Archive for April, 2010

Seeing the Love Feast Anew

Posted in Uncategorized on April 26, 2010 by yhcreligiouslife

Christians regularly met “on a stated day” in the early morning to “address a form of prayer to Christ, as to a divinity” and later in the day would “reassemble, to eat in common a harmless meal”.
—Pliny the Younger

This week, we hold our last chapel service of the 2009-2010 academic year. Traditionally, that service has been a Love Feast. Retaining that tradition, we will gather in the college restaurant on Wednesday at 7pm to share in a Love Feast. Everyone is welcome to this meal of prayer, praise, reflection, and remembrance. Below, I have included an excerpt from The United Methodist Book of Worship detailing the history and elements of the service. If you are interested in attending, please RSVP. We need to know how much food to provide. I look forward to seeing you this week.

I pray you find peace during a busy season!

The Love Feast

The Love Feast, or Agape Meal, is a Christian fellowship meal recalling the meals Jesus shared with disciples during his ministry and expressing the koinonia (community, sharing, fellowship) enjoyed by the family of Christ.

Although its origins in the early church are closely interconnected with the origins of the Lord’s Supper, the two services became quite distinct and should not be confused with each other. While the Lord’s Supper has been practically universal among Christians throughout church history, the Love Feast has appeared only at certain times and among certain denominations.

The modern history of the Love Feast began when Count Zinzendorf and the Moravians in Germany introduced a service of sharing food, prayer, religious conversation, and hymns in 1727. John Wesley first experienced it among the Moravians in Savannah, Georgia, ten years later. His diary notes: “After evening prayer, we joined the Germans in one of their love-feast. It was begun and ended with thanksgivings and prayer, and celebrations in so decent and solemn a manner as a Christian of the apostolic age would have allowed to be worth of Christ.”

It quickly became a feature of the Evangelical Revival and a regular part of Methodist society meetings in Great Britain and throughout the English-speaking world. As Methodist immigrated to North America they made Love Feasts an important part of early American Methodism.

While Love Feasts became less frequent in the years that followed, they continued to be held in some places; and in recent years the Love Feast has been revived. Love Feasts have often been held at Annual Conferences and Charge Conferences, where persons may report on what God has been doing in their lives and on the hope and trust they place in God of the future. . . .

The Love Feast has often been held on occasions when the celebration of the Lord’s Supper would be inappropriate—where there is no one present authorized to administer the Sacrament, when persons of different denominations are present who do not feel free to take Holy Communion together, when there is a desire for a service more informal and spontaneous than the communion ritual, or at a full meal or some other setting to which it would be difficult to adapt the Lord’s Supper.

The Love Feast is most naturally held around a table or with persons seated in a circle; but it is possible to hold it with persons seated in rows. A church sanctuary, fellowship hall, or home is an appropriate location.

One of the advantages of the Love Feast is that any Christian may conduct it. Congregational participation and leadership are usually extensive and important, especially involving children.

Testimonies and praise are the focal point in most Love Feasts. Testimonies may include personal witness to God’s grace or accounts of what God has been doing in the lives of others. Praise may take the forms of hymns, songs, choruses, or spoken exclamations and may vary from the relative formality of an opening and closing hymn to spontaneous calling out of requests and singing as the Spirit moves. Sometimes the leader guides those present alternating spontaneous singing and sharing in free and familiar conversation for as long as the Spirit moves. Wesley counseled that all the above be done decently and in order.

Prayer is vital to a Love Feast. A fixed form of prayer may be used, especially something like the Lord’s Prayer or Be Present at Our Table, Lord, that is familiar to the people. Spontaneous prayer requests and prayers may come from the people.

Scripture is also important. There may be scripture readings, or persons may quote Scripture spontaneously as the Spirit moves. There may be a sermon, an exhortation, or an address, but it should be informal and consist of the leader’s adding personal witness to what spontaneously comes from the congregations.

