Apathy and Me

A few years ago, someone gifted me a copy of a book by Kathleen Norris entitled “Acedia and Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life.” I considered the tome for all of about 10 minutes before deciding that it had nothing helpful to teach me, after which I set the volume upon my bookshelf where it might begin its task of collecting dust.

How could I have imagined that, in the span of just a few years, I would find myself held in stasis by what Norris describes as a “restless boredom, frantic escapism, commitment phobia, and enervating despair that plagues us today.” I can describe it only as the feeling of being, on the one hand, completely incapable of sitting still or of being alone with myself and my own thoughts, and on the other hand, feeling disturbingly incapacitated and utterly incapable of the fruitful endeavors that previously filled my time.

It has been such an unexpected and unwelcome turn of events that, strangely, I have felt compelled to write (and to write, and to write, and to write some more) about the perturbations that it has stirred up–driven to examine from every angle the ways in which this “scourge of the soul” affects me even as I have found myself nearly incapable of stringing together coherent, written observations for the worshipping community which I serve. Somehow, acedia has managed to simultaneously silence and unfetter my internal voice. It has caged the writer but unleashed the poet.

At first, I mocked my own drive to write more lyrically. I told anyone who might encounter my words that they were “deeply average” and “crappy poetry for beginners.” I think a part of me was (and perhaps still is) disappointed in myself. Whereas before I felt completely in control of my voice, now I experience my writing as deeply vulnerable, needy, and exposed. Because decent poetry resists the urge to explain itself, I have to let it speak on its own terms, and allow others to make their own connections. I have to be okay with the possibility that my own needs, wants, and desires will lay right on the surface, unhidden by fancy turns of phrase.

What has been fascinating is that poetry has in some ways been an antidote to acedia. It has forced me to pay attention to what I am really feeling, right now, right here. I have been made to confront the longings of my heart rather than escape them and to acknowledge the things within me that I am ashamed of, because they cannot be denied. They are a part of me too. Poetry has forced me, in other words, to care about myself. And while that is difficult, agonizing work, it is also deeply necessary, for it is care for the self that lifts us out of our despair, and back into life.

The Gift of Distraction

If I have seemed distracted, lately, perhaps it is because I have been startled by the beauty of a world in motion. Yesterday, it seems, we were trapped in the heavy humidity of August in Pennsylvania; this week there is an edge to the morning cold, and I noticed the edge of a dark red seeping into the treeline on 76 just this week. In the evenings, I am distracted by the silent bats charging through the sky as they scoop up the tarrying mosquitos in the dusky light.

Everywhere I look, it seems, I am reminded that nothing stays the same. Change is the constant that follows us through this life; it is just a matter of whether we have the eyes to see. Even the church is not exempt—we look around our pews, and the people who sit amongst us are different than they were. It isn’t just us— recent studies by the Pew Charitable Trust and Barna Foundation confirm that whole generations seem to be choosing not to be in the pews at all.

Nature, the church, Scripture, all conspire to remind us that the world does not stand still. It moves. And our call, as disciples, is to move with it. There is a reason, I think, that Jesus’ model of discipleship is to “follow me.” Faithfulness rarely looks like staying in one place. It more often looks like getting up and exploring the world, paying attention to where God might be at work, and then going there. Even if that makes us uncomfortable.

I know, I know. That sounds like a lot of work. But I think it may be as simple as being Christ where we are. Allowing ourselves to be distracted by the world that is right there in front of us, and looking at our world, full of neighbors and strangers, with the eyes of the Beloved. Giving ourselves permission to practice Christ-like love in our communities, our grocery stores, our libraries, our schools. Because we are already out in the world, friends. The trick is to see it as God does.

If you are up for the challenge, I encourage you to join me in this holy work. And if you do, let me know what you see. Perhaps we can follow Christ together.

Lessons Learned

Sermon based on text from Luke 14:1, 7-14

And it came to pass that Jesus was going to the house of one of the leaders of the Pharisees on the sabbath to break bread, and they all were watching him closely.

