Thursday, December 21, 2006
Thursday, December 14, 2006
First I will look at what it means to worship. To me the heart of the matter lies in surrender in worship. Worship to me is about surrendering one's self to God. True worship happens when we let go of who we are, what we want, and instead focus entirely on God. When we can get rid of the distractions of our own self-interest I think we can enter into a true spirit of worship.
This can sound simple enough, but I think it can seem that the duties of a pastor run counter to this. A leader in worship is expected to be faciliating worship for others. If worship is about getting rid of the distractions, than clearly the role of the worship leader is about making the service as smooth as possible, so that no one is jarred from their experience by hitches in the flow.
I know that when I am preaching I am guilty of thinking ahead to what I am going to say later when the opening songs are being sung. It is easy to be worrying about, focusing on, providing last minute touches to the next part of the service rather than losing myself in the moment. The question I have is whether this is avoidable. Certainly, if I were "more" prepared for my sermon, or "more" confident about it, then I pressumably I would not be as worried about it during the rest of the worship service. I say "more" because while certainly could be more prepared, I use the quotes to denote I am not sure that the more needed to not stress about the sermon is actually obtainable, since no matter how often we say it, you cannot always just try harder to get the results you seek.
I want to be able to worship with my congregation. I want to be able to get to that point of surrender. The typical belief, and one that I subscribe to, is that it is not technical perfection, but the soul, the spirit, that makes art beautiful. I think the same is true in worship. It is not whether things are perfect, but whether the heart truly is in the love expressed to God. "I love you" is meaningless as a collection of words, if it does represent the feelings of the heart. I think a pastor cannot forget this fact. What makes truly powerful is if the surrender is obvious in the musicians, the pastor, in the models the congregation looks to. I do not know that a pastor can be complete emersed in worship, the distractions, the demands are clearly present that prohibt some level of surrender. I think that if pastors can reach that level of surrender then we are better leaders of worship than if we have everything technical perfect, and all our transitions are seemless and our prayers perfect. It may be hardest for us, but I think the need is there for pastors to join in true worship with their congregations, to surrender in worship to God.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Thursday, December 7, 2006
I was purusing CNN.com last night to see what was happening in the world. In doing so I happened upon an article about Mary Cheney, the daughter of the vice-president. It was expressing the dismay of many conservatives at the choice of Mary and her partner to have a child. What struck me most was the reaction of one member of Focus on the Family. "Carrie Gordon Earll, a policy analyst for the conservative Christian ministry Focus on the Family, expressed empathy for the Cheney family but depicted the pregnancy as unwise.
'Just because you can conceive a child outside a one-woman, one-man marriage doesn't mean it's a good idea,' Earll said. 'Love can't replace a mother and a father.'" (quoted from CNN.com http://www.cnn.com/2006/POLITICS/12/06/cheney.daughters.ap/index.html.)I am dismyed by her final statement, "love can't replace a mother and a father." My reaction is not about the issue of homosexuality, or artifical insemination, or anything like that, but at the great harm that is caused by such a statement. I consider myself fortunate to have gone through my life with the presence of both my parents. Neither death nor divorce left me in a position where I never saw them. In her attempt to attack the situation of Cheney, Earll has done two things I consider bad, she has (perhaphs unintentionally) made anyone who lost a parent as a child seem inferior. Earll seems to imply that despite the love of the remaining parent, nothing can replace the previous parent, that some negative harm has been done. It also ignores the possibility that a parent is more than just being there. There are too many abusive examples of mothers and fathers in our society today to be able to make a blanket statement that a child is better off having a mother and father.
The second and more troubling part of her statement is what I really want to consider this morning. Perhaps it is a romantic notion of mine, but I want to believe in the power of love. I take very seriously the writings of Paul in Corinthians when he says "faith, hope, and love abide ... and the greatest of these is love." I guess what I am getting at is a concern that too often people of faith are willing to sacrifice faith, to expose bad theology in order to make a political statement. I believe that Christianity has the ability to, and should be used to make a statement against the trends of society and of politics.
When I read Earll's statement I see a concern for all of us. How do we make sure that we do not lose love in the midst of politics. How do make sure our passion for issues does not cloud our love of God, each other, and especially ourselves. I think if Earll had simply said she did not believe that it was a wise choice for Cheney and her partner I would have perhaps disagreed but left it at that. Instead she makes a statement that I believe is damaging to how people percieve Christians. Maybe the real question is what is Focus on the Family, a political group first and a Christian group second, or a Christian group first and a politcal group second. I want to state that I use Focus on the Family because of the example that Earll creates, but I believe the same question could be asked of groups on all sides of this issue, or any issue. If a group is a Christian group first and foremost, then it should not make a poltical point at the expense of beliefs.
