ON BEING LOST

The path to our destination is not always a straight one. We go down the wrong road, we get lost, we turn back. Maybe it doesn’t matter which road we embark on. Maybe what matters is that we embark.
–Barbara Hall, Northern Exposure, Rosebud, 1993

In the middle of the journey of our life I came to myself within a dark wood where the straight way was lost.
–Dante Alighieri (1265 – 1321), The Divine Comedy

All that is gold does not glitter; not all those that wander are lost.
–J. R. R. Tolkien (1892 – 1973), The Fellowship of the Ring, 1954

We’re not lost. We’re locationally challenged.
–John M. Ford

The only paradise is paradise lost.
–Marcel Proust (1871 – 1922)

If I have lost confidence in myself, I have the universe against me.
–Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 – 1882)

The Boundary

Note – I wrote this while I was Rector of the Chapel of the Cross 1989-2001

Chapel of the Cross Church and Cemetery, Madis...

Chapel of the Cross Church and Cemetery, Madison, Mississippi. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 People often say that the Church is not a club for the righteous but rather a hospital for sinners. I now believe that the metaphor of church as hospital for sinners doesn’t go far enough.  It strikes me that it might be better viewed as hospice and crematorium for sinners. Why such an image of dying and burial?  Following Jesus requires a certain kind of mortality and laying to rest.

 It is no accident that the first of the twelve steps of Alcoholic’s Anonymous is the recognition and embracing of powerlessness. Powerlessness siphons terror from the dark place within us where the wild things pace; when life finally reveals its inevitable mastery of all circumstances and we meet, perhaps for the first time, a boundary, not a border to be crossed, not an obstacle to be overcome but a boundary period. No finesse, grace or power we have honed will change anything. We are speechless for the thing that we have feared has come upon us.

Rabbi Edwin Friedman

At such a moment an inner voice says, “Don’t just stand there do something!”  I think I could move to the left or perhaps I could tunnel under this boundary.  There has to be a way.  I look of doctors, priests, and shamans to fix this so the boundary will go away and I can be in control again.  But there is none to help in time of need.

 I frantically look for what I might do. I inventory the past.  If I had done this differently or gone down that fork in the path rather than the one I chose.  I begin to feel anger that such a thing is true, that I am indeed powerless.  I feel guilt. Even though a part of me knows that no action on my part can change the boundary. But as Elaine Pagels says, “people would rather feel guilty than powerless.” But feeling guilt changes nothing. Nothing changes nothing.

 

Beyond Belief, by Elaine Pagels

Beyond Belief, by Elaine Pagels (Photo credit: Grace Commons)

 We can medicate against such occasions. We can take a pill or drink a drink or work harder and longer so that we need not know the truth of the boundary and choose to feel nothing rather than give in to the terror of powerlessness. But there is not enough to change the simple monolithic fact that we are powerless over the boundary.

Finally out of exhaustion or “fed up ness” (which a teacher of mine said was the greatest motivation for change)[1] we sink down before the unchangeable and concede that we are indeed at the mercy of the boundary of reality.  We are at the terminal phase of our struggle and are now ready to die and be buried.

 Then and only then suddenly the energy is released the energy to transcend the boundary. Like the boundary of addiction true surrender releases energy to accomplish the very thing that will alone can never achieve. The irony is that no matter how many times I experience the gift of surrender the struggle continues for surrender is counter-intuitive. I believe that a Christian community is the place where such paradoxical learning must occur. Let us then come the boundary, hear the voice of the savior and take up our bed and walk.

[1] Edwin Friedman in lecture

 

“Tradition …

Quote

“Tradition teaches that soul lies midway between understanding and unconsciousness, and that its instrument is neither the mind nor the body, but imagination.” ++ “In the fifteenth century, Marsilio Ficino put it as simply as possible. The mind, he said, tends to go off on its own so that it seem to have no relevance to the physical world. At the same time, the materialistic life can be so absorbing that we get caught in it and forget about spirituality. What we need, he said, is soul, in the middle, holding together mind and body, ideas and life, spirituality and the world.”

THE CARE OF THE SOUL, Thomas Moore [pg. xiii,]

Education for Ministry

Video

The uniqueness of Education for Ministry is theological reflection. Theological reflection in the group prepares people to reflect theologically on most anything that happens to them.

This video is from the Diocese of North Carolina. While speaking to a local situation it illustrates the process very well.

