Leadership

Retreat: Letting the Logos be my Logic and Re-order my Chaos

A Few Days with the Monks of St. Gregory’s Abbey, Three Rivers, Michigan 

When the year tumbles from Epiphany into Lent, my wife reminds me to set up my annual retreat, this year again to St. Gregory’s Abbey, Three Rivers, Michigan.  I returned this weekend to the bishop’s visit and the swirl of an active parish.  We were reminded a couple of times by the Rt. Rev. Whayne Hoagland that we are now the largest congregation in the diocese, which was nice and also a challenge.  I hear that and a list cascades down in my mind of the things we are doing, should be doing, and according to plan will be doing in the next year.  And beside that is a list, no a web of names that spreads out of who and when each step and conversation should be had.  Work.  And like every system that reaches out into the future it quickly becomes a chaos.  A storm cloud and a wind.

Now, wind and rain are good for the farmer and the crop, but the farmer’s anticipation is a work and shelter.  I have been planning, implementing, coping, and planning, implementing and looking ahead for a while out of these last five years of discipleship  and growth into the future with plans and hopes.  I have been implementing past plans and coping with blowback from decisions, some good and some bad, and change and growth and challenges.  But then there is the putting your head down and planning the next while  . . . you get the idea.  It has been a busy and productive time of ministry.

And when the webs and lists become a chaos of storm clouds on the horizon, it is usually time to pull away into the arms of the Lord of my life.  I do this in little daily doses of prayer and meditation, and in regular runs into the wild.  (Road running is prayer, but the wilderness is another thing altogether.)  But the daily doses are not enough, and my wife spots it and reminds me to go away.

Retreat.  To pull away into God’s presence can happen anywhere, of course.  I have camped in the wilds of desert and forests.  I have been alone.  But these days I really find myself held by the community at St. Gregory’s.  The monks and a few visitors, this year a principal of a Canadian Christian school and an aspirant for holy orders from another diocese, and the rhythm of the Hours of the Benedictine Rule.  Rising for prayer at four in the morning keeps my retreat from devolving into vacation.  It also means that I am set day by day, hour by hour, on course for the wandering.

It is time to let the Logos be my logic and order, to reorder my internal world.  It is not so much active, though I have things to do and study, but rather soul massage.  This year I started learning the Hebrew language, again, and I read a novel and studied.  I wrote a letter and set some courses for the Holy Week and Easter celebrations.  I prayed a lot. I ran ten miles or so.

It was quiet.  These hours of rising into activity and thought were balanced by the settling back into the quiet embrace of God.  I know that this type of thing often gets somehow reserved for clergy, and it seems that most lay people do not pull away until life wrecks them.  I think this is a mistake.  Time away with God, daily, weekly, and annually, is part of a natural rhythm of life.  Wise farmers let the fields lie between activities, hay to dry and recovery between crops.  We are no different.

God is our root and source, our life and logic.  We need time to set our roots down deep and to grow them into the soil.  Growth does not happen well in the seasons of growth and change.  It is warped by our plans and implementations.  We can let the logic of our desires and hopes slowly change our patterns of maturation away from God’s good intentions.  It is not that there is necessarily wrong in it, but I have discovered a “not the best” tendency over time that twists me inside a little with too long a season without times to reorder.  If I am to have something to offer, love or wisdom, listening or word, I have to stay set deep into the source of agape and sophia, quiet and voice.

My life is a harvest of wisdom and love, or at least I hope so!  But I am not the source of those things.  As Wisdom’s daughter at Grace often says, “I can’t whoop that up.” I need God, and I need God in doses beyond the minimum effective dose for me.  I need the abundance of God that comes with time.  The I Am of God takes time, and I am not shepherd beyond the wilderness following my father-in-law’s sheep in the quiet wilderness of Sinai.  I have to create and protect the time.

Jesus is the Word in John’s Gospel.  That philosopher-poet who wrote John takes a hymn to Sophia and replaces Holy Wisdom with the word logos which we translate as the word.  This word is only a hint at the multivalent vocabulary of myth and philosophy that lies behind logos for the Greek philosophical tradition.  It was the name used for the force that gave order (logic) to the chaotic swirl of undifferentiated elements of creation in neoplatonism  It is the root of our words for logic and areas of study.  It is word in the Levi-Strauss sense of vocabulary of meaning.  To say that Jesus is logos is very much like saying that Jesus is the Tao.  Jesus is the order of creation.  Jesus is wisdom, if you understand what they meant by Holy Wisdom; he is the wisdom of the world.

