Monthly Archives: August 2012

The Grace of God and Fellowship at Catholic Mass in Spanish in Santiago

Being a Protestant at a Catholic service can sometimes feel a little foreign, especially if you are unfamiliar with the liturgy and order of worship, and sometimes even more because you can’t take communion.  I suppose this morning’s service here at our compound in Santiago, Dominican Republic seemed even more foreign because most of it was in Spanish, which I don’t speak. 

But even though I didn’t understand most of the words, I did know the style and form of the liturgy—I knew what a lot of the words would have been in English.  The Apostle’s creed is the Apostles’ creed- regardless of what language it is spoken in. 

In a cross cultural setting like this, you start to realize what parts of the service minister to your heart the most—beyond the intellectual insights that the sermon might have brought.  The two moments of service which needed no interpretation, and which were as powerful in Spanish as they would have been in English, were the passing of the peace and the walking up to the front in communion with everyone else in the church. 

It’s surprising how unnecessary words are to express authentic love to others who don’t speak your language.  When you greet your neighbor and wish them ‘peace’ there is no confusion about what is being said. 

And walking up together to the front together is an act of solidarity—an act of admitting that we are all in need of the work of Christ in our lives.  Like a good Protestant, I didn’t take communion (honoring the Roman Catholic prohibition of non-members to partake) but I did receive a blessing from the priest—Father Bill.  He said, “You be the body and blood of Christ to those you meet in the world this week” It was a powerful blessing for me. 

Fr. Bill did provide a brief English translation of his message for us at one point, pointing out that our relation to God and God’s relation to us is not a legal one, but a matter of covenant.  Its rooted in love and we respond to God’s love to us with reciprocal love to God, and to all of God’s creation.  Its not a legalism, its not a works based response.  It is a response of love. 

So today, in the Dominican Republic, in a church not my own, which spoke a language not my own, I found a blessing from God, and was nearly brought to tears. 

May God have mercy on us all.

Trivial Pursuit: Always Too Late: The Apparent Perpetual Loss of Relevance

In a Liquid Modern world, things are changing so quickly that it begins to be pointless to do analysis because the next point has been made before you get a chance to process– like a classroom filled with talkative people each of whom want to get their point in before the prior person talking stops, so that none of the points can really be thought through.  It is postmodern, in that there is no one center, no one basis to give a cohesive sense of a purpose or direction.  There is no one news source, no one authoritative commentator, no one way of thinking about the issues which gets it all right.

We live in this world financially–  the Federal Reserve doesn’t even know for sure what to do next, we aren’t sure which bank or institution will survive into next year.  People who do have a little money don’t know where to put it, because  its not clear if commodities will go up more, or if stocks will recover, or if the bonds are still a safer haven.  I’m also not sure if JC Pennies will continue, or Hostess Twinkies for that matter (both companies are in dire financial straits).

But as if those insecurities in the face of change weren’t enough, I’m not sure the company who manufactured and services my Blackberry phone will exist in a year.  My friends who were cutting edge with the first I-phone wouldn’t be caught dead with a first generation one now… (I still like to call my blackberry my ‘computer-phone’– much to my wifes chagrin).

In the introduction to The Best American Essay’s 2007, guest editor David Foster Wallace introduces the label “Total Noise,” which he uses to describe the yowling multitude of voices that surround the average American in our technology and media driven society.

“-a rate of consumption which tends to level everything out into an undifferentiated mass of high-quality description and trenchant reflection that becomes both numbing and euphoric, a kind of Total Noise that’s also the sound of our U.S. culture right now, a culture and volume of info and spin and rhetoric and context that I know I’m not alone in finding too much to even absorb, much less try to make sense of or organize into any kind of triage of saliency or value. such basic absorption, organization, and triage used to be what was required of an educated adult, a.k.a. an informed citizen—at least that’s what I got taught. Suffice it here to say that the requirements now seem different.” (xiv)

There are multiple problems with getting knowledge– one has always been trying to get to the truth of the matter– and to get past the spins and biases of various outlets.  But the notion of getting to the real truth can seem almost quaint when we face a different challenge altogether– the challenge of getting too much information.

I have three computers, and still as of yet have not mastered an intelligent way to organize and coallate my various files.  I have some in one place, some in another, and yet others in a third place.  Its sometimes just dumb luck that I happen to be at the right computer when I need a particular file, otherwise I have to wait til I get to school, or get home, or find my laptop, etc.

