Apr 052013

caught-taughtDoes spiritual stuff start with a question or a feeling? You may think it’s a question because you start to sense that something is amiss in your life or you begin to question things that you’ve always thought were true. That seems intellectual. But what provoked the question? What prompted you to consider asking the question?

An experience. A feeling. A nudge.

I’ve come to realize that if spiritual things aren’t experienced first-hand they will probably never be anything more than an intellectual exercise. Yes, we need to be rational and thoughtful in our spirituality and never check our brains at the door in order to engage in religious stuff, but if we’re too intellectual we’ll miss the point. I could debate you for hours about the finer points of theology and in the end neither one of us would be any closer to God. Spiritual things are not irrational, they’re transrational – beyond and above reason.

I think we’ve mistakenly believed that if we could only understand more about Jesus, about God, about the Spirit, if we could only unlock the mystery of what happened at Easter 2000 years ago, that we’d ‘get’ God. What I’ve learned is that the brain is the wrong organ for the job! If your brain can ‘get’ God you don’t have God but something else. God is utter mystery. As soon as you think you’ve got it you’ve proven you’re mistaken.

Spirituality and faith cannot be learned, they have to be experienced. Caught, not taught. Sure, there’s plenty of room for learning and discovering, and exploring with an elder, or mentor, or even a preacher – but at its heart this stuff can’t be taught, only caught. A second-hand experience of God is no experience at all. It’s like falling in love. You can read all the love poems in the world and never have a clue about what “being in love” is really like. It has to be caught, not taught.

 Posted by at 7:52 am
Aug 132012
Inspiring and frustrating, and a heresy! That sums up Day 3. It was predominantly business today. We authorized a comprehensive review of our programs, structures, etc. (which I hope the next GC will have the courage to follow through with), and approved an entirely new Manual (our book of bylaws).
Back to the inspiration: we heard speeches from all 15 of our candidates for Moderator today. There was much wisdom and inspiration in their words and presence. Our task is to discern whose is the right voice and vision for our church today.
Now the frustration: I have a low tolerance for having my time wasted. Nitpicking over language, not thoroughly reading the material ahead of time, not being conversant enough with our polity, trying to wordsmith a carefully prepared document because it doesn’t fit your preferences – these things drive me crazy! (I think I’m tired and grumpy)
But that’s not my heresy. Here it comes – stop reading if you don’t want to get angry with me.
[warning: UCCan heresy alert]
I have had it up to here (holds hand at eyebrows) with our utter preoccupation with justice and the environment.
There. I said it.
DON’T GET ME WRONG – I think justice is integral to being Christian! You cannot be a person of faith and not have a heart for justice. I am, and I do.
But if all you ever do is “do” you’ll end up in deep do-do!
When we sing, we sing of justice.
When we pray, we pray for justice.
When we preach, we preach of justice.
When will we sing, pray, and preach about the awesome and transformative Presence that enflames our hearts and confounds our minds and so utterly overwhelms us with holiness and beauty and joy that our knees wobble and our lips quiver and our very being is moved?
IT’S NOT EITHER / OR – it’s both / and.
I think we’ve lost our balance – lost our core – lost our foundation.
We are not the environmental church – we’re the inspired followers of the Way of Jesus who are moved to honour creation.
We shouldn’t just pray for justice – we should pray for openness to God’s holy Presence – which will reorient our lives into radical justice seekers – because we will want what God wants – because God’s way will be our way. Thy will be done…
Look, it’s late and I’m sure I’ve said too much. I probably shouldn’t post this.
But maybe I’m not alone? Yes, I’m certain I’ve heard that somewhere…
 Posted by at 9:55 pm
Aug 122012

I began the day by walking into the plenary room and being overwhelmed by the sense that I needed to pray for the church and the day. Just as I began the Music Team started their gathering music and I was swept away by the tangible sense of the Spirit that was in the place. It was a beautiful moment.

The business of the day was mostly good, although sadly we got bogged down in process a couple of times. We affirmed the additions to our doctrine and we approved our new crest (shown here). The process problems are absolutely mind-numbing. It is staggeringly frustrating when it seems like everyone in the room is in agreement but the ability to clearly and succinctly put that into words that adhere to parliamentary procedures eludes us. Arg!!!

