Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Invisible Realities

"Our worship is often centered on the expectation that our words will change things. Our liturgies remind us of invisible realities that may not be clear in our ordinary lives but become apparent when we gather together." Carol Howard Merritt, Reframing Hope

These are beautiful words about the power of the language we use in worship. To be reminded of those invisible realities of grace, mercy, compassion, etc. each week is powerful.

I wonder why some of those invisible realities are only made apparent when we gather together.
I wonder why we walk out the door, get into a conversation about where to have lunch, and quickly forget about all that was present in the liturgy.
I wonder why our refrigerators aren't more full of bulletin clippings
I wonder how much more extra-ordinary our lives would be if we made those invisible realities more front and center in our minds each day.

Finally, I wonder if anybody even notices the extra-ordinary language of liturgy.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Thoughts on Rob Bell

It's been at least two weeks since I went to hear Rob Bell speak at Belmont, but I just finished his book, Love Wins, last week, so his words are still rattling around in my brain. Here are some thoughts from the night I heard him speak:

Kung Fu Commentary: While talking about the discussions that often ensue among pastors and in some Sunday school classes, Rob used the term "Kung Fu Commentary." I sometimes catch myself in the midst of an explanation realizing that I've dissected somebody's question in a hundred different ways, and then I wonder if I've been helpful at all. I also wonder if so many sermons in mainline churches sound like Kung Fu Commentary? I'd also like to see a move with that title.

"For it to be real, you have to own it. For it to be authentic, you may have to wrestle with it." While I don't remember what "it" Rob was talking about, I like these words. There are plenty of platitudes that we "Christian" folks like to throw around, but I wonder how many of us actually take the time to wrestle with our theological platitudes so that they become authentic to who we are and how we see the world.

"The thoughts come in a certain rhythm." When asked about the format of his books, particularly all the white space, Rob said that he formats the book to match the rhythm that his thoughts take. It makes me wonder about how I write. Instead of simply hitting the space bar twice after each thought, maybe I ought to be hitting the hard return.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Evolution instead of a flood

This afternoon I joined a group of Harpeth Youth for coffee and muffins.

As a side note, while we were there, Brad Paisley walked in. His producer, Frank Rogers, is a church member, so as they were leaving I made sure to get his attention. One of the girls with me went ahead and greeted Brad as well. Good times.

The topic of conversation for today's coffee meeting was the authority of Scripture, not that the youth would have said that. "We talked about whether the Bible is true" is probably the report they gave their parents. As were were talking about how we understand Scripture and how we seek to interpret it for our lives today, the topic of evolution came up, as it inevitably does when I have this conversation with youth. In the midst of that conversation, Cayla Jones, a sophomore, said something like, "I see evolution as God's way of changing everything instead of using the flood to wipe everything out and start over." Now, I imagine somebody has made similar theological statements, but I thought that was a pretty cool idea, that God, following the flood, would find another way to bring about change in the world. There's no doubt that humanity continues to find ways to mess up God's plan, but maybe nature is right on track. In any case, I wanted to give Cayla props for offering a great idea and making me see things in a new way.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Nice Weather and Summer Memories

Yesterday evening I was driving home from work with the windows down, and I got a whiff of diesel fumes. I know that for most people that wouldn't be such an enjoyable experience, but it immediately took my mind to the summers of 1997 and 1998 when I stood around buses and trucks while marching with The Cavaliers Drum and Bugle Corps. I'm sure fellow drum corps folks will attest to the powerful ability of diesel fumes to transport them to some random parking lot in Anywhere, USA.

For the sake of this post, though, I want to reflect on the thoughts that quickly followed my nostalgia for the wonderful world of drum corps. I remember sitting in some high school gym on a rainy day near the end of pre-tour rehearsals and somehow "realizing" that I was about to be a part of that 49th iteration of The Cavaliers Drum and Bugle Corps. At that moment I was mindful of the thousands of young men who had gone before me, and was full of excitement to join the stream. I had the privilege of being a part of that particular present. As we marched around that summer, the performances of Cavaliers past set the foundation, and yet they had no bearing on how we 128 young men would come together in those summer months.

For a variety of reasons, those two summers with The Cavaliers reflected very purposeful times in my life. The particular present I was called to embody was clearly set forth by the routines, goals, and rituals of the organization of which I was a part. I awoke each day knowing what I was there to do.

It isn't always so clear in the "real world," though, is it? We find ourselves pulled in so many different directions. Mindfulness of the presence gives way to analyzing the past and making plans for the future. We are at once a part of so many organizations or groups of people who vie for our attention and focus.

You will never hear me say that drum corps was "easy," but I do think there was a simplicity to that life that adds to the nostalgia. I imagine we all have our days when moving to a monastery or cloister sounds quite nice. I wonder, though, if we might find ways to simplify, even in the midst of our daily lives. I wonder if we might take opportunities each and every day to pay attention to the particular present to which we have been called.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Much to think about lately

How is it possible that I haven't published a blog post since November of 2010? I apologize to anybody who's still keeping an eye on this thing. I've had a number of opportunities lately to hear great speakers or read great stuff, so for the next few days my goal is to share some reflections.

This was an event sponsored by the College and Young Adult Ministries Unit of my presbytery. We invited author Carol Howard Merritt to come and speak about her books Tribal Church and Reframing Hope in which she addresses the issues surrounding young adults and their participation in churches in the early part of this century. While I haven't read Reframing Hope yet, I thoroughly enjoyed Tribal Church and every young adult I speak to who reads it says that it's "spot on" in describing their experience of the church. While I'm not going to summarize the book here, I do want to share a thought she offered during her time at YCHRCH that was particularly meaningful, in my opinion.

During a discussion of social media, Carol took issue with the prevailing idea that those who blog, twitter, or use facebook are simply narcissistic fame-seekers. Instead, she talked about how she used to join her Mother and Aunt on the back porch to help in the preparation of fresh vegetables for cooking. Actually, as I've thought about this, I may have translated her words into my own memories of sitting on the back porch of my grandparents' house with my own Mom and Grandma. Anyway, she recalled the stories that her Mom and Aunt would tell about their lives, and how great that was for a child to hear. Then, as time marched on and air conditioning became more prevalent, as well as cable television, the chores moved indoors in front of a television. At that point, her Mom and Aunt let the professionals of TV tell the stories. As Carol watches her nieces and nephews now, they sit around together with laptops and smartphones, and, as she posits, they seek to reclaim the role of story-teller. I think the idea of blogs, twitter feeds, and facebook status updates as taking back the story from the professional media is quite wonderful. Instead of lecturing the youth and young adults of our churches about the harmful effects of all that faceless social media, maybe we could be inviting them to share more and to help us reclaim the story of our communities. Maybe the cyber-voices of young people with their consistent insistence on narratives of hope, acceptance, love, and compassion are re-shaping the world around us. Maybe our church websites could be less full of calendars and staff directories and instead contain more story-telling by saints of all ages.

In the days to come, thoughts and reflections on what I heard from Rob Bell at Belmont University this past week.