This computer problem is similar to my magazine article problem– so many good articles, in so many various magazines– to try to slow down enough to keep track of them and use them intelligently would slow me down from finding new ones– just keeping up with the daily deluge of information is difficult. I get news from all kinds of sources.  There is so much information– so much to sort through, make sense of, and so many choices to make as to what to pay attention to…

This last fall I started getting the Wall Street Journal, which has depressing news at times anyway, but it started to make me feel a bit overwhelmed with information– because along with the WSJ I get the New Yorker, Bloombergs Businessweek, Fortune, Kiplingers, National Geographic, Time, Successful Farming (go figure) and about 5 other magazines– this on top of whatever news I happen to find on yahoo and from the radio (primarily NPR).  And I am not a new junkie– I actually don’t spend that much of my day seeking this stuff out– but I am overwhelmed by the knowledge to try to process and coalese into something useful.

Techology is obviously changing so quickly that one can hardly keep up.  And this constant continuous ongoing neverending stream of more images, more knowledge, more youtube videos, more opportunities, more info to sythesize makes the task of synthesizing itself seem quaint.

The constancy in the midst of this is sometime hard to find, and we can begin to feel that the change is our enemy.  Our access to information is nearly total now– we have total access.  We can watch many seasons of our favorite TV shows online for free at will, or watch any movie we want online, or read newpapers from Tehran or Dehli.

But we cannot possibly process and synthesize all of this  information.  We can make the best of it– try to sort through it like getting whatever we can out of a house that is on fire– quickly, and without time to make thoughtful reasoned decisions.  We don’t have much time before we have to leave these thoughts behind so we can try to sort through all the information about to come at us…

Its an ongoing situation– and of course on can stop by just getting off the grid– and in many cases, not knowing the latest news probably won’t hurt you too much.

In general, life is shifting very quickly.  Things are not the same as they were, and they will not be the way they are right now for long.  Of course this has always been an issue throughout history, but certainly not at this rate of speed.

In such a setting, it is easy to feel that whatever one does, one will always be too late, because as soon as you catch what is contemporary, it will become passe.  This in turn can lead you to feel the perpetual triviality of what you are pursuing, and attempting to ‘get right’.  Rather than value knowledge of the past and of tradition, such a culture of change values the ability to forget and move on– to the next new paradigm– which in turn must quickly be forgotten and moved on from…

Still, in the midst of these changes, it seems that some fundamental things do not change.  Humans are still fundamentally in need of some stability, despite all the superficial changes going on around us.  It doesn’t matter how much technology and financial security changes, much of life’s fundamental needs and fundamental truths remain.  It is easy to feel overwhelmed by insecurity, by things we don’t understand or can’t control.  But the age-old truth is still found in basic teachings of Scripture:  “Be still and know that I am God” it says in Scripture.  “In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your ways straight.”

Living in such an age of insecurity, where the past is not so likely to help us exactly know how to determine our future course of action, we are priviledged to be forced to not rely on our own understanding.  We have the choice: to either fret and fear for our future, or to entrust it somehow to God, and to rest in a hope that God will provide.

This was the way of Abraham, not knowing where he was going.  It was the way of Noah, seeing only rising waters as he got on his homemade ark.  It is the way of Moses, leading his people into a promised land which he would not himself encounter.  It is the way of Christ, who laid down his life for us all.  It was the way of the disciples, who devoted themselves in hope to the cause of Christ.

As we face the unkown and the apparently endlessly changing events which make our future unclear and unknown, may we seek to rest in God and trust in God’s providing what we need.

May God have mercy on us all.

Mission Chattanooga: An Anglican Mission in America

Most Americans, when they think of the Anglican church, think of the Church of England, the queen, redcoats, stuffy high church practice and possibly something about a king wanting to get a divorce.   If you are an evangelical, you might think of a few respectable Christians that you know are Anglican, like C.S. Lewis, JI Packer, John Stott, Alisdar McGrath, and N.T. Wright.

Its likely that whatever thoughts you have of Anglicanism don’t include Chattanooga Tennessee, or Rwanda, or coffeehouses.

In May, I got an email from an Anglican Priest in Chattanooga.  He had met me briefly when I gave a talk in 2002 in upstate New York, and he wanted to tell me about their ‘urban abbey’ that they had been forming on the edge of downtown Chattanooga.  I didn’t get back to him right away, but finally did in June, and we went to visit them.  One of the reasons that I did was that I got another random email from another Anglican priest here in Omaha not long after that.  His wife had seen the simple free blog, and thought we should meet, in part because of the book clubs we’d had.  She was right, and now we are good friends with Tony and Heather here in Omaha.   So after this, I decided to talk more to the priest from Chattanooga.

