Faith, Hope and Love

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From Wendy Farley’s The Wounding and Healing of Desire: Weaving Heaven and Earth: “Faith is the power to trust that the Divine Eros is intimately bound to us even when we are in trouble and doubt. Hope is the power to live in and toward deeper goods than our addictions and terrors show us. Charity, caritas, is the most fantastic power of our soul: the ability to love others with the same urgency and delight with which we care for our own pains, pleasures, goods, and sorrows. Caritas is the power toward which all virtues strive and the power that guides them on the path of true virtue.”

Roger

Prayerful Introspection

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From Roberta Bondi’s To Love as God Loves: “[P]rayerful introspection…means looking inside ourselves to see what it is that makes us tick or fails to make us tick in order that we may love. It has to do with observing ourselves to see what we think or feel or do that hurts us or makes us hurt others so that we can do something about what needs to be corrected, and strengthen what needs to be strengthened. It involves acknowledging how complex we all are as we try to move in several often conflicting directions at once. Wallowing in guilt or helplessness for its own sake is not what introspection is about…”

Roger

Breaking Chains

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From Howard Thurmon’s Jesus and the Disenfranchised: “During the early days of the war I noticed a definite rise in rudeness and overt expressions of color prejudice, especially in trains and other public conveyances. It was very simple; hatred could be brought out into the open, given a formal dignity and a place of respectability. But for the most part we are not vocal about our hatred. Hating is something of which to be ashamed unless it provides for us a form of validation and prestige. If either is provided, then the immoral or amoral character of the hatred is transformed into positive violence.”

Roger

Do Not Be Afraid: Running with Easter, Reflections on Biblical Storytelling for Eastertide

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If you have been to NYAPC since Lent, you may have noticed that I have become fascinated with the practice of Biblical storytelling or learning the Bible by heart.  (The youth learned the whole book of Jonah on Youth Sunday, which totally blew me away.)

I was introduced to this spiritual practice mid-Lent by Rev. Casey Fitzgerald, Associate Pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Alexandria and professional Biblical storyteller.  Her project was to gather five women across National Capital Presbytery to tell the story of the Women at the Well (John 4:1-42) at the NEXT Church National Conference in Kansas.

It was something I said YES to because frankly I respected the women that were asked and wanted the opportunity to get to know them better.   What I didn’t realize was how that Biblical story would become so engrained me me.  The part that I learned “Look around.  The harvest is ripe for reaping!” became implanted so deeply that I began to see the words everywhere inviting me to look around and see God’s beautiful creation and God’s harvest ALIVE and active in this world.  

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Inspired by this opportunity to learn the Biblical story by heart, during the later half of Lent when the readings from the Gospel of John became rather long — we experimented with this practice in church, not requiring our liturgists and pastors to memorize the text but rather to read it so that the words become second nature so that the the words of the Biblical story become like telling a close friend the best story in the world. That is what the Gospel message is, right?  The best story in the world. 

For Easter I took the challenge to memorize the Easter story from Matthew 28:1-10.  For two weeks, I  ran outside with the story.  I uploaded it onto my phone, and as I chugged along a few miles each day, I repeated phrase in my head, gradually adding phrase on top of phrase. 

It was a deeply spiritual practice to experience and notice the presence of God as the trees and birds were changing over from winter to spring.   Seeing the unfolding of spring all around me all while repeating the Easter story in my head, I began to experience the story of the women of the tomb.  These are the women who who rose early to check on Jesus’ body expecting a crucified man to still be there. 

Central to the story, I kept hearing the words from the angel and then Jesus saying

“DO NOT BE AFRAID.”

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These are words that we need to hear today as Christians — as people of the post resurrection era, as Eastertide people.   These are words that meet us in our creatureliness — our fears of not fitting in, of not doing well enough, of completely messing everything up,  of never being recognized or never getting the opportunity to be seen.  

These are words too that meet us in our fears that are more global — fears of that are based in a very real and scary reality of the often violent world that we live in.  These are fears that we felt this week as we experienced the real and horrific violence against mostly women and children in Manchester.  These are the very real fears  from the family of Lilana Mendez, a mom of children ages 4 and 10 years old from Falls Church, VA who was detained at her at her regularly scheduled Immigrations and Customs Enforcement checkin.  It feels as though the world is too scary — that there is too much horror and injustice and not enough real peace.  It feels easy to simply feel afraid and do nothing.  Fear can be immobilizing.  