He began to tell a parable to those who had been invited, 

remarking how they were choosing the best places for themselves, saying:


“When you are invited by anyone to a wedding feast, 

do not recline in the best place, 

lest someone even more honorable than you might have been invited, 

and the one who invited you both might come to you and say to you, 

“Give your place to this man,” 

and then you should with shame take the lowest place.

But when you are invited, go, recline in the lowest place, 

so that when the one who invited comes, he might say to you, 

“Friend, come up higher!” 

Then you will be glorified before all of those reclining with you.

For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, 

and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

Then he said to the one who invited him, 

“When you make a meal, whether in the morning, midday, or evening, don’t call 

your friends, 

or your brothers, 

or your relatives, 

or your rich neighbors, 

lest they return your invitation, and you would be repaid. 

But when you make a feast, 

call the poor,

The crippled,

The lame, 

The blind… 

and blessed you will be, because they have nothing.

They cannot repay you.

And you will be repaid in return at the resurrection of the just.

Politics and Religion.

Those are the two things that are off limits at my mother’s dinner table.  You can burp the alphabet, tell an off color joke, you can come to dinner dressed in the clothes you woke up in.  But you start talking about religion or politics, and You. Are. Done.

My mom says that it is because she is a good southern woman, and that it just is poor table manners, but I think really it is because these are the two topics that are most likely to start an argument.  Because we don’t all think the same things, do we?  In my family, we are all across the map—Baptists sitting next to atheists, sitting next to republicans, sitting next to self declared socialists.  So the potential for conflict, when it comes to religion and politics, is high. And once the door is open, everyone has an opinion.  Better to keep the door closed. Better to keep things safe.

Which makes for some really polite, but incredibly boring dinner parties.  Let me tell you, the dinners I remember best aren’t the ones where everyone behaved themselves. I bet you know what I am talking about.  In my family, there are some pretty epic stories about individuals who broke the rules, resulting in some pretty heated conversations.

Luke’s Gospel this morning describes one of those “memorable” dinner parties, I think.  Who knows why the Pharisee invited Jesus to his dinner party—maybe he was just trying to be friendly, maybe he was curious about the new rabbi in town.  

And like my mom, the ancient people had their own rules when they got together.  Most of those rules are pretty common sense–

What are the dinner party rules?  Guests are polite, right?  When I go to a party and I’m the new person, usually that means milling about quietly near the refreshments.  Maybe saying hi to a few folks.  And if we get to talking, what are people usually going to ask you about?  What do you do? Where do you live? Etc etc etc.

Not Jesus. It quickly becomes clear that Jesus is “that guy”—you know, the guy at the dinner party that everyone can’t stop staring at, or listening to, because he is making a scene.

It all starts with a sick man.  There is a man at the party with Dropsy.  Anyone know what dropsy is?  It is severe edema.  Probably caused by severe heart failure.  The man is swollen up like a balloon.  Makes you wonder what he is doing at a dinner party—edema can be incredibly painful, and was essential as slow, painful death sentence in Jesus’ Day—people who suffered from it slowly drowned in their own bodies.

So of course, Jesus draws their attention to this man, whose suffering is on full display while they eat and make merry on the Sabbath.  He asks them—if your child or your ox was drowning in a well, would you save them on the Sabbath?  What about this man, who is drowning in his body? Is there a difference?

But Jesus isn’t done.  He just can’t help himself.  He moves on to the guests themselves.  All of a sudden we are getting advice from the Rabbi about seating assignments and guest lists.  He is like the ancient Jewish version of Ms Manners, only none of these people asked him for advice.

Whenever they ask prospective presidents who they would like to meet someday or have a meal with, and they say Jesus—I think of this dinner party.  Because clearly, Jesus isn’t interested in playing by anybody’s rules.  Jesus isn’t going to behave and be polite.  He is going to speak truth.  To the poor and the sick, and to the wealthy and powerful.  Doesn’t matter who you are, Jesus is going to say what needs to be said.

That’s the gift, friends, that Jesus gives us. The truth. So often, we worry ourselves sick over the impact that the truth might have—whose feelings it will hurt, how it will land, what the damage might be. And so we settle for pleasantries and half truths. We paper things over to make them sound better, and we do ourselves no favors. It feels safer, but there be dangers in these waters. We create for ourselves sinkholes and no go zones that impact not just us, but our children, and the world that they inhabit.

