Feed the Hungry, God Directly. or Feed the Hungry God directly?

 

Non-duality Marshall

My life as a Christian pastor has convinced me that most religious people hunger for first-hand experience of the Divine. They are not very interested in religion with its doctrines, rituals, commandments and bureaucracies. They will not settle for church programs, self-help workshops or spiritual novelties. They do not need more spiritual books on their bookshelves or more spiritual insights in their minds. They may put up with organized religion and spiritual teachers, but only if they might lead to a genuine spiritual encounter.

Davis, Marshall. Experiencing God Directly: The Way of Christian Nonduality (Kindle Locations 53-57). Marshall Davis. Kindle Edition.

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“I am struck by how sharing our weakness and difficulties is more nourishing to others than sharing our qualities and successes.”

― Jean Vanier, Community And Growth

An inalienable right to a good time!

gratitude-and-entitlement

We were not put here to have a good time and that’s what throws most of us, that sense that we all have an inalienable right to a good time.

”A Conversation with the Real Woody Allen” Rolling Stone, 1976

Surviving the Holidays!

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Sometimes I think that the only thing worse than being an orphan is having a family! An orphan thinks, “If I only had a family.”  The rest of us know it is more complicated, especially at holidays.  So Happy Thanksgiving, beloved!

I came across Ed Friedman’s remarks on living with teenagers in my files and this is applicable  for all relationships on this first Thanksgiving since the elections.

Edwin Friedman on Teens

helicopter-parents

1. “How are you?”

Stop asking the kid anything about themselves. That shows you are thinking about them. Only give answers up to the limit of their questions and show no more interest or so. It may take six months of non-pursuit for them to turn. [Ed also said that if you stopped thinking about someone they would know it.]

Thinking egg broken

2. Don’t make rules about things you can’t enforce.

helicopter-parents-4

3. Don’t let them be intrusive into your space.

“Get out of the way to let them grow. Don’t let their growth overgrow you. Define yourself constantly. Don’t focus on the kid. Don’t focus on the congregation. They need you more than you need them. Put the responsibility of the relationship on them rather than on us. Consistency is only possible when we focus on ourselves.”

JWS

Shift of Culture

“Just what is it you are trying to do here?” A good question, I get it in some variety regularly. What would this shift produce? What would we look like if our culture shifted?
1. The first and most importantly, each person takes maximum responsibility for his or her own soul.
2. The clergy and congregation understand that the clergy are not the paid Christians to go and do the ministry in the name of this community.

What are the consequences of these two shifts? Paradoxically the church would look like is goes now and at the same time be radically different in function, For one thing there would be fewer programs! Hearing this many will wonder if we are too lazy to do our jobs? I will confess that we do many things because they have been done that way in the past. I remember at least five years ago the staff here worked hard, came up with ideas (good ones), crafted programs, arranged dinner and provided offering so that everyone of every age group had a place to go and something to do when they got there.

After Labor Day we launched our creation and in only a matter of weeks we were down to a handful of souls. Guilt and shame rose up among us at staff meeting like a bad odor from the cellar. Finally, we did a non-scientific survey and what we overwhelmingly learned was that people were tired and children needed to be home. We pulled the plug. My colleagues (you know the professional Christians) and I felt guilty but we dealt with it privately. We have had no sustained education on Wednesday evening since and largely no one ever mentions it to me.

This is hard. The “professional Christians” – hereafter to known as PC (layers of irony, that) work hard producing programs, classes and groups. Do not misunderstand me – formation is essential. However, formation must be initiated by the laity. When the laity discerns the slow leak in their souls and wants to do something about it, we will not have offer programs, will people to come and nurse your resentment when they do not.

background checks

As hard as it is, the PC’s must lay down the professional sole-practitioner persona and become ordinary priests and deacons fulfilling our proper role (that we were ordained to do). Above all those of the white collars must know that, contrary to the wisdom of this age, they are not MBA’s in dog collars.

As hard as it is, laity must move beyond a sort of “fashionable ignorance” of the scriptures and the faith. At least in the South, Episcopalians live in a closed loop system of anxious, and reactive fundamentalism. Since many of us are converts, refugees from catastrophic certitude; even exposure to garden variety Christianity produces an allergic reaction. Like all allergies, of course, it is an overreaction and with proper soul work recovery is assured.

The last thing that people need is another thing to do at night. Families need to be together. But what about their souls; isn’t the decline of programs bad? If you are living in 1975 it is bad. When people take responsibly for the feeding and caring of their souls most of the education takes place in home, offices and vehicles.

It happens at 5:00am when a man rises an hour early to drink coffee and read his Bible in the Bible challenge. When he has a question he will call me and I will be my best to get him what he needs. That is very different than chasing him down the street begging him to come to class that addresses nothing he needs for his soul at this point and in this time.