Most Love Feasts include the sharing of food. It is customary not to use communion bread, wine, or grape juice because to do so might confuse the Love Feast with the Lord’s Supper. The bread may be a loaf of ordinary bread, crackers, rolls, or a sweet bread baked especially for this service. . . . The beverage has usually been water, but other beverages such as lemonade, tea, or coffee have been used. Early Methodists commonly passed a loving cup with two handles form persons to person, but later the water was served in individual glasses. The food is served quietly without interrupting the service.

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Seeing Creation Anew: A Theology of Ecology

Posted in Uncategorized on April 19, 2010 by yhcreligiouslife

Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27)

In Christian theology, we regularly turn to biblical texts as the first stop in the long, creative process of articulating doctrine. Often, we turn and return to particular texts as those particular texts seem a rich resource, abundant in insights, informing divergent yet indispensable theological positions. Many analyses of these texts and the positions they are thought to underscore are ancient, supplying the foundational claims for many central doctrines. Yet, on those occasions when a tangential or new issues arises on which the church has less frequently or never definitively spoken, theologians will, again, turn to these seminal passages, extrapolating a new doctrine from ancient doctrines emergent from these primary interpretations.

The above text from Genesis is just such a text. Poured over and sifted through for the germ of such pivotal and ancient doctrines as the Trinity and the imago dei (i.e., our being created in the image of God), in more recent years theologians have turned to this text as a means to imagine how we might speak to issues of ecology. Frequently at question is how to deal with our being conferred “dominion” over creation.

Does having dominion mean domination? Does having dominion mean humanity is justified in exploiting the environment for whatever (short-term) benefit might be gained? Unfortunately, more times than can be recounted, the answer to these questions has been “yes.” Yet, such a reading of the text is only a partial interpretation of the text. The text provides a balancing, additional source for theological guidance.

Returning to those two pivotal and ancient doctrines possibly alluded to within the text (i.e., the Trinity and the imago dei), we find the governing concepts for what it might mean to have dominion. If (1) the concept of the Trinity speaks to the character of God and (2) if the concept of the imago dei speaks to the derivative character of humanity relative to that character of God, then transitive logic suggests an indelible, essential correspondence between who God is as Trinity and who we are as persons created in that God’s image.

If, as many have understood the doctrine of the Trinity to suggest, God’s unique character is to be simultaneously both individually one while corporately many, then God is an essentially and intimately intertwined sociality. In technical language, God’s character is expressed perichoretically. In more accessible language, God is one while, also, many. Moreover, if we are created in that image, then quite possibly, we, too, exist fundamentally as corporate individuals.

Such a doctrinal notion places a great deal of significance on our sociality and the social systems generative of and created by our sociality. Further, the care for those systems becomes paramount because those systems must exist in order that we exist. Said more positively, such care seems a natural outgrowth of our own recognition that systems are essential to all life and that having dominion is more about responsibility for those systems and sustaining those systems than it is the exploitation of those systems. Such exploitation would be out of character for a people who understand their very essence to be wrapped up in the sustained presence of systems.

Because of this possible essentiality of systems within Christian doctrine, I have entitled this iChapel a “theology of ecology.” Ecology is the study of systems; the study of the interrelatedness of various things. Interestingly, if not purposefully, the word “ecology” derives from the same Greek root for our word “church,” oikos. The church is understood to be a vibrant, diverse, dynamic yet singularly interconnected entity. (The church is one body with many members, as Paul reminds us.) As such, at the very heart of what it means to be church is, also, to be ecological. This means that for Christian theology to be interested and passionate about the environment should be a natural and inevitable outcome.

All people, regardless of our faith commitments, would benefit from such a shift in emphasis away from dominion as domination toward ecology of care. If the excerpt from the creation story cited above narrates anything, it is the realty that we are, literally, in this together. Our brothers and sisters in the Hindu tradition share an equally compelling and foundational description of this created connectivity. The Ishavasya Upanishad reads:

This universe is the creation of Supreme Power meant for the benefit of all;
Individual species must therefore learn to enjoy its benefits by forming a part of the system in close relationship with other species;
let not the other species encroach upon the other’s right.

