Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Feast Day of the Annunciation.

Luke has really powerful women stories as well as the cool parables like the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan. I love that the Feast Day of the Annunciation falls smack dab in the middle of Lent. How powerful is the Annunciation's symbolic proclamation of God's love and care for us? For nothing will be impossible with God. (Luke 1:37) Such nothingness may happen inside or outside of our mortal experience. Such boundary-less love may not shatter the profane walls of human pain and evil. Nonetheless - Jesus will be born to a poor virgin girl in Galilee in nine month's time. Resurrection will follow the suffering and death of Good Friday's Cross.

Blessings Along The Way,

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Stand By Me

Sometimes it's enough to remember that we're all connected to one another in a variety of ways. This Ben E. King song apparently brings people together in ways that we otherwise don't connect to one another.

Let's all learn more about Playing for Change. I'll probably share this Video with the High School Youth Group tonight.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Faith - More than Just a Day's Work

I've been receiving the Episcopal Relief and Development Daily Lenten Reflections and reading them as part of my Lenten discipline. You can sign up for receiving the reflections via email here. You can download the whole booklet as a .pdf file here. I find resources like this one to be a simple but regular way to think about my faith and pray each morning.

Today's reflection is based upon Jesus' statement in Luke 18:8
And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Jesus poses this question to his disciples following his commandment for them to pray always and not to loose heart in verse 1.

The author of today's ERD reflection points out that
Faith is a long and sometimes difficult conversation with God. There isn’t anything we can say to God that will break that relationship. Over time, it becomes part of us; we come to understand that human beings have faith the way we have toenails. God just is, in our lives, and we come to know that we do not exist apart from that being, whether we understand it or not.
It's interesting that many people have to "know" about something to believe in it. Answers and logic are more important than questions and doubt. The essence of faith according to the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews is "the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."

I'm one of those people who check each day to see how much money is in my checking account. That practice gives me some reassurances about how much money I have to spend. I don't think that this behavior is necessarily terrible but I'm not sure it's how I should approach my faith. God's love and presence doesn't rise and fall like the funds in a mutual fund, or a 401-K. Faith in the abiding presence of God should provide a sense of unconditional shelter that any secular security cannot offer us. However, we have to check-in with God over time lest we loose our sense of God's abiding care. It's not always clear that God is present but it's in the routine process of seeking clarity overtime where God does manifest God's presence in spiritual ways beyond the limits of uncertainty.

Blessings Along The Way,

Monday, March 9, 2009

Speaking of Faith

I'm an ENFJ. As such, by nature and nurture, I intuitively and emotionally seek out solutions in group settings with other people to solve problems and do what I can to make the world a better place. I know that many people think that the Myers Briggs Personality Type Indicator is subjective and over-used. That perspective may be true but I buy into my type nonetheless.

One of the ways that I seek to reduce stress in my life and in the church is attempt to find practical solutions to real-world and spiritual problems. I was thinking about what is going on in the world this past Saturday morning as I was driving to the grocery store for some milk, muffins, and coffee beans. Solving the world's problems sometimes gets in the way of keeping the refrigerator stocked. I turned on the radio to discover that one of my favorite programs, Speaking of Faith was on the air. Krista Tippett and her producers put together a program entitled Repossessing Virtue.

Their pursuit with this program, series actually is to confront core questions of what matters to us and what sustains us. They contacted a number of experts from a variety of religious, economic, and professional disciplines to collect these persons' perspectives on the present-day economic, moral, and spiritual crises people are confronting. I found one speaker's thoughts particularly compelling. Esther Sternberg, M.D works for the National Institutes of Health and is an expert on subjects including the mind-body connection, 'stress and illness', and spirituality, love, and health. She is also the daughter of a Nazi Concentration Camp survivor.

Dr. Sternberg points out that we are experiencing similiar levels of stress to our reactions to what took place on September 11, 2001. People are tremendously afraid of what the future holds. However, there is an interesting distinction between what is going on today and what took place more than seven years ago. People initially bonded together with one another. Back then, nationalism, pride for country and for the American way of life along with a need to seek security from one another led U.S. citizens to reach out to one another. At least they did so for the first few weeks following the events of 9-11 before striving to find ways to return to "normal" lives. These days, foreclosures, unemployment, and the reality of almost worthless 401-K accounts are causing people to feel high levels of shame, grief, and uncontrollabilty. People are responding by isolating themselves rather than reaching out to one another. Lack of sleep, worrying, and anxiety along with associated feelings of depression and stigma cause people not to cope in groups as they do in times of communal strife but to socially isolate themselves. "Hunkering down" just amplifies the problems. (Sternberg, Dec. 2008).

I invite you to listen to Dr. Sternberg's comments here. One solution she offers is that people can seek solutions by gaining control over aspects of the situation that we can respond to rather than giving up. Seeking help from people that we trust is a good idea along with taking control over parts of our lives that we do have influence over. Altruism and social ties are also great ways to counter stress.
(Sternberg, Dec. 2008)

Where does The Church's role in all of this align with Dr. Sternberg's thoughts. Well, trusting in Christ along with the reassurance that God offers each of us gifts and talents to care for ourselves and our families seems to authentic to Jesus' message. Remembering to Love God, Love Neighbor, as we love ourselves is the central set of Christian commandments. Striving to live and be authentic in all three aspects of this teaching should provide some sense of wellness during times of uncertainity and lonliness.