Now wisdom is not just a figure to be known, like a mystery or a person you can only meet in one place.   Wisdom in the Hebrew tradition is both a figure like the Holy Spirit, part of God and with God in creation, ordering and creating with God, but she is also the very order of things that can be observed in the dance and order of creation itself.  To say that Jesus is Wisdom is to make some claims about knowing him and the world itself.  This is, as I used to say to the children at St. Michael’s Day School, a very big idea.

The person of Jesus is my logos, my logic, the word that created me and creates me, orders me and gives me life.  But in the midst of my plans and implementations, I tend to get twisted around and start to think (in my own disordered way) that I can speak the word myself.  I have to be reordered.  So I retreat.

I retreated into the order of St. Benedict, into the rhythm of prayer and work, running and learning, wilderness and wild deer, turkey, and foxes.  I retreated to St. Gregory and the arms of God, the whispered words of Psalms and prayers like a father’s tender words sung into my soul for my re-alignment to his order, and the fields within me grew wild and rich again as I got rerooted into my Lord.

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Writing the Rule of Grace

Welcome – Holy Hospitality and Good Coffee

I had one of those seminal moments when I defined something theologically for myself in trying to reach someone else.  Neil Stafford, PsyD., had invited me to speak to his psychology of religion class at Grand Canyon University, our shared alma mater. Neil got two degrees to my one while we were in school together.  One student, a sincere fundamentalist who loved God, was distressed by everything I said and stayed after to talk about faith.  (Or to convince me of my sin, it was hard to tell.)  I walked him out to the front doors of the classroom building, still arguing, and pointed across the campus at a girl walking between buildings and asked, “Do you know her?”

“No.  I have no idea who she is.”

“Is she a child of God?”

“I don’t know.  I don’t know her.”

“Yes, neither do I.  But, is she a child of God?  What do you believe?”

He was stuck, and truthfully so was I.  We had gone round and round about theology and human experience, but this was as close to the core issue as I could get.  Is the total stranger a child of God?  Are they, whoever they are, precious to God?  We say in our theology that they are.  That “while we were still sinners” Jesus died for us.  John 3:16 begins “for God so loved the world.”

This is not meant to be a trick question.  Neil accused me of trying to break the student.  But I really think this is essential to understand Jesus and the God he calls Abba.  God loves his people.  God has saved his people from their sins.  [I am using he for grammatical reasons, but God is no more he than she, though I am following Jesus who called God, Daddy or Father.]  If you are going to follow Jesus and proclaim the Gospel of God, you must begin with “God loves you.”  There is an anthropological statement of faith in that.  “You are precious to God.”  Right now, while still a sinner.

That is not what we often proclaim.  But it is what Jesus proclaimed.  It is vital to understanding the signs of Jesus’ healing miracles:  he healed first then forgave.  The order is important because the Pharisees and others of his day, religious people like us, could not accept that someone who was broken, sick, infirm, or otherwise formed poorly or wrong could be a part of the people of God.  Jesus puts his response in the form of forgiveness.  “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Mark 2.  The scribes, keepers of the law, are offended.  Only God can forgive sins, and God did so through the temple and priests and sacrifices.  But it was God who forgave sins.

The important thing is to say, What sins?  If we were in a certain kind of church I would say, Turn to your neighbor and say, What sins?  And you would.

Is being a paralytic a sin?  It is if your bar for being a part of the family of God, the people of God, is physical perfection.  The blind, the lame, the unclean are not included in the life of a holy God.  This was part of the law, and it was not being applied cruelly, but rather as accepted religious truth.  Only God could make a person right with the community, and some permanent conditions meant that was not ever going to happen.  It was a permanent sin to be born with a missing hand, or blind.  The painful reality of your life was that you were out.  For ever.

So when Jesus says, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”  He was bringing this paralytic, still on the cot, back into the family of God.  This means one of two things: either God as revealed in Jesus doesn’t care about sins or that the religious understanding of the sins was wrong.  I don’t think you can look at the whole ministry and teaching of Jesus and say that he doesn’t care about sin.  He denies divorce for anything except infidelity and remarriage while the spouse is still alive.  He takes commands about murder and adultery and raises the bar to anger and looking with lust.  Jesus clearly takes a moral life seriously, more seriously than the religious of his day.

