Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Chaos



Rescue me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck Psalm 69

Humans have a tremendous capacity for compassion and cruelty.  Humans have an amazing ability to justify our actions.  Life would be great and perfect if not for that one person who is like nails on a chalkboard and whose voice causes your shoulders to tense so tightly they are sore for days.  And because the church is made up of humans...all of the above are true.

In those moments when our words cause brokenness, when we decide to speak words that hurt, and when our tone because angry and judgment...even if we think we are justified...we introduce chaos into the ears, hearts, and whole lives of the person on the receiving end of what falls from the tips of our tongues.

In Psalm 69, the psalmist speaks of getting caught up in the undertow and sinking down into the slime of deep, dark place.  Chaos is the beginning place of creation in Genesis 1, but Scripture never says that chaos is completely conquered by God's still speaking voice in Genesis 1.  In fact, I sense that throughout Scripture chaos remains an undercurrent.  Think of Exodus, the people live under the oppressive thumb of Pharaoh.  Moses comes, eventually frees them, and life is grand...for about one week.  Then, the people start grumbling about bread...God offers manna (the literal translation of that word is, "What is this??)  No sooner are the People of God's stomachs full of bread...then they are thirsty.  Seriously, was this what God had in mind when God crafted us as humans?  If so, what was God thinking?

The Psalmist goes on to say that the chaos in her life is invoked by unprovoked foes that are more numerous than the hairs of her head...and you thought you had problems and enemies!  Seriously, most of us only need one arch nemesis, unless we are a Superhero...then you need a couple just to keep the story line fresh.  After all, how many times can Superman really defeat Lex Luther before it gets a little boring?

What is fascinating about Psalm 69 is the psalmist does not keep on complaining, but after naming the dire straits she is in, says honestly, "God, You know my folly and my guilt is not hidden from You."  That is such a sacred line it stops me in my tracks.  When someone is my enemy, I don't want to accept any culpability in the problem or relationship.  I am not the one out of order, the enemy is out of order, the whole world is out of order.  Anyone other than me is to blame...only the reality is I am just as broken and human as the one I call, "Adversary."  Not that we like admitting our own stuff to ourselves, let alone aloud for others to hear!  Yet, the Psalmist bravely, boldly goes there.  Then...a few verses later the Psalmist proclaims, "Estranged I have been from my brothers, and an alien to my mother's sons."  Suddenly the foe is not some distant, disinterested person...the foe is family!  Think of the civil war.  Think of Vietnam.  Think of our current state of politics.  When we disagree or are in tension with our family, it hurts...perhaps even more than when it is with an unrelated co-worker.

The psalmist goes on to plead with God to hurry and answer her with God's steadfast rescue.

So, what do you need rescue from?  Where is there chaos right now in your life?  Who is causing it?  How might you be contributing to it?  Those are not easy questions, they will cause our souls to shift uncomfortably within us.  Yet, I sense that if we are still long enough in the face of chaos, often we find a trace of God's grace and the light of God's wisdom shining forth.  May it be so for you in those places of tension and turmoil here and now in your life.

Blessings ~

Friday, October 11, 2013

When is a hymn not a hymn?


To You silence is praise, O God  Psalm 65:1
Shout out to God, all the earth. Hymn God's name's glory. Make God's praise glory.  Psalm 66:1

So one of the amazing realities of the Bible is often stories are set side by side that are inherently and blatantly contradictory without so much of a note of explanation or effort of rationalization.  Psalms 65 and 66 are one example.  (So are Genesis 1 and 2 - does God create with a Word or by sinking God's fingertips into the dirt and mud of earth?  The Bible seems to answer that question by simply saying, "Yes" with a smile on it's face).  

