Advent Devotional – 12/5/15

The Presbyterian Church (USA) has recently added the Confession of Belhar to its Book of Confessions. It came to us from the church in South Africa, written during apartheid. During this advent, we remember that Jesus was born to a family living on the margin of society. This confession was written by people living on the margins of society. It speaks of hope, unity, justice, and reconciliation.

Wonder

Ephesians 4:1-6

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Text from the Belhar Confession:

We share one faith, have one calling, are of one soul and one mind, have one God and Father, are filled with one Spirit, are baptized with one baptism, eat of one bread and drink of one cup, confess one name, are obedient to one Lord, work for one cause, and share one hope.

NOTE: I’m following the Advent devotional booklet published by the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

Advent Devotional – 12/4/15

The Presbyterian Church (USA) has recently added the Confession of Belhar to its Book of Confessions. It came to us from the church in South Africa, written during apartheid. During this advent, we remember that Jesus was born to a family living on the margin of society. This confession was written by people living on the margins of society. It speaks of hope, unity, justice, and reconciliation.

Wonder

John 13:34-35

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Text from the Belhar Confession:

This unity of the people of God must be manifested and be active in a variety of way; in that we love one another.

NOTE: I’m following the Advent devotional booklet published by the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

Spirit of the Living God

I went to a workshop at Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church today, led by Mark Yaconelli. He did a workshop here a couple of years ago and was such a hit we had him come back. His title was Living Without Anxiety in an Anxious World.

First we started out with learning about, and practicing Centering Prayer. He said there was really no way to “do it wrong,” just to let ourselves be open to God’s working in the silence. I learned about Centering Prayer a couple of years ago at a conference on Spiritual Practices, and have kind of adapted it to myself. I usually say the Holy Spirit takes a shower with me in the mornings. As I stand under the running water, I just let my mind go. Often during that time God speaks to me and gives me encouragement and often gives me tasks to do – later when I get out of the shower. After I get out, I usually just wrap up in a towel and sit on the edge of the bed looking out the window into our little patio. We have a wren who has been very busy building a nest and now feeding babies in our garage, so I get to watch her flitting back and forth with the choice bugs for her nestlings. I often take fifteen or twenty minutes just sitting there appreciating God.

After a break, Mark had us each get some Play-Doh, and just play with it, while asking our souls what they needed. I discovered my soul was a terrible punster, because it insisted I realize I needed to be needed while I kneaded the Play-Doh. After I squelched that giggling voice, I found myself shaping a cup and the song Spirit of the Living God began playing in my head. You remember that song, it goes,

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.

Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me,

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.

Then we split up into groups of three or four and talked about what we were feeling while we were playing with the clay, and I told my little group that I kept singing that song over and over to myself while I made my little soul-cup. We talked a little in the big group about what we were feeling, and then Mark had us bring our little soul sculptures and place them around the base of the cross.

Finally, we all joined hands in a circle around the cross and our sculptures, and Mark said, “To close, let’s sing Spirit of the Living God. Can someone start it for us?” Of course, I began singing right away, because after all, the Holy Spirit had been singing it in my ear for the past hour.

I just wish She would give me some warning when She’s going to show up like that. She makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up when She does it!

Down We Go – Living into the Wild Ways of Jesus – Chapter 3

Ever since I first started reading Down We Go by Kathy Escobar I’ve been promising you a discussion of some of the main points of the book. So here we go…

Chapter 3 – There is No “Them or Us”…Only Us

This is the chapter that drove me to explore my new “missional” calling at Interfaith Housing Coalition. Kathy says:

Missional ministry often begins with an us/them mindset that is built upon a foundation of, “We’re going to be good Christians and go help those poor people who are not like us.” I believe this heart to serve comes from a sincere place, but it perpetuates a dangerous divide.

I am reminded of the classic ‘Murder in the Orient Express’ an Agatha Christie, Hercule Poirot thriller where in response to Poirot’s question, Ingrid Bergman says, she left the USA to look after the ‘poor brown babies of India’.

1. When you think of “to,” “for,” or “with” relationships, which type comes more natural to you? – I have always had a revulsion to approaching mission work as if I were the “great, white savior” ministering to the poor, downtrodden unfortunates. So much so that I have, for many years, refused to participate in “mission opportunities” that were hit and miss and designed more as an excuse to travel and visit exotic places than as chances to get to know and work with other people.

2. What scares you about “with” relationships? What inspires you about them? – I can be timid about approaching new people in new situations, so it’s difficult for me to get out of my comfort zone and try to meet folks who are not like me. I’m always afraid of appearing like the “Lady Bountiful,” to people who have less than I do materially. I’m usually inspired by the resilience, and faith of those less fortunate than I am monetarily. They have plummed depths of fortitude unknown to me.

