were a limited number of soldiers posted in Jerusalem. But at Passover, the Roman governor would bring in a show of force (from the garrison at Caesarea) and enter Jerusalem, parade style, to remind everyone who was in charge, who was "Lord", and who would step on their throats at the slightest sign of insurrection.

Hudson pointed out the irony of Palm Sunday, suggesting that Christ entered Jerusalem from the East, riding a donkey, waving palm branches, offering "Peace, not as the world gives..." and that he came in full knowledge that the Romans had their own parade going on, entering from the West, riding war-horses, carrying weapons, offering oppression.

It must have been glorious, loaded with anticipation and excitement and a realization of the freedom they were missing... But then soon enough, probably later that same day, these same people got a good look at the Romans again and they realized how their religion was pretty-much hand-in-glove with the occupying forces... and that the powers-that-be were on the same page with the Romans and the status quo... and that the power-&-value system their lives operated in was - essentially - life and breath to them and their families. And they thought about what all that cumulative weight of soldier + religion + commerce really stood for, and they thought about what they had always been told was important... and what mattered... and what life was all about... and they just lost the glory if it all.

They just lost the glory of it all.

So I have to 'fess up that I'm worried this morning that we will lose the glory of it all in short order and that - just like the people in Jerusalem - we will sell out Jesus in a heartbeat because we're just so used to the possessions and values and priorities that have come to define our lives...
...And that we too would crucify him come Friday if he said one more thing to tip the balance of stability away from the materialism and the power and the politics that protect the real stuff that has our allegiance and that we worship...

Think about it today. Tomorrow we'll take another look at the message that got Jesus killed.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Moving through Lent with purpose - and with Jesus

If you stumbled on this page because you're reading "The Unmaking of a Part-Time Christian", then welcome, it's good to have you visit! This week I'm simply duplicating the post for Wednesday, March 24 from my daily blog, "A Life Examined."

I pray you will be blessed.

"Jesus Gets the Fog Out!

(Image found on the Internet)

For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate asked him, “What is truth?” - John 18:37

Today I woke up to an early morning shrouded in fog; I could barely see across the road at the beginning of my walk. The air was so damp that Scout stopped every few minutes to shake her coat - as if we'd just come in from the rain.

Walking down Miller Road, Scout caught the scent of something interesting and did about 200 yards of her best vacuum-cleaner impersonation - snout hugging the ground and tail high in the air. "It's like seeing Sherlock Holmes and his bloodhound emerging out of the London fog!" the crossing guard at Durant Road exclaimed.

We laughed, and continued on as the soft dawn light gradually began to establish a foothold on the day. We arrived home damp and shivering, more than ready for the pot of "Equal Exchange" Ethiopian coffee that was waiting in the kitchen.

Even now, well past 8:00, visibility is limited and the light is all a muted gray.

I grew up in England, so I'm well acquainted with fog (Okay, that's a huge potential opening for jokes, but I'm not walking through that door this morning!). Sometimes the mist would lay so heavily on the crowded Straights of Dover that huge ships would run into each other, despite the persistent drone of foghorns. (Fog/boat image from Internet)

Typically, there are two things that can remove a thick layer of fog such as the one I walked in this morning. First, a breeze. A fresh movement, an inflow of of air, can carry the mist with it. It doesn't have to be much; sometimes just the hint of a breeze is enough. Then, there is sunlight. In fact, looking out my study window, the sunshine is just now chasing the last remnants of mist. My semi-opaque morning is yielding to translucence via the power of the sun.

Likewise, two particular actions of God's grace work to eradicate the dullness that creeps into my spiritual life like a pernicious vapor. The Holy Spirit, at times a gentle breeze and times a bracing gale, comes as clarity. The Son, cutting through the shadows, deals with clouds in terms of incisive light; the Way of Jesus is the way of discernment and visibility. Then, sometimes, Christ is a signpost, and walks with me as I navigate back to the light.
Regardless, Jesus is The Way.

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate asked him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, “I find no case against him. - John 18:36-38

Monday, March 15, 2010

Don't just do something - sit there!

(Photograph taken from as we were landing in Detroit last week)...

From Psalm 46: There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns. The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge ... “Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.”

Saturday's post (the one about uncluttered space, and the potential of meaningful spiritual growth via an uncluttered heart) has prompted me think about serenity. And serenity is not a bad place to be on a Monday morning.

But not just serenity for its own sake, so much as serenity that anchors meaningful life.

The idea expanded somewhat for me in terms of an ongoing discussion we've been engaging in my adult Sunday-morning class at First Presbyterian Church. We're reading a thought-provoking book by a Catholic scholar who is unusually open to learning from the wisdom and insight found within Buddhist thinking. Essentially (and and at the risk of over-simplifying a deeply complex book), the author suggests that our "Westernization" of Christianity can become (and largely has been) a barrier to experiencing God in terms of spiritual practice.

One of the sub-headings in this week's chapter resonated with me in terms of my commitment to experiencing Lent as a profound, connective, spiritual journey. "Don't just do something, sit there".

It's a clever phrase, yes, but it's also a concept that points to the heart of what I was getting at in terms of talking about uncluttered space. Or, as Jesus said in my rough paraphrase of yesterday's scripture, "Some people hear God's message; but then other - more pressing -priorities crowd their lives and get in the way. Eventually the message is pretty much lost to them. God's word is choked out, and people receive no benefit from the transformational life it offers."

So I'm interested in a Lenten experience that puts "being" ahead of "doing", at least for a little while. Many of us frenetically "do" faith, showing up for every event at church, throwing ourselves into service and mission, tuning in to Christian radio in our cars - living the practical expression of a "holy" life.

That's fine. But what are we doing about "being" holy? Is our experience grounded in the serenity of a spiritual practice that allows us to "Don't just do something - sit there"?

Or, to use a phrase that my wife, Rebekah, ofter employs - "Everything we do at this church comes out of worship." Is a sense of "Be still and understand the presence of God" the impetus for the "doing" part of our faith journey?

Such being propels us into action, yet with a more vital connection to "the source of all being". God, in my experience, is interested in occupying every element of our experience. He doesn't just give us marching orders at church and check off what we're up to - God wants to inhabit our being and transform the experience.

Lent - Day 27...