Monthly Archives: February 2010

Organ Music and White Noise

South WindowEach Sunday service I attend at a beautiful Presbyterian Church nearby ends in a similar way. There is a congregational hymn sung, then the choir gathers at the front and sings the last stanza of that hymn, then the pastor gives the benediction and everyone proceeds down the aisle. But then my favorite thing happens. The organist, Mrs. Reimer, plays some fantastic heaven-inspired piece of music while everyone gets up and starts chatting with neighbors, while deacons and others busy themselves collecting bulletins from the pews, putting away the bells from the bell choir, etc. What I do is I just sit there and listen to the organ music while all this happens. I’m not the only one, but we are by far a minority.  The organ music is almost from another world.  It is beautiful.  As I sit there and listen to this music, watching people do whatever they do, it sometimes almost brings me to tears, not because its sad, but because it seems like a porthole into what is going on in life every day. God’s grace is at work, loudly, beautifully, entrancingly if we pay attention, as our day to day activities keep us busy and occupied– usually distracted from the organ music. The grace almost becomes background as the particulars of the immediate come to the foreground in our lives.  

I am thankful for those moments when the veil is lifted and I seem to see clearly for a moment a reality which day to day gets blurred into the background white noise of life.

Lent: Why Not?

I did not know what Lent was until I was in my teens. The tradition of many protestant churches (often called low churches because of their lack of ‘high church’ practices and rituals) was to intentionally not observe the ‘ritualistic’ practices (like Lent) which could be confused as being part of a works-based salvation. The Catholics and Anglicans do that works-based stuff, we were told, while we just celebrated the resurrection of Jesus. The Catholics had Jesus on the cross– we protestants had the empty cross because Jesus is no longer crucified– he is risen!! (You can see this difference even in what the different churches call the ancient church in Jerusalem where Jesus’ tomb was. The Catholic (western) church calls it the church of the “holy seplechure” (grave) while the eastern church calls it the church of the resurrection. One focuses on the sacrifice, the other on the power of Christs resurrection.

The truth is, both are good. To remember Christ’s suffering and painful death as we go towards easter is good. To remember the final victory and the resurrection power of Christ to redeem is also good.  Both are part of the same story.  And observing ancient practices of the Church like Lent is not necessarily a works-based view of religion (that we get God to like us by doing certain things).  Rather, Lent is a time to refocus through disciplining ourselves through particular spiritual practices. 

So what is Lent? Its purpose is to remind ourselves of Christs suffering, and our own humanity.  Also, it is a way to honor God and remember Christ’s sacrifice for us.   Some people choose to forgo a vice, or something they really enjoy, to help them see how weak they really are. That could be giving up TV, movies, beer, facebook, coffee, soda, fast food, meat, shopping, eating out, or even driving a car. Often people give the money they would have spent on that activity to the poor or church. Some people add something instead of taking something away– like an hour of prayer per day, or extra exercise, or giving more money, or reading a number of pages each day of the Bible or something else productive.

Normally Lent lasts from Ash Wednesday, which is this coming Wednesday, until Easter. Also, as some practice it,  Sundays are mini-celebrations where you don’t have to follow your lenten commitment– its a mini reminder of the celebration to come at Easter.

Does Lent make you more holy? Maybe. It will at least help you develop some discipline and possibly help you focus more on the gracious gift of Jesus Christ as Easter approaches.

Last year I gave up fast food, and that made me realize how much I had become sort of habituated to get a quick bite at Burger King or TB. Now I hardly eat at fast food places at all, mostly due to good habits started during Lent last year. Its a good discipline. We are physical beings, not merely spiritual, and Lent is a time when we can bring our spirit and body together in unity as we challenge ourselves to submit to a lenten commitment. It can bring about more humility, discipline, and a realization of our humanity, as we also focus our minds on the gift of Christ. 

If you’ve never done anything for lent before, you might consider trying it this year, as an act of trying to draw closer to God, and also as an act of solidarity with the hundreds of thousands of Christians who are also observing lent.   When done with the right heart and intent, it is a great way of worshipping with both your body and spirit together. 

