Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Oregon #2

The following is the first part of the second meditation.

I’m willing to bet we have all heard this quote: Faith is a journey, not a destination. Most of us have experienced that journey for ourselves. It’s not always a pleasant sight. It’s not always a comfortable trip.

Explorers are people who live for the journey. They will tell you that the joy of discovery outweighs any risk of getting lost or changed. But feeling lost is scary. And being changed can make you wish you’d never gone down that road at all.

These are some of what I like to call the universal truths about our faith that we are often all too eager to forget. So lets take a journey of our own, as explorers, discovering some of these universal truths, to see if they actually do ring true for us.

First, The central assertion of our faith is that the way of the Cross is the way of life. Not that we have to be physically nailed to a wooden plank, but that we do have to die. Specifically, while we are still living, we have to die to self, and only by doing that do we live. Just about everything about our faith has an ironic twist, and this is just the beginning.

We can live for others, and only by doing that, we learn love. We can deal with life as it is — wounds, pains, storms, wars, injustices and our own shortcomings — and only by doing that, discover life as God intends it to be. We aren't called by the Cross to escape life, but to embrace it.

Escape life. I talked a little about that this morning. After all doesn’t it say in the Bible we may in this world but not of it?

Well here’s one example: How many of us have, at one time or another tried to put Jesus in the role of scapegoat? We load our sins on him. He’s the savior. That’s his job. What if we have it wrong? What if his job as savior means showing us the courage to confess our sins, to bear their consequences, to seek God's mercy, and to start fresh. New Life. New Life. Now that would qualify as Good News.

Here’s another quote: Faith is a journey of infinite variety. Some of us have learned over the years not to project our own faith experiences and preferences onto others. There are many paths to God and all of them are valid. But in just about every faith tradition, except maybe Buddhism, there will be someone in charge who says: Faith has to proceed a certain way, follow certain rules or achieve certain ends.

In Texas they say: “Well I’ll tell you what…” Well, I’ll tell you what: whoever says that is just a bully. Trying to take away your freedom in order to feel better about himself.

Some people think that God had called us to rule the world and the Bible is our instruction book for how we can do that. There are those who actually believe that. You probably know a few. In that scenario, We could set rules, write a manual on correct procedures, worry about orders of ministry and the shape of liturgy. Rubrics would be big. Black would be black and white would be white, and we would not have to be wallowing in all those gray areas of life. It might be nice, but not real.

For myself, I think Jesus said Yes to his call from God before he understood everything that call meant. In fact, may not have understood it completely until the night before he died.

As much as we try to make it so, we simply are not members of a perfect institution started by a perfect man. We, too, have heard a puzzling call. We are trying and failing, and learning as we go. We, too, are being sent to the frontier of our capability, way beyond comfort and safety. Way beyond our understanding. 

We, too, will figure it out and then realize that what we gave along the way was all that God ever wanted. Now that would qualify as Good News.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Oregon #1a

The folks at the retreat seemed especially glad to hear I would be posting the meditations to my blog. (Just in case they were dozing) So here's the rest of the first address:

Then the devil led Jesus up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, "To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours." Jesus answered him, "It is written, 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'" (Luke 4.5-8)

We’re told in the Bible that these temptations all occurred at the end of Jesus’ time in the desert. (We don’t know what he was doing in the beginning… gathering wood, finding a rock for his head, looking out for snakes or scorpions… but at the end of his time he was more vulnerable than he’d been at the beginning. He was hungry. (Famished the Bible says) and he was no doubt grubby beyond belief, wanting a bath, a change to sweeter smelling clothes.

We know what that’s like. Early stages of crisis tend to bring out the best in us… later stages the worst.

Even in a given day, patience, compassion, and any ability to handle stress or adversity ebbs and flows. For me, an incident that hardly touches me in the morning can feel like a huge weight by the end of the day. So… when our patience ebbs and flows, what do we do? What’s the first thing that comes to mind?

Run away from home.

It's in those moments that we’re especially vulnerable, not only to our lesser instincts: irritability, frustration, condescension… but to the powers of darkness.

Satan offered Jesus escape. If he would just worship him, “all the kingdoms of the world” could be his. He could escape not only the wilderness, get a bath, change his clothes, but he could also escape the dreary oppression of his Jewish heritage. He could escape his own personal invisibility. He could escape everything that ties us down as humans.

Escape is the devil's deal. It comes up over and over again. If we’ll only forget our identity (our identity as children of God) and accept the easier path of evil, we can escape… all boundaries, all commitments, all worries, all consequences, all suffering.

We know the truth, of course. It never works out. We just trade in one misery for another… out of the frying pan into the fire.

Of course it doesn’t make the “deal” seem any less appealing. But our survival depends on remembering the truth. And that truth is the devil can’t deliver. Not just won’t, but can’t.

Jesus told us he was the father of lies. “Glory and Authority” haven’t been given to the devil. Those things stay with God.
So, whatever we think will help us escape: one more drink, an affair, a shopping spree, chocolate… cruelty… shunning anyone we consider lesser than… all those are just new bonds of oppression.

Even a retreat can promise escape. We’re in a special place, a “deserted place” because it’s empty of all our normal concerns. Some call it mountaintop (and not just because we’re up high, looking over the valley,) but because it’s away from our daily routine.