Friday, March 6, 2009


Unemployment in the United States is at its highest rate since 1983. More than 2 million people have lost their jobs in the last two months.

All told, the number of unemployed people climbed to 12.5 million. In addition, the number of people forced to work part time for "economic reasons" rose by a sharp 787,000 to 8.6 million. That's people who would like to work full time but whose hours were cut back or were unable to find full-time work. (Aversa, 6 Mar, 09, para. #9)

I'm not sure what percentage of professional employees have lost their jobs in the last four months but Kevin Hall (2009) of McClatchy Newspaper writes that 180,000 people in the professional and business services sector have been laid off. I personally know of a few professionals who have lost their jobs in and around New York City. This seems to be an interesting phenomenon because unemployment often spikes in over sectors such as manufacturing and production or "blue collar" sectors more so than in professional or "white collar" sectors. At least, I think that it does. No one is safe these days.

I got laid off from a job when I was 42 years old. I was working as a consultant one day. I was on the street the next. My director walked in, said that the consulting company I was working for had been purchased by another company. The leadership had decided to lay off 20% of the people in the company and I was one of them. They paid me for two weeks and asked me to clear out my desk. They laid off another guy who had just got married the Saturday before the announcement came.

That was a depressing moment in my life. It's not only a matter of wondering how I was going to pay the rent and feed myself. I can't imagine the grief or fear that a "bread-winner" feels when she or he looses the family's source of income. Terrible! We tie up so much into the paychecks we earn. Even more, we place so much credence and "worth" into our jobs. We loose something of ourselves when we become unemployed.

Virginia Bola offers these seven coping mechanisms for people who are out of work. The last one stood out for me in terms of thinking of unemployment from a faith perspective:

Be kind to yourself.Your self-confidence, self-esteem and self-regard have all been hit with a steel boot. Actively look at yourself with the eyes of a concerned friend and give yourself the support, sympathy, and goodwill that you would extend to anyone you love who had suffered the same fate.

Jesus offered compassion to the people around him. Many of them were out of work or underemployed. His gospel was a gospel of hope. Many of his followers continued to suffer persecution after he departed from their midst. I'd like to think that one thing we can learn from them and him is that they sought ways to help one another during their mutual times of crisis. It may be such a time for many of us to swallow our pride, admit our fears, pray for God's assistance - especially for other families we know who are struggling, be gentle to others and to ourselves in this time of need, and seek out grace-filled communities of faith and friendship to find shelter during this economic storm.

May our Church offer peace, wisdom, and love to all who come our way in these uncertain days.

Blessings Along The Way,

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Giving Up - Yes or No.

I was listening to Fresh Air yesterday. Terry Gross was speaking with Bart Ehrman, one of my favorite New Testament scholars. Professor Ehrman and Ms. Gross were conversing about Professor Ehrman's new book, Jesus Interrupted. I have many of his books; so, chances are I'll buy and enjoy this one too.

I didn't find Prof. Ehrman's comments about the gospels particularly controversial or disturbing. I learned in seminary and subsequent studies about the different audiences and reasons for the four synoptic gospels. I was more captivated by his open admission that he is an agnostic. I don't think that agnosticism is some sort of "unforgivable sin." I do think it is somewhat sad that Prof. Ehrman and others like him ultimately say no to their Christian Faith. Professor Ehrman finally said no to Christ because he could not reconcile the reality of suffering with Christianity's proclamation concerning an all powerful and loving God who has humanity's best interests at heart. Ehrman, and others like him, find tradition answers regarding suffering too simplistic.

I comprehend Ehrman's decision to say no to Jesus Christ but I can't say no the same way that he did. Episcopal priests shouldn't be agnostic and consecrate the sacraments at the same time. And yet, I know plenty of clergy and lay persons who experience all sorts of doubt about God, Jesus the Christ, and why there is so much evil and suffering in the world. I know that there are plenty of times I wonder whether or not God exists. Should we therefore "give up" on religion? I don't always "know" that Jesus the Christ's healing power still can redeem people. I wish that God would indeed stop the suffering in Zimbabwe. My current choice is not to say no though. I'd rather grapple with God as we know God through the Christian tradition and Jesus the Christ.

I believe that Church should be the place where people of the Christian faith and "seekers" come and share their questions, sorrows, and joys with one another. I believe that Jesus the Christ and the early Church's apostles encourage Christ's disciples to live into the Gospel, formulate and act upon healthy spiritual disciplines, and act as Christ's agents of mercy, salvation, and Grace in the world. I think that the Internet holds some promise for working out some of this stuff outside of the traditional Church's four walls.

So, I'm back to the blogosphere. I've blogged before at Vocatio. My focal points there varied from vocational questions, my perceptions of Anglican/Episcopal Church issues, and congregational renewal and development. I don't intend to address those issues here. I instead hope to simply raise up questions about faith, not as a means to come up with an absolute set of answers for issues regarding suffering, evil, salvation, and retribution. Rather, I'd like to explore why we continue to believe despite all of these truths. Why do Christians strive in their efforts to continue to love God and their neighbors in a world that persecutes and harms innocent victims and privileges the wealthy more so than the poor.

I invite you to join me in this journey and wonder about the matters of a Christian Quandary with me.

Blessings Along The Way,