Thursday, June 23, 2011

Is it well with my soul?

As the church program year winds down and makes way for Summer, time and permission are given to all of us for a bit of reflection. Since this Fall will mark two years of my tenure as Priest-in-Charge of St. Edward's, and since we're in the midst of both a diocesan and parish strategic planning process, there have been reasons stacked upon reasons for such reflection. While I've begun the parish part of that reflection on the parish blog, it seems like at least some account (on this blog) of my personal reflections is warranted.

In my daily Facebook trolling, I came across this list of 10 Ways to Boost Spiritual Health. I recognize a number of spiritual disciplines--personal worship, journaling, prayer, personal (rather than simply professional) bible study--that I recall doing with much more faithfulness when I was in college and had newly discovered a more personal relationship with God in Christ. Like getting enough exercise and eating right, sometimes living life accidentally or on spiritual inertia can sneak up on a person. A good reminder.

As I read that "fitness list," I recalled another bit of wisdom shared by Brian McLaren, author of "Naked Spirituality" in his address at the 187th Commencement of Virginia Theological Seminary (my alma mater). He strongly encouraged the graduates (and, by extension, we alumni and friends) to guard and grow four friendships: with ourselves, with soul friends, with non-Christians, and with God. As McLaren said "it is sometimes difficult for those of us who are paid to be good to simply be good for nothing." Sometimes being a "professional Christian" gets in the way of simply being an intentional follower of Jesus Christ.

As I move through this summer of discernment, a big piece of my discernment is to look at where I have allowed my professional life to take over my personal life--in my relationship with my family and friends but also in crowding out hobbies and other things I do just because I like doing them. A good discipline for anyone, I'd say.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

If love wins...share it!

Nearly two months since my last post, I'm finally crawling out from underneath the pile of tasks on my plate (the pile of stuff on my desk is another matter...!) and have been giving some more serious thought to the shape of the twenty-first century church. There have been several items that have come across my screen lately that have caused me to pause and think more deeply. As you will note on the "Blogs I'm Following" list on the right, I follow the blog of Rachel Held Evans,  a self-proclaimed "writer, skeptic, and Christ-follower" whose reflections I've really enjoyed reading she recently appeared on an episode of Darkwood Brew, a "groundbreaking experimental web television program and Christian worship service" located in a coffeehouse in the Midwest.  After listening to that interview, and then going to the Darkwood Brew web site, I also happened upon an interview that they had done with Diana Butler Bass, who happens to have just come to the Diocese of El Camino Real a couple of weeks ago to talk about twenty-first century spirituality. Having recently published a book entitled A People's History of Christianity, she talked about the blend of spirituality and religiosity that is coming to dominate church and society in this second decade of the twenty-first century.

Both Rachel and Diana's interviews were a part of Darkwood Brew's series based upon Rob Bell's book Love Wins. The questioning title of the series is "If love wins, what now?" In both interviews, the point is made that the "orthodox" concept of, and concentration on, hell as a fiery place of eternal torment  is actually one born out of the Roman Emperor Constantine's fascination and obsession with the power of God to vanquish his enemies. Prior to that time, the Christian church was primarily focused on visions of heaven. If they even spared it a thought, hell was simply the place that was not heaven. It is when God's power is bound to earthly war and violence that hell becomes a punishment for enemies and unbelievers.

All of this is swirling around in my mind this morning as I contemplate this Sunday's lesson from the book of Acts, where (among other things, including ""It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.") Jesus says "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." That power is not presented as the power to coerce belief, but the power to witness to God's work in the world.

I'm also conscious, as I click from one thing to another online, that people have plenty of opportunity to find out information about Christianity, of whatever flavor. I found all of the above from initially being directed to Rachel Held Evans' blog via (I think...) a Facebook posting. From there, I found Darkwood Brew, and from there I found Diana Butler Bass, who I had just seen in person and who had greeted me almost as an old friend, though we had only been Facebook friends until then. It strikes me that the "witness" that we bring is not primarily a witness of information, but a witness of re-creation and restoration--that God is constantly in the midst of re-creating and restoring this world in partnership with us. That sort of witness is worth sharing!