Psalm 65 talks about silence as praise.  Being silent and sitting still long enough for our souls to catch up with us.  Listening to the sounds around us, even if all we hear is our own breathing.  Being immersed in the beauty of what Psalm 42 describes as the "deep calling out to the deep".  When that which is within us calls out and cries out for God.  Let's face it, we live in a noisy world.  Cars constantly zoom past my window, phones ring, this week at church nails were pounded into underlayment in the sanctuary at such a pace I could not hear my own thoughts...let alone God's.  Even if we find a moment of silence, like for me right now typing this blog when no one is home, I could turn on the television or tune into a podcast.  We are driven by distraction and awash in a sea of words.  So, how can silence be praise?  Especially when you first try a silent prayer at church and after about 10 seconds people feel the need to start coughing...perhaps concerned that the pastor might fall asleep and forget to complete the service.  Yet, silence is praise when it allows us to notice God's still speaking voice.  Silence is praise when we can hear our own authentic voice speaking truth about our frantic lives.  Silence is praise when we are just still noticing God's presence.  It is praise, not always easy to hear praise, but praise nevertheless.

Right after the Psalmist invites us into silence and we are ready to be still, the very next psalm says, "Shout out to God."  Okay, but which is it?  Am I suppose to keep silence or shout?  To which again, I suspect, the Bible simply says, "Yes."  There are a time and place, there is an invitation to balance the two.  It cannot always be what we prefer.  Some people prefer silence, some prefer singing with gusto, both have a place and need space in our worship.  There are some hymns we need to sing so softly that we are whispering only to ourselves.  There are other hymns we need to sing out so our neighbors next door to the church wonder what in the world is going on inside that building.  

What connects both psalms is the question, when is a hymn not a hymn?  I believe when it sits unsung.  I believe even silence can be sung softly within us or better yet to us.  Hymns were meant to be sung by a community of faith.  Solos are great, but hymns are about community...so are the psalms.  We need to sit in silence with others, hear the rumbling of our neighbor's stomach so we are connected in a different way with the person realizing our own shared hunger.  And we need to sing loudly, even shout, with others creating such a cacophony that we realize the truth that we are not alone.  Both can be melody and music to our Creator's ears.  The psalmist invites both of these, and every sound in-between, to be times when we sense a trace of God's grace and presence in our life.  May it be so for you and me today and for our communities of faith at worship this weekend.

Blessings ~ 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Renovation part two



Renovation is about change.  You cannot remove pews, tear up carpeting, sweep up the debris, then say, "Whew, I am spent..You know on second thought, I am not so sure about this any more.  Let's go grab that ripped up, tattered, torn carpet out of the dumpster."  On of the paradoxes of our faith is that we are a people who inherit a tradition handed down from our forefathers and fore-mothers.  On the other hand, our faith is dynamic, always changing, never static.  

Faith is always changing.  Faith is always changeless.  It is a mystery.  On Sunday we gathered around the communion table, a tradition that goes back thousands of years.  We broke bread, just like always.  We poured juice, just like always.  I spilled onto the altar clothe...you guessed it...just like always.  But we also sang a new song to gather us around the table.  We were also communing in Fellowship Hall which was new.  And there was just a different feeling, a sacred feeling, but a new Spirit.  Faith is always about hanging on and moving forward.  

The key is trying to sort out what to let go of in the past in order to embrace something new.  In the sanctuary project we will put the same pews from the 1960s back into the sanctuary, BUT there will be new cushions eventually.  We will try to put the pews back in the right place, but honestly will anyone notice if they are two or three inches moved one way or the other?  

Trying to live and lean into the paradox of faith means that we are constantly renovating our faith.  We are constantly assessing.  In the previous post, I talked about how compartmentalizing can lead us in some difficult places in faith.  So too with constant renovation.  I think part of the reason why we prefer the order of worship and committee structures to remain the same year after year (even when they have lost meaning) is because a). we are not so sure we have the energy to renovate and b). we are not sure the new will be an improvement and c). will it really make a difference?

