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Unchristian Certainty

30 Sep

I am walking with youth through a unit on Faith and Science. Can you believe in God and science, the Bible and evolution? Can you seek God in what you know as well as what you don’t? I’m finding the matter at hand repeatedly comes back to unfair assumptions about certainty. Certainty has become a value of society. It helps young people (dare I say all people) feel competent and worthy of being taken seriously. We associate it with confidence and knowledge. All too often we look to our political, scientific and religious leaders to exude certainty. In the midst of uncertain times, we wager it may help us feel safer. It rarely does.

At the core of both faith and science is not certainty, but wonder. Boiling either area down to certainty limits it greatly. It limits God. The deeper we get into the disciplines of both science and religion, we gain knowledge, yes, but also awe. Modern-day astronomers look up at the stars and think more and more that we are not alone, that we may never have one set of scientific rules to live by, that we are made of the stuff of stars.

Maybe it is time for all of us to embrace doubt as a friend:

Doubt then is not our enemy but our great friend. For it keeps us from the most unchristian of things: assuming that we possess certainty, that we need not think about our faith or love our neighbors, and worse, that we become certain is no longer (by definition) faith; it has become idolatry, where we no longer seek out a living personal God but make this God into a frozen idol. The truth, then, is that there can be no relationship at all when it is based on certainty. I cannot really love my friend and embrace the fullness of his being if I assume I know him with certainty, if in being with him I keep saying, “I know you; that’s not what you think. I don’t need to hear you, see you or learn from you. I know you certainly. You cannot change.”

–Andrew Root and Kendra Creasy Dean, The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry 

The seriousness that Root and Dean bring to the matter of doubt and relationship is refreshing. Indeed, we do not want to limit our loved ones with certainty, so why ever would we want to limit God? Embracing wonder and doubt invokes love yet again, where we leave room to be surprised, we leave room for growth.

Gospel Reflection for October 2, 2016, 27th Sunday Ordinary Time

28 Sep

Sunday Readings: Wisdom 9.13-28; Philomen 9-10, 12-17; Luke 14.25-33

“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, spouse and children, brothers and sisters, yes, even life itself, cannot be my follower; whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” – Luke 14.26-27

Jesus continues on his journey to Jerusalem, teaching his disciples as he goes. Jesus is out to shock them out of popular expectations of the messiah. The conflicts Jesus faces will demand suffering and ultimately his life in a cruel death meant for insurrectionists against Rome. The sayings in Sundays gospel insists discipleship may ask our all, too. Our commitment may pull us away from family and safe and comfortable homes. Jesus’ life and work were scandalous, and disciples who try to live and do as he did can expect to endure shaming, harassment, and even violence. His disturbing words frighten us. Like the disciples we are on a journey. Our commitment unfolds day by day in our giving.

Share an experience that challenged you beyond anything you imagined.

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God’s Jokes

23 Sep
Photo via Flickr user ChrisA1995

Photo via Flickr user ChrisA1995

Each fall I retreat with youth, away from the city.

Away from the city, where one need not be so on guard, the beauty of giving to all around many again rise in you. –Rumi

In past years, I have been in charge of the teaching on fall retreat. I pick a theme, research, acquire resources, design activities and discussions. I put a lot of time into constructing and then executing curriculum. On retreat specifically, the teaching never feels great. I feel like the bad guy. I think it’s mostly because the whole time we are doing something formal, I can sense the youth just want to be on retreat, outside, having fun, seeing where the wind takes them. They want space to play and relax, think and laugh. They desperately need unstructured time. And there is something about nature that calls this to attention for them even more.

This world needs our warmth against it, or things will perish. –Rumi

This year we are trying something different. There is very little agenda. We will eat, have a bonfire, play games, and sing. I sense it is the right thing to do. Instead of forcing structured times of learning, I’m leaning into their desire to retreat into nature, where benevolence has the space to rise up in them and remind them of their true nature.

I, for one, am excited. When I head on retreat in charge of a full itinerary, I can take myself too seriously. In this case, the easier thing may be the right thing. We are simply getting on a bus, going somewhere beautiful away from the city, and spending time together. My guess is that God will show up in ways we cannot even anticipate.

Away from the city, where you need not be so on guard, you are more apt to realize…God tells a lot of jokes. –Rumi

Letting Go

16 Sep
Photo via Flickr user Don Merwin

Photo via Flickr user Don Merwin

Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned. –Buddha

September, for me, is still filled with the childhood feeling of fresh starts. When I was young, it meant new notebooks and a new teacher. As an adult, I continue to sense an opportunity to reboot come September.