In our day, how do we understand and apply these teachings and example of Jesus about God?  I think it is important to say that our healing, love, and even profound forgiveness and inclusion has to be as freely offered as Jesus’s offering of forgiveness and healing.  This is how we are to approach the world.  We are to approach the world with open hands, wallets, with generosity and love overflowing.  This inclusion of others into the family of God is essential to following the example of Jesus, ethos of Jesus, the explicit teachings of Jesus.

What then of judgement, morality, and holiness?  Good question.  Once we become disciples, it is just as essential that we take on the yoke of Jesus. We must take on the self-reflection, ethics, and holiness of Jesus.  One of the cornerstone teachings of that moral square is non-judging.  This is requisite to the discipled community.  We must be able to hold ourselves to a high, sometimes impossibly high standard, while not entering into judgement of others.

The early church clearly struggled with this, as Paul’s and Peter’s letters bear out.  If someone doesn’t hold themselves to a high standard the church must respond in order to maintain the integrity of the community.  We have indications of how to respond in Jesus’s teachings as well as the letters.

These become hard issues and difficult conversations within communities that are supposed to be defined by love.  I am not going to pretend to get this all right, but in our Rule of Grace we must try to set some cairns out for the journey.

One.  Everyone is welcome to be a part of the family of God here.

Two.  If you join the family of God, we have to begin to reflect the love of God to others, welcoming with the same forgiveness and grace that we have been welcomed with.  We do not have the option to join and then turn our judgement and harm against others.

Three.  We have to hold each other accountable without devolving into judgement.  Accountability can only be as deep as the relationship.  You cannot effectively hold another follower accountable without relationship.

Four.  Failure is normal.  We are all sinners; it just doesn’t define our relationship with God and should not define our relationship to each other.

Confrontation is bound to happen in any community.  I can bear a lot of witness to this.  But we must continue to hold ourselves and others up as children of God.  When we are still strangers, when we are friends, and when we have to hold each other accountable.

Yes, some will reject that definition of themselves.  Yes, many will reject us, even if we do our best and love them unconditionally, but then our witness is real.  And yes, this will pinch, sometimes within close relationships and horribly as we enter into larger worlds and levels of demands, but we are not first and foremost anything, if we are not first and foremost followers of Jesus, a people of Grace.

All of that to say that everyone deserves a good cup of coffee.

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Writing the Rule of Grace

Welcome, Worship, Study, Serve plus Witness and Stewardship

A Model for the Christian life both individual and communal.

Over the last decade I have struggled with how to teach a model of the Christian life that is useful both for catechesis and for community life.  I have struggled too with a national church church that simply seems to be more interested in being a cultural lobby than being a support for the disciples on the ground of faith.  We produce far better statements on social issues than on theologically meaningful materials for our parishioners.

And yes, I mean parishioners.  We serve a parish, but we are a congregation.  We say almost nothing to the world outside our doors as a church institution, but maybe in an age of personality it is a better witness to be silent and let our character speak for itself.  My fear is that we are ashamed of our character and fear who may speak for our personality.  How is our character shaped as a people of God?  How do we become people of God, and how do we become a people of God?

This frustration really came to a head on a Wednesday night in Phoenix when a leader, vestry member later senior warden, sat in a How to Lead a Prayer class, which I had to fall back on my most basic notes for due to an afternoon that fell apart.  So I used the Lord’s Prayer as a simple model of personal prayer, and then looked at how to lead others for maybe five minutes at the end.  In wrapping up, Christine looked up at me with wet eyes and said, This is the first time in my life that I feel like I actually know what to do when I sit down to pray tonight.  Now I had been her priest for more than a day.  She had grown up in the church, but she was a regular member.  And no one had taught her to pray.  I hadn’t taught her to pray.

I realized something that has become a hall mark of my ministry.  We don’t know what we are doing.  Richard Rohr says the problem with the church is that unconverted people are trying to convert people.  Amen, right?  But it is larger than that.  We are not disciples of Jesus, and we are not teaching other people to be disciples of Jesus.  We are worshippers.  We are people who serve other people.  But we are not disciples.

Or I should say, “were not.”  Over the last six years here at Grace, Traverse City, we have been working out of a model of ministry that took our existing functions as a church and looked at them through the lens of discipleship.  I took the ministries of Grace on Post-It notes on a board and moved them around and around to find a way to tell our story.  Then I took those categories and prayed about a Christian life.  We rolled it out in our children’s program first, then the Vestry adopted this proposed ministry statement.