As I was driving home yesterday, I saw a young African American man pulled over for what I assumed to be a traffic violation on 15th street in front of the White House.  I wondered what level of fear he felt or how he has been taught by his mother to act so calmly so as to avoid any kind of violence.   I took note how my son’s first driving lesson won’t likely be how to interact with the police.  I wondered what my role is as a Christian  is in in offering protection for this young man.  

As I ran and meditated on the words “Do not be afraid,” I heard the realness and the concrete particularity of our fears, and I heard that it is in those places of deepest trauma that God meets each and every one of us.

I heard that the Gospel calls out for us is to take the risk of the relationship, to take the risk of being hurt, to take the risk of being changed, and enter with hands held in compassion into the each other’s space.  The Gospel calls each of us to take on risk and burden of another — and through this deep binding to become closer to who we are and whose we are called to be.

Jesus knew that and felt that very real fear as he faced the cross on his journey to Jerusalem and then during that week of trial and execution.  So when Jesus says “DO NOT BE AFRAID”, he is saying that he knows this feeling.  He is saying to us — I know how it feels to want to immobilized.  I know the feeling of wanting to pull the blankets over your head.  I know the feeling of feeling so tired.

But in the words of DO NOT BE AFRAID, what I gained from reading the Easter story over and over, running with it, with each pound of the foot on the pavement, hearing the words of Jesus saying DO NOT BE AFRAID and DO NOT LET YOUR FEAR PARALYZE YOU.  Don’t give up.  Don’t throw in the towel. 

Don’t give up because you don’t face all of these fears alone. 

You might be like the women at the tomb the first day who came so early because they knew no where else to go.  Even if the it was just the body of Jesus, they wanted to be with him.  When when Jesus appeared in the flesh — “they immediately came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.”   

We might be like the disciples who hid in the upper room for days in fear of the religious authorities.  We might be like Thomas who needed to experience the wounds of Christ for himself, who needed to see how God had so concretely took on the all of the pain and suffering of this world upon God-self.

We might be like the one witnessing the story from afar knowing the pain and suffering of those earliest followers and knowing the pain and suffering of God’s people today.  We might feel the urge to get up outside of ourselves and try on what it feels like to follow that call and “Do not be afraid.”

Whoever we are in the story — in reading and repeating the learning the story by heart, the story is for all of us — that God is alive and active, that God is with us in the deepest traumas, and that God says that as the body of faith, we are to be present for one another. 

Over the next months, I encourage you to take out a Biblical story — perhaps your favorite one and read it over and over.  Read it in little chunks savoring on each word and phrase, noticing the shift and tone of the voices, noticing how the story tells in parts and as whole.  I hope you will learn a Biblical story by heart.  And if you choose a lectionary passage (or ask Roger or I for one), we would love for you to share your Biblical reading in worship. 

Blessings,

Alice

Here is my plug for an intergenerational class I will be teaching on Biblical Storytelling in July.

Sundays, July 23 and July 30 :   Learning to Tell the Bible by Heart:  Anyone can tell a story!  Join us for an interactive workshop on how to tell parts of the Biblical Story by heart.  This workshop can be geared to anyone Grade K and up.  If you are planning to bring your very young child, please let Associate  Alice Tewell (alice.tewell@nyapc.org) know so she can prepare accordingly.  This workshop will also be useful for anyone serving as a Scripture reader.

Nurturing Compassion

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From Pema Chodron’s The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times: “It is said that all beings are predisposed to waking up and reaching out to others and that this natural inclination can be nurtured. …If we do not cultivate these inclinations, however, they will diminish. Bodhichitta [compassion] is like a yeast that never loses potency. Any time we add the moisture and warmth of compassion, it will automatically expand. If we keep it in the freezer, however, nothing happens.”