Although they didn’t really know each other, one thing these two priests had in common was that they were part of a fairly young Christian movement in the US.  Anglican Mission in America started just 10 years ago.  A little history is necessary to explain.  We haven’t had churches called “Anglican” churches in the US, because we call them ‘episcopalian’ here in the US.  Episcopalians are Anglicans, they just don’t refer to themself as the ‘Church of England’ for obvious reasons.

Now some episcopalians are more liberal about their view of Scripture and other such things than some episcopalians.  And the conservative ones have been feeling less and less a part of the growingly liberal episcopalian majority.  Various groups have tried to seperate off from the main Episcopalians, calling themselves ‘evangelical episcopalians’ and other such things.  In 2002 a group of these conservative episcopalians had opportunity to move their allegiances from the American episcopal church to be under the Bishop in Rwanda.  The Rwandan Bishop saw the plight of these somewhat homeless American Episcopalians, and he had a much higher view of Scripture.  So the Anglican Mission in America was born.  It is really just a mission of the Anglican Church in the US– under the Bishop of Rwanda.  They plant churches.  One that they planted is in Chattanooga and is called (appropriately): Mission Chattanooga.

The Mission is one block from the old Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel, which has been around forever.  Its an up and coming part of town which was until recently, pretty neglected.  The Mission has a few buildings, including a converted bread factory which serves as a coffehouse during the week, with a thriftstore in it, and a lot of evening shows.  On Sundays, the place gets rearranged, and they have church services– 4 of them.

Church at Mission is a mix of liturgy and evangelical music, with a strong dose of hymns.  They have many fantastic musicians, including the bass player from  the band ‘ludicrus’ and a back-up drummer for Saturday night live.  Every service they break bread and do communion– walking down the aisle to the front.  The early service is mellow, and more contemplative.  The 11 oclock service is the largest, with around 180 people, and the most ‘normal’ praise music (accompanied by a wall of sound from the musicians though).  5:30 is evensong, which is heavier on liturgy, and also probably heavier on rock and roll.  Last, at 9:30, is vespers, which is a smaller service which takes place around a very long table (like the Lord’s supper).

Across the street are more buildings which the Mission uses.   Pastor Chris is an unusual pastor, unfortunately.  I say unfortunately, because I have seldom seen a pastor who is so good at drawing out the gifts of those around him.  He sees his job, as pastor, to help people in the church to come to realize and use the gifts they have.  And he has eyes to see potential.  On Wednesday in one of the buildings across the street we got to see the sermon planning at work.  10 leaders were there with pastor Chris to share ideas on the upcoming passage for two weeks from then, and together they thought through what the message might be for their Church through this passage.  While some pastors are quite territorial and possessive of their pulpit, we saw a collaborative enterprise, and in the end, Pastor Chris only preached 2 of the 4 services, and had some of these other leaders rotate through to preach at the other two services each week.

In our Omaha BookKlub, we have been reading two different books– Desiring the Kingdom, by Jamie Smith, and Boursma’s Heavenly Participation: Weaving the Tapestry.  They each, in their own way, are speaking to something going on right now in Evangelical culture, and I think we see it in Chattanooga.  To put it bluntly, Evangelicals are becoming less gnostic, and more physical.  Gnostic Christianity is concerned primarily if not almost exclusively with knowing rightly– understanding the most correctly, having the most exhaustive knowledge of the Bible, etc.  Knowing is not the problem.  But the problem with gnostic Christianity is that it tends to think you know only by learning intellectually.  But that is not true.  We learn a lot through practice, habituation, repetition, doing things again and again.  This is what liturgical styles of worship do– they help train us towards certain habits and practices which enrich us, not merely intellectually, but in our imagination and heart.  Evangelicals are also becoming more physical in that they are realizing the imoprtance of living out the Gospel (whatever that means).  A book from a few years back called “The Hole in the Gospel” highlighted the problem with churches full of people who had top-shelf Christian knowledge, but very little outlet for using their lives to transform society around them for the better.

Mission Chattanooga is an interesting experiment.  There are 28 staff, most of whom raise their own support, and they are intent on being used of God in that town.  For Celeste and I, we came away from Mission Chattanooga feeling spiritually encouraged and hopeful.

If you want to go check out what is going on there, go see their website:

http://www.missionchattanooga.org/