Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Getting Past Being Busy

One of the greatest obstacles to effective discipleship is the nearly constant obsession to be busy and to do the “church” thing. I think we can thank the Protestant Work Ethic for that. Wikipedia defines the Ethic as follows: “a Calvinist value emphasizing the necessity of constant labor in a person's calling as a sign of personal salvation”. The problem is that the ethic has morphed into a cultural of busy-ness in which we get so caught up in doing church that we forget to be the church. We forget that we were redeemed not for a life of being worker ants scurrying about. We were redeemed to be in a meaningful, life-giving relationship with God and with one another within the Body of Christ. This is a relationship that then spills out of us into all our relationships and work in the world.

I’ve been struggling with this disconnect between doing church and being the church for many years. I’m one of those people who like to be busy. I like to be doing things. I like to be productive. Unfortunately I’ve also thought that it was important for me to be able to demonstrate to other people that I am productive…as if this was the only way to prove my worth and earn people’s respect (there is a long story behind this). As my spirituality has developed over these last few years I’ve learned the difference between doing church and being the church. I’ve learned the difference between being a worker in the Kingdom and being a disciple of Christ. As counter-intuitive as it may sound, an obsession with doing things (a-la the Protestant Work Ethic) can, and often does, get in the way of our relationship with Christ and our response to Him in a life of discipleship.

The last few months for me have been one of those very frenetic times; it’s been more about getting things done and trying to meet deadlines than nurturing my relationship with God and deepening my response to God’s grace. As I have prepared for worship this week (Jacob wrestling with God in Genesis 32) I’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about the things that I continue to wrestle with God over. I think about woundedness, choices, behaviors, anxieties and fears that don’t serve me well in my relationship with God. I also recognize, like Jacob, that were it not for God’s call and claim on my life, and my willingness to answer God, that none of this would be an issue. However, since I desire to say “yes” to God I must also say “no” to things that aren’t God; hence the struggle.

I can’t overcome this struggle or sanctify these sins by trying to prove my salvation in the work that I do, even if it is “church” stuff. It is only God’s grace that brings this healing and it is only in my willingness through living into a perfecting spirituality that I am immersed in this healing and wholeness. It is only when I, as a primary act, open myself to the relationship and experience of God that I will know this experience. In this, I am moved by the words of Carlo Carretto who writes in his Letters to Docidia: 1954-1983, ”At a certain point it occurred to me that what the Church lacked was not work, activity, the building of projects or a commitment to bring in souls. What was missing, or at least scarce, was the element of prayer, meditation, self-giving, intimacy with God, fidelity to the Holy Spirit and the conviction that [Christ] was the real builder of the Church.” As I write this, I’m reflecting on Jesus’ comment to the disciples, “you will always have the poor with you” and I think it finally makes sense.

Without a deepening relationship with Christ helping the poor is merely charity. It is only through our perfecting, healing, empowering relationship with Christ that our work with the poor becomes discipleship. It is only then that it becomes peacemaking.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Going for a Swim

As you can probably tell, water is an important spiritual image for me. Over my lifetime I’ve had many experiences of God’s grace and presence that could best be described as immersion experiences. My deep affinity for the Hawaiian Islands is rooted in this experience. Being on the islands is very much an immersion experience for me. With such a deep love of Baptismal imagery it should come as a surprise that another image came to mind as I was preparing for worship this week.

I’m looking at the end of the 8th Chapter of Romans and have been chewing on a well known passage…v28: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to God’s purpose.” I’m struck again by that notion of God’s purpose and the relentless nature of God’s redemptive purpose in the world. I’m struck again by how God’s purpose might be delayed as a result of the vagaries of the human experience, but that it can never be ultimately subverted. This truth is like the North Star. It is a bedrock truth by which we can anchor our life. This truth is more than a port in the storms of life. It is a truth around which we can shape and order our life.

In my own life I’m growing in my experience of the great stream that is God’s redemptive work in the world. That relentless redemptive work of God flows inexorably through creation, whether we see it or even believe it; it is there. When we make the conscious effort to step into the stream of God’s redemptive purpose in creation, we experience that grace in very different ways. When we step into the stream, we are enveloped by the water. It acts on us. It affects us. When we step into the stream we experience the water in ways that are impossible if we observe the water only from the safety of the dry river bank. We are unable to know the true nature of the stream until we step into it and feel its effects directly.

The same is true about the movement of God’s grace. It’s one thing to read about God’s mighty acts of salvation. It’s one thing to read about creation. It’s one thing to read the Gospel and hear of Christ’s life. Simply reading these words may take us to the river bank and get us within sight of the stream. However, if we are to truly experience and understand the nature and power of the promise contained in the words, we need to get off the bank and get into the stream of God’s work.