As Episcopal Christians we
Worship at home daily and together weekly;
Study the Scriptures, our tradition, and what it means to be a disciple today;
Serve our families, our parish, and our world in the name of Christ.

Everything we do is done with an ethic of Welcome
because we are only here by Grace.

Now, almost immediately, I wanted to add that “We Witness to the Gospel of God in Jesus in our lives, with words if necessary, and we Steward this place of resurrection and new life in Christ’s name.”

As I teach what it means to live a Christian life, and I begin to look at a model for teaching churches how to be a blessed community of faith, I have come to see these six categories as encompassing a pretty complete model of the Christian life.  No it doesn’t cover fellowship, but I think if we do these things fellowship will happen.

This is the six things I think every member of the church should be able to explain how they do them in their own life.  It is the model I hold up for myself and our staff.  It is my family’s model, even if we fail at a couple of those things.

I am coming to see that welcome is not enough.  This can be a cover for some other statement, but I think it is imperative that the Christian community go out and seek the lost.  We cannot love our enemies in any real way from over here on my couch.  But it is a creepier mission statement to say “We stalk the lost.”  But it sounds good now that I write it.

What do you think?  Does this model cover the Christian life?  Does it cover your church community’s life?  I can tell you that we are growing and have year over year these last six years, and I don’t think it has all that much to do with me.  The model points to a reality that the church has to come to terms with: we are only as healthy as our community is a community of disciples.  Our faith as a community in only as real as the Gospel lived in our members lives.  Our witness is not made on marches but in the marshes where we live our lives.

I am coming to see more clearly that the national church, if such a thing matters at all, has to look to the pews for its purpose and meaning.  Lobbying can do good things, and it can do them while the church that makes its name matter dies around it.  We have to live a real faith that will change our country and our world.  I know our church is international, but its character here in the United States is really definitive here.  And we need to address our character before we pretend to have a personality that can show itself in the world.

Character is made in the quiet places where we gather to worship, read our Bibles, and serve soup on a cold day.  Character gives up the seat to the poor man and rises on the bus for the woman who just doesn’t want to sit in the back anymore.  Character says I would die for you, even while you kill me.

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Sermons I Don't Get to Preach

Mini-Rant from an otherwise Happy Rector – Religious Services for Sale

So, it was another of those “Would you please do my wedding?” phone calls from total strangers.  We all get them.  Weddings are easier than out-of-the-blue baptism requests, usually from grandparents.  My staff knows how I hate them, and they also know that I will want to talk to them.  It is a sincere request, if misguided.  I am relieved to say that my staff recognizes them as misguided.

The request is usually for religious services.  “We want to get married in a church.”  Which is usually, almost always, followed by a “but we don’t have one of our own.”  There is almost always the “we would definitely come here if we could” which always has a “but . . . ” following it.  Unconnected.  No desire for the lifestyle or the work.  Just a little Jesus icing on our cake, please.

Okay, I get it.  You have some deep desire for something, and this moment in your life is so important that your normally easy to ignore longing has become something of a social need.  You recognize that you should do something holy.  And I am a little gratified that you turned to an actual religion rather than your agnostic uncle or that other group down the road, which I won’t admit that I hold in disdain, but I do.  I am glad that our sanctuary is attractive to you, and that your grandparents or great-grandparents darkened the door once during the Great Depression, or was it the Civil War?

But seriously, sometimes I envy Hare Krishnas.  They are enough of a cultural oddity that I cannot imagine that they get the regular attractive couple walk-throughs.  I can’t imagine one of those perfect glowing couples taking pictures of Ganesha statues and saying “This would be just perfect.”  I mean, I could be wrong, but I am pretty sure most of the couples I talk to on walk-throughs wouldn’t recognize the difference between a lotus-sitting Elephant-faced representation of the Brahmin and the empty cross.

We aren’t actually a faith for most of them; we are a store for religious services.  Those services don’t have any content or context that really matters to the happy couple.  There is generally no more understanding of the sacrament than most college freshmen have of the Tibetan prayer flags they bought at the local patchouli-smelling shop-of-all-faiths to show that they were no longer bound by the church their parents never made them attend in the first place.  (Subtract ten points if bought at Urban Outfitters.)  I am the Mary-is-my-Homegirl t-shirt worn to a family reunion at most weddings.