Naturally,  this will not necessarily fill the pews.

WHAT WE DO AFTER WE SAY WE BELIEVE.

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What does the life of a mature Christian look like to an observer? We ask people to grow in Christ. Actually this is exactly what we tell them when they are welcomed as newly baptized Christian, “We receive you into the household of God, Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood.” [BCP 308]   That is lovely, but now what? So the next Sunday what would the newly baptized do? In service of clarity, let’s name our brother Arthur.

The first thing Arthur does the next Sunday is that he rolls out of bed and gets ready for Church. This is the day when the largest number of his new community gathers. They do what Christians have done since that first day of the week, when Mary told Peter the Lord is Risen!

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The Holy Thanksgiving is word, read & expounded and the sacred meal feeds the soul and equips Arthur to be a sign for others of what he received. If indeed he encounters the risen Jesus in the breaking of the bread, it is the single most important act of Arthur’s week.

Fed and equipped, now Arthur sets off into the marketplace on Monday morning. He is not a morning person, so he eats a bagel as he drives. He thinks about a report due that afternoon while listening to talk radio. Arthur arrives at his workplace having left parts of his psyche over half of East Memphis.

Having lost his center, he now is off and running; the day is a blur of emails, phone calls and demanding customers on every side. After a late consultation with his boss about a matter, he is on his way home by half past seven. He rushes to the drug store to pick up a prescription before it closes. By eight o’clock Arthur is home, settled into his chair eating a burger he snagged just past the drug store. He is exhausted, so much so that he does not sleep well.

Tuesday is another day, so what might Arthur do differently this morning? He rises earlier this morning, and while he has to get moving he is not as rushed. On the drive to work, the radio off, he thinks, actually he is praying, but he thinks he’s just thinking. He considers the challenges of the day and where the troubles may rise. Asking God to give him grace for the doing, he arrives at his office with almost all his psyche intact.

mission st clare daily offices

Mission Saint Clare

After greeting his co-workers, he goes into his office, shuts the door and fires up his computer. Getting online he surfs to the Mission of Saint Clare. On this site, the good Franciscans (Episcopal, by the way) make praying Morning and Evening Prayer ridiculously easy. Arthur follows the order for Morning Prayer from the prayer book, and all he need do is find the screen and add prayer. Having now centered in only 7 or so minutes, he is off and running. Tuesday goes better than Monday.

On Wednesday he meets with a few men from Saint John’s who meet weekly for lunch and Bible study. Though he is new to the group they are welcoming and clearly care for each other and there is a sense of trust in the room. He decides he will make this group a regular part of his week.

On Thursday he is out of the office on the road all day but arrives back in Memphis in time to make his appointment with one of the priests in their office. Arthur is not sure exactly what this is about but is interested in learning more. The priest explains that he wanted to sit together and see what questions Arthur had since his baptism. Arthur tells about his week and laughs when he tells how silly he felt at first praying in front of a computer screen. The priest tells him that the ancient practice is called constant prayer and quickly adds that all our thoughts are prayers.

“Well, God must have blushed after that driver cut me off in traffic on the Interstate this afternoon at Senatobia.” “I think we believe that God knows everything,” the priest says with a twinkle in his eye. “We are only fooling ourselves if we think we can somehow protect God from our meltdowns and outbursts. Just experiment by accepting that all your stream of consciousness is prayer. That way we can actually pray constantly.” Arthur is not sure about this but is willing to entertain the notion. He and the priest agree to meet one on one every other week on Thursday afternoon. In fact Arthur finds he is feeling a lot more relaxed on his drive home. The priest warned him that it takes more energy to keep the “rocks in the sack,” than to take them out. Maybe he’s right.

Friday is a catch-up day at work. There is a lot to do but Arthur takes time for the Clares. Even 5 minutes is better than nothing. In the afternoon he receives a call from his confirmation sponsor checking on him and inviting him to join him on Saturday morning to gather food for distribution. Arthur cannot do it but promises to help next time.

Saturday is taken up with errands, chores and preparing for the coming week. Arthur meets some of his buddies to watch the game, and even though they razz him for leaving early on a Saturday night, he goes on home, sober. It is much easier to rise on Sunday if you have no hangover.

Arthur particularly enjoys the music at the 10:30 Eucharist, and when the rector finished the announcements and before the peace, he asks if there is anything else. A man gets up, comes to the front and explains that a woman in the neighborhood near the church has broken her hip and needs a ramp built so she can come home from the hospital in a wheel chair. He needs help and it needs to happen immediately. “If anyone can help, I’ll be down by the pulpit after church,” the man said. While he is not all that handy, Arthur can hammer nails so he walked down, introduced himself and offered to work that afternoon to get the ramp ready for Monday.

