Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Spirit Needs a Body

By all accounts the church is dead. Both numerically and anecdotal this is true. I can't tell you how many people I have met who say, "I'm spiritual, but not religious." It is interesting that this is usually told to me by children who are burying their mother/father. It seems that we do need religion. In fact, I often wonder if it is possible to be spiritual and not religious. I suppose one could stay home and pray, read the Bible, and come into contact with God. I would guess that not many people do this. We need a place to go. We need a community that prays with us, studies the Bible with us, and we can only worship in community. How are we going to be spiritual without religion?

Don't get me wrong I am no church apologist. I have struggled in my own life with the institutional church. Too often the church cares about the wrong things. Too often it is about money, buildings, instead of people and faith. However, I have come over time to the conclusion that without the church I am adrift in my own spiritual life.

There was a year of my life I did not go to Church. I like to think of it as my lost weekend. (kinda like John Lennon's lost weekend. When he left Yoko Ono and went on a bender for a year.) Anyway, I can honestly say that during that year I was lost. It wasn't that God did not love and care for me. It was that I was not closely connect to God. Sure, I prayed to God. But something was always missing. It was the discipline of living in a faith community. It was the ritual of partaking of the body and blood of Christ. It was the intentional hour that I spend in worship. At Holy Communion something happens to me. I start to think about my week. Which leads me to think about my sin, and if always overwhelms me. Then I start to think about what Jesus did for me. I feel a sense of relief, of comfort, of love. I never get that anywhere else but at the table of our Lord.

There is no spiritual life without religion. I would agree that sometimes there is religion with no spirit, but even so this is no reason to reject the institution of the church. The Church exists to keep us connect to the body of Christ. To remind us of the power of the Gospel to save! We don't get that anywhere else in this world. So, I will see you in Church.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The way we think

I was watching the Sotomayor hearings this week. What struck me was that the argument going on between the two parties over the now famous "Wise Latina" comment. It is the same arguments we have in the church over scripture. I suspect that when we vote on bishops and pastors we want to know these same kind of things. How will they interrupt scripture? What will be the basis for their conclusions? In the post Modern world our background and history is not insignificant. It has been argued in certain Biblical circles that we can not read the text without interjecting our own prejudices, life stories, and experiences. I grew up as rather middle of the road white guy from New Hampshire. That influences my reading of the text. However, I have been blessed in life to be around people with different experiences then me. In seminary I was blessed to serve in a Latino congregation and an African American congregation. My first, call was to a church surrounded and filled with diversity. I met Haitians, Dominicans, Asians, Indians, African Americans, Pakistanis, and just about any other nationality one could think of. It was interesting to hear their interpretations of the text. It was interesting to see how their life stories influenced what they thought the Bible meant.
Don't misunderstand me I think the Bible does have a message. In fact, it is a very clear message that must be heard. However, I know that this message comes to us in different ways. It is always filtered through our particular experiences. We are only human there is no other way we can experience the living word of God. But this is the point not everyone sees it that way. Many good religious people would disagree with what I just said. They would argue for a reading of the Bible that has no bearing on our human perceptions. They would argue God's word came from God and therefore it does not matter what culture or background you come from there is only one way to understand, translate, and interpret the text. I would say that the Bible itself argues against such a reading. The church and the people of God have always saw God through there very human understanding. Think about the disciples even with Jesus right in front of them they do not understand what he is saying. The early church saw Jesus only through there own Jewish heritage rejecting the inclusion of the Gentiles. It is only through revelation that they eventually come to see that a Gentile understanding of Jesus Christ is just as good as a Jewish. This movement did something astonishing. It changed the church. It made it into a growing living institution. I would argue that when we allow others to speak their truths we are better able to hear the living word of God. We are better able to see Christ working in and through others. Of course, I have a post modern mind. I guess I would never be confirmed as a supreme court judge. I will have to settle for being a pastor who has the privilege and honor to preach and teach the living word of God.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

More in Death

"You can't win Darth. If you strike me down I will become more powerful then you can possibly imagine" Obi-Wan Kenobi says these words to Darth Vader on their fateful lightsaber fight on the death star. He is making a profound statement about death. We become more in our death then we did in our life. Our good and bad become magnified as we die and people remember us. It is true with Michael Jackson. All the good and bad that was in his life has now in death become something even greater then it was in his life. Since, his death I have been listening again to Michael's music. What comes over me is a mixture of emotions. I remember the first time seeing the video for Billie Jean, the time at the skating rink everyone stopped and starred as they played the video for Thriller. the time I danced, or sang along with a Michael Jackson song. For everyone my age we remember the day when there was no bigger or greater entertainer on the planet then Michael Jackson. What he became was a conclusion to a life that was complex. We will never know the truth about Michael Jackson as a person, because it has to be filtered to us through media, and fame. What we will always remember were the moments of joy he brought us through his music and his dance.
Recently Rep. Peter King called Michael Jackson was a "low life" and a "child molester". My problem with Peter King is that he is guilty of breaking the eighth commandment. He is guilty of making innuendo and rumor into truth. He can say "All Michael Jackson did was sing and dance." But what he can not take away is that Michael Jackson was part of our lives. He touched people with his music. That is something powerful and his death reminds of his brilliance and power. As well as his failures and short comings. The truth is that Michael was like all of us because he was human, and every human life is complex. We are all filled with good and bad, brilliance and failure. It is easy to say, "stop with a psychological babble." It is a lot harder to live in the real world with complicated people. I suppose it would be more comfortable for Peter King if everyone fit into the same mold, acted as he would like. However, this is not the way the world works. If Michael had broken the law then he would have rightly been in jail. The truth is that he was never convicted. So anything one might say about his involvement with children is simply guessing. We can say that he was a complicated person. He had things that were not so great about him. But we can say that about everybody including Rep. Peter King. I wish as a public figure he would choose his words more carefully, and not just spout off to get headlines. Because what he forgets to realize is that in death we become much stronger then we were in real life for good and for bad.