And that is not the world that Jesus wants for us. Jesus wants us to live honestly, and he models that in his every word and deed. So the question for us, today, I think, is this: what is the truth that we need to hear?

I wonder whether perhaps we need to hear that we have spent a lot of time worrying about things that don’t really matter.  

A friend of mine shared with me once that she HATES this text, because Jesus seems to single out all of these people based on their social statues or health status.  For her, this just seems wrong.  Aren’t we all just people, she asks? But of course we do this all the time.  If we are really honest with ourselves, we are constantly sorting ourselves against the people around us, ranking ourselves based on who seems to have the most, or the least; whose life seems better or worse than our own. And if we are honest, most of us would prefer to find ourselves, if not at the top of our pecking order, at least above the median. 

Why? Because many of us have been raised to believe that these are the things that define us.  That our job, our house, our stuff, even our health are the things that matter.  That our worth is roughly equivalent to our investment account or the appearance of our home. A fellow clergy person shared with me that when he was young his dad raised him to grow up and take care of his family.  So he did.  He got a job, and he lived at his job.  Barely saw the family that he was trying to provide for.  He was just doing what he had been taught.

And perhaps you may notice as well that these are things that we think we can control.  We decide what we do, where we live, what car we drive, whether we work on at the gym every morning. And if we can control them, it can be tempting to believe that others can too. So we judge the poor, the unemployed, the sick.  Can’t you just get a job?  Can’t you stay out of trouble? Can’t you just take care of yourself?  How quickly grace evaporates when we think we have control.  We do this. We do this.

But not Jesus. Jesus will have none of that.  For Jesus, dinner tables aren’t just dinner tables. They are practice grounds for the great banquet of the Kingdom of God, and in the Kingdom of God, everyone is invited to the dinner party.  All of our jockeying, all that sorting that we waste our time worrying over, none of that matters in God’s house.  If we are honest, those things can be a weight around our necks, pulling us down and away from what really matters.  And what really matters? Paul perhaps said it best when he said: let mutual love continue.  What matters is the community that gathers at Christ’s table—not where we sit, but that we are there. Together.  What matters is that the Jesus who sat at that table and pissed off the Pharisees didn’t preach anything he didn’t also do himself—for Jesus built a ministry out of welcoming the lonely, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, whether those people had everything or barely enough to get by. 

You know, earlier this week I was visiting a friend in North Carolina, and I went for a run. And while I was running, I started noticing all of this trash on the side of the road. Cups, bags, half eaten fruit, scattered everywhere along the freeway. Honestly, it was a little bit disgusting.

And I found myself thinking as I ran along, how often I look past the trash on the side of the road. How often I accept that as the price of admission for living with other people. How often we all agree that we will just pretend it isn’t there, or pay someone else to deal with it.

But then there’s that one person. In my experience, they are usually someone you never would have noticed. In my neighborhood growing up, it was an elderly immigrant from Vietnam. Every afternoon, I would see her walking along the side of the road that I passed almost daily, picking up the trash. Taking the time to pay attention. Noticing what was wrong and setting it right.

That is the goal, friends. Not a peaceful dinner table where we never talk about the issues that trouble us. Not a society where we look past the suffering of others. The table of grace is one where we notice what is wrong, and endeavor to set it right. Where we are willing to take the time, even if it gets our hands dirty, even if nobody notices, even it it seems like it doesn’t change a dang thing.

Why? 

Because we worship Jesus, who entered this world poor and weak and small so that he could teach us about a love that doesn’t rank or divide, or exclude.

We worship Jesus, who doesn’t care who you are or what you have—he just bids you come.

We worship Jesus, whose table is open to all of us, because whatever we have, we all get hungry and thirsty, and God would feed us.

We worship Jesus, who is the same today, yesterday and forever.

We worship Jesus. THAT guy at the table.

And that is enough.

Social Media and the Politics of the Personal

Earlier this year, I deleted nearly a thousand friends off of my Facebook page. I say that not to brag, mind you. I have been on Facebook for 15 years, long enough to accumulate a small army of friends, acquaintances, and honest-to-goodness strangers. It was an arduous process, and yet it felt necessary, like setting down a weight that I had placed upon myself and then had proceeded to forget was there. At the very same time I couldn’t bring myself to step away entirely, and for weeks I wondered if I would regret this decision to unburden.