I hate these requests.  I hate them because they are frequent and fairly consistent, but frustrating because they sometimes hide a real search for something more and maybe even a sincere turn to a real faith.  But not usually.

In Tucson, in a church where I could count 19 crucifixes from my seat on Sunday, in an office surrounded by my collection of empty crosses, a young woman with a wedding binder in her lap after four sessions of pre-marital counseling announced that we wouldn’t be mentioning Jesus at the wedding.  God was okay twice, but many of her friends were not religious and neither was she, and she certainly did not want to offend them.  I thought it was a joke at first.  I was wearing all black except for my bright white collar.  Her wedding was less than two weeks away.  The groom just mouthed, “I’m sorry.”

I really thought that this would be a great story, an anomaly that would serve as this great outlier in a life of ministry.  But it is only the epitome of the religious services shopping that I have struggled with for twenty years.  It gets worse as your sanctuary gets more beautiful.  “This would be so perfect in our pictures.”

I am not a shopkeeper with religious wares to sell.  I am not a witch-doctor.  Our sanctuary is a place of worship of the God revealed in Jesus of Nazareth and known in the Holy Spirit abiding with us.  It is not a third-space for sell.  This isn’t a business; it is a community of faith.  I am a servant of that community.  We follow Jesus, which makes great demands on us about how we live, how we love, and how we do things.  Our services are really for those who are part of that faith community, who are committed to this life of royal priesthood, of discipleship.  They don’t make a lot of sense outside of that community.

My hope is that how we live, love, and do things reflects well the teachings of Jesus and our commitment to him.

If we are a royal priesthood, how should we relate to the the walk-through couples?  What should we offer to them?  Are our sacraments something we offer for sale?  For free?  For anyone? How do we express the free love and grace of God to the world?

I am sure of a few things after the last couple of decades.  Weddings are perhaps the least effective way to get couples into church.  There are a few exceptional couples, but they are usually clear after the first meeting.  Baptisms without formation are a close second in the least effective ways to share the faith.  Funerals work, but often they have a very different feel in terms of the relationship to who we are, although I have spread a little Jesus icing on some funeral cakes, for sure.

I am sure that it could be lucrative for a church to turn itself out like a cheap wedding whore.  I see it sometimes on the front page of church websites, like a Craigslist ad for religious services like dating a faith community.  Is that too strong?

It sells out everything we stand for to offer weddings for sale like that.  It destroys the holy community doing ministry in exchange for the holy clergy doing religious stuff for money, shopkeepers and whoredom.  But I could maybe be persuaded.

I am sure that it is good financially for priests to whore out our services.  Sorry, I mean to sell our sacraments.  No, I mean to share the gospel in these holy-ish moments.  Forget it.  I have done too much of this.  I am the guilty one.  I love weddings and baptisms, and I really love funerals.  I love articulating how God is at work in the lives of people and naming the work of grace in these liturgical moments when communities of otherwise pretty secular families and neighbors actually come together to do something approaching holy.  But I am not doing that for strangers usually.

These weddings are not disciples promising to live out the Gospel and Rule of God in relationship with their spouse.  These baptisms are not honest vows of raising a child within the Gospel and Rule of God, keeping the apostles teaching and fellowship, much less rejecting Satan and evil or respecting the dignity of every human life.

At least at funerals I can do what I really think a royal priesthood does at funerals, tracing out the traces and places of grace and wisdom where God has been at work in this all-too-human life.

So I tell one couple yes, and I spend a lot of time using their wedding preparation as a chance to offer them training in the Gospel and Rule of God, and I tell one couple no because I just don’t think they want more than icing.  But then I am not very good at this priesthood business.

This nails it:  The BAD VICAR. Some of us watch in humored horror, and some of us watch in envy.

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Sermons I Don't Get to Preach

Coffee and Faith – You Just Don’t Care Enough

I am a coffee snob, but I have good reason.  I have been cupping coffee for websites and coffee distributors since high school. It started at a little cafe in Glendale, Arizona, where the owner would cup coffees on Thursday afternoons, usually all from the same region.  Once you can taste the glorious wonders of difference between an Ethiopian Harar and a Yirgacheffe, you are doomed to a life of wondering if this came from a can.