IF you want to commit to Lent along with some others of us, you can join our facebook ‘event’ for Lent at: http://www.facebook.com/#!/event.php?eid=307938633987&ref=ts

Here is more on Lent: http://www.churchyear.net/lent.html

On a side note, one of my favorite books is Merold Westphal’s book “Suspicion and Faith: The Religious Uses of Modern Atheism” which is written as a Lenton devotional introducing you to the thought of Marx, Nietzsche and Freud– the three great modern critics of Christian religion.  Westphal, who is a Christian, reflects on their critique of the ways we make God in our own image (idolatry) and uses these insights to bring about penetrating self-analysis and critique. In short, he helps us learn from these Atheists how we might be less hypocritical and more aware of our selves.  Its good stuff if you’re up for the challenge! Here it is:  http://www.amazon.com/Suspicion-Faith-Religious-Modern-Atheism/dp/0823218767

If anyone happens to want to read through this book and talk about it off and on during lent, I’d totally be game.  Andy

Reflections of a gambler

I am not one to be frequenting ‘caSINos’, but it turns out I am a gambler.   The game?  Life. 

Recently I have been trying to think through what is going on in my life of in the  areas of  friendships and work/career decisions and my relationship with the Lord.   Then tonight  something my boyfriend said over sushi at Blue and the scriptures we discussed at Simple Free put it in a new perspective and pierced to the heart of the issue.    (Or maybe I should say, “poked really solidly at the issue,”  because I have a feeling it is just a start at what God wants to teach me).  

Over sushi I realized I was not wanting to think too far down the line about my pursuit of a Registered Dietitian (RD) degree because I don’t want to be disappointed if things don’t work out like I plan.   This is related to why I dislike silent auctions.   I tend to take ownership of the item I bid on, and then experience devastation and loss when it goes to someone else.   My boyfriend then put it in gambling terms pointing out that if I don’t put all my chips in one pot then I won’t have to experience complete devastation and disappointment.   It’s true.   I am the type who wants to put all my chips in one pot.    I’ve lost  so many times, I am now afraid of putting my chips  anywhere, which pretty much guarantees to make me a loser in this game of life.

However,  I believe that there is hope for losers like myself.   I’m not convinced  that wanting to put all my chips in one pot is such a bad thing.   The problem is into what pot I am putting them.  In our discussion at Simple Free we read from Isaiah 55 and I was reminded  that God’s word stands:  

       “As the rain and the snow
       come down from heaven,
       and do not return to it
       without watering the earth
       and making it bud and flourish,
       so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,

         so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
       It will not return to me empty,
       but will accomplish what I desire
       and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”         Isaiah 55:10-11

What he says he will accomplish, he does.   I really like this because I am so often disappointed when people say things and don’t follow through–myself included. 

Also we read in I Corinthians 15.   “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (v. 58).  He promises that  what we do for him is never a waste or pointless.  Which is encouraging because i’m  so often afraid of committing my time and effort to something and not having it work out  (like friendships). 

In a very practical way this plays out in how I take ownership of my decision to pursue RD credentials.    Knowing that no matter what happens I won’t be losing out, I can be responsible and wise in researching the process and my options for continuing education and financial assistance through my current employer.    I have sent in my transcipts and am waiting for a reply regarding what classes I need, but in the meantime I can talk to other RD’s about their experience and hopefully avoid unnecessary stress/problems in the case that I do get accepted to an RD internship. 

In a different way, it plays out very much in my attitude about work/career decisions and in relationships.   Instead of being skeptical that new friendship possibilities will grow into some real, or just acting like I don’t really care about being an RD, it means I can let myself be excited about these possibilities and even daydream about them.  It doesn’t mean that I don’t experience disappointment or hurt when people let me down or the RD thing doesn’t work out.   Somehow, though, it feels different knowing that ultimately my hope is in Christ and his word (that never fails).

As I put all my “chips” in Christ, I need not fear any devastation.    

My prayer for myself and for us all is that  we would commit ourselves fully to working for the Lord in every area of our lives and believe in His Word that He will bring good out of it and be glorified in it. 

Stephanie Thorson

Church History Is Important for Us to Know

Most Christians know more about NFL history, or the history of last years episode of their favorite TV show than they know about Church history.  Its no secret that most people don’t know much about church history. Students at good Christian colleges like Creighton or Bethel where I used to teach in Minnesota do get some basics, like Augustine, Aquinas, and probably some Calvin and Luther, and maybe a few desert fathers or minor theologians along the way. But regardless of denomenation, most people don’t know a lot of church history, and that is not good.  It means we are ignorant of our tradition, which makes us look ignorant to others (and we should look ignorant, because we are). 