I did not see this coming. In the early days of social media, I found the connections made possible by facebook and its like thrilling. How exciting, I thought, to so easily be able to connect to my friends! Back then, our cell phone plans charged by the text, and then suddenly the internet provided a way to make late night coffee plans for free. Even now, Facebook will sometimes surface a “memory” from those early times, detailed plans to meet at a landmark at a particular time, or terrible college jokes that have not aged, and I cannot help but pause to examine these technological artifacts, missives from a distant time when the world of social media was comprised almost entirely of people with whom I already spent my days.

As I have grown older, I must confess that I have struggled with a sense of dis-ease regarding the role that social media plays in my life. How can something so incredibly vulnerable also be so utterly impersonal at the same time? I cannot conceive of another space quite like it. Where else can one shout the deepest truths of themselves into the void of their scattered friendships, preserved in the amber of source code so that others whom they cannot see or touch or speak with can answer? It is as though one had written a letter that was then copied again and again, shared with friends and strangers alike.

And where else can one feel so crowded by other souls, and yet so…lonely… at the same time? On social media, little green dots tell me who is also there, swimming in a sea of photos and comments and tiktok videos, and yet I cannot see them, or know their lives clearly at all. No wonder we post over and over again. We send up our flares into that algorithmic sea, whose current to us is a mystery, hoping that someone will notice. And then we wait and watch for signs that we have been found–we wait and watch for the reaffirming ding of likes, and hearts and comments to validate our fear that our worth is to be found in our being noticed by others.

I confess that I find the whole experience both terrifying and thrilling. I want so badly to be seen and accepted as I am, to be known and loved. And all the while I agonize over the perfect framing of the picture, the right combination of words to convey with precision the sentiment I am holding within me that will convey the right combination of light-heartedness and seriousness, levity mixed precisely so with wisdom. In the process I lose the very thing I crave, for I control and contort myself into something that I believe will be more palatable than. the person that I actually am. In seeking to connect, I end up obscuring myself. It is like peering through a glass, dimly. The shape resembles the truth, and yet, I cannot be certain that I am seen as I am.

What I really want is to draw near to the people I care about. Not the false nearness of instagram, or Facebook, or any other number of applications that (so often successfully) vie for my attention. I want intimacy that is personal, the thrill of a real voice with a beating heart and sinew behind it, a soul that knows a real, living version of me, not some Potemkin village that I have hastily constructed for others viewing pleasure. I want to swim in the delicious pool of being fully known by someone who knows me, seen by someone who sees me, free of the artifice of a perfect frame or filter.

And so I struggle. I reach out my hands to the people who have my heart, and at the same time I construct a beautiful picture in the hopes that they will notice. I put myself out there, and I am tempted to control the narrative. Welcome to being human, I tell myself. There is nothing simple about it, is there?

The Beloved Community

Dear Ones:

What do you think is the purpose of church? Certainly Jesus never expressed an opinion on the subject of pews, or hymnals or proper orders of worship. No, His approach was far more informal:

“Wherever three are gathered in my name, there I am.” 
“Do you love me? Then Feed my Sheep.”
“My kingdom is not of this world.”

Sometimes I find myself wondering what Jesus would think of the multiplicity of rituals and traditions and rules that we have made for ourselves up over the two thousand years since he walked this earth. I wonder whether he might not chuckle under his breath and say to himself, “Humans, am I right?”
And yet, at the same time, there is something deeply soothing about the rituals of our faith. The liturgy of our worship has the power to draw us closer to God, even surprises us sometimes with its ability to reveal to us fleeting images of the grace of God. The moment of communion has the power to transform us as the body of Christ becomes a part of us.