My girlfriend’s dad was offended that I wouldn’t drink his canned coffee, even though he knew that I drank coffee all the time and hung out at coffee shops.  All it took was one french press of a fresh Kenyan coffee, and he was off to the races.  Soon he was buying straight bags from Costa Rica and giving me my own home roasting kit for Christmas.  I started cupping for his local green coffee bean company, then he bought the company, and now years later my dad owns it.  So I have been tasting, describing, and rating coffees for two decades.

When my wife and I got married, she was frustrated that though I owned 18 methods of brewing coffee beans into a cup of coffee, I didn’t have a regular drip machine.  Between that cafe and marriage, I was ordained (as a Baptist minister and later as an Episcopal priest), and spent the same time in churches and dioceses working.  I have been in hundreds of churches over the last twenty years, in addition to growing up in Southern Baptist churches and visiting with friends.

So, this all leads to one overwhelming question:  Why does church coffee suck so much?

Think about it for a moment, especially if you are clergy or a committed church member.  Why would we serve absolute crap in a cup, knowing that it is terrible?  Why would this crap in a can be normal?

I mean, I could point to any number of ways that church communities suck.  There is abuse and hypocrisy, there is bad music and abysmal theology.  I can tolerate all of those.  I am an Episcopalian after all.  But why bad coffee?

Consider the poor visitor, the family member or young date who gets dragged into your church community for the first time.  They are up earlier than normal to go to a strange place full of strange people who are going to notice that they are there.  (We will leave it at that since the range of responses to a visitor ranges from overwhelming joy and neediness to disdain and even fear.  We may hope for a simple friendly greeting, open welcome and offer of help, but   . . . )  They get dressed to be there and put up with a completely foreign experience for most modern people, a community singing and listening to readings, lecture, and prayers, much less communion.  They are in completely foreign territory.  And then they spot the sweet comfort of a cup of coffee, usually left self-service on a folding table, like we are all in AA.  The comfort, the familiarity, the simple hospitality of a cup of coffee dissolves as the smell reaches the nose milliseconds before the flavor invades the tongue.

It is the stench of sloth.  It is the odor of carelessness.  Like the old sock smell of an unclean locker room at a gym.  Like the dirty smell of pee in a unclean truckstop bathroom.  Like the distinctive smell of cat in your crazy aunt’s house.  It tells you that this place does not care for you.  That it is even possibly unsafe.

It says, You are not welcome.

The thing is, we would never make this stuff for ourselves.  We would not boil coffee in a giant old stained percolator and drink it out of a toxic styrofoam cup.  We would not set a coffee service on the counter at a dinner party and tell people to get their own, at least not if we were hosting strangers.

See, that is the thing.  Bad coffee says, This is for us, and we don’t care.  Our architecture often says that in our gathering spaces.  Our bulletins often say that.  Our insider language sometimes says that.  Our prayers may say that too.  But the cup of coffee feels personal, like an slap instead of a handshake.

I walked into a church one time that knew I was coming in the Bay Area and was told no less than four times in the service and on paper and in greeting that I was welcomed.  But the bulletin’s insider language and the lack of invitation to the coffee hour said otherwise.  The rector’s turning aside to talk to someone else without a greeting or smile said otherwise.  But it was the horrid coffee from a giant pot on a little table on the side of the room where I was being ignored at the coffee hour that really conveyed that the Rule of God did not Rule here.  This was their place, and they were fine without me, thank me very much.

I am sure they didn’t notice when I left.

On the other hand, I was greeted at another church in the same town coming in the door early by a warm cup of really good Sumatran coffee, that was a little burnt even for a Sumatran coffee, but was handed to me by a member who showed me around and invited me to leave my cup outside the sanctuary.  I went back frequently to Saint James and later served there.  I would have joined Saint Gregory of Nyssa in San Francisco just for the care of the coffee hour that always appeared like a magic trick at the end of the Eucharist.  They never left any doubt that you were welcomed.

These weren’t cafe coffees.  They were small estate lot coffees brewed by the cup from a V60 pourover.   They weren’t French or Italian.  They were just signs of a welcome that was more than a line in a bulletin and a muttering at the Peace.

Good coffee is normal these days.  When someone is coming over, we prepare.  We makes sure to have good coffee to serve.  Sure there is decaf, and you could get all Anglican and serve tea.  But we show who matters in how we prepare for them.

Jesus is coming again, we proclaim every week in a thousand ways.  We believe he will come in some amazing way, and maybe he will, only the Father knows.  But I would just hate for Jesus to show up and have to search for a toxic cup of sludge on a folding table in the secret coffee hour.