When we read Scripture, we need to read it with a heart that wants to see God and expects to see God at work in our life. When we pray, we need to want and expect to hear God walking through the garden of our life. When we extend ourselves to serve the needs of creation and the human community we need to both carry Christ with us and expect to find Christ in the people whom we serve. When we come to the Table we need to come not with the desire to recollect an experience that is relegated to history; we need to come to Christ’s Table expecting to encounter our host. The more we open ourselves to these experiences, the more we will know and the more we will experience the transformation that is part of the stream of God’s redemptive work in creation.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Making Room for Grace to Work

In the realm of Christian Spirituality, the importance of living lives that make room for the grace of God to be at work in us and through us is a cornerstone of living into a perfecting spirituality. My experiences through the Academy reshaped my thinking on this topic and gave me experiences that solidified this truth. Making room for the grace of God to be at work is an active endeavor. It is worked out in our relationships, in our view of the world and especially it is seen in our relationships and encounters with our enemies and with people at the fringes. Two weeks ago I received an amazing experience of the power that is unleashed when a community of people of faith work intentionally to make room for grace to work in them and in their midst.

My week on Sierra Service Project was a truly extraordinary week. I’ve had good weeks before, but never before have I witnessed the level of intentionality in reflecting God’s love as I did in this group of youth and their counselors. Acts of love, mercy and grace were breaking out all over the place. It was amazing. One particular story bears noting.

Early on in the week, I’d heard one of the counselors talking about a person from their group who is autistic. This got my attention because I’d never encountered an autistic youth on SSP. Yet as I surveyed the group, I couldn’t find the person in question. My curiosity faded and I soon forgot to be on the look out for this youth. In fact, I’d forgotten all about it until the final night. Sierra Service Project has a tradition on the last night where a candle is passed around and each participant is given the opportunity to share a word about what the experience has meant to them. About three quarters of the way around the circle, one of the youth took hold of the candle and began to share about the experience and in an instant it was clear that this was the autistic youth…not because of any self-revelation, but their mannerisms made it apparent. This youth spoke of the torment that had been unleashed by their peer group at school and how difficult it made their life. It broke my heart to hear the story but it wasn’t long before my heart was healed by the gratitude that this youth expressed for having been loved and accepted in this community in spite of this obvious difference. I was touched by the privilege of being part of a community that showed this young person a life changing level of love and acceptance. I had spoken with this youth a number of times during the week, with no hint of the autism; which made the whole experience even more fantastic.

This group of youth made room for God’s grace to be at work in them and through them. They loved, accepted and forgave each other (even though it wasn’t always easy). They had patience with one another, even the ones who were less mature, less focused and less easy to relate to. We had our moments of drama through the week, but in the end, God’s Spirit breathed a new and fresh wind into the lives of all these kids. It was all made possible because we were all willing, in one way, shape or form, according to our own experience, to make room for God in our community. It didn’t just happen. It was a conscious choice.

May this be our choice everyday, in every experience.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

SSP Work Days 3 & 4

Since yesterday was our traditional half day of work and we went to a water venue, I’ll post two days worth of work in one shot.

The work amongst the different teams that our kids are on has been somewhat uneven. This is the first week of the summer for the Site Staff and they are trying to work out logistical kinks with their suppliers. The consequence of this is that some work sites don’t have enough supplies to do work consistently. The staff has worked hard and creatively to overcome this. It has been amazing the way that our kids have both gelled as a group and also made friends with the kids from the other churches. Sooner or later the kids cross the group boundaries to the extent that it is difficult to tell which kids are from which group. This incredible event happened by Tuesday night (which is very early)

The work day yesterday went well. Since it is a half day, the kids usually push hard to get as much done as possible. The water venue was a campground along Grizzly Creek. It was one of the most beautiful Wednesday settings we’ve ever had. The campground is nestled within a redwood forest. The creek was clean. The air was fresh. The air was warm. This picture is taken around an enormous Sequoia tree. It took the whole group to circle it.

Rylie enjoyed the way that her team has worked together. She was glad that no one really sat around while others worked.

Logan is building a fence and putting in concrete landing pads at the bottom of the stairs. The best part of his day was the “spiritual sandwich”. This is a new wrinkle for the daily program. Our Spiritual Life Coordinator has given each group a discussion topic for the day. Today’s topic was places and experiences in which we’ve seen God. This was the favorite part of Logan’s day.

Janessa was part of the only team that was painting this week. She was up on the roof painting in the gables. For a girl that enjoys the roof, this was great work for her.

Steve’s group is one of the groups that have had a difficult time getting all the supplies that they’ve needed. He and his co-leader have done a great job with keeping their group together through the lulls. Today that experienced the time honored SSP tradition of the FRED. FREDs are times during the work week when staff come around to the work sites to give time and space to explore what they’re experiencing on the Reservation. These can be wonderful times for a team. This was the favorite part of Steve’s day today.

Bonnie has been doing stairs all week. Today they poured the remaining concrete pads and post holes. She has enjoyed her first SSP in a really big way.

I’m so proud of this group of youth. The ones who have never been to SSP love their first experience. The ones who have been before have shown a great deal of growth and maturity from last year. This week is having an extraordinary impact on all of our kids. They are growing in faith and service.