Thursday, June 27, 2013

A "dynamic" translation of Galatians Chapter Five

With both thanks and apologies to J. Louis Martyn:

A reading from Galatians:
            It was to bring us into the realm of freedom that Christ set us free. So stand y’all’s ground, and don’t get locked up again!
            My Siblings, y’all were called to freedom! But don’t let that freedom be turned into a place the Flesh will ambush y’all from!
            Instead, be captured by love of one another. After all, the whole of the Law was spoken in the sentence: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself!”
            You know the other option don’t you? Acting like two rabid dogs, snapping at one another, threatening to devour one another—It seems like y’all are going that route—good luck with that—you’ll swallow one another whole.
            Look, here’s how I’d teach you if I was there in person: Lead y’all’s daily lives guided by the Spirit—in that way, y’all won’t end up acting all impulsive and be tricked by the Flesh into doing It’s desire.
            Because the Flesh is actively inclined against the Spirit, and the Spirit again the Flesh.
            Check it out, these two Powers, the Flesh and the Spirit—are opposites sides, at war with one another—and in the confusion of that war y’all don’t actually do what you wish to do!
            But if, in the daily life of your community, y’all are being consistently led by the Spirit, then y’all don’t need the Law to fight your battle against the Flesh.
            When the Flesh claims you as an occupied territory it’s really obvious.
            The effects are sexual—for example: fornication, vicious immorality, and uncontrolled debauchery.
            They are spiritual—for example: the worship of idols and belief in magic.
            They are publicly embarrassing: bouts of drunkenness, nights of carousing, and the like.
            Most worrying they are destructive to community: instances of irreconcilable hatred, strife, resentment, outbursts of rage, mercenary ambition, dissensions, separation into divisive cliques, and grudging envy of the neighbor’s success.
            In this regard, I warn y’all now, just as I warned y’all before: those who practice the like will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

            By contrast, when you are rightfully claimed by the realm of the Spirit it’s obvious too—because you bear the fruits of the Spirit. They are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faith, gentleness, self-control. The Law, the other option in this fight against the Flesh—even the Law which oppresses y’all as much as the Flesh, doesn’t forbid these kinds of things! And remember, those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the Flesh, together with its passions and desires.
            If we live in the Spirit—and we do!—let us carry out our daily lives under the guidance of the Spirit.”
Word of God, word of life. Thanks be to God.

Worship, Everywhere!

            As some of you know I created a prayer book, Read, Reflect, Pray for the church to use during the season of Lent. Well, a version of that prayer book is now sitting on an editor’s desk at Augsburg Fortress Press. I don’t know if it’ll end up being published or not, but I’m hoping.
            That should tell you something—I’m pretty serious about the contents of that book. Its main point is to move the 7 central things of worship[1] out into the rest of the world, stretching Sunday out into the whole week.
            Imagine becoming a group of people who focus their lives on being community, fostering forgiveness, reflecting on their vocations in light of God’s love for us declared in our Baptism, rooting themselves in God’s Word, cultivating a thankful heart, sharing Christ’s grace at table, and being people sent into the world to be salt and light for the sake of the world.
            That’s why we worship as we do, not because the hymnal tells us to, not because we’ve all got the order of service memorized and it would be a shame to do something new, but because we are practicing being who we are—we are being shaped to be little Christs in the world.
            And I truly believe the world needs cross shaped people, it is in need of people who live out our liturgy[2]—our worship—every day and in many ways.