That word, liturgy, I think, is key. It is from the greek leitourgiaa word which translates as “the work for the people.” It is a reminder to us that the power of our worship is not in the words themselves, or even the order of our movement. It is in the very fact of the people with whom we share it. The person beside you, the shoulder ahead of you in the pew. It is the gift of God for the people of God. In some mysterious way, when we gather our bodies together for worship, we encounter the body of Christ in each other, and our bodies–broken, suffering, crying out for affection–need the comfort that only other bodies can provide. Our worship is a reminder that we cannot be Christians alone. We need the fellowship and peace divine that comes from gathering with people, not just the ones we would choose, or those whom we like, but everyone–the angry, the heartbroken, the joyful, the full crush of humanity that is possible every time we open our doors on Sunday.


Anyhow, that’s how I see it. And every Sunday, it breaks my heart open to learn it again, as if for the very first time.

Holy Wind

Man it’s only Thursday and I am getting fired up for Pentecost…. I think, in fact, that Pentecost is one of my favorite celebrations of the church.  And this year, it has been made all the more meaningful through the conversations that I have had the privilege of being a part of.

One conversation that sticks out for me most strongly is really a conversation that I have had with many folks that I care about, and for whatever reason they have clustered this week.  And that conversation has to do with community and belonging.  As I was reminded this week, the consequence of blogging about one’s loneliness is that suddenly one is likely to receive a lot of phone calls, emails, and personal check ins from people that care making sure that a person is alright.  Some of those check ins have become important conversations about the experience of true belonging to a place or a people.  Moreover, many conversations have also dealt with the importance of invitation to a person’s sense of belonging.

And as someone who spends her days as a pastor, all this talk about belonging and invitation, of course, got me thinking about the church.  Because ultimately, what is the gospel other than an invitation to community?  What does Christ do, if he does not welcome outsiders into the family?  Consider Pentecost.  The way I read it this week, the Holy Spirit’s appearance on the scene is primarily a radical invitation to all people.  Scripture says in Acts 2 that every person who was in the room, no matter what their native tongue, heard and understood the words of the disciples as they spoke through the power of the Spirit.  Every person was acknowledged by the Spirit’s presence; no one was left out.  How often does that happen in our daily lives?  More often than not, our common experience is one of being left out rather than brought in, and yet the Spirit makes a space in which the exact opposite is what is possible. That invitation, the offering of the gospel to all people regardless of their language, shifts the conversation from one where the focus is inward to one where the focus is outward.  All those people have heard the invitation:  how will they respond?

Ultimately, what I take away is the following:  we cannot control how people will respond to our message, what they will decide to do with it.  That is between them and God.  But if Pentecost teaches us anything, it is that we are called as the church to offer the invitation that is the Gospel to everyone who has ears to hear, no matter what divides or separates us, to give them the chance to accept or reject the invitation.  This work will take us out of our comfort zone, but the HOly Spirit will be with us.  We will not be alone.  And what’s more, what we offer is so important, because it essentially amounts to us saying, “You don’t have to be alone.  We can be a community, together.  We can work out our differences.  Our language may be different, but the gospel is the same.  The good news is for all of us.”

Not a bad antidote to a lonely few days.

Today’s Subject is Loneliness

Difficult, difficult, difficult.  It has always been so difficult for me to acknowledge and embrace the part of myself that can suddenly be overcome by loneliness, whether I am alone or not.  The person who, in the midst of a room full of people, many of whom she knows, will become increasingly aware in the midst of that room that she feels invisible, unnoticed, passed over.

Perhaps it has to do with who I am and how I see myself.  I am the eldest, and I have always wanted to be liked, to make my parents and those I admired proud of me.  I have always wanted to be someone that other people knew and that folks liked to be around, and I think it would be fair to say that I have coveted the approval of others throughout my life.  But I also know that I like to forget the part of me that was so lonely as a child–I didn’t have a lot of friends, and I often was picked on in school (I was a bit of a nerd, and before that, I liked “little kid” games like make-believe well into middle school, and before that, well, I was sort of a tomboy).  The friends I had were closely held, and often not very many at any given time.  As I got older, I had more “friends,” but almost all of them were not the sort I shared your life with–more the kind that I ate my lunch and took my classes next to.  We were more like friends by geography than choice.

I wonder if that hasn’t persisted to some extent into my adulthood.  Sure, my sister commented in college that I seemed to know everyone, but I rarely felt as though anyone knew me.  MOre often, I felt like folks knew my name, and knew what I did, but didn’t really share my life.  Same with seminary–I was a decent schmoozer, but I left seminary really with one good friend, and I didn’t meet her in school at all.