In the New York Times, Carl Richards wrote an eloquent piece called “The Cost of Holding On.” He starts with a story about two monks who encounter a rude woman on their journey. The young monk stews and ruminates about how poorly the older monk was treated until finally, hours later, he spoke about it. The older monk said, “I set the woman down hours ago. Why are you still carrying her?” Richard adds:

There is an actual cost to holding onto things we should let go of. It can come in the form of anger, frustration, resentment or something even worse. The question is, can you really afford to keep paying the bill?

Now, as the summer fades, is as good of a time as any to really acknowledge what we have been holding onto from last year or yesterday or earlier this morning that is no longer serving us.

Where do you carry your anger? Your throat, chest, hands, jaw, stomach? 

What tools help you let go? Exercise, meditation, music, talking, writing?

Who gets the brunt of your anger? You, strangers, or someone you care deeply about? 

What are some things that you are still holding onto? What is the actual cost?

Anger is energy, and it can be exciting even if it is only harming us. But Richards is right: there is a real cost to hanging on. With every exhale we have an opportunity to let go of something we have been holding onto. That will create space for God to rush in with healing and new life. September can feel like a fresh start indeed.

Sunday by Sunday

15 Sep

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Mother, Now Saint

9 Sep
Photo via Flickr user Mammovies

Photo via Flickr user Mammovies

A mere 19 years after her death, Pope Francis declared Mother Teresa a saint last week. In his homily during the ceremony at the Vatican, Pope Francis commended Mother Teresa for her generosity of mercy and for defending the discarded of society.

Indeed, in her tireless work, Mother Teresa gave people dignity by seeing their full humanity. She called urgent attention to the hideous and unnecessary poverty plaguing our globe. Taking Jesus’ gospel call to advocate for the poor quite literally, she devoted her life to the daily work. Rightly, Pope Francis lifted up Mother Teresa as a model of holiness.

And then, also rightly and with so much style we have come to expect of him, Pope Francis served pizza to 1,500 homeless Italians who were bused in for the event.

The declaration of Mother Teresa’s sainthood is exciting. In elevating our heroes, it is also important to remember their humanity as well. I can distance myself from them, venerating their holiness, while excusing myself from the call. We are all capable of making a life-long commitment to advocate for the vulnerable members of our society. I read the same Gospel that she did, one where Jesus models mercy, compassion and ministry to us. She was a mere mortal who had the same choice I do as to how to live out our daily lives.

I remember as a young child, being taught by nuns, I was curious about the monastic lifestyle. I wondered, “What would I do with my time if I committed to a simple, celibate life? What life would I build? Who would I love?” Now, with a spouse, children and a job, I must ask other questions. Mother Teresa’s sainthood throws back into relief for me the importance of doing Gospel work in my daily life, here and now, in any way I can. Instead of allowing her holiness to distance herself, I can pray for her holiness to call me to a life of mercy and compassion, too.

Gospel Reflection for September 11, 2016, 24th Sunday Ordinary Time

7 Sep
Photo via Flickr user Marcia

Photo via Flickr user Marcia

Sunday Readings: Exodus 32.7-11, 13-14; 1 Timothy 1.12-17; Luke 15.1-32

“Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep…..Rejoice with me because I have found my lost coin.”

(Luke 15.6, 9)

Losing, finding, rejoicing — that is the pattern in each of the three parables Jesus tells in chapter 15. Who doesn’t bother to look for the sheep that has wandered apart from the hundred and has not just strayed but is lost? Who forgets a lost coin and doesn’t bother to retrieve 10% of current assets? The lost sheep and lost coin invite us to hear the story of the man with two sons with the questions, “Who is lost?” Is it the party son who wastes his inheritance and comes home to his welcoming father or is it the responsible son who resents his father’s mercy? Which son am I? Let us rejoice in Pope Francis’ reclaiming in this year of mercy the deepest mystery of who God is.

Which son are you? How are you benefiting from this year emphasizing God’s mercy?

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God With Us on the Move

2 Sep
Photo via MN Historical Society

Photo via MN Historical Society

A friend of mine spent ten weeks working at a migrant center in Tijuana this summer. Tijuana is a city generally seen as the last stop for migrants from Central America trying to cross into San Diego. Lately, the center is also housing large numbers of people from all over the world seeking asylum and refugee status in the United States. The arrival of refugees from places like Haiti and even as far as Syria is fairly new for the city.

