Archive for October, 2010

Change Fear

Posted in Uncategorized on October 25, 2010 by yhcreligiouslife

Just in time for Halloween, this week’s theme to ponder is “Change Fear.” Rather than fearing change, we are looking into the notion that our faith might help transform some of our fears. To set the mood, I offer Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven”. Have a wonderful week and see you in chapel.

“The Raven”

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“‘Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door-
Only this, and nothing more.”

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow;- vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow- sorrow for the lost Lenore-
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore-
Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me- filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating,
“‘Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door-
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;-
This it is, and nothing more.”

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you”- here I opened wide the door;-
Darkness there, and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering,
fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortals ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore!”
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!”-
Merely this, and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
“Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice:
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore-
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;-
‘Tis the wind and nothing more.”

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and
flutter,
In there stepped a stately raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed
he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door-
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door-
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore.
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no
craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the Nightly shore-
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning- little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blest with seeing bird above his chamber door-
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as “Nevermore.”

But the raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered- not a feather then he fluttered-
Till I scarcely more than muttered, “other friends have flown
before-
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.”
Then the bird said, “Nevermore.”

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore-
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
Of ‘Never- nevermore’.”

But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and
door;
Then upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore-
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamplight gloated o’er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamplight gloating o’er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then methought the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose footfalls tinkled on the tufted floor.
“Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee- by these angels he
hath sent thee
Respite- respite and nepenthe, from thy memories of Lenore!
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!- prophet still, if bird or
devil!-
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted-
On this home by horror haunted- tell me truly, I implore-
Is there- is there balm in Gilead?- tell me- tell me, I implore!”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil- prophet still, if bird or
devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us- by that God we both adore-
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore-
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

“Be that word our sign in parting, bird or fiend,” I shrieked,
upstarting-
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken!- quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my
door!”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamplight o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the
floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted- nevermore!

Change Me

Posted in Uncategorized on October 18, 2010 by yhcreligiouslife

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth . . . We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father . . . We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father [and the Son], who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified . . . . (The Nicene Creed)

Completed in the 4th century (C.E.), the Nicene Creed provided both a formulation and summation of the church’s ponderings on and nescient theological structuring of its concepts about God, particularly emphasizing God’s Trinitarian nature. It is no overstatement to say that before and since the Creed, theologians have labored to understand what it means to say God is concurrently one Being while three Persons (i.e., Triune), especially considering the connection, if any, between God’s Triune character and the additional claim of our being created in that God’s image, i.e., imago dei. This means that a statement about God might, also, include a statement about us. In other words, theological descriptions are equally anthropological descriptions.

Among those struggling to assess what it means to claim that God is Triune, Augustine (the 4th and 5th century Bishop of Hippo from northern Africa) is credited with taking the concept of the Trinity in an unique direction. This direction is not just toward anthropology but, also, toward psychology. The philosophical theologian Charles Taylor observes that Augustine positions rationality as “radically reflexive” by internalizing reason. This positioning is witnessed in the bishop’s effort to make “what matters to us . . . the adoption of the first-person standpoint.” (Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self, 130). We can consider Augustine’s work in his De Trinitate as illustrative of this movement inward, establishing an introspective-rationalistic foundation for anthropological determinations. That is, the search for the Trinity becomes an act of psychological self-analysis in an effort to detect vestiges of God’s image within each of us. As a kind of analogy, Augustine perceived that within the rational part of our soul just such a Trinitarian vestige lingers: “the mind, and the knowledge by which it knows itself, and the love by which it loves itself.” (Augustine, De Trinitate, 464) Or, as Augustine states, elsewhere, “But in those three, when the mind knoweth and loveth itself, there remaineth a trinity, mind, love, knowledge . . . .” (Augustine, Confessions, 317). As Taylor surmises, Augustine moved inward in an effort to approach God (Taylor, 121-124).

As Augustine demonstrates, looking toward God can organically lead to an assessment of ourselves. This week’s theme is Change Me. Such a consideration of how our faith impacts us individually and internally is inevitably an introspective exercise. In looking within ourselves, Augustine’s hope is that we might both find God (or at least fingerprints of God’s presence) and move beyond ourselves.

This week, we welcome Rev. Tonya Lawrence from Cascade United Methodist Church in Atlanta, GA as our guest preacher in chapel. Rev. Lawrence will challenge us to see ourselves, our self-worth, and our lives differently in light of God’s defining grace. Have great week and see you in chapel.

Change Taste

Posted in Uncategorized on October 11, 2010 by yhcreligiouslife

When I was a kid, I was a very fussy eater. I did not like many vegetables. I only liked some kinds of fruit. Foods that were mealy in texture I rejected outright. And, to top it all off, I decided to become a vegetarian at the age of four. That left very little I was willing to eat. As a child, I cannot tell you how many times meals at our dinner table included a conversation about the need to ship the contents on my plate to some more appreciative child in some other country. To my parents’ credit, they were right. I did not understand the luxury of having food on my plate to be rejected in the first place.

I am certain that my parents assumed both my pickiness and my choice of vegetarianism would pass. Unfortunately, I am both determined and stubborn. Some three decades later, I am still holding fast to my vegetarianism. Eventually, however, I became far less fussy about my choice of foods. To my mother’s recollection, one day, when I was hitting the first of those teenage growth spurts, I just got hungry. It seems that puberty was the cure to my general pickiness when it comes to eating. (That being said, I still do not like foods that have a mealy texture!) Another alteration to my eating habits occurred when I moved overseas for the first time about ten years ago. This change, unlike the first expansion of my eating habits as a teenager, was a conscious decision more than a simple succumbing to hunger pains. I decided that if I was to experience more fully that other culture and to share in that foreign life in newly-found friends’ homes, I needed to be willing to try new things.