Evangelism and Church Working Paper (2000)

Note: I am adding posts of documents I have written or found helpful in my search for a way to communicate the Gospel that makes a difference in people’s lives that is observable in time. I welcome comment. JWS

EFM logo 2

Over the past four years I have mentored an Education for Ministry group.[1]  As an experiment I formed an all men’s group.   There are now thirteen men in all four years studying Old and New Testaments, Church History and Theology.   Relationships have formed and deepened as the groups met weekly for thirty-five weeks per year in three-hour seminars.  I have observed that several of these men have developed into evangelists.  They “rush”, as they call it, people inviting them to church but also into conversation about faith.   Often the invitation comes because people notice how much these guys care about one another and enjoy each other’s company.  The question is asked, “How do you all know each other?”  When the answer comes, “we are in a church group together,” people are intrigued.

 Being in relationship outside the group is powerful but the consistent gathering as community for fellowship, worship, reflection and study has a powerful impact on the maturing of each member.   One of the group in Year One said, “I’ve been in the group six months and already I feel more comfortable suggesting grace before meals and leading it myself.  I would not have done that before.”  The work of evangelism has become a conscious part of these men’s life as they interact with friends and co-workers.  Recently I inquired as to how this had happened.   The consensus was that being together regularly and studying the Christian tradition gave them growing confidence in where they stood and in speaking a good word about the good news of God in Christ.

 Marks of Evangelism:[2]

  •  Evangelism will arise out of the community, which out the message of God’s grace.  “The church does not aim at solving all the world’s problems, it is not the community of those who are perfect. It does need to exist as a community of people who have found a key to a wholeness the world does not have. It lives as a community of people who are a unifying force in the world.”
  •  Evangelism involves proclamation and celebration.  Evangelism means communicating the gospel in act and also in word.  The first task of all the baptized: lay, bishop, deacons and priests is to “re-present” Christ in the world.”

The story is told of the man who wanted to witness by his actions rather than his words to his next-door neighbor.  He did just that and one day the man and his neighbor were talking.  The neighbor said he had observed that there was something in the man’s life that made him happier and healthier than the neighbor and would it be all right if he as him a personal question?  The man was thrilled thinking to himself, “here it comes the pay-off for my witness.”  “Yes,” he said, “ask away.”  “Well, here goes,” said the neighbor.  “Tell me, are you a vegetarian?”  Evangelism requires both act and word!

  •  Evangelism is specific, not general.
 EfM logo 3

“It is impossible either to love or to educate anyone whom one has not taken the trouble to know and understand.”[3]   Evangelism is concretely related to the needs of those to whom it is addressed.  The matrix of evangelism is relationship.  Elton Trueblood once said to me that he believed in what he called the “principle of inequality” – the further in the Gospels one reads the more time Jesus spent with the twelve and less time he spent with the multitude.  The work of evangelism has always been done one at a time.

  Evangelism is oriented toward the kingdom of God.

“Evangelism is oriented not toward the past or toward some golden age of religion that once was. It is oriented toward the future.  It is the encounter with the grace of God NOW that points us to the unfolding lordship of Christ over all of life.  Evangelism is good news, not of the soul retreating from the world, but of the transformation of this world.”[4] Fundamentalism is looking for a past that never existed except in the wishful thinking of those who long for life to be simple without contradiction or mystery.  Such thinking makes those who think differently intolerable.  “Contrary to the dominant asceticism of the past few thousand years, Christianity is a world-loving religion, and not one based on dismissing, fleeing, or distancing itself from the world.   A church which claims to be opposed to the world is fundamentally alienating itself from God’s prodigious creativity at the heart of creation.  Little wonder that many people today are abandoning the church.”[5]

People are interested in knowing that there is a God and that God cares about them.

 “One striking trait, found in a number of different Gospel sources, is that Jesus seizes the initiative in calling people to follow him.  Three clear examples are given by the Marcan tradition: the call of the first four disciples (Peter, Andrew, James, and John) in Mark 1:16-20; the call of Levi the Toll collector in 2:14; and the (unsuccessful) call of the rich man in Mark 1-: 17-22.  In each case, Jesus issues a peremptory call to follow him, a call addressed to people who have not taken the imitative of asking to follow him.”[6]

 Following the spirit of Jesus we invite people not to follow us but to join us in following him.  My suspicion is that we are sitting comfortably (more or less) in our pews waiting for people to come to us when they are waiting for a call that in many cases never comes.