            Public Policy expert Robert D. Putnam has spent the last 18 years cataloging the variety of ways community is collapsing in America—check out his famous book Bowling Alone sometime… yet church is a place, and a group of people, that goes out of its way to be community. For that matter, where else in American life can you find a multi-generational and/or multi-ethnic gathering of people? Nowhere, that’s where!
            Think of the Reality TV phenomena, some of the shows actually have booths where the contestants/actors “confess” to the audience—and we eat it up as entertainment. Yet, we offer compassionate confession in which sinner speaks to sinner about the forgiveness we find in God.
            There is so much talk about self-esteem—and rightly so to a point, the world can be very tough and soul crushing—but so much of it becomes children getting giant trophies for participation and parents brow-beat teachers for B’s because their children will feel bad if grade inflation isn’t endemic. Here however, in this community, we remember we’re Children of God! God has named us and claimed us and nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. If you need a morale boost just go to a sink and make the sign of the cross, remembering your Baptism!
            Think of all the stories we hear, see, and allow to shape our lives. The nightly news makes us afraid of our neighbors. Romantic comedies make single people believe there is something wrong with them. Disney movies make little girls think they’re nothing until their prince comes. And stereotypes of all sorts strip untold numbers of people of their dignity. Yet, we have a different story that shapes our lives—one about God’s continued involvement in His creation, which He loves. A story of liberation from slavery, one of wisdom enhancing what is good and prophets tearing down what is evil, one of God-with-us living, dying, and rising for our sake, one of the Church, enlivened by the Holy Spirit, telling our story to the ends of the earth.
            It’s easy to go negative—to think of all that is wrong with life. In fact, much of advertizing and our economic system is based on training us to feel anxious because we don’t have a particular good or service, but that if we did we would be satisfied and whole. Keeping up with the Joneses not only crushes our credit-cards, but also stifles our soul. But imagine if we took time to say thank you, to reflect upon all the good that is in our lives. We do that every week at Christ’s table as we begin the meal.
            Speaking of eating together, some sociologists say we’re doing that both less frequently and less well. More often we now eat alone instead of together, and even when we eat together we are often separated from one another by a variety of screens. We eat less nutritious food, we eat while distracted—which means we actually taste the food less fully. In short, we aren’t eating right. Yet… yet The Faith centers around abundant meals—those we read about: manna in the desert, the LORD swallowing up Death, Jesus eating with sinners and tax collectors—those we experience weekly: the body and blood of Jesus, God’s grace caught in our teeth and poured down our gullet—and those we share together outside of service: coffee hour, picnics, gathering food for those in need, Lenten Soup Suppers, etc.
             One of the most interesting things about the millennial generation (’85-present…BTW in this scheme I'm a Generation Xer) is they care more about meaningful action than belonging to an institution—they often take up the mantel “spiritual but not religious.” They don’t always want to join a group, but if the group is doing something that matters they will join in. Well, we’re called out of the church, sent to act as Christ’s body in the world—I can’t imagine that concrete meaningful work for the sake of the Gospel wouldn’t attract these spiritual seekers. We just need to make sure we’re actually being sent out!

            And that last bit might be the whole enchilada. The greatest danger of this wonderful gift we possess, the liturgy, is that worshiping each Sunday can immunize us from its importance. Liturgy can become simply what we do on Sunday and forget it until the next week. Liturgy should be the people of God’s work for the week, it should shape who we are and what we do.

[1] Gathering, Confession and Forgiveness, Remembrance of Baptism, Word, Thanksgiving, Meal, and Sending.
[2] By the way Liturgy is essentially “the work of the people”… more on that in a moment.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Central Things

As some of you know I’ve been creating a prayer book—the intention of which is to move the 7 central things of worship out into the rest of the world, stretching Sunday out into the rest of the week.
Imagine a group of people who focus their lives on being community, fostering forgiveness, reflecting on their vocations in light of God’s love for us, rooting themselves in God’s Word, cultivating a thankful heart, sharing Christ’s grace at table, and being people in the world that are salt and light for the sake of the world.

Here are a few brief maxims to reflect on:
To Gather in community requires being self-outside-of-self.
To Confess and Forgive one another requires humility.
To remember our Baptism is to both forget and re-member our other callings.
To engage with the Word is to make relative the world for its own sake.
To give Thanks is to be aware of the source of all that is good.
To Eat together the body of Christ is to become what we are.
To be Sent is to be in the world as it is and as it shall be.