Monthly Archives: November 2010

Turkey Day vs Thanksgiving; Self vs Others; Jean Paul Sartre vs Marcel

Thanksgiving is, as the name indicates, a day of giving thanks.  It is a day to be thankful for what you have, what youve been given, and for many, its a day of thanks to God.  One doesn’t have to believe in God to celebrate thanksgiving, but thanksgiving in its very nature involves a stance towards someone or something else.  Giving thanks is also a position of appreciative accepting of what you have been given, and realizing that it is given.  In some way thanksgiving involves a stance of humility on the receivers part– one which acknowledges the generosity of the gift. 

Turkey Day is a popular name for thanksgiving.  Its not a bad word, of course.  But it focuses on something other than thanks.  It focuses not on my response to what I have been given, but on what I plan to get.  I like turkey.  I eat turkey on thanksgiving.  I get my turkey on this day so its turkey day, kind of like the day I do laundry is laundry day, and the day I get paid is payday.   Turkeyday is more innocuous–but it also is neutered of the positive stance of Thanksgiving: it doesn’t require any humility, any thanks to God, or any stance of appreciation.  It just indicates what it is that I am anticipating: a full belly of turkey.  This is fine and good, but it does take the attention off of thanks to the other, and focuses it on my full belly.

This is a choice we have as we approach the holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, or even 4th of July.  We can be thankful at thanksgiving, remember the gift of Christ at Christmas, remember the sacrifice of Christ at Easter, remember the sacrifices made for our country at the 4th of July– or we can gorge ourselves with Turkey, look forward to gifts at Christmas, the bunny and chocolate eggs at Easter, and shooting off bottle rockets at the 4th.  We can be selfless or selfish, focused on thanking others or focused on getting ours.  This is a choice we make as we go into each holiday. 

It is easy to get distracted and busy during this time of year– to focus so much on doing stuff to prepare for the holiday that we  lose sight of its purpose.  Advent started Sunday, and yet that is overshadowed for many of us by cyber monday, which is an extended part of our Really important Thanksgiving weekend holiday: Black Friday.  We all consume.  But we become consumeristic when our consuming is what  gives us our purpose and goals.  When consuming becomes the focus instead of giving (thanks) then we have become consumeristic. 

Jean Paul Sartre is famous for thinking of the Other as a threat.  The Other was a threat to my plans and goals because the Other could complicate things, hinder my plans, provide difficulties for my master plan for myself.  Marcel, on the other hand, saw the Other as a gift.  Anyone else is in some sense a gift of God to me.  Marcel tells us to approach the Other– any Other– with expectations of faith that they are a gift.  I so often to not have this stance.  I am so often a Sartrian in this respect.  But when we do take the stance of Marcel and expect the Other as a gift, it transforms our view of the world, and transforms us.  When you look with those eyes of faith, things get much better. 

We do not have power or strength to simply will these changes in our outlook– at least not usually. For me, I have to ask God to transform my heart and give me the strength and vision to be able to see with eyes of faith.  We agree with Augustine: “Lord, help my unbelief” as we want what we don’t yet possess. 

I hope we will spend this month of December with eyes of thanksgiving and of faith: eyes which see what comes to us as a gift, particularly those people God has put in our lives.   Enjoy the turkey and all the great stuff we have to help make us thankful at this time of year!  But make sure to take time to be thankful to God and Others, and to let them know what they mean to you and how they bless you.

May God have mercy on us all…

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Lords Supper — Communion — Communing — Community

There is something important about eating and drinking together.  Its a sign of solidarity, of closeness.  Often you have special meals when you celebrate something– like Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, wedding receptions, or other special holidays or events.   The last supper Jesus had with his disciples was important for many reasons– it was the last time he would eat with them before he was crucified, but it was also an important moment of commemoration and a passing on of a special tradition to encourage them in their faith and solidarity.

Some churches have the priest give you the wine, and you go up front to get it.  Some churches pass out the wine in small cups.  Some leave it up front but you get it yourself.  Simple Free is small enough that we pass the cup from one person to the next.  When the bread is passed, you say “the body of Christ, the bread of heaven” and when you pass the cup you say “the blood of Christ, shed for you”.  When you say this to your brother or sister next to you, you are saying out loud what you believe– it is a testimony to the fact that we believe and have faith that Jesus Christ died for the sins of the world, so that we can be free.  This is not a place where you have to justify your belief– you simply confess and we confess together as we pass the cup from one to another.  Communion is a time where we commune together and reaffirm our faith as a community.  We serve each other, and are served by each other.  We share our faith out loud and this is in itself an encouragement. 

Christ said to “do this in remembrance of me” and we do remember the sacrifice of Christ each week together.