 “Every child, and the child in every one of us, is ready to plead: Tell me a story.  For the role of stories is to explain life, and the good stories, in their very substance and in the structure of their language, become revelation.”  — Andrew M. Greeley

Being and Doing

 The EfM group spends time together in study, fellowship, reflection and worship but they also spend time doing.   Most of the group serves as ushers.   Four of the groups are vergers.  Five are lay Eucharistic ministers.   They also serve on the also unique parish organization the gravediggers guild.

 The Chapel of the Cross has an ongoing churchyard where members can be buried.  Almost a decade ago I began the practice of digging the graves by hand.  This has grown into a powerful “formational tool; no one could hire these men to dig a hole in the ground.  But what they could not be paid to do they choose to give as a gift.  It is a formational tool because it cuts through much of the cultural denial about death.  It is difficult to be in denial about your mortality standing knee deep in someone’s grave.  It is always good when the work of the church points people toward the eternal issues of life and existence.

EfM logo


[1] A theological education for laity administered by the Program of the St. Luke’s Seminary,

Sewanee, Tennessee

[2] Evangelizing Neopagan North American, Alfred C. Krass

[3] Can Christians Be Educated Morton Kelsey, ed. Harold Burgess p. 12

[4] Evangelizing Neopagan North American, Alfred C. Krass

[5]Quantum Theology: Spiritual Implications of the New Physics

By Diarmuid O’Murchu [p. 75]

[6] A Marginal Jew Vol. III: Companions and Competitors    by John P. Meier, p. 50

Soul of the World

The Epistle to Diognetus is an apology for Christianity,  written by an unknown writer to a pagan of high social or political rank.   It probably dates from the 2nd or 3rd century.  In chapters 5 & 6 Christians are described as the soul of the world.

 

mathetes “Christians are not distinguished from the rest of mankind by either country, speech, or customs; the fact is, they nowhere settle in cities of their own; they use no peculiar language; they cultivate no eccentric mode of life.  certainly, this creed of theirs is no discovery due to some fancy or speculation of inquisitive men; nor do they, as some do, champion a doctrine of human origin.  Yet while they dwell in both Greek and non-Greek cities, as each one’s lot was cast, and conform to the customs of the country in dress, food, and mode of life in general, the whole tenor of their way of living stamps it as worthy of admiration and admittedly extraordinary.  They reside in their respective countries, but only as aliens.  They take part in everything as citizens and put up with everything as foreigners.  Every foreign land is their home and every home a foreign land.  The marry like all others and beget children; but they do not expose their offspring.  Their board they spread for all, but not their bed.  They find themselves in the flesh, but do not live according to the flesh. They spend their days on earth, but hold citizenship in heaven. they obey the established laws, but in their private lives they rise about the laws. 

 

ApostolicFathers

 

They love all men, but are persecuted by all. They are unknown, yet are condemned; they are put to death, but it is live that they receive.  They are poor, and enrich many; destitute of everything, they abound in everything.  They are dishonored, and in their dishonor find their glory.  The are calumniated, and are vindicated.  They are reviled, and they bless; they are insulted and render honor.  Doing good, they are penalized as evildoers; when penalized, they rejoice because they are quickened into life.  they Jews make war on them as foreigners; the Greeks persecute them; and those who hate them are at a loss to explain their hatred.

Vasily Perov's painting illustrates clandestin...

Vasily Perov’s painting illustrates clandestine meetings of Christians in pagan Kiev. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In a word: what the soul is in the body, that the Christians are in the world.  The soul is spread through all the members of the body, and the Christians throughout the cities of the world.  The soul dwells in the body, but is not part and parcel of the body; so Christians dwell in the world, but are not part and parcel of the world.  Itself  invisible, the soul is kept shut up in the visible body; so Christians are known as such in the world, but their religion remains invisible.  The flesh, though suffering no wrong from the soul, yet hates and makes war on it, because it is hindered from indulging its passions; so, too, the world, though suffering no wrong from Christians, hates them because they oppose its members; so, too, Christians love those that hate them.  The soul is locked up in the body, yet is the very thing that holds the body together; so, too, Christians are shut up in the world as in a prison, yet it is precisely they that hold the world together. 

 

Immortal, the soul is lodged in mortal tenement; so, too, Christians, though residing as strangers among corruptible things, look forward to the incorruptibility that awaits them in heaven.  The soul, when stinting itself in food and drink, fares the better for it; so, too, Christians, when penalized, show a daily increase in numbers on that account.  Such is the important post to which God has assigned, and they are not at liberty to desert it.”