Food for Thought-Friday with Francis

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We live in a time of great violence, conflict, and war. Peace seems, at times, to be both elusive and naive. Thank God Jesus never became that jaded. Do we honestly believe Jesus lived in an era which was any less brutal, violent, or conflict driven? No, by all indications his world was far more destructive and bent on killing than our own. If Jesus was able to talk about loving our neighbors, blessing peacemakers, and putting down the sword in 1st century Palestine, why does it seem so odd or out of touch for Christians to do the same in 2015? Because if we take Jesus seriously; our priorities will have to change. When we risk looking foolish for Christ, out of step with the conventional patriotic wisdom, we also risk being called stupid and ineffectual. Stupid for insisting there is no possible way to reconcile violence with Christianity and ineffectual for continually reminding the world Jesus never said the words others place into his mouth. I’m ok with those epithets as long as I can maintain the integrity of the term “Christian”. It’s hard to call yourself a Christian when you reject the basic premise of Jesus’ message. I believe that message starts with how we understand peace.

Have you ever read the Prayer of Saint Francis? Originally attributed to Saint Francis, these words have woven their way through Catholic and Protestant Europe for centuries.

Make me an instrument your peace. That’s how the prayer begins. Look at those two words “instrument” and “peace”. As we step from the clutter of our present moment, we realize the one thing which separates the word “make” and “peace” is “instrument”. Peace is contingent upon the work of the instrument. Who is the instrument? What is the instrument? We are the ones who can become instruments of God’s peace. If I want to be an instrument of God’s peace, I realize that instruments are like tools. Tools function in many ways but ultimately they accomplish tasks bigger than themselves. We are the tools which God uses to undertake tasks bigger than we can ever imagine. As we apply ourselves to the task of peace in our daily journey, our eyes widen and we see the bigger vision God has laid before us.

Food for Thought-Saint Francis, I’ve Been Thinking About Your Favorite Crucifix

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It is as if Jesus is holding up the cross, not the other way around. This is not how we typically talk about or describe the crucifixion. Jesus, the broken man, is hung, nailed, or placed on the cross. In the San Damiano crucifix, Jesus appears to be keeping the cross in place. The longer you hold your gaze upon the cross the more this becomes apparent. Jesus is there, holding the instrument of his suffering in place for everyone to see. He has chosen the place and the time of his execution. Despite the obvious reality of death, there is little indication of his mortality. Jesus seems very much alive. He is conquering death by embracing his vulnerability. His open arms, often depicted as hanging limbs broken in exasperation are vital signs of his willingness to embrace his enemies while awaiting his next agonizing breath. As Jesus props up our idea of death, we are forced to realize that death is not what we believed it to be. Eternity remains in the background. Resurrection happens in the foreground; not in an isolated empty tomb but at the foot of the cross itself. Resurrection is now.

Food for Thought-Reflections on Prayer and Faith at Duke Chapel

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The notion that the predominately white, high church, southern, Protestant Christianity Duke Chapel is assumed to represent and was about to be overthrown by Sharia law imposing foreigners is both absurd and silly. I remember walking to class from what was then called the “R” lot. I passed a group of university employees waiting on the bus to take them toward the central campus. As I walked past the bus stop, I overheard a snippet of their conversation that I’ve never forgotten. A large guy, big white man who could have easily stomped me into the ground said, “You know all those faggots over at the divinity school are ripping the church apart.” I was about a quarter of a mile from the chapel and divinity school buildings. I had no idea who this guy or his friends were. I don’t know if they knew I was a divinity student or they were simply blowing off hate filled steam. There were days when it was hard to be a Christian divinity student at Duke. I had been raised in a United Methodist congregation 90 minutes west of Durham. I am from Trinity, North Carolina; the birthplace of Trinity College. I was in my first semester of divinity school. Yet, to this guy and people like him, I was a “faggot ripping the church apart”.

I can only imagine what it’s like for someone from Pakistan or Turkey who wants to come to Duke and study. I shudder at what they must go through when they realize the freedom to practice one’s faith is only truly guaranteed unless you are white, Protestant, and American. Therein is the irony. Many of these same people who also condemn any expression of Islamic practice on Duke’s campus don’t see true religion in the way Christianity is practiced at Duke Chapel or taught in the divinity school. We’re all wrong in Franklin Graham’s eyes.

Food for Thought-The Lord’s Word Was Rare (1 Samuel 3:1-10)

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I talk to people both in and out of my worship community about issues of faith and belief. Many times, we end up discussing prayer. Whether these individuals have been in church for years or haven’t darkened our door for most of their adult lives, they are more than willing to talk about their prayer lives, what God is saying to them, and how they are responding to God’s presence in their lives. Those whose prayers seem to go unanswered or unheard aren’t as forthcoming. They are not as willing to volunteer the content of their conversations with God. In these instances, the people in question are frustrated (at best) and disgusted (at worst) with God. The underlying assumption is, in both situations that God does speak and is speaking. The people who feel their prayers aren’t being answered typically say something like this: “God’s just not speaking to me right now” or “God is speaking but I don’t understand what God is saying.” That’s the premise we’re working under, God is always speaking. Hearing, listening, and understanding are different matters. Some get it and some don’t. This is the perceived conventional wisdom in many of our churches today. I think this is extremely wrong.

Our present beliefs fall apart when tested agains scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. The notion that God is always speaking runs contrary to significant parts of the Old Testament and one of the greatest prayer journeys of all time, the call of the prophet Samuel.

1 Samuel 3:1 says, “Now the boy Samuel was serving the Lord under Eli. The Lord’s word was rare at that time and visions weren’t widely known.”