All of this is prelude to the fact that I am struggling these days with the profound gulf that I will sometimes find myself trapped in.  I know I can’t be alone in this, but I can’t help but feel alone in the midst of it.  My job is one where being extroverted and knowing everyone is good, but one drawback is often that you know a little bit of everyone, and they know less of you.  And given my education I sometimes find myself struggling to analyze my experience, but I am not sure that is the best antidote either… is it really going to help me, for example, to try to try to diagnose my loneliness, or is that just another way to avoid acknowledging that maybe, just maybe, this is a part of who I am?  Maybe I would be better off just sitting in it and feeling it, rather than hiding it away.

I do have to say though, I find it amusing that today I was feeling lonely in, of all places, a church in which the mission statement could probably decently be described as welcoming all people in so that loneliness diminishes and community increases.  And here I am feeling like the odd man out.  I have my reasons, I suppose, but I did find it to be unexpected territory.

If someone brought this problem to me, I suppose I might be tempted to wonder, “Where is God working in this,” or “what lesson might we learn,” or maybe something more clever that connects the spiritual to the emotional.  And I do believe they are connected somehow–I almost never worship myself, these days, and I find it interesting that I feel so lonely when I do.  But I gotta be honest, I don’t feel like answering the questions right now.  If I could be blunt, I just want to feel less like the island I experienced today.  I want to be a part of things, and for others to want me to be a part of their lives, rather than just a number or a person who can give them something.

P is for Praise

Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host!
Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!
Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created.
He established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.
Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!
Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!
Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!
Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!
Young men and women alike, old and young together!
Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted;
his glory is above earth and heaven.
He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful,
for the people of Israel who are close to him.
Praise the Lord!

Psalm 148

I have been fascinated this week by the words of praise offered by the Psalmist above… drawn almost viscerally to the images of everything from sea monsters and topography, weather and celestial bodies singing praises to God.

It got me thinking about praise, ultimately, and its role in Sunday worship.  I know, at least for myself, that the first image that comes to mind when I hear the word praise is praise bands, conglomerations of too-happy pregnant women with one hand in the air as they sing and pimply teenagers rocking out to cheesy love songs for God, all in the name of contemporary and “lively” worship.

But praise has such a richer texture than my, and not doubt many others, gut reaction to the word. The word praise actually comes from the Old French preisier, which means “to value” or to set a price to something. Which I find interesting, since the word worship, from the anglo saxon wurdscip,traditionally indicated reverence given to something that is worthy, or worth its value.  Taken together, then, the words praise and worship seem inseparable:  Worship consists of praise, and praise is the essence of worship, which offers us a strong clue as to what we ought to be engaged in on Sundays.  We ought to be praising God.

Of course, that sounds deceptively simple.  Many of the things we do on Sunday seem obviously praise-y, while others are more difficult to connect to the concept.  Add to that that each person finds meaning in different aspects of worship, and we arrive at a place where people are asking one another:  if it is all meant to lead to praise, then why do we do the boring stuff, or the stuff that I don’t like?

Well here is where I like the Psalm above.  The psalm doesn’t tell us what each part of creation does to offer praise, but it does offer a vision that I think is worth emulating in our worship: the value of both unity and diversity offered in the praise of God.  Certainly mountains and sea monsters could not offer praise in the same way, and I imagine that the heavenly host’s means of praise is completely different from that of the snow and the frost.  Nonetheless, when each offers their true voice to the project of praise,  the harmony is strengthened. In a similar way, our worship offers innumerable ways for each worshipper to find a voice to praise God with.  Whether that person needs to praise God for the act of gathering, or for the grace that comes with sin forgiven, or needs to be reminded by hearing the word, or simply wishes to belt out a hymn by literally singing, each aspect of worship is a path towards praise.  They may not all work for every person every week, but the opportunity is there, waiting, every time we gather.  And what is more, when we gather together we are reminded in song, in spoken word and in prayer that we do not praise God alone, but are joined by our neighbors and the heavenly choir which sing praise eternal.  We can even find comfort in knowing that even the sea monsters sing with us.

