Archive for March, 2011

Mission: Change

Posted in Uncategorized on March 28, 2011 by yhcreligiouslife

Several weeks ago in another iChapel, I mentioned that an “adventure” is a journey with an uncertain outcome, an imprecise destination. In contrast, a “mission” is a journey with a specific destination or destiny in mind, “a sending or being sent for some duty or purpose.” The differences between the two types of journey are patent.

This week, our task is to examine the purpose for our journeys, particularly our lives’ journeys. If not staring us directly in the face, the question for purpose seems always lingering somewhere in our peripheral vision. Why are we here? What are we to do? What constitutes the good life, the holy life, a well lived life? Questions simple to ask yet profound in their asking.

In his text The Reinvention of Work, Matthew Fox examines some of these questions. One direction he takes the reader is first to risk the journey into nothingness and uncertainty, to experience the vastness of the universe found both within and without. Similar to the sensation felt while standing at the ocean’s edge watching a violent sea, this embracing of mystery “puts us in our place,” as it were, reminding us both of our significance and insignificance simultaneously. We must explore the nothingness because in the nothingness we might find the mystery that is God, our purpose, and ourselves. He quotes the Sufi poet Rumi to link his notion of emptiness with purpose. Rumi writes,

I have said before that every craftsman
searches for what’s not there
to practice his craft.

A builder looks for the rotten hole
where the roof caved in. A water-carrier
picks the empty pot. A carpenter
stops at the house with no door.

Workers rush toward some hint
of emptiness, which they then
start to fill. Their hope, though,
is for emptiness, so don’t think
you must avoid it. It contains
what you need!

Dear soul, if you were not friends
with the vast nothing inside,
why would you always be casting your net
into it, and waiting so patiently?

This invisible ocean has given you such abundance,
but still you call it “death,”
that which provides you sustenance and work.

Join us as we reconsider our purpose, our faith’s work, and our mission in God’s name.
Have a wonderful week.


Change Silence

Posted in Uncategorized on March 21, 2011 by yhcreligiouslife

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. . . . As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
Luke 24:13-20, 28-35

In Luke’s story of the two disciples’ post-resurrection encounter with Jesus while traveling on the road to Emmaus, the events of the crucifixion are recalled by the travelers for the unknown stranger—a stranger who turns out to be the risen Christ. We may make an interesting observation from reading this story. In the story, the “Christ-stranger” is not known through his mere presence nor do the disciples come to some greater knowledge or insight because of the events they recall. Rather, the stranger becomes the recognized Christ when his words are paired with his actions. This word-in-action makes God known. The Greek word in the text translated as the English phrase “made known” is a form of gnosis, meaning “knowing” or “knowledge”. (We regularly use this word as the base for terms like “diagnosis” or “agnostic.”)

This story and the knowing it produces is, in many ways, a summation of the gospel. First, the gospel is not principally about what we know or can learn. Second, the gospel is not merely about God being present. Rather, the gospel is about what God does in the active Word found and experienced as the person Jesus. In this merging of the Word with active presence, God makes God’s very self known.

It is interesting that this notion of God’s self-revelation is articulated in a story that is essentially the first re-presentation or celebration of the Last Supper, because the word chosen by the early church to describe this Last Supper is precisely about disclosing the undisclosed. The early church chose the word mysterion to describe those practices that we ultimately would name as sacraments. Mysterion shares some characteristics with our word “mystery.” Like “mystery,” mysterion assumes that there is something that is not known. However, unlike our word mystery, mysterion includes an active effort on the part of the unknown to make itself known. It seeks to be revealed. It seeks to be intimately, personally known—if not cognitively, then experientially.

For this every reason, the early church resisted efforts by groups to act in secret or claim to possess secret knowledge of the true faith because the faith of the church is not about what is kept concealed. Rather, the very nature of the “good news” is its active revelation. The hidden-ness of God, while vast and ultimately incomprehensible, nevertheless seeks to be known and made known, experienced and related. What seeks to remain concealed is antithetical to the essence of the faith. In addition, what is kept secret, eventually, divides the community between those who “know” and those who do not. And, divisions between people is precisely one of the outcomes the gospel seeks to overturn. This posture by the early church seems less than coincidental given that such divisions and secret knowledge go hand-in-hand. The effort to divide the body is prevalent in all groups, large and small. Yet, as the mysterion of God implies, such division is, ultimately, pernicious.

For similar reasons, the early Methodist movement forbade membership in secret societies for its adherents, fearing that such societies created divisions within the community and operated counter to the efforts of the good news of God’s in-breaking kingdom of inclusivity and self-revelation. This does not mean that everything, at all times, should be disclosed. We are sophisticated enough thinkers to adjudicate what needs keeping private and what demands disclosure.

What I am suggesting is that our “default setting” should be toward disclosure rather than concealment.

Yet, in a world of WikiLeaks, extraordinary rendition, and the Cornel’s secret recipe, we still do not seem to get the balance right. Maybe we are not as sophisticated as we hoped. This week in chapel, we will examine the difference between secrecy and silence, the former about actively hiding and the latter about waiting quietly to be found.