Rare, infrequent, worse than occasionally periodic; that’s how the writer of 1 Samuel describes how often God spoke to people. This is a unique time in Israelite history. People were sacrificing, Israel was rising to power, and things were generally considered to be good. Tribes, congregations of the faithful, and the leadership considered themselves to be onboard with God’s will and God’s plan for their kingdom. Weird, don’t you think, God isn’t speaking or revealing God’s self to anyone. The machinations of state and religion were moving along with efficiency and sanctity, clear in the idea they were living out the divine order. How did they know? If God wasn’t talking or appearing to anyone how did they know their course was correct and the ideas theologically related to God’s vision of how humanity should live? It couldn’t be that they were making it up. It wouldn’t be that they convinced themselves they were hearing from God (when they really weren’t) and did whatever they wanted to do in the first place? If God’s word was so rare, how could they have idea about God’s will? Could it have been that they were just playing at being religious, making up ideas of their own and trying to pass them of as God’s? Yes. I believe this is the ethical and moral vacuum from (and into) which Samuel was called to become a prophet.

How do we know we’re not living in the world of 1 Samuel? Are we in a time where God’s word and appearance are extremely rare yet everyone claims to be hearing from God? Either we’re all right or all deluded. There is no in between. Samuel believes it is important to understand God’s word and appearance were rare occurrences. This is an honest appraisal of life in ancient Israel. Religious, moral, and ethical life existed in a self-directed vacuum. However, religious people must hear from God. If we aren’t actually encountering God, we will a create God (or gods) of our own design. Then, we will tell ourselves, the God we made is the “real” God. We will listen for words of affirmation and love from the idols we created. Without hesitation or equivocation, proclamations will inevitably be made that God is speaking to us today. All the while, the words of 1 Samuel 3 remain unread and misunderstood, “The Lord’s word was rare at that time and visions weren’t widely known.”

God forbid we stop filling the world with our own projections of God and wait on God to speak instead of putting words into God’s mouth. How would our world change, if we were to answers questions with, “I don’t know what God wants you to do? God’s word is rare and not widely known.” Or when people say, “God is telling me to do this thing or the other”, with the same reply; God’s word is rare and not widely known. Perhaps God isn’t telling you anything. Are you telling yourself something? Did you know God’s word is rare and not widely known? Have you thought about listening to the silence? It worked for Samuel. It might work for us if we discard the arrogance that comes from thinking God is always speaking and widely known.

Food for Thought-Morning Prayer for the 1st Friday in Advent

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As we enter the immeasurable beauty of this new day, we are reminded that you are doing something new in the world and in our lives. The prophets of old spoke about your love for, your faith in, and your readiness to make all things new. The undeniable reality of this moment is that your compassion and comfort have brought us into this newness. When we survey the changing landscapes of our souls; we see dramatic signs of you at work. The raised valleys, flattened mountains, and level ground of our lives do not pave the way for a greater sense of grief, sorrow, pain, and longing. No, they call out, God is doing something new; something far beyond our finite realities and expectations. We thank you today for the opportunity to embrace God’s newness as we journey towards Bethlehem. May the newness of God’s unfolding Kingdom take root and grow within our lives today.

In Jesus’ Name,
Amen

Food for Thought-The Cruciform Center of My Faith (A Poem to the Trinity)

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The cruciform center of my faith,
Is inhabited by one the three,
Intersecting wood unites,
This mysterious Trinity,
Within the nailed reality,
My soul begins to ignite,
I know not how to begin,
As I confess my sins,
In day or night,
Without and within,
These three persons,
Gracefully contend,
With my soul,
As the God of old,
Who made me whole,
Releases me,
To be free,
Among his family,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

–Richard Bryant

Food for Thought-Richard’s Morning Prayer for the 1st Thursday in Advent

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As the distance narrows between night and dawn, we feel the gentle breeze and know you are prompting us to go forward. Today we continue our journey with you. Amid the crooked paths of our lives and the mountain like obstructions we’ve created which alter how others see God; may we straighten the roads and move the mountains as your messengers today. May our lives be living witnesses to the three dimensional reality of your Good News. Thank you for calling us out of our darkness and to be bearers of the Word. May we comfort those who mourn. May we offer forgiveness as we have been forgiven. May we offer strength to the weak and may we see your kingdom in the community we call home.

In Jesus’ Name,

Amen

Food for Thought-Morning Prayer for the First Wednesday in Advent

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Merciful God,

You are a God of unexpected places, times, and designs. The early morning fog of our minds brings us to this day; when we are stepping into the misty realities that surround us. We do not know where you will appear but we know you are already there; in that place, in that moment, beyond our comprehension anticipating our arrival. You have called us from the safety and sanctity of our homes into a world mired in the seasonal expectations of stuff and stress. May we hear the Good News today that our journey toward Bethlehem allows us to move through the demands which diminish our ability to witness to your presence in our lives. May we hear the Good News today that our journey allows us to walk away from the unneeded, embrace the necessary, and learn from our past. May we hear the Good News today that we do not make the journey to Bethlehem on our own; we take each step in the presence of the living God; the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Deborah, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, David, Bathsheba, Mary, Jesus the Christ, and even us.

In Jesus’ Name
Amen

Food for Thought-A Night Prayer in the Celtic Tradition

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Merciful God,

The sun has set above the western waters. As the dying embers of day fade and night grows round us, we pray for safety in the hours to come. As we traverse the paths which lead us from the journeys we’ve made to the rest we seek, we know that even in darkness we follow His light of love. As you have borne our faults this day, may we be instruments of healing for the wounds of others which need to be mended. As you’ve listened to our prayers this day, may we hear the stories of others which need to be told. As your loving-kindness has woven threads of mercy through the unseen moments our lives, may we embrace this gift so that we may be more willing to give of ourselves tomorrow. As we find refuge this night, may your Spirit guard our souls so we find peace.

In Jesus Name,
Amen