Pretty awesome if you ask me.

further thoughts…

Questions that have been on my mind:

 

  • what is the purpose of church?  is it the same or different from the purpose of Christ?  
  • what does it mean, I mean, REALLY MEAN, to serve?
  • what is, really, salvation?  Is it possible to, as many churches would have you believe and do, save other people?  This prospect makes me uncomfortable, as I tend to think that is God’s job alone, but what is our role as fellow human beings?  What shape does salvation take in a life?  Is it feeling loved and wanted by others and by God?
  • How does one truly love one’s neighbor?
So yes, I know these are all big questions, but they have been on my mind, especially given my experience on Sunday with that church… the experience was so wrapped up in the needs and experience of the community that had already been welcomed (the insiders, if you will), which seemed so out of step with Christ that it made me wonder what the point of church is at all… because if it ain’t Christ, then what is it? Furthermore, who am I to judge where Christ is?  What if I am wrong?  Do I want to be a part of something that closes itself off and isolates itself from the real world?  Is that the kind of love that I would want to receive?  
So if you have any ideas or ruminations, I would love to hear them… these are big questions, and it is my suspicion, as with many things, that big questions are best wrangled with in community rather than alone, for it is in community that we face one another and open one another to our own experiences and form a more complete picture of how God might be working in our contexts.

What is Communion for?

So this summer has been cruising along at a hellish blast out here in philly at BSM.  I have found myself quite comfortable in this funky church.  The people who work here all care deeply about what it means to live and be a church in Philly, and it definitely shows–in the friendliness of those who come here, in the posture of openness of not only the staff but also many who come here for meals and worship and fellowship.  And it has been quite a bit of work as well, but I have liked it.

One thing that has also been nice about BSM has been that worship is in the evenings, which means that I have had the opportunity to both work at a church and explore other church communities in the area.  So far I have attended 4 other Presbyterian Churches in the area, and while I haven’t felt quite at home at any of them, my experiences at each have left me mulling over some interesting questions about what it means to steward a church and to be a church in a city like this.

One that has come up most sharply relates to an experience that I had at a church this past week.  The church was a sort of wacky mix of traditional and contemporary, with a praise band and an organ, and a whole lot of “Lord Father God” language.  Their pastor, a supply pastor, was extremely exuberant and unabashedly Reformed, which meant there was a whole lot of things like “we come here not to receive, but to give gratitude and worship god” being said, and a whole lot about depravity and sinfulness as related to our inability to see and worship God being implied.

I didn’t mind all that so much.  In fact, I was sort of interested in the church because other than BSM they are the only PCUSA-ish church I know of  that has communion every week.  I happen to think frequent communion is a beautiful thing, so I was excited.  So we get to communion, and the pastor gets up and does the invitation, which goes something like this: “we welcom to the table all those gathered here among us today who have been baptized into the faith.  If you have been baptized, please come forward now to receive communion.”

Did I hear that right?  Did he just say that communion is only for you if you have had water sprinkled on you by a minister?  Did he MEAN it?  They aren’t going to police that, are they?  I was caught between surprise and anger by what I had heard.  I mean, what is communion for?  Everything this church said indicated it believed that communion was a feast for believers to pat themselves on the back and celebrate their gratitude to God… but what about everyone else?  Jesus’ memorable meal was one shared with the “everyone else,” the prideful, broken, sinful, young, unprepared clan of young men and probably some women who had  been rejected by everyone but Christ, who unlike anyone else gathered them in and welcomed them to a table where they were filled and provided for.  It was radically inclusive, as I read it, nothing like the closed table of this church.  In contrast to Jesus’ meal, this church seemed guaranteed to leave anyone who took communion illicitly feeling deceitful and probably guilty for nothing more than seeking to be fed by Christ.

So those are my thoughts, but seriously, what is communion for?  Is it right to close a table?  What does it mean for a community to choose to close a table to outsiders?  Is it necessary that it always be open?  I imagine anyone reading this knows my thoughts, but I wonder what others might think?  What would it mean to offer communion to anyone who comes to the table?  What is at stake?  What is the risk?  What might be gained from a completely open table?