3. Think of some paradoxes in your own life. Write them in your journal “I am __________ and __________.” How easy or hard is this to accept?

  • I am knowledge-wise and relationship-ignorant. – I’m self-aware enough to know that this is so, but I struggle daily to become more relationship wise.
  • I am quick to complete tasks and I dislike correction. – I know I should be more careful about being sure tasks are correct before I declare them finished, but I struggle with this.

4. Do you have more of a tendency to be codependent, independent, or interdependent? Write which one best describes you and why. – I am very independent, and I know I will have a hard time sharing control of meetings with my resident that I am mentoring at Interfaith Housing Coalition. I’ve only had two meetings there, and I know I will have to lean heavily on the techniques I learned in Stephen Minister training, of being non-judgmental, and listening carefully, and fully, before jumping in. I will have to be careful not to be controlling, but to allow the resident to work out their own problems, only offering advise when asked or when absolutely necessary.

Down We Go – Living into the Wild Ways of Jesus – Chapter 2

Ever since I first started reading Down We Go by Kathy Escobar I’ve been promising you a discussion of some of the main points of the book. So here we go…

Chapter 2 – Dreams Are Much Prettier When They Are Just Dreams

In this, the second chapter, Kathy begins to flesh out what the Wild Ways of Jesus actually look like.

1. What scares you abut raw, messy, incarnational relationships? – I pride myself on “having it all together,” and I’m usually frustrated when things go awry. I’m uncomfortable around people with emotional problems, and who may have mental or physical disabilities. I know it shouldn’t be, but it’s hard for me to connect with folks who have that kind of problem. I’m deliberately trying to get outside my own comfort zone and connect with people who don’t have it all together.

2.  How addicted to inspiration are you? What draws you to it? – as a little background, here’s what Kathy has to say about inspiration addition.

Many of us thought that going to “church” was about being inspired. Yes, it’s important to be inspired by G-d. But it is also possible to go only for the feeling of inspiration. My friend Karl calls it “inspiration addiction.” It is the powerful pull toward being entertained and inspired while sitting in our seats. I was definitely an inspiration addict. I remember leaving many a church service energized and filled up, thinking how amazing it was to listen to a powerful song, watch a moving film clip or hear a stirring sermon that made me laugh or cry. The problem is that very few of those inspirational moments translated into change in my real life. It became about getting a fix once a week.

It’s really easy to fall into that trap – to begin to see worship as an end in itself, because it inspires us, or touches us. But it seems to me that we need to be changed by our worship. That it needs to not just inspire us, but also to motivate us to follow Jesus into the nitty gritty of life.

3.  What is your Jesus School right now? What are you learning right now about yourself, G-d, and others at this season in your journey? – I’m learning that my “inspiration addiction” isn’t enough. I’m learning that in order to faithfully follow Jesus I need to do something. I commend to you this sermon from Margaret Aymer Oget. She has a way of reminding me that following Jesus is about action, not feeling good. I’m also learning that the words we use may be as important as the ideas we have, particularly after doing my series during Advent from Words Matter.

4. As you look around, what are you seeing now that you used to not see? – I’m seeing people who I thought were self-centered and basically worthless doing incredible work with folks less fortunate than themselves. I’m seeing new forms of worship and of spiritual discipline that I may have know existed, but didn’t recognize earlier. I’m hearing sexist, ageist, and racial language that I didn’t realize was there. And I’m attempting to point it out and counteract it as and where I can.

5.  Have you ever felt like you were in G-d’s Ghetto? How? – Fortunately, I don’t ever think I’ve felt like I was in G-d’s Ghetto. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know that I was loved by G-d, even if other people didn’t know that. I complain and stew about wanting to do things and not being able to because of circumstances, or because of other people, or for whatever reason, but I’ve never felt like it was because G-d abandoned me.

Spiritual Disciplines

On Saturday, I took a course on Spiritual Disciplines from Tracy Brown. We explored several disciplines and learned a process for developing our own practices to follow.

I yearn for more corporate practice of spiritual disciplines, but I understand there’s not much history for that in the Presbyterian Church. We are often so focused on mission, that we neglect our inner life.

The main thing I learned on Saturday was anything done mindfully and regularly that we do to further our spiritual growth can be a spiritual discipline. So social action can be a spiritual discipline. My coming mission to use my talents with Interfaith Housing Coalition in helping teach budgeting to their clients is a spiritual discipline if I practice it mindfully and regularly.

Yesterday, Blair’s sermon was about our “call.” Again, I heard that any vocation done prayfully and intentionally can be an effective call to discipleship.

Then, this morning, I read this piece on conscious habits as a way of spiritual development.

I figure any time the Holy Spirit hits me over the head with something three times in three days, it’s something I need to learn.

Amen!

My grandmother used to have a million little poems and sayings that she used to underline the lessons she taught us. I have no idea who wrote this little poem, but it was one of her favorites.

