Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Metaphorical Barrista Seeks Clarity

There’s a lot brewing but I’m not clear enough to post. Yes, there are some really good discussions going on and I look forward to writing. A colleague in Christ once shared a quote that I find resonates with experience. His encouragement is, “ to think yourself empty, read yourself full, and write yourself clear”. Sagely advice, don’t you think?

But, I’m not there yet. So, in lieu of writing, let me share a Weekly Reflection from Henri It merits a read. Also, I added two prayers (4th and 16th century) that may under gird the posted reflection. Make certain to read them as you close.

On The Journey Towards Caring for Others

After being diagnosed with a brain tumor, my mother's health deteriorated gradually and for about seven long years my father was her primary care giver. The tasks grew tiring and tedious. She begged to be relegated to her bed and would use every conniving trick to lie down even though everyone knew she needed more physical activity. And, the ordeal to get her to eat to nourish her body became a daily struggle. My father would anguish over trying to do all the doctors recommended and often felt a failure. However, he would get up each day with renewed effort and firm resolve to try to prolong her life. I parallel that to how God must feel watching us destroy creation and one another in a world of war and poverty. Our gifts are so abundant and as intimate as our very breath. Any loved one always wants the best for the beloved and we are graced time and time again with all that we need to grow spiritually with one hand outstretched and the other behind our back. Each person in our world deserves a dedicated caregiver as faithful as God himself. Perhaps we are the reluctant hands that hold the power.

-- written by BARBARA FUHRWERK)

Two Prayers

"Do you wish to honor the Body of Christ? Do not despise him when he is naked. Do not honor him here in the church building with silks, only to neglect him outside, when he is suffering from cold and nakedness. For he who said 'This is my Body' is the same who said 'You saw me, a hungry man, and you did not give me to eat.' Feed the hungry and then come and decorate the table. The Temple of your afflicted brother's body is more precious than this Temple (the church). The Body of Christ becomes for you an altar. It is more holy than the altar of stone on which you celebrate the holy sacrifice. You are able to contemplate this altar everywhere, in the street and in the open squares." --St. John Chrysostom
Christ has no body now but yours,No hands, no feet on earth but yours.Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world.Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.Yours are the hands with which he blesses all the world.Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
-- attributed to St. Terese of Avila

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Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Shrinking Disciples

Here’s an excerpt from Our Journey this morning. The author is Crawford W. Loritts and his comments are worth a read.

It’s just as true today as it was during the time Jesus walked on earth. We all tend to want a Christianity that will confirm us right where we are. (You know—the kind that makes you feel good and doesn’t require too much from you.) I fight this battle just like everybody else.

Jesus doesn’t call us to a happy, comfortable existence. Following him is not always easy—but it will surely cost us something. As I’ve studied the idea of New Testament discipleship, it’s interesting to note that whenever Jesus called people to another level of commitment the crowd got smaller. People would figure out a reason to step back.

On hearing it, many of his disciples said, "This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?"

Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, " Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe." For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him."

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

"You do not want to leave too, do you?" Jesus asked the Twelve.

Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."
(John 6:60-69 NIV)

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Saturday, October 15, 2005

Hold the Mayo

OK I may regret this. Yet, it’s fun to risk a row now and again. Besides, taking a jab at American consumerism is always fun.

I came across this article at a site called The Sacred Sandwich. Some of the adverts were a bit biting. I hope it’s all in good fun. (OK I apologize ahead of time to Joel Osteen.) Nonetheless, the piece - in good fun or not- merits a read. Sarcasm may have its merits if we remain objective.

Buying the Wal-Mart Jesus

The new Wal-Mart Supercenter just opened up in my town, and man, what a sight! It’s a mammoth structure of utilitarian architecture that houses everything from a grocery to a garden center, along with every dry good you can imagine from fashion wear to office supplies. And people just flock there because it’s one-stop shopping, famous low prices, and a quick “get in and get out” affair. It is an amazing achievement in the history of American consumerism.

Oh, and don’t forget about the official Smiley Face mascot greeting you on every sign. It just makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside as you spend your money to save money.

The only problem is that the former Wal-Mart building in town is now vacant since the retail giant moved its local operation to the new Supercenter facility. Hard to believe that twenty years ago this smaller Wal-Mart store was the shining Camelot on the hill for local shoppers. Now it’s just a castle ruin, an empty shell of its former glory as the company moves on to bigger and better things. Alas, a sign of the times, I’m afraid.