Roger

Faithfulness

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From Evelyn Underhill (quoted in Michael Crosby’s The Fruit of the Spirit: Pauline Mysticism for the Church Today): “The fruits of the Spirit get less and less showy as we go on. Faithfulness means continuing quietly with the job we have been given, in the situation where we have been placed; not yielding to the restless desire for change. It means tending the lamp quietly for God without wondering how much longer it has to go on. Steady, unsensational driving, taking good care of the car. A lot of the road to heaven has to be taken at thirty miles per hour. It means keeping everything in your charge in good order for love’s sake…. If your life is really part of the apparatus of the Spirit, that is the sort of life it must be.”

 

Roger

Citizenship

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From my Theology from the Trenches: “…responsible citizenship is among our covenant responsibilities, and it is one of the ways in which we are responsive to the sovereign God of all creation. We seek the common good as a means by which we give expression to love of God and neighbor. This is a countercultural activity because, as [Ernie] Cortes puts it, “This culture tells us that we are individual consumers, not citizens; that we are individual customers and clients rather than neighbors and members of associations.” So, if culture drains us of our God-given capacity to be responsible and responsive citizens and neighbors to one another, a primary work of the church is to teach what it means to be a neighbor.”

Roger

Seeds of Love

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From Thich Nhat Hanh’s Breathe, You are Alive: “There are seeds buried deep in our consciousness that we do not touch often enough, seeds of love, understanding, compassion, joy, knowing right from wrong, the ability to listen to others, nonviolence, and the willingness to overcome ignorance, aversion, and attachment. Through the practice of mindfulness, we learn to identify these traits in us and nurture them, with the help of teachers and spiritual friends, until they grow into beautiful flowers. When we survey our territory, tory, we also find destructive traits, such as anger, despair, suspicion, cion, pride, and other mental formations that cause us suffering. Because we do not like to look at these negative traits, we do not want to come back to ourselves. But with the aid of the practice of mindful breathing, we learn to take full responsibility for restoring ing our territory and taking good care of it.”

Roger

Theological Imaginations

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From Linda Mercadante’s Belief without Borders: Inside the Minds of the Spiritual but not Religious: “There is much that is theologically pertinent about SBNR [Spiritual But Not Religious] longings. That is where we must start the conversation when we engage this ethos. What can we affirm? How can SBNRs help us see our blind spots? For instance, does their humanizing of God challenge us to rethink the idea of God as unmoveable, wholly other, or utterly transcendent? Should it make us rethink both the Trinity and the incarnation of Jesus Christ not as some explanatory formula but as God’s humble presence among us and invitation to collaborate in healing the world? Does their focus on human growth and inherent “divinity” urge us to remember we are all made in God’s image and created for “theosis” or union with God? Should it make us realize we often take sin too seriously and grace not seriously enough? Should their focus on human self-determination remind us that it is the humility and self-restriction of God which gives us freedom, dignity, and creativity? Does their rejection of original sin require us to restate that God created everything good? But should it also refocus our thoughts about humanity, taking seriously that we have both inherited and contributed to a dysfunctional system? Does their focus on the sacred quality of the natural world encourage us to treat the earth with more reverence and care, especially as God’s creation? Does their hope in endless self-improvement through multiple lifetimes make us reassert that eternal life is not some static place given over to buttressing God’s ego? Could it help us realize, instead, that afterlife is an opportunity for the sanctification and deification of humans that is only possible in full communion with God? Does their rejection of religion as institutional and restrictive make us realize that God is as free to oppose the status quo as to affirm it? Does their longing for a spiritual community—where each can think freely, yet be accepted by others—qualify as a call to make the church a place where doubt, questions, and hopeful visions are welcomed? These and other theological challenges emerge from the SBNR ethos.”

Roger

Many Paths, Many Goals

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From Linda Mercadante’s Belief without Borders: “…we do not need to say that all religions propose the same ends or means. They are not different paths up the same mountain. We must acknowledge that they each make different truth claims. Religious claims, by nature, require a person’s loyalty and commitment. Yet all of them give us ways to recognize and bond with Ultimacy, even if the Ultimate is conceived differently in each tradition. Each provides a shared language and connection with others so that spiritual experience does not remain totally private. Each serves as a guide for others on a similar quest, providing ways to communicate with each other about our deepest needs and experiences. Religions understand that humans are meaning-seeking beings. They show us that we need an organizing center. They help us deal with suffering and evil by setting them within a theological framework. Each religion, in its own way, offers a coherent meaning narrative.”

Roger