Such a conscious choice to try more foods involved moving “my diet” from one box in my head to another. Rather than occupying the “need” box, I placed my diet in my “want” box. I differentiated between how I fashioned my diet. I no longer considered my pickiness to be natural to my eating. I understood my “discriminating” diet to be a luxurious choice, a choice that could be as much un-chosen as chosen. Do not get me wrong; I did not change my eating habits overnight. What did change overnight was my perception as to why I was or wasn’t eating certain foods. I realized that I did not need to be so discriminating in my eating as much as I had simply wanted to be discriminating in my food choices. Therefore, I ate more and tried more.

My conscious willingness to try different foods is but one example of how we might convert some portion of our understanding from “need” to “want.” We make such changes all the time and should. For instance, I caught myself the other day inappropriately slipping a “want” into the “need” box, only to correct myself mid-sentence after realizing the error being made. The power of such a conscious effort appropriately to categorize “wants” and “needs” includes the often subtle yet still radical movement from a more selfish to a more self-conscious existence, from a notion of individual satisfaction to a notion of communal concern. Christian theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer would refer to this radical movement as a partial undoing of original sin.

Summarizing the creation accounts in Genesis, we read that God created humankind in God’s image, that image and all that was created was declared/determined to be good by God, God was the arbiter of good and evil, and humanity sought to usurp that role:

“So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. . . . Out of the ground the LORD God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. . . . Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God say, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden”?’ The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.” ’ But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’”

In his account of original sin, Bonhoeffer concludes that we wanted to be the center of life, the image-maker. In our attempt to replace God with ourselves, we shattered the relational communion in which we were created. We forfeited communion for individuality. We traded a life in relationship for a life in solidarity. This is the essence of sin. The mark has been missed. Our created purpose has deviated away from God and turned toward ourselves. As Gregory Jones concludes, sin is that breach in relationship experienced person to person and between persons and God.

This is that breach and disordering that we long to reconcile. One small way forward is by our regularly being reminded the difference between “want” and “need.” Expanding on my literal change in taste, we must have our tastes, i.e., our perceptions as to what is a luxury verses what is a necessity, changed. The current economic downturn—catapulted by financial malfeasance and unwarranted risk of others’ assets—is but a reminder that when we confuse “wants” with “needs” we regularly overstretch and unreasonably out-risk who we must be, turning toward personal gain rather than shared advancement. Further, we substitute our determination of what is “good,” i.e., what is good for me. Such an act is the replication of original sin.

This week, we will turn to consider how our desire appropriately to categorize “need” and “want” is fundamentally a theological exercise, an exercise that helps to remedy both divine and personal dysfunctional relationships.

Have a great week and see you in chapel.

Posted in Uncategorized on October 4, 2010 by yhcreligiouslife

Choose Change/Change Choice

The following is a digest of “The Tyranny of Choice” in Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal and Delight in Our Busy Lives by Wayne Muller. I have chosen to summarize Muller’s text in light of this week’s impending “fall break.” My prayer is that some portion of it is a “break,” if not from work at least from routine, for all of us.

Suppose that a warrior forgot that he was already wearing his pearl on his forehead, and sought for it somewhere else; he might search through the whole world without finding it. But if someone simply pointed it out to him, the warrior would immediately realize that the pearl had been there all the time.
–Huang Po

Sometimes it is necessary to stop one thing before another thing can begin. The traditional thirty-nine prohibitions against working on the Jewish Sabbath gave birth to what one scholar calls “the most precious, inestimable pearl” of Sabbath tranquility. Similarly, most of the Ten Commandments begin with “Thou shalt not.” These prohibitions against stealing, lying, murdering, and the like, if practiced with a fullness of heart, set us free to turn our energies to other things more precious—to honesty, fidelity, generosity, and love.

But progress promises us the endless expansion of choice; we chafe at any restriction to our capacity to generate options, and we revolt against any concept of prohibition. We equate choice with freedom, but they are not the same. If we exercise our choice to covet or to steal or to live without rest, we will soon feel trapped and unhappy. We equate choice with nourishment, but a dozen different soft drinks, potato chips, and candy bars provide no vitamin C, iron, protein, beta carotene—or any significant nutrition at all. Regardless of how many choices we pile one upon the other, it is still a big, fat, empty meal.

Freedom of choice can be as painful as it is precious. We want to be able to choose whatever career, spouse, or neighborhood we wish, but how do we decide, what should we look for, should we go to school now or later, have children now or later, stay home with the children and rick getting passed over by more aggressive colleagues, or push a career now and hope that day care is a nurturing option? How do we decide which partner we love, whether to change our neighborhood or political party, or start exploring new spiritual traditions?

Freedom of choice can suffocate us; we drown in a sea of options. With so much else we could have chosen, how do we ever know we have done the right thing?

The Sabbath is a patch of ground secured by a tiny fence, when we withdraw from the endless choices afforded us and listen, uncover what is ultimately important, remember what is quietly sacred. Sabbath restrictions on work and activity actually create a space of great freedom; without these self-imposed restrictions, we may never be truly free.

(Over the coming week) choose one pleasurable activity that is easily done and takes little time. Leaf through a magazine and tear out a picture that you find appealing; put it somewhere you will see it, and notice how you respond to it throughout the day. Write a short poem about nothing of any importance. Put a new flower in a cup by your bed. Take a walk around the block. Sing a song you know from beginning to end. Do something simple and playful like this every day. Take a crayon and make some simple drawing of your bedroom. Let the power of simple act of creativity stop you, slow your pace, interrupt your speed. Notice how willing you are to be stopped. Notice how it feels when you are.