When he finds the address and walks up to the house, three men are already there getting things together. Before they began to work, they stop and pray for the woman who lives in the house and that the ramp will not be needed for long. They end by offering this work to the glory of God and his work. By the end of the afternoon, the house has a sturdy ramp and Arthur, three new friends. We followed Arthur through a week of his new life as a Christian. This is of course fiction. That is a shame as I would welcome this man with open arms.

WHAT DO WE LEARN FROM SHADOWING ARTHUR?

SHOWING UP IS ALL THERE IS! Arthur has vowed to take maximum responsibility for his own soul. Everything follows from “showing up.” No one besides Arthur can make this happen. Clergy can will people to show up (making ourselves crazy in the process) but willfulness produces the opposite reaction, since protoplasm is perverse that way.

ANCIENT PRACTICES Early in the Christian experience believers discovered that certain practices nourished their vital union with the Risen Christ. One of the promises Arthur made at his baptism came directly from the practices described in The Acts of the Apostles.

Will you continue in the Apostles teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers? Book of Common Prayer [304]

These practices serve as a check list of sorts. When Christians put a behavior in each of these categories they grow and mature.

READ THE SCRIPTURES DAILY The literature on spiritual growth stresses the essential nature that reading the sacred texts has for maturing faith. At Saint John’s we are embedding scripture in everything we do.

On the parish website http://www.stjohnsmemphis.org, on the Saint John’s Reads page are Bible reading resources.

  • Also on the website in the archive of sermons.
  • The Libravox Project (free app on ITunes) has free audio Bibles.
  •  www.Amazon.com has free texts of Scripture for free download to your iPad or PC.

The important thing is to get some scripture into your inner life. Just a few verses and the Holy Spirit will begin to enlighten your soul.

CONSTANT PRAYER

Saint Paul tells us to 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

While this seems impossible, it is holy multitasking. It is possible to ask a part of our psyche to take up constant prayer to pray while we are working and tending to business.

The Jesus Prayer is one way to enter constant prayer.

  •  Mysteries of Jesus Prayer – Norris J. Chumley (iTunes).
  •  The Pilgrim (classic work on the Jesus Prayer) – unknown.

The Daily Offices of Morning & Evening Prayer from the Book of Common Prayer has nourished Anglicans for centuries.

The Anglican Rosary

Anglican rosary

Anglican Rosary

Praying constantly requires a shift in consciousness. While it is wonderful to have a period of quiet in the morning before the demands of the day grab us, my suggestion is simple and requires a shift in consciousness. When we realize that our stream of consciousness is a conversation with God, then everything changes. As you go along, you will learn to recognize the different textures of thought and from time to time sense the presence of the Triune God.

SPIRITUAL COMMUNITY (INTENTIONAL GROUP) Find a place where you can be yourself and tell your story with the expectation that it will stay in the group. There are several groups at Saint John’s, and they welcome newcomers. If you can’t find one that suits you, then start one! The clergy can help you do that very thing.

ATTEND EUCHARIST WEEKLY Christians are malnourished. It is a common malady. While carefully planned liturgies are always to be the norm, entertainment is not the point on Sunday. None of us are there to passively watch anyway. The folk up front in Third Century street clothes are not performing for our entertainment; they are not the players and we the audience. In fact all of us are the players and God is the audience, as Soren Kierkegaard once said. Liturgy is literally the work (of the) people, and no one can do your work for you. If you are out of town, go to Eucharist. You can almost always find a parish, and they will be glad to see you.

SPIRITUAL MENTOR It is important to have someone trustworthy to share the thoughts of your heart. Begin by reading about this practice. Thomas Merton wrote a wonderful little book called Spiritual Direction and Meditation. That is a good place to start.

The director is one who knows and sympathizes who makes allowances, who understands circumstances, who is not in a hurry, who is patiently and humbling writing for indications of God’s action in the soul… In a word, the director is interested in our very self, in all its uniqueness, its pitiable misery and its breathtaking greatness {27] – Thomas Merton – Spiritual Direction and Meditation

• Choose carefully. The counsel of one who honors confidences and gives kindly and sensible advice is a rare gift. • Call your priest. Even if mentoring is not his/her charism they can point you in the right direction. • They need not be ordained,

 
Christ of the Homeless  - Fritz Eichenberg

Christ of the Homeless – Fritz Eichenberg

SERVE THE POOR

Ministry to those who cannot repay us is good for our souls. It may or may not feel good and even if does that will not last. I assure you of that. We are not going out to fix the poor. That is not to say that they have spiritual and physical needs that need meeting. We are to meet the poor as we would meet Christ, as he told us we could find him there. There are many opportunities in Memphis (and where you live). • Manna House – radical hospitality for the homeless • MIFA – Memphis Inter-Faith • Emmanuel Center • Hospitality Hub Call the office. Deacon Emma will be happy to help you find the ministry suited for you. I believe that getting our hands into the mire is as important for our souls as anything we accomplish for others. Money is needed. Hands are needed also.