The journeys of the migrants and the refugees weigh heavy on my heart. There are oh so many people on the move, looking for a place to rest, willing to travel across to world to find a country who will welcome them. The courage it takes to set out, the energy it takes to travel, the resilience it takes to continue on shows the remarkable strength of the human spirit. They are looking for a fresh start, a safe place to build a future. Only then can they properly grieve their past.

Abraham had been promised land as far reaching as the eye could image and descendants that numbered the stars. Yet as an old man, when his beloved wife died, he had no land, and Isaac, his only son, had no wife. Abraham could have given up. He could have sat down, pouted, and waited for God to follow through on God’s promises. Yet the story simply tells us that Abraham mourned for his wife and then rose from his grief. He got busy, buying land to bury Sarah and went looking for a wife for Isaac. Both of these acts furthered God’s plan for him. The promises came true. Abraham shows the same courage, energy and resilience as the world’s migrants and refugees. Part of grieving his past required him to continue building his future.

People who have been through great trauma benefit from having opportunities to rebuild families and careers. Good work is good for the soul. Building a future creates space to heal from the past. When the worst happens, we can become angry with God and give up, or we can hear God whispering to us to move. Then God can fill the space we create.

Is it possible that God is waiting for us to act? Perhaps God is calling to us from the future, beckoning us to create space for God’s will on earth. The migrants and refugees arriving at Tijuana have heard the call. They seek room to build a future full of good work and flourishing families. Healing from their past depends on it.

Gospel Reflection for September 4, 2016, 23rd Sunday Ordinary Time

29 Aug
Photo via Flickr user Othree

Photo via Flickr user Othree

Sunday Readings: Wisdom 8.13-18; Philomen 9-10, 12-17; Luke 14.25-33

“None of you can be my disciple if you do not renounce all your possessions.”

(Luke 14.33)

Proclaiming the good news of God’s abundant loving kindness toward all people contradicts conventional wisdom that there is not enough love or anything else to go around, so it must be reserved for our own kind.   Healing the sick free of charge, no matter who they are or where they live or how they got that way brings condemnation from those who despise the afflicted or aim to profit from their misery.

In his best paradoxical fashion, Jesus insists, “Less is more.”  Possessions, however many, are never enough.  The generous economics of discipleship turn accepted economic theories on their heads.

In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis writes, “Every ecological approach needs to incorporate a social perspective which takes into account the fundamental rights of the poor and underprivileged.  The principle of the subordination of private property to the universal destination of goods, and the right of everyone to their use, is a golden rule of social conduct and ‘the first principle of the whole ethical and social order'” (#93).

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As it is in Heaven

26 Aug
Photo via Flickr user Chris JL

Photo via Flickr user Chris JL

There is an ancient ceramic dish that sits in the Aga Khan Museum attributed to Samanid Iran. The color and decoration are vibrant and refined for its time, and the inscription reads:

Generosity is a disposition of the dwellers of Paradise.

In our world, at times, there seems to be a powerful centripetal force pulling us toward selfishness and self-centeredness as the status quo. What would it look like to break free of that current and stand with the posturing of generosity? How would that daily choice change our eyes, ears, hearts and lives? I think it may be worth some reflection. True generosity as a prayer practice has the power to transform our scarcity mindset to one of abundance. What is holding us back from seeing, claiming, celebrating, sharing and growing that abundance? If we can embody abundance and live generously, can we know paradise in this time and place?

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.

The overwhelming, unconditional, overflowing love I share with my young son has helped me live with lenses of abundance. There are moments in my life when I say to him, “Heaven. This is heaven.” When he gives me an unexpected, wildly affectionate and precious snuggle. Sitting on a still lake in a kayak while the sun sets, with my spouse and son behind me, my son reaching out to touch my back now and again as I paddle. “Heaven.” I do not say this flippantly. I said it intentionally, very much awake to and appreciative of the purity of the moment.

The other day, for the first time, when we took a break to snuggle on the couch together his little voice said, “Heaven.” “Yes, honey,” I agreed. “Heaven.” His mimicking encourages me to be even more intentional with my language, verbal and otherwise. Fostering lenses of faith, growing a heart of generosity is work I am happy to share with him.

I let the generosity of these moments alter me and flow into other moments of my life. Recognizing glimpses of heaven, calling out paradise here and now, seeing God the Creator, feeling the love of God here on earth can indeed change our disposition. We can become a generous people, a people dwelling in paradise.

 

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