Too Tired To Pray

 

She thought, when night had finally ended day,

“Dear Lord, tonight I am too tired to pray,”

And wearily she closed her eyes in sleep,

Slipping far into the shadowed deep.

 

Up in Heaven the dear Lord heard and smiled.

“Today she soothed a little, crying child.

She stopped her work to take old Ella Kloop

A fragrant, warming bowl of her good soup.

Her house was orderly, her garden tended.

Her children fed, their clothes all clean and mended.

Her husband, home from work, found happiness

And quiet peace in her deep gentleness.”

 

The dear Lord smiled again. “Too tired to pray?

Her hands have offered prayers of love all day!”

 

Down We Go – Living into the Wild Ways of Jesus – Chapter 1

Ever since I first started reading Down We Go by Kathy Escobar I’ve been promising you a discussion of some of the main points of the book. So here we go…

Chapter 1 – It Stinks Down Here but I Really Love the Smell

Kathy begins by telling us this book is based on the Beatitudes, and on 12 Step programs.  She says

I love the Beatitudes and I hate the Beatitudes. They are powerful words from a radical man who messed with my life…. Success, war, vengeance, power and strength are the guiding principles of our day. Humility, gentleness, desperation, spiritual poverty, advocating for justice and being persecuted for standing on the side of the oppressed are sure to make us inconvenienced, challenged and humble.

Questions for Reflection:

1.  What does “downward mobility” mean to you?

It means that I have to quit looking for the loveable people around me, and start looking for the unloveable. There are plenty of folks who will love the loveable, but the unloveable need someone to support and help them.

2. Where are you seeing pain right now? Is it in your own life? the lives of others?

Most of the pain I see right now is in the lives of people who are struggling to find employment. These are folks who have been upwardly mobile all their lives, and maybe, through no fault of their own, find themselves struggling to make it in the world. They may be middle-aged and have lost their job and have run out of unemployment insurance. I see pain in their families when I learn that almost 30% of the children in South Dallas go to bed hungry every evening. I see it when I learn that many of the clients of North Dallas Shared Ministries, used to volunteer there and help others, and now they have to go there to get enough food to feed themselves and their children. I see it in the new graduates from seminaries who search desperately for a church to serve and can’t afford to serve in the churches who desperately need a minister because they have student loans to pay off and families to feed and the churches can’t afford to pay them even the Presbytery minimum.

3. Read the Beatitudes several times. What verses pop out? Consider re-writing them in your own language as a way to connect with some of their power.

Presbyterian Women are studying the Beatitudes this year, and I love “The Aymer Translation” from Margaret Aymer Oget, the author of the study and a friend.

Greatly honored are the destitute in spirit, for of them is the kingdom of heaven

Greatly honored are the humbled, for they will inherit the earth

Greatly honored are those who are famished and parched for justice, for they will be satisfied

Greatly honored are the merciful, for they will receive mercy

Greatly honored are the pure in heart, for they will see G-d

Greatly honored are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of G-d

Greatly honored are those who are persecuted for the sake of justice, for of them is the kingdom of heaven

Greatly honored are you when people revile you and persecute you and say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake

Rejoice and be exceedingly glad for great is your reward in heaven, for so also they persecuted the prophets who were before you

The ones that really “pop out” at me are the ones about the destitute and the hungry (see #2 above), and the ones about justice. We first started the study when the Occupy Movement was coming to national prominence. That movement, at its core and at its purest, is exactly about the destitute and hungry pleading for justice.

4. Reflect on the 12 Steps. How are they similar to the Beatitudes?

The 12 Steps encourage us to take an honest inventory of ourselves. They remind me that I am unable to cope by myself, that I must have the help of other people and the help of G-d. My particular addiction is to food, and I am in the midst of a struggle to keep it from ruling my life – either the eating or the not eating. The problem with being addicted to food is that you can’t say “I’ll never eat again” like you can say “I’ll never drink alcohol again” or “I’ll never smoke another cigarette again.” You always have to keep on eating – the trick is not to OVER-eat. I quit smoking cold turkey, after a 25-year, 2.5 pack a day habit. I tried for months to “cut back”, but the only way I was able to kick the habit was the stop completely. Unfortunately you can’t do that with food. So I struggle daily with my diet.

5. When you hear the call of Jesus to come and follow him, what does that mean to you?

It means I need to leave my comfort zone of interacting with people like me, and to get to know those who are struggling even more than I am. It means being willing to give up some of my personal enjoyment, so I can help folks who can’t help themselves. I have volunteered to be a financial mentor for people who are experiencing the most difficult times of having either lost their homes, or being on the verge of losing their homes. But because I have had periods in my life when my disposable income was severely curtailed, I believe I can help them dig out of the hole they find themselves in.