Creation care is our common concern.

If the church and institutions of the church like Young Harris College are to be faithful to our created imaginings, then we must be environmentally responsible, engaging proactively in social and political systems seeking to care for creation. In promoting that care, this week, two events are scheduled for the YHC community. First, on Wednesday at 7pm, a special Earth Day chapel service is planned. If the weather is favorable, the service will take place in the college’s amphitheatre. Then, on Saturday, starting at 1pm, a day of service for Earth Day is planned. The day will include creek cleaning, crop planting, and a free meal and concert for all participants.

See you this week.

Seeing Life Anew

Posted in Uncategorized on April 12, 2010 by yhcreligiouslife

“Forgotten Language”
by Shel Silverstein

Once I spoke the language of the flowers,
Once I understood each word the caterpillar said,
Once I smiled in secret at the gossip of the starlings,
And shared a conversation with the housefly
in my bed.
Once I heard and answered all the questions
of the crickets,
And joined the crying of each falling dying
flake of snow,
Once I spoke the language of the flowers. . . .
How did it go?
How did it go?

My daughter loves to go on “hikes.” Now, our “hikes” rarely takes out of our yard. She walks around the yard, her head always pointed at the ground taking in every detail. In particular, she cannot resist stopping and calling our attention to the smallest of flowers. I have no idea what to call these four-peddled flowers, but they are certainly smaller than the eraser on a pencil, coming in shades of both soft blue and dirty white. Each time she spots a new flower or cluster, she insists everyone on the hike stop to appreciate what she has found. After expressing an appropriate level of interest, we resume our hike only to stop, again, to admire the next bunch of equally small yet delicately arranged flower patch. (You cannot imagine how long it takes to walk around our yard. These little flowers are everywhere!)

She calls this our “garden.” “Don’t we have a lovely garden, Daddy,” she says.

And, of course, we do. While not a garden we planted (nor particularly well tended on my part), we are blessed to live in a most spectacular garden, planted by wind and happenstance mixed with grace and providence.

If not for these regular hikes, I am sure I would miss seeing these dainty yet marvelous additions to our garden. I would probably miss appreciating the garden itself. It takes small, intentional moments like these with my daughter to draw me out of the numbing, distracting routine of getting up, going to work, attending meetings, coming home, and going to bed. Such a rhythmic life is effective in it efficiencies while rarely rewarding in its repetition. Far too often, we confuse the busyness of life with the business of living.

Such an existence disconnects us from each other and the rest of the world around us. My under-appreciation of these infinitesimally small flowers scattered across our lawn is symptomatic of a larger disconnection. Our worlds of work and perpetual motion disengage and distract. Despite the explosion of life that has erupted seemingly overnight, many of us manage to walk through our days oblivious to the gift of living in such a magnificent place, even oblivious to the gift of life itself. In our hustle to finish our tasks, we neglect to appreciate our primary task: to share life and share it abundantly.

Over the coming weeks as the semester winds down while the pressures ratchet up, may we take those intentional moments to break from our disconnecting routines, from our artificially assigned timetables and enjoy the master timetable subtly witnessing to true life and new life all around us.

Have a wonderful week. Enjoy the flowers, especially the small ones.

Seeing Easter Anew

Posted in Uncategorized on April 5, 2010 by yhcreligiouslife

Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
~~John 20:18

Yesterday, around the world, churches read this passage or another of the resurrection accounts found in the gospels, celebrating Easter. In every gospel account, a prominent commonality is present: it is the women who, first, go to the tomb. In part, their presence is explained by the folkways of the day, i.e., on the Friday of Jesus’ death, his body needed to be placed in the tomb before sundown to avoid violating the Sabbath purity customs and, therefore, the women were returning at the first available opportunity to perform their culturally assigned task properly to prepare Jesus’ body for its formal burial. Yet, cultural expectations do not entirely explain their presence at the tomb that Sunday morning.