Prior to the beginning of this Sam Walton invasion, our town had a few Mom-and-Pop retail stores downtown, but they’re gone now, too. The first Wal-Mart that landed here soon priced those little shops right out of the market and made it too easy for the faithful customers of our local enterprises to be slowly seduced by the discount convenience of the new store in town. Hometown loyalty and one-on-one service be damned! Pretty soon, those slow-paced, family-run stores with creaky wood floors and clanging brass cash registers had to close their doors for good. Nobody valued their unassuming brand of commerce anymore.

So why do I bring all this up? Because it seems to me that many Christians today have been infected with the same corrupting consumerism that has given rise to the Wal-Mart Supercenter. Their lives are no longer content with the eloquent simplicity of Jesus Christ and His Word, but now clamor for a wide variety of new and improved Christianized products to over-indulge their so-called faith. The congregations have moved out of the austere model of the small-town church, where unadorned worship to God rang forth, and have instead built for themselves Christian Supercenters in which to sell their worldly goods and services in the name of Christ.

You see striking evidence of this Wal-Mart mentality in postmodern Christianity every time you step into your local Christian bookstore and have to walk past shelf after shelf of shiny religious trinkets and trite bestsellers before you get to that little section of plain black Bibles in the far back corner. You see it every time you watch millions of professed Christians assemble in their multi-million dollar sanctuaries to hear feel-good sermons by Smiley Face mascots who offer heaven and happiness at a discount price.

Of course, it didn’t use to be like this. There was a time, believe it or not, when we survived just fine without the trappings of modern consumerism in our life. Long before the first Wal-Mart was built in my mostly-rural area, the presence of any kind of retail store was a rarity. All people really had back then was the Sears catalog. It sat there, prized like the family Bible, on the kitchen counter. Every member of the family had gone through that tome over and over again, memorizing the products that they dreamed of having one day. Yet they had no money for such luxuries and if they did, it was only due to careful hoarding of every stray penny they could scrape up. Sometimes they had to wait three years before saving enough money to buy that fancy hand-cranked clothes wringer so Mom didn’t have to wear out her arms twisting the clothes dry, unaided by modern technology.

Of course, when times got really bad, even the Sears catalog brought no comfort, except to supply a need for toilet paper in the outhouse.

Back then, we had a Great Depression caused by the blind self-indulgence of the Jazz age; and rural people in this area (through no fault of their own) were especially hit hard by it. These poor country folks didn’t have convenience stores, they only had each other. Families made just about everything they owned, and if they couldn’t make it, they had a good neighbor who could. It was a time when farming was so bad that it was more profitable to use their corn crop to burn in their stove for heat than to sell it for a lousy few cents per bushel. So the local families knitted themselves together and looked out for one another. It was a hard time, sometimes a desperate time. But with lots of faith, love, and patience, they got through it together as a community. There was no such thing as fast food outlets, shopping malls, or Wal-Mart Supercenters to bring swift temporal relief to their plight. It was a bare-boned existence that divided the wheat from the chaff, and forced humble folks to focus on the simple things in life that really mattered and to rejoice in them.

So you see, there was a time when Christians in this country were content with being lowly, meek, and poor in spirit. They served humbly in small congregations, read their Bibles faithfully, and prayerfully focused on the glory of Christ alone as they witnessed and brought aid to others. Over time, however, we became more prosperous and self-satisfied, and just like the Jazz Age, we began to borrow on a spiritual capital that we no longer possessed in order to gratify our ever-increasing desire for the things of this world. Soon, many churches became bastions of consumerism and began emulating themselves after the business world, until they finally transformed themselves into a kind of Wal-Mart Christianity.

The problem is, this over-indulgence in the churches will one day takes its toll and collapse like the stock market in 1929 because it is built on a foundation other than Christ alone. And when that inevitable day arrives in which we are stripped of our fleshy provisions and thrust into a great spiritual Depression, how will this rabid Christian consumerism provide for our needs and how much of it will quickly be engulfed by the fires of God’s testing?

In the end, it’s hay and stubble, my friends. All this Wal-Mart Christianity is just hay and stubble.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace.
(Helen H. Lemmel, 1922)

(For further reference see Isaiah 33:10-12 and 1 Cor. 3:10-12.)

The Bohemian Baptist is Copyright © 2004-05 by Chris Carmichael. All Rights Reserved

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Friday, October 14, 2005

Worship and Other Island Tales

Aloha from sunny CA. I listened in on a recent round table discussion with three Southern California (SoCal) reformed tradition - but emergent- young pastors. I came across the round table pod cast whilst reading Messy Christian’s blog (Oct 12 “The Podcasts I’m Listening to”) a day or so ago.