I can only imagine how rough his reaction would be.  Do you remember the cleansing of the temple?  I doubt he would just walk out.

So look, get a Bunn or clean your old one.  Buy decent coffee, at least what you would serve, and prepare for the day of the Lord.

*The image above is from our family photo album of our summer in the United Kingdom found here.

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Writing the Rule of Grace

Rule of Grace – Chapter 2

Our new life begins in baptism, where we are made children of God and heirs of the Rule of our Abba.  This great and holy calling comes with a real danger to see that God’s covenant was with us, but did Jesus not say as the elder repeats week after week in the Eucharist, “This is my blood of the new covenant shed for you and for the crowd for the forgiveness of sins.”  Or did Paul not say, “For while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  Were not all sinners?  Yes, as Paul had just affirmed in his letter to the Romans.  Salvation is not for the few, but for the whole earth.

And this is not dependent on us, for as God says seven times in the covenant with the whole earth after the flood, this covenant is made with all flesh, all creation, but it is dependent on God.

We humans have often become tribal in our survival thinking, our flesh thinking, that we roll back God’s calling and covenant to be about us.  This sin was what brought the temple down and has led to sin time and time again.  Indeed privation of good is how philosophers often describe evil.  When we take God’s covenant and make it personal only we are on the road away from the New Jerusalem and we have tossed Christ’s yoke from our necks.

It often shows up in the simplest of errors, greeting only our fellow Christians, our friends, in the marketplace.  Soon we are protecting ourselves from the very people we are called into new life for!

The followers of Jesus are to be a house of prayer for all the nations.  We are a royal priesthood.  And what does a priesthood do except represent God to the world and present the world to God!

We did not earn our belonging to God.  We came home like the prodigal son; perhaps we expect to become servants again, but to be returned to our true created status seems to good to even dream.  Did we earn it?  No, if anything we have earned our condemnation, if we are to follow Paul’s logic.  But this only makes sense if we understand the whole and holy good love that we have walked away from.

If God is the God of the so much of our theology, the angry score-keeping sacrifice-needing god of the pagan systems of sacrifice that has often replaced YHWH, especially in the deserts, then we would be brave to escape.  We would be heroic to flee from such a god to the worship of self and pleasure.  But oh, this misses the gospel by a mile or more!

We can only be said to have offended God if God is good.  We have to know our true blessing to understand the offense.  We have to return to ourselves to understand how far we have fallen from our true nature.  This is what the “depravity of man” theology can totally miss.  We were not created in sin.  We were created in goodness, in blessedness, in order to be the blessing of God in the world.  If we are to return to ourselves, we must see how we have become a blessing only to our self in our pursuit of pleasure, comfort, personal happiness.  The tragedy is that in being a blessing only to ourselves, we have become a curse to ourselves.

This seems heavy handed in the world of self-worship. But it is simple.  We were created for a purpose, to love God and care for creation including each other.  We were meant to bear the image of a creative Creator in love to others.  When we turn that to our self alone, we are like hunting doges kept in apartments, destructive creatures who are deeply unhappy.  We destroy things seeking the true nature of our purpose.

O, unhappy fate, to be a Vizsla in a city apartment!  We eat couches and chairs, dig up the furniture, and terrorize the cat looking for one moment of deep satisfaction.  We make do with the small walks in the park of worship on Sunday when we are meant to run, to stalk, and pursue through the great hunting lands of Hungary!

Let us admit that a deeper purpose is calling us.  In our pursuit let us turn our search outward to the welcome and service of others.  Let us worship the good God, creator and Abba, YHWH who is always beyond our grasp but who welcomes us home in open arms; and let us study God’s ways in the Scriptures and in our deepest selves, in tradition, the apostle’s teachings and in fellowship.  Let us look outward to our world, that God loves and Christ died for.

In practice, take a person, any person on the street, that you can see, and practice seeing them as God’s child, beloved.  Can you see God’s delight in them?

Begin your day the same way, remembering who you are.  Come to your self daily as a child of God among God’s children.  Sit up straight, breathe deeply, and delight in our Abba who delights in you.  This is the right beginning to set us on the way of salvation.

Do not be discouraged when you realize how far you have wandered from your calling, God is waiting for your return.  The road may be short or long, but God will put a ring on your finger and sandals on your feet.  He will put you again under the mantle of Christ your savior.  Breathe deep and start walking.

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