Recall the persisting theme found throughout the gospels, i.e., the female disciples more clearly understanding the challenging, radical character of the kingdom Jesus proclaimed, encouraging them to behave contra the culturally expected norms. For instance, consider Mary’s presence at Jesus’ feet, the woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment, the Samaritan woman who speaks publicly, directly with Jesus, etc.

These irregular, unexpected behaviors are not exclusive to women in the gospel’s but the persisting presence of these culturally atypical female behaviors generate an overarching, prominent gospel theme: the gospel writers’ are highlighting the presence and response of these women as an indicator that Jesus’ resurrection signals what Augustine called an eighth day of creation. The resurrection is a recreation and restarting of everything, a retooling of all cultural expectations, societal protocols, and “natural” orders. If the inevitability and ultimacy of death can be denied, so too, the inevitability and ultimacy of all of life is drawn into question and into the recreating powers of resurrection.

So, there, Mary stands at one moment the very embodiment of propriety and expectation as she fulfills her predictable duties to prepare Jesus’ body, yet, then, in the next moment she becomes the very herald of new life and this new world. Subtly yet provocatively, Mary’s encounter with the resurrected Christ puts to death one role—her culturally ordained role of the old world, replacing it with another role—a role almost as shocking to our sense of what is “natural” as the idea of resurrection itself.

In that resurrection moment, Mary becomes the first preacher of the gospel! In her being sent to tell the good news, Mary is, also, the first, missionary, apostle, and evangelist of the church. The consistent inclusion by each of the gospel writers of Mary’s new position, as subtle as their emphasis might be, underscores this point. Two thousand years later, such a point continues to sound radical to us given the church’s tendency over the centuries to marginalize women’s voices, deny their formal leadership, and underwrite those conclusions through narrow appeals to scripture.

Nevertheless, the role of Mary in the Easter drama is undeniable. And, our annual reading of this text offers each of us a regular reminder that even the church (maybe especially the church) can resist the most radical, challenging yet unquestionably central elements of Christ’s new kingdom. Resistance becomes natural. Once in power, to resist these claims is natural because these claims’ call perpetually to pursue change, i.e., perfection, threatens our recently acquired and now more comfortable positions. Such resistance, we presume, is more palatable than the culturally distasteful and often costly consequences of continually pressing toward that new kingdom’s ever-dawning horizon.

Every institution seeks to formalize what was once radical and innovative, risking domesticating a God whose character, so the stories of Easter attest, is to break out of the very boxes and tombs we design to contain. The God of Easter is not containable, and the progression of the kingdom that slips out of the tomb on Easter morning cannot be returned to the confines of the grave. The church must strive to balance its traditions while remaining innovative.

Despite our resistance, each Easter, the sun spills over the horizon, rewashing us with the light of new life and renewing our call to pursue Christ’s far-reaching kingdom.

Importantly, Christ’s crucifixion declaration that “It is finished” is not a claim that his kingdom has finished its work but that the old kingdom with its expectations about life, death, roles, status, gender, class, sex, peace, war, power, weakness, and wealth is finished. Christ’s new kingdom has only just begun. To paraphrase Dietrich Bonheoffer from his Sanctorum Communio, Christ’s kingdom might have been realized on the cross but remains to be actualized in us through the persistent working of the Spirit. That means that there is still much to be done (and undone) as we co-struggle to craft the kingdom into its perfect form.

Thus, this reading-as-reminder serves as a kind of penance and caution: (1) We read the text and repent for our misappropriation of the story’s power, a power used to deny the radical recreating tendencies of the gospel story and ask for forgiveness from those whom we have denied their centrality and significance within the gospel story. (2) We read the story and are cautioned not to delimit the recreating powers of the Easter account too quickly, denying still others their chance to move from the margins into the God’s recreating, new kingdom.

Like Mary, may we, too, go to the tomb assuming we know what is expected of us only to be surprised by having our expectations shattered, replaced by God’s new, transforming expectations for us, our communities, and the world.

Thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Happy Easter!