If your time here is blessed, it may be an intense experience, Maybe joyful even. But it may be sorrowful… because you can finally stop all the diversions and commitments that keep you on daily auto-pilot. When those fade into the silence, the real fears… the major concerns we’re normally not facing, can get our undivided attention.

So this time away, in this deserted quiet place, can be stressful. Or relaxing. It can be exhausting. Or energizing. And that’s because it’s about you. There’s no bills to pay, no office work, no meals to fix. We’re here. In the center of the universe.

But then, of course, it’s time to leave.

And when you get home your family didn’t share your experience. Your colleagues at work aren’t interested. You may want to share your experience so they can feel what you felt (whatever it was) because… Because you want to keep those feelings alive. For you. Nobody’s interested. It’s not that they’re hostile, or don’t care, they are just distracted.

More than likely, you’ll feel a sense of isolation. You grieve what you had because you’re losing it— bit by bit.

Now comes the frustration. You have to resume everyday life.

So, where is our faith in all this? That’s the dilemma. Since faith can seem like the ultimate mountaintop experience, that same experience causes a problem. It drives an emotional wedge between faith and life. As much as we pledge to and want to “venture forth in ministry” that ministry is probably back home. Back at work, back in the neighborhood, back on the very streets we have so enjoyed being away from.

What would Jesus do?

Well, we know what he did. He always came back.

He never stayed long in the deserted places or on the mountaintop. He kept moving, working his way back to the common ground of everyday life. That common ground is faith’s venue.

Thomas Merton wrote a lot about conversion of life. Conversion of life isn’t about attending retreats. A retreat may help, but only if we leave it behind.

So this weekend… here’s the invitation: come away to your deserted place and look inside. Ask yourself this question: What is it that you uniquely care about? What is the fire that is yours alone?

Jesus tapped into the fire burning in a few dozen men and women. He tapped longings that went deep enough to claim their lives.

So, for now, instead of reciting what the church tells us we ought to care about, lets just be explorers. And explore what we do care about. Let your longing, your yearnings… be your guide. That’s where God will meet you. That’s where you will meet God.

Now there’s a difference between escape and sabbath.
Sabbath is deliberately resting so you can go back. You press pause.
But that doesn’t mean the movie stops.

Jesus retreated to his deserted place. He pressed the pause button and gave himself the time he needed to recharge, to renew, to return to the world. It’s an art… this pressing pause. And we only learn by doing it.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Oregon #1

Another blessed year with the Associates in Oregon at Mt. Angel Abby.
Here's an excerpt from the first address:

From Frederick Beuchner’s The Longing for Home:
…our stories are all stories of searching. We search for a good self to be and for good work to do…And in a world where it's often hard to believe in much of anything, we search to believe in something holy and beautiful and life-transcending, that will give meaning and purpose to the lives we live.
—from A Letter to Benjamin

In the Bible it says “there’s nothing new under the sun.” I think that’s true. All the ancient knowledge of the universe, and our place in it, our connection to God, our inter-related-ness… all that resides within us. But we are dense bodies… made of the stuff of the earth. The irony is that because we are made of matter, we forget that we do matter.

Somewhere in our subconscious is the belief that while grace is lavish and unconditional, it is also limited. Cross God one too many times, fail too often, sin too much… and God will decide to take His love back.
God may love us, but He might not like us, so we have to worry that someday His love will run out.

For some reason, we aren’t wired for grace. We need to prove something. It’s all wrapped up in our value being tied to our performance. How do we greet each other?

"What do you do for a living? What did you do today? What have you done for me lately?

Too often religion means we have to clean up our act, sit up straight, earn something… while all the time worrying that we’re fooling everyone. Public opinion is a big deal in our culture, and it’s too easy to believe our own press, good or bad.

But I think Jesus came to teach us to let go of the need to appear good. Instead, slow down enough to listen to the Word within us, to live in the mystery of who we are. If we’re preoccupied with protecting our image, being model Christians, excellent parents… then all that does is lead us into the “look at me” behavior that is just another form of bondage.

We have to quit trying to be saints. Faith isn’t about believing the right things. It’s about love. And grace. So how do we tap into that knowing? How do we quiet down enough to hear God whisper “I’ll never take away my love?"

What we bring to God is deeper than we realize. But it’s frustrating not to be able to name it. There’s an inkling… it’s about that same yearning, that same longing Beuchner speaks about, but we get stuck. So maybe we need to bring to God our search for the name… the name of our empty place, the name of our despair, the name of what would heal us.

We certainly bring our worries to God: get me a job (especially in this economy;) save my marriage; fix my car; help my children succeed. And we help God out by providing the answer, as if God needs reminding.

And when the problem doesn’t go away we blame God. Or someone else for getting in God’s way.

So if we ask God for a name… what is my fear? What is my pain? What is my emptiness? Then instead of waging war on everyone else, maybe we can see God calm the storm.

It’s not magic. And trusting in magic is another way to escape. Things change because of long, slow and small increments. Countless hours of prayer, countless times of saying “yes” to God, countless instances of kindness, or forgiveness. One day at a time. One day at a time to win the battle over fear. Fear is the enemy: fear of change, fear of failure, fear of losing control, fear of losing out… fear of praying and hearing nothing but silence, fear of death.

Faith is only small steps toward courage.