Have a great week.

A Mission of Change

Posted in Uncategorized on March 14, 2011 by yhcreligiouslife

An adventure is a journey without a specific destination. Using this definition, any mission trip is a kind of adventure. While we might know where were we are going geographically on a mission trip, mission trips are an adventure because we do not know where we might arrive emotionally or spiritually as a result of the journey. Our building mission trip to The Bahamas to volunteer with Bahamas Methodist Habitat over spring break, for me, was truly an adventure. We knew we were going to serve on the island of Eleuthera, but we did not know where that service would take us. (And, take me to unexpected places our mission trip did.)

The first Saturday of spring break, seven of us from YHC left early in the morning to travel to Fort Lauderdale, Florida to catch a plane on Sunday to fly to James Cistern on Eleuthera. After three flights and one bus ride, we were dropped off at Camp Symonette with more that 50 others who had given up their spring breaks to share of themselves and discover where God would take us during this week of service.

On Monday morning, one YHC work team climbed onto an old yellow school bus (from Georgia) to ride to the middle of “downtown” James Cistern, a downtown consisting of a single T-junction with two small stores, gas station, post office, primary school, and one derelict, pink building. Stopping in front of that pink building overlooking the Caribbean Sea, we unloaded our materials and ourselves to contribute to the rebuilding of the community’s health clinic—the aforementioned pink building—that had fallen into disrepair.

Unpacking our toolbox and assessing our materials, we were greeted by Orlando, the site foreman, and later by Rudy, a local retired carpenter. Orlando welcomed us with a warm smile and offered to walk us through the clinic. In taking a tour of the building and learning about its history, we, also, received our team’s tasks. We would cut and hang cement board, help pour concrete pillars for the porch roof, and dig out a bank to the side of the clinic to prevent potential drainage problems. Getting to work, we eagerly began our four days of service, after applying what would be the first of seemingly endless handfuls of bug repellent and sunscreen. (Over the course of the next four days we would discover that the sunscreen was much more effective than the bug repellent.)

Working in shifts and at the imposed pace of “island time,” we came to appreciate the place, the people, and our role in rebuilding the clinic. We were but one of many teams that had come and will come, joining with local labor, to work on a needed facility that helped form the heart of that community. It would take time. It would take more than we could offer. But, it required what we had to offer. We were but a part, however a vital part. Such recognition is both humbling and empowering, simultaneously.

This realization hit me on Wednesday afternoon as we prepared to end our day’s work. I was tidying up the worksite, gathering up debris from both our work and previous teams. After collecting the larger pieces, I began to sweep. As I began, Rudy, the retired carpenter from the community walked up behind me and offered a bit of useful and unsolicited advice. He told me to get some water in a bucket and sprinkle the water on the concrete floors. The water would cut down the dust, making the sweeping more tolerable. As I went from room to room, dipping my left hand into the bucket of water tucked under my right hand and scattering water drops on the floor with each sweeping pass of my arm, I noticed something interesting. The water drops looked like small seeds sprayed across the floor of the rooms that would become the dental clinic, the nurses’ clinic, the doctor’s surgery, and the waiting room. Each sweep of my arm was like I was casting holy water on the place and the water drops became seeds of prayer, taking root and taking time. So with each cast, I offered an impromptu prayer for those who would work in those rooms, the people they would serve, and the ailments they would treat. That tidying work became a sacred moment.

In going to the island for service, I assumed my ministry would be found in our building, in our making something substantial serving as a kind of lasting monument to our willing sacrifice of a week’s vacation. But for me, the holiest moment came in the most innocuous moment, in unexpected seeds of prayer while cleaning alone in a half-rebuilt clinic. I swept a floor that needed sweeping but a sweeping with results that would be undone by the next day’s labor. Rather than in a timeless memorial, the holy was found in the simple and immediate and, ultimately, transitory.

As providence or serendipity, last Wednesday was, also, Ash Wednesday, a day we are reminded that we must be broken down before we are able to be built up, a time of preparing for the new life of resurrection by, first, living into the death that faces us all. Ash Wednesday is that day of the Christian year that brings to the fore the reality that faith is not about what I accomplish or know or confess or believe. Rather, faith is first and foremost about what is done that is greater that our doing, immediately for us and yet well beyond us. On that day, we, also, glimpse that the holy might be seen in the least expected or what we previously called unholy. On that day, we recall that it is not what we have been but who we are becoming that ultimately matters.

Over these next few weeks as we journey together through the season of Lent, it is my prayer that we all reflect not on the grand but the humble and look for the holy not in the permanent and public but in the transient and banal. May we all find our place in the larger puzzle, not so much concerned with what has come and what will come but with what might be needed and found in the present. In the present, we find not just what was or might be but what truly is. And, what truly is, if anything, is but another name for God.

When I traveled to The Bahamas, I am not sure if this is where I had expected my missional journey would end. But, as I said, mission trips truly are adventures.