But then the fresh coat of paint seems to liven up the room.  The new carpet puts a spring in our step that stirs our souls.  The new cushion makes us sit up a bit more during the service reminding us that this matters.  Yes, renovation matters.  Yes, it takes effort and energy.  And yes, the new will be different, take getting used to, and will provide a new Spirit.  Isaiah warned the people of God prior to the exile that bad things were about to happen.  Then, just as Babylon was breathing down the necks of the People of God Isaiah has the audacity to suggest that God suddenly is saying, "I am about to do a new thing, do you not perceive it?"  Of course the people of God don't perceive it, they are too busy trying to fend off the Babylonian army!  

Do you perceive the newness of God in your midst, or just the disheartening news?  Do you perceive the newness of God in your midst, or just the lazy co-worker?  Do you perceive the newness of God, or it is just the same worship service over and over...and over again?

There is a trace of God's grace in opening ourselves to God who renovates and renews and re-creates our whole lives every single Sunday...or do we not perceive that?

Blessings~

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Remodeling Faith part one


Guard me, O God, for I shelter in You.  Psalm 16:1

This week we began renovating, re-imagining, and re-creating our sanctuary.  Since last Sunday, furniture was stored, pews were moved, carpet was torn out, stubborn tack strips were pried up, nails pulled, and the floor from the late 1800s was revealed.  All of that transpired in approximately forty-eight hours.  

Yet, if you walk into that transformed sanctuary this morning, there is something still sacred and familiar.  Last Sunday I shared that the first time I walked into the sanctuary at the church I serve, I was speechless.  I was swept up in the beauty that was beyond words and felt the sacred stirring.  The same could be said today.  Only now stirring in the air with the Spirit is dust.  Now, get swept up are still little bits of construction debris.  Now when you talk there is an echo...echo...echo...of your voice, like when God called out to Elijah in a still small voice in 1 Kings 19. In this passage Elijah came out of that cave he was hiding in, he encountered first the wind, earthquake, and fire. Those are loud natural events and I wonder if the echos of those events still rang in his ears, so that God's normal voice felt like a whisper.  

When the Psalmist today talks about God being a shelter, a refuge, a sanctuary, she is returning to one of her favorite images in the Psalms.  On the one hand, we need a place where we can escape from and feel protected from the problems of this world.  Right now our Congress has shutdown causing thousands of people to be without pay, mostly the political pundits just keep on wanting to tell us what the scores is.  There are people who are hungry and suffering.  There is too much violence in the world.  So, sometimes, like Elijah, we want to run away, escape.  Elijah was fleeing for his life because Jezebel, the queen of Israel, worshiped Baal, a foreign god.  In chapter 18, Elijah defeats the priest of Baal in a mountain top showdown.  But then, realizing he offended the queen, he ran so fast there were skid-marks in the sand.  How many of us run to church in order to just get away from it all?  Not that this is bad.  We need safe places where we can catch our breath.  We need places where we can be honest and open.  We need places in this world where we can let down our carefully guarded public persona, and be vulnerable.

And yet, when church is a place of escape, it can also become compartmentalized.  We start to think of our faith and our "real" life as two separate things.  We have Sunday, then we have Monday through Saturday.  And it isn't too long before we start compartmentalizing other parts of our life too.  We have work, then we have our church committee.  We have our bank account, then we have our pledge.  We have our time, then we have the time we give to the church.  Yet, God did not craft us, create us to be anything less than whole and holy loved.  God is interested in our whole life.  One pastor I listen to says that there is no such thing as your spiritual life and your real life, they are the same.  Our life is our spiritual life, like some tangled string of Christmas lights you cannot untwist. So, we cannot pray, "Thy kingdom come" on Sunday and then go to work on Monday and live as though those words down echo in our soul challenging our words and actions.

We need to re-imagine and renovate our faith to notice God's presence not only in the sanctuary we call churches, but also to see the shelter of our home as sacred space; the roof at our office as sacred space; the walls where we volunteer as sacred space.  This will take some work, perhaps even harder than pulling up a stubborn tack strip.  But, I also sense this kind of work has more than a trace of God's grace.  Prayers for you and for me to notice God here in our lives every moment this week with that still small voice calling us into our real life where whole life can be found.

Blessings ~