Sir Peter Paul Rubens - The Meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek, 1626

Sir Peter Paul Rubens – The Meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek, 1626

TITHE The Tithe (10%) is the Biblical standard for giving. Do you give 10% before or after taxes? That is up to you. Most people cannot give 10% at once so how to get there? The way forward here is to begin to give proportionally. If you are giving to the church already, take the dollar amount you gave last year and turn it into a percentage of your income. Whatever that is, you can move toward a tithe in stages. If you have never given before, decide on the percentage you can give and then move toward the tithe.

It is interesting that our Lord didn’t say, “You can’t serve God and the evil one.” He said, “You cannot serve God and money!” Our Lord knew money was his chief competitor. It is good for our soul to give money a black eye by giving up control of ten percent. It can also do a lot of good.

Bernard preachingSHARE THE GOOD NEWS YOU ARE DISCOVERING There is no necessity for Arthur to set off and assault the unsuspecting passersby in the streets of Memphis with the Gospel. This approach is not generally received as good news.   What will happen is that Arthur will not be able to contain his excitement at seeing his life change for the better. As he feeds his soul, people will notice, and he will share his source of bread with his friends. The Right Reverend John Finney, Suffragan Bishop of Pontefract (retired) in his book, RECOVERING THE PAST: CELTIC AND ROMAN MISSION, warns us to get out of our heads and abandon our conflicts over doctrine. Few outside the church understand the arcane sensibility of doctrinal debate. It is foolish to fight about the hardware of the front door when the house is on fire. Here experience trumps doctrinal “facts”.

“Christians should be more prepared to explain the spiritual life they have already begun to enjoy than to seek to persuade others of doctrinal truth [43]”

GET MOVING It is easier to steer a moving than a stalled car. Walk to edge of the light/understanding you have, trusting that when you reach the edge of the dark there will be more light and further understanding. You will not know this until you move. I know it is true because I experience it almost daily.

John W. Sewell June 26, 2014 – Memphis, Tennessee

 

Trudging Through the Middle

Pie in the Sky - Mark Bryan

Pie in the Sky – Mark Bryan

The journey is easier at the beginning and the end than the middle when we are far from home and home. As I approach old age I find it hard to remember a time when ministry did not inhabit a large space in my inner life. I was baptized at eight scared into the Kingdom at a Baptist revival. But that was only the outer thing, the thing that hooked my fear and plunged me into the fishpond at the White place over fifty years ago. It was at the same farm that as a three year old I sat in great-aunt Myrtie’s lap on the bank of Anderson creek as my parents were baptized down in the pool formed by a gravel bank.

Thought some might doubt it, I remember it clearly. Like a scene from a movie people were standing and sitting by the water. The grass was green in the way it is in the South Titus-Baptized-021before being scorched by the August Sun. Folk went down into the water lost and came up found. I’ve learned since then that found takes a long time. The pilgrimage to God is rarely dramatic it is mostly as an old timer in AA spoke to the wisdom he had gained as he learned “the inevitability of gradualness.”

This was before the Baptist got “baptisteries” those walk-in bathtub artificial kind of “improvements” that keep us from nature and perhaps [they are un-natural which mates poorly with the] super-natural as well. However well intended these innovations, what is gained in convenience is lost in affect. There is something about inconvenience that is comforting in its discomfort. Coming to God is not convenient.

I read once in Anglicans on line that a group of clergy, God help us, were bringing a resolution before the Synod of the Church of England that Easter be fixed on the same Sunday every year. This is about as foolish a proposition as I’ve heard. We will convenience ourselves into nothing at all. C. S. Lewis once said that “the Gospel can be of no concern. The Gospel can be of ultimate concern. The Gospel can never be of moderate concern.” The convenience of moderation has the affect of warm water it is wet but not refreshing.

water We are at the midpoint of Lent.  It is time to prepare for the Paschal Feast as the Book of Common Prayer states in the second proper preface for Lent. Gradualness will give way to the acute phase we call Holy Week followed by the consequences of resurrection.  It happens every year and still I am ill prepared.  But then the middle is the most difficult part of the journey,  is it not, beloved.  JWS

Elk Child Plays in Puddle

Video

A mammal splashing in a pool just because it’s there is universal among those creatures who play.  A little boy or a little elk share something that goes to the very core of life.  It is more than humanity can claim as uniquely ours.  No,  this rises from the heart of the Creator and the mystery of glorious excess.  There is beauty in useless things, unnecessary gestures and splashing in pools of water just because they are there and we are alive today.  It goes beyond language finding it fullest expression in silence and a damp eye. JWS