As I consider the past electoral season I was struck most profoundly by the negative attacks made on other politicans. Has love for our neighbor been lost for the sake of politics. My greatest concern in Earll's statement is that being right and making a point has become the most important part of political dialogue and that love for one another and respect for each other has been sacrificed for he sake of a cause.
Tuesday, December 5, 2006
Worship at Light of the Lakes was smaller than in previous weeks. I want to see the church grow, and so every thing can seem like a setback to what I desire. I have preached enough now to know how important size is. Usually the fuller the church the more energy I have in my sermon and the more response I get from the congregation, which in turns feeds back into the energy I have. Despite the smaller size of worship I did not experience a drain on my energy as I sometimes do when I do get any feedback. Even so, it was hard not to feel down about things later that afternoon. In my slightly depressed thinking I came to realize something: there are two ways for worship to go. Worship can be an experience that draws people in, that gives people an experience and relationship with God. That is what I believe the other two churches on 210 have. They have a worship service that draws people to the church. Since they seem so successful it is easy to want to be like them. The second type of successful worship is one that empowers people to go out into the world. That is the kind of worship that fuels people for the real ministry they do, which is not inside the church but outside it. As I look at my small congregation, with their dedication and love, I sometimes wonder if this is not a better way to go.
That is why I am glad that the construction has started to clear away. Now there is an open road to my church that is different from other churches. Now I have a way to get there without forcing myself into a comparison with churches that are quite unlike mine. Someone raised a point yesterday that as a small church we should be grateful. Larger churches do not always have the same intimate connection that my members have. It takes a great deal of effort to maintain the sense of family that exists at my church in a larger setting. For someone as mathematically oriented as I am it is easy to get caught in numbers as a measure of success, when really in ministry it is simply about asking a difference in people's lives, about sharing a ministry with the world, whether that is through worship or through going out into the community and making a difference
Saturday, December 2, 2006
Friday, December 1, 2006
I am reading the book "Blue Like Jazz" by Donald Miller and the author made an observation around the nature of humanity that I struggled with. He was looking at the terrbile things that were happening in the Congo and was asking himself what cause these people to be so evil, to commit such acts. He suggested two ways of looking at things, either we in the United States are more sophisticated than those people and so this is why we are not prone to such acts, or we too are capable of such evil. The first statement would seem to suggest a superiority of race or culture that he did not want to make, so he felt compelled to the second one. Using the example of our driving when a cop is around he said "that the soul of man, unwatched, is perverse."
Another book on my reading pile is "Becoming a Blessed Church" by N. Graham Standish. I do not want to make this into simply a book study but Standish makes another observation that I am still struggling with. Standish writes about the power of the demonic. Without going to much into it, what really struck me was his explanation seemed to make it so at least some of the evil that we do is not our fault but cause by demonic forces.
I do not like either of this options, I think they take away from our free will, something I really believe in. I believe that we have the power to choose for ourselves what we will do. Certainly it is influenced by our upbringing, our situation, and all of these factors, but I believe it is our choice. To chalk it up to the perversity of our souls, or the demonic forces minimizes the evil we do, and I believe conversly diminishes the good as well.
I guess I do not know whether the ground is normally brown and dead, or green and vibrant, but I do know, I want it to snow.
Thursday, November 30, 2006
One of the lasting lessons that I have from my undergraduate experience is the tension between movements and institutions. Methodists and Baptists successfully moved across the United States because unlike the "mainline" churches of the time, they did not have the huge buildings that tied them to the East Coast while the people moved west. Over time however Methodists became increasingly affluent and settled down and the church settled with them. A similar tension can be seen in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960's. Groups like the NAACP and the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadship Council) were established groups with hierarchy and bureaucracy. By contrast the SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) was much more of a grass roots group. As I remember these lessons from history I think about the state of The United Methodist Church today. One of the appealling things about the emerging church movement to me is that it gets back to an idea of grass roots. Rather than trying to work through the burdens of existing churches, it attempts to move with the people to were ministry is needed most. But what are the lessons that can be learned from history on this. Certainly the staying power of the the NAACP can be seen while SNCC is no longer around. SNCC was a powerful movement, largely credited with desegrated lunch counters in the Southeast and with adding in vote registration throughout the South. How does the church today maintain the spirit of movement while living in its existing church structure? The answers are not easy to obtain, and maybe only history will tell us, but through this blog I hope to live in the tension and to consider what the church has to offer to us today.