Pursuing the Good or Pursuing the Better

When given the choice between good or better, I think most of us would choose better. I’ve been really stuck on this idea recently as it relates to this life and the one after. Paul was writing to the Corinthians explaining how it was better to stay single and serve the Lord than to get married, which is good, and serve the Lord. In singleness we can set our sights on things eternal and thus serve God to a greater capacity. In married life the spouse has to worry about the other and their earthly needs and throw in kids and that is even more time, energy, and thought spent on things not eternal. Spending that time, energy, and thought on loving, protecting, and providing for your family is a good thing. Paul is just saying it would be better if all that could be spent on and with the Lord.

I have been wrestling with this thought of singleness and marriage. Am I one of the one’s that can’t control his passions and thus needs to get married? If not, I should stay single and serve the Lord wholly. I should want the better. I have this mental acknowledgment that singleness is better but I want to get married and have lots of kids. It seems to come down to am I willing to sacrifice this want to the Lord and take the disappointment of not getting married so that I can experience better. Marriage is good and it is good to pursue good things but I could pursue better.

If I take this to other areas of my life, am I willing to sacrifice goods for the better? Scripture seems to tell us that we can have treasure now or in heaven. If I give up the goods on this earth, I can receive better in heaven. The problem is that eternal goods are invisible and thus uncountable. I can’t really know if it is worth it to actually give up TV to earn something better. I just have to trust God that it is better. I believe when we get to heaven that we will be satisfied with the amount of gifts that we receive because on this earth we decided how much we wanted. Some will have more than others because they sacrificed more thus decided they wanted better. In my short experience thus far I’ve never been dissatisfied with what God has provided and given me whether material or spiritual. How amazing it could be if I could spread the material blessing to others, making myself poor, so that I could gain a much larger and infinite gift from the Lord.

It seems we often have the choice of good or better. It is often a good time to watch a movie or TV with my community. Better yet to get together and play a board game which creates a little more interaction. Even better why don’t we study scripture together. I haven’t chosen wrong in any of these things but it seems that there are better choices available. The alarm going off in my brain shouts about relevance and relating to the culture around me. If I’m pursuing the better and thus growing in the fruit of the Spirit and in virtue, I will be better prepared to love the culture around me.  Serving a meal on a Saturday morning is better than going to see Harry Potter so that I can talk about how Harry is a Christ like figure.  Pursuing the better will require much self sacrifice and thus better equip me to demonstrate that selfless love that Christ first shared with us.

I pray that we can pursue the better. If not the good is good. Let’s just not pursue the bad.

-Peace and Love, Robbie

Engravings, Engagement Rings, and Physical Reminders of Belief

Job 19:23-27:   23 “Oh, that  my words were recorded,
   that they were written on a scroll, 24 that they were inscribed with an iron tool on[a] lead,  or engraved in rock forever!
25 I know that my redeemer[b] lives,    and that in the end he will stand on the earth.[c]
26 And after my skin has been destroyed,    yet[d] in[e]  my flesh I will see God;
27 I myself will see him   with my own eyes—I, and not another.   How my heart yearns within me!

In this passage that we read last week at Church, Job is expressing his faith in God– that God will be faithful to Job, provide for him, and ultimately that Job will live beyond death and be with God.  This hope and belief leads to a different longing– a desire to express this is something concrete, something physical.  He says that he wants to engrave it on something, to write it down.  He wants some sort of physical marker to make it real, to make himself remember, and to testify to the faith that he has in a physical manifestation that others can also see and understand.  

When it comes to commitments and beliefs and moments of monumental importance– we like to have physical engravings, physical markers of those moments, which help mark the importance of the event or belief that took place there.  We have plaques and trophys which are given out to commemorate achievements.  People are given bibles as they finish catechism, we are baptised with water publically so that there is a moment in time which is publically seen by others so that our testimony is made more real and memorable.  We have letter jackets, super bowl rings, or anniversary jewelry to mark occassions of importance in our lives.   We even have funeral stones to mark our lives after we are dead, so that people don’t forget that we were. 

I recently proposed to my girlfriend Celeste and she accepted.  We had a wedding ring being made, but when I proposed, I didn’t have an engagement ring.  But I knew that that would be something we’d need to go get.  As she put it, “its almost absurd to propose without a ring” (to which I responded, “its even more absurd though, for us to be reserving chairs for the wedding without me having proposed”– and she agreed).   We didn’t need a ring because you need an expensive piece of metal with an expensive stone in it– we needed a ring because that is what speaks in our culture of your commitment– of the inner belief and hope that you share.  It makes the parents realize that this is for real– its not just talk.  It makes friends realize that this is really happening.  It even makes it more real to us.  Standing on a hill overlooking the river committing to each other for life is an important moment in time, but it is a moment in time which passes and is quickly surpassed by the next moment in time, etc etc.  A ring commemorates that moment, that commitment, that hope. 