The interaction was really quite positive. Insightful – even. As I wrestle with connecting our little fellowship to the historic but living threads of the tapestry of Christ’s church, the application of a practical catechism and a “here to meet with God” liturgy were terrific thoughts.

During the discourse,however, criticism was intimated towards a local-albeit unnamed- So Cal church for “ appealing not to the “spiritual seeker” but rather to the “spiritual tourist”. Given the region (SoCal and OC) and being a little bit familiar with the emergent conversation, I thought I had a pretty good idea of the “church in question".

Here’s the controversial smorgasbord"ish" listing of “worship offerings” on any given weekend.

Main Service is our venue for those looking for a style of praise and worship with a full band.

Praise is our venue for those who prefer to spend a little longer singing songs and features a Gospel Choir. Praise! Meets in Venue Tent 3.

OverDrive is our venue featuring a rock 'n roll music style. This venue is for those that like their worship loud. OverDrive meets in Venue Tent 2

Ohana Come for the worship... Stay for the sounds of the islands. Experience hospitality and hugs. Learn to worship through signing or hula. Room 404 near the Beach Cafe and island huts.

Elevation is our venue for all singles. The Saturday night service at 6:30pm is projected through a live video link in Venue Tent 2. You'll get the same great message along with live music.

Passion Join us for a time of expressive worship and heartfelt praise. The look and feel is younger than our main service and more intimate.

El Encuentro Worship with music in Spanish and listen to the live message in either English or Spanish. El Encuentro meets in the Plaza Room.

Traditions Enjoy a lower volume worship experience with a mix of classic hymns, old favorites, and cherished choruses. The message is videocast on the big screen for great viewing.

Country Country music, boots, and buckles are all part of this worship experience with a videocast message. Line dancing for novices and experienced dancers happens after the service. (Note: Children and youth programming is not available for this venue.)

Granted it sounds a bit over the top; however, the intimated criticism and the actual reality that a church really does offer such a buffet style “church gathered” weekend put two thoughts in conflict for me. The conflict is best articulated by the Apostle Paul:

Observation 1:

Brothers and sisters, when I came to you I didn't come with fancy words or great wisdom. I preached to you the truth about God's love. I made up my mind to pay attention to only one thing while I was with you. That one thing was Jesus Christ and his death on the cross.

When I came to you, I was weak and afraid and trembling all over. I didn't preach my message with clever and compelling words. As I preached, the Holy Spirit showed his power. That was so you would believe not because of human wisdom but because of God's power. The Apostle Paul (I Cor 2:1-5 NIrV)

Observation 2:

Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.

It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. The Apostle Paul (Philippians 1:12-18 NIV)

Any thoughts? It’s worth the wrestling for- like it or not – the whole of the church (emergent, traditional, modern, post modern, etc.) is The Body of Christ (catholic/universal) and we have the commission to love each – the easily lovable and the challenging.

"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." Jesus Christ (John 13:34-35 NIV)

Let me know what you think and God Bless

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Saturday, October 08, 2005

Joining the Feisty that Journey Upstream

Why do I seek pat answers and formulaic solutions when the spiritual life is often an uncomfortable but good process that leads to spiritual formation? Do we really live in a Christianity that equates God’s blessing with “having it easy” and “things going our way”? Cannot the hard things be God’s blessing, too? Isn’t there a place for righteous struggle?

This morning’s passage in “Year of the Bible
” encourages a swim upstream against all that seek the spawning grounds of comfort, no cost Christ-living, and relative ease. God bless the feisty fish that know better than to drift along in popular practice and the pious throng. "Kyrie Eleison." " Christe Eleison"

God Trains His Children

You struggle against sin. But you have not yet fought to the point of spilling your blood. You have forgotten that word of hope. It speaks to you as children. It says, "My son, think of the Lord's training as important. Do not lose hope when he corrects you. The Lord trains those he loves. He disciplines everyone he accepts as a son."

Put up with hard times. God uses them to train you. He is treating you as children. What children are not trained by their parents? God trains all of his children. But what if he doesn't train you? Then you are like children of people who weren't married to each other. You are not truly God's children.
Besides, we have all had human parents who trained us. We respected them for it. How much more should we be trained by the Father of our spirits and live!

Our parents trained us for a little while. They did what they thought was best. But God trains us for our good. He wants us to share in his holiness.
No training seems pleasant at the time. In fact, it seems painful. But later on it produces a harvest of godliness and peace. It does that for those who have been trained by it. So lift your sagging arms. Strengthen your weak knees. "Make level paths for your feet to walk on." Then those who have trouble walking won't be disabled. Instead, they will be healed. (Hebrews 12:4-13 NIrV)

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