Along the way, however, were lovely times of worship and sharing and rich discussions with new friends. Our sermon tonight had the theme of “My friend is the stranger that I will meet tomorrow.” It was a lovely reflection on compassion. The challenging part was that it was entirely en francais. I figure I got about 75% of it – I did better than I thought I would. Others, however, who had no French at all were entirely excluded. Strange that in the process to be inclusive of some we end up excluding others. Very challenging.

I wonder what tomorrow will bring?

 Posted by at 10:51 pm
Aug 112012

I am a commissioner at our denominational triennial meeting. I will try to blog each night about the day…

GC41 – Day 1

 My day started early today with a couple of meetings prior to the opening ceremony. The meetings were very productive and there was a spirit of anticipation in the air even then. At 4pm we officially began – a gentle, thoughtful, spiritual tone was set. Some speeches,  lots of deserved recognitions and thank-yous, and good introductory chats in our table groups.
We broke for supper in good spirits and then as soon as we got outside the rain began and we all got drenched. Folks took it in good stride. Dinner was animated with lots of energetic conversations.
We returned for opening worship. The music was very good (band, choir, etc!), the liturgy was rich (although a tad too much of our trademark UCCan earnestness at times), we had dancers, we had lovely multilingual prayers, and Mardi did a fine job of preaching in English and French.
Her theme was Micah 6:8 which is our theme all week. Seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God. I enjoyed very much of what she shared but I felt myself start to get antsy after a while.  Something wasn’t sitting right. Eventually I figured out what it was.
It was all about us. WE do the seeking, WE do the loving, and WE are the humble ones. Ok, fair enough,  but then she stopped. What’s special and challenging about the walking humbly part isn’t that it’s oh so hard to be humble ~ it’s the last bit that’s the most important…”with our God!”
Our ability to laugh at ourselves is welcome, but the reason we’re laughing is because we realize that if you’re walking with God humility is just about your only option! “with our God” isn’t a throwaway line at the end it’s the whole point.  It’s what makes the rest possible. WE can’t do any of it without our God!
Once we get that we’ll do a much better job of seeking, loving, and walking!
 Posted by at 9:47 pm
Feb 232012

It seems pretty clear to me now that there are (at least) two different kinds of Christianity that are evident in the protestant world (I can’t speak to Catholic or Eastern Orthodox). The problem I’ve had is trying to find a language that describes them without being too pejorative. For example, a frequent pair of descriptors is “conservative” Christianity and “progressive” Christianity. Progressive as a word feels judgmental to me. And then any word you pick like “incarnational” or “transformational” could arguably be claimed by either camp. The language is a problem because it feels like the divide or chasm between these two main competing visions and understandings of the Christian faith is growing, and it’s awkward to not have a good way to refer to it.

Marcus Borg uses the language of “heaven and hell” or “literal-factual” Christianity as opposed to “historical-metaphorical” Christianity. It’s a helpful, albeit somewhat scholarly, way to avoid saying conservative and progressive. I like what he says about these two camps, but I am left cold by the titles given. So I’m proposing a new set of words. I like the words Destination Christianity and Journey Christianity.

What is your theology primarily concerned with? What’s the most important thing at stake for you?

If you answer anything around your eternal address or being saved from damnation then you’re a Destination Christian.

If you answer anything around your personal spirituality and ethics then you’re a Journey Christian.

Destination Christians are primarily concerned with Heaven, and how to live today in order to avoid being sent to Hell on judgment day (when they die).

Journey Christians are primarily concerned with the here and now, and they figure eternity or heaven (being enfolded in the love of God) starts now, not when you die.

(In case you hadn’t figured it out, I’m a Journey Christian)

They’re not perfect words, but they’re working for me lately. I don’t know, maybe they’re still pejorative. Maybe my quick characterizations are one-dimensional and unfair. Neither side is completely wrong or completely right. Destination Christians are obviously also plugged into their journey, and Journey Christians are obviously on a journey in a certain direction. It’s a matter of emphasis. And more than that, it becomes the lens through which you read and interpret scripture and the spiritual life.

One difference this language makes is providing an opportunity to disagree about the other’s emphasis without  having to say that the other is out and out wrong.

Or maybe the chasm is beyond bridging and we really are talking about two different religions based on the same set of writings and initial history…