This is what Job was wanting– something concrete and physical to stand as a witness to his unwavering faith that God would ultimately save him from his situation, and from death. 

We as Christians, especially free church Christians, can tend to shy away from physical manifestations of faith– we are nervous that the spiritual reality will be supplanted or confused with the physical manifestations of those spiritual realities.  So often our preists don’t wear robes, we don’t focus too much on the bread and wine of communion (except for the spiritual point of it), we don’t practice lent or do much to observe advent, we don’t have pennance or physical confession to a priest or others usually, and for some whether or not you are baptised is not really important– because its the spiritual reality that really matters.  And while the spiritual reality is what really matters (the physical act of baptism means nothing unless you do it intentionally and purposefully, and if a non-believer takes communion, this is not beneficial to them), still, we are physical beings and the physical manifestations of our faith and beliefs and hopes are important. 

Physical reminders of faith need not be worshipped, and they can be very helpful to us, just like an engagement ring.

May God have mercy on us all…

Saints

1Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Hebrews 12:1

Who needs saints?  What are they for?

One sunday I was at a Lutheran church and the pastor mentioned it was the feast of all saints day.  He talked to the kids during the childrens sermon about the importance of saints as role models.   Whenever I think of saints, I start to think of people like my grandma myrtle, who was a woman of prayer, or my aunt ann, who had a heart for sharing her faith and was generous with her time.  But I also think of the statues and icons that Catholic and Orthodox churches (respectively) use.  

Not just anyone gets to be a saint in the Catholic church.  Here are the steps (from ‘how stuff works’ website):

  1. A local bishop investigates the candidate’s life and writings for evidence of heroic virtue. The information uncovered by the bishop is sent to the Vatican.
  2. A panel of theologians and the cardinals of the Congregation for Cause of Saints evaluate the candidate’s life.
  3. If the panel approves, the pope proclaims that the candidate is venerable, which means that the person is a role model of Catholic virtues.
  4. The next step toward sainthood is beatification, which allows a person to be honored by a particular group or region. In order to beatify a candidate, it must be shown that the person is responsible for a posthumous miracle. Martyrs — those who died for their religious cause — can be beatified without evidence of a miracle. On Oct. 20, 2003, Mother Teresa was beatified. She is now known as Blessed Mother Teresa of Kolkata.
  5. In order for the candidate to be considered a saint, there must be proof of a second posthumous miracle. If there is, the person is canonized.

Evangelical low-churches tend to not have saints, or acknowledge saints.  I think this is because of the tendency they saw in the Catholic church for people to almost worship saints.  Another problem was that it seemed silly to pray to saints instead of directly to Jesus.  Their thinking was: “we have direct access to God through Jesus, so why would I go to a saint instead of just right to Jesus?”    Of course, praying to saints is kind of like asking your godly grandma to pray for you- grandma myrtle.  Often when you struggle with something, you ask people who you think have a strong prayer and spiritual life to intercede for you– this is not strange.  Catholics just do that to the saints who have died as well as to godly grandmas. 

I’m not going to start praying to saints.  I do, however, think that its great to learn from the saints.  Thats why we are starting our study group on Augustine’s Confessions next week.  Augustine was a man who tried in vain to find satisfaction in all kinds of different worldviews and theories, philosophies and theologies, until finally he had a revelation experience and became a Christian.  Eventually he was made a bishop (against his will) and he went on to write a lot of important theology helping the early church to sort through difficult debates which were threatening to split the church.   Many consider him a key architect of helping to develop the doctrine of the Trinity, for example.

But what strikes one especially when you read Augustine is all the praying he writes in his confessions, and the strong sense of his sin that he sees and feels.   He realizes powerfully how strong sin is in his own life, and how powerful it can be in ours.  In that sense, he is a saint that its easy to identify with.  He is human, all too human, and yet God used him in powerful ways. 

But in the passage at the beginning of this post, some take the ‘cloud of witnesses’ to be saints looking down from heaven and watching.  I tend to think of it as all the other Christians we are in fellowship with– even the Roman Catholic Catechism says that “The Church, then, is the holy People of God, and her members are called saints.”  Passages like I Cor 6:1 or 16:1 talk about saints, but they mean other Christians, who are living, not dead ‘saints’. 

So I like to remember those who have come before us– and they are part of the Church, no doubt.  They provide models and examples to follow, and have helped lay such a rich foundation for our faith.  But I also don’t forget that we are all called saints and called to be saints, somehow.  That is a challenge. 

May God have mercy on us all…