Simple Free started a study group at a local hang out on Wednesday nights where we read from a book called “131 Christians Everyone Should Know” We’re up to the 5th week, we do 10 per week, so we’ll be 50 people into it. There are only 2-4 pages on each thinker, and we’ve studied famous thinkers lke Augustine and Aquinas and Luther, and some lesser known like baxter and Chrysostom and Knox. But while we have had to fly through them (10 per week) people have really enjoyed learning more about these key figures in the history of the church. One of our goals at Simple has always been to help people develop an intellectual and cultural and historical understanding of their Christianity, and this study group is helping.

I went to seminary for a while to learn about philosophy of religion and theology. A lot of guys there were studying to be pastors. I remember one of them– who had just gotten out of a class on classic theology– complaining about it: “Why do we have to study all these french and german theologians? Why can’t we just study the Bible?” This student felt that studying about theolgians views was a waste of his time, because what mattered wasn’t theologians views, but what the bible said. That kind of anti-learning viewpoint is really harmful to Christianity, and helps us continue to stupify ourselves at an alarming rate. Its amazing the things people do know, and what they don’t know. They pour time and energy and money even to keeping up on the latest fashion and entertainment news and sports news and car news, but when it comes to understanding their Christian thought more clearly– that is a waste of time.

The Bible doesn’t always explain itself, and while we can figure out a lot on our own with God’s grace, part of God’s grace has been other thoughtful gifted people who have written about how the Bible can make the most sense. To ignore theologians and refuse to learn Church history is to throw away those gracious gifts God gave to us. Many Christians, when it comes to Christian history and theology, are like children with no sense who show open disappointment with gifts from grandma and grandpa– God has given us a rich heritage and history, and yet most Christians treat that knowledge like a rotting fish. God gives them fish– they want chicken. God gives them theology– they want Vogue. God gives them church history– they turn away and turn on ESPN (or futurama reruns)

I am so thankful for the friends who have gotten together these Wednesday nights to pursue understanding Church history. Its an encouragement to find other Christians who want to know about where thoughts came from, how thought changed the world, and how it changed over time. I think there are a lot of good reasons to study Church History, and here are just a few:

SOME BENEFITS OF STUDYING CHURCH HISTORY:
1. Thankful Humility: Learning about those who have gone on before us helps us have a more appropriate attitude of thankfulness and humility in the light of all that has gone on before us.  Thank God for all those who helped work out things in the history of the Church!
2. Theological understanding: Understanding church history helps you understand theology better. The history of the church is in many ways a history of theological discussions and debates.
3. Better Personal Theology: Since church history is about theology, you will hopefully have a more thoughtful coherent understanding of your own theological views, so you don’t have to rely on others and remain basically ignorant yourself.
4. Open-Mindedness: Learning about various views within the history of the church will hopefully help you become more open to disagreement, once you realize that the church has always been full of disagreements. Learning why people you differ with came to their viewpoint will probably help you feel more sympathy for their view, even if you still disagree.
5. Interesting: The less you know, the less you have to work with, but as you learn about different thoughts and viewpoints and debates through the history of the church, you will have more interesting things to think about and mull over. Life itself will probably have more meaning and more richness.
6. Practical Help: Knowing what previous Christians have thought through and struggled with will possibly help give us answers to our issues. It certainly will help us realize that we are not the first to struggle with the things which are often sources of debate and discussion today.

I believe that our study group is helping us in all 6 of these ways. Iron is sharpening iron as we learn more and more together about the greats who have gone before us. Honestly, what we are doing is in fact very little.  Reading 20 pages per week of brief sketches of the lives of Church Greats is hardly a strenous or monumental achievement.  But it is still more than most of us normally do, and that little bit of exercise is better than none at all.  Whatever you can find to look into, I’d encourage you to work this year to learn more about the history of the church.  More Church history, less futurama/espn/survivor/name-you-distraction….  Do what you can wherever you are to learn more and to start groups like this to help others learn more and to become more thoughtful!