Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Living under the Network

I've been reading Karen's posts at The Heretic’s Corner, Fr. Jake's at Father Jake Stops the World and mumcat's at The Cat's Cradle — all discussing the anger of the conservatives within the church and the desire on the part of some to break from the Episcopal Church.

In an attempt to look at the AAC/conservative point of view from a pastoral perspective, Karen asks, "If everyone in a parish from the rector on down, wishes to depart from the Episcopal Church in order to join one of the "continuing" jurisdictions, why must we insist that they leave their buildings behind? They've built them, tended them, and worshipped in them."

Like mumcat, I wish I could be as pastoral as Karen about this. It's not only the conservatives who have built the buildings, tended them, and worshipped in them. It's all of us. The large and diverse center of us.

My perspective, living in a Network diocese, is different than most. I've watched the maniuplation, I've been told the lies by clergy ("I don't know much about the AAC" while actively furthering it and pooh-poohing my concern about them, to "nothing will change"). I've heard, from clergy, the national church called "a train wreck" and rude disrespect shown toward the presiding bishop. I've been told I shouldn't even spend my time reading up on what's going on. I guess I shouldn't worry my little head over these things!

I've heard the ugliness of someone being called "unchristian" for not having the exact same interpretation of scripture as an AAC person. I've heard gays and lesbians referred to as "abominations" and "lower than dogs."

I've watched the diocese becoming more constrictively conservative. Now there are only two seminaries that aren't too liberal for our prospective priests to attend. Education for Ministry (EFM), a study program for lay people offered through Sewanee/The University of the South is being called too liberal. I'm pretty sure it will not be allowed back next year.

Like Father Jake, I just can't trust the AAC and their leaders. They've given me no reason to trust them. They do things in an underhanded way, as the Chapman memo revealed. They call us revisionist, heretical and apostate, yet refuse to do the most Christian of things — to come to the Communion table with other Christians. I really wonder how they will justify this to Christ. What if some of the apostles had refused to come to the table with Matthew, or refused to attend if Mary Magdalene were there?

And I'd like to know, who are the revisionists, anyway? The via media is the Episcopal tradition. This hard-nosed fundamentalism is the revisionist doctrine, in my opinion.

How do you reconcile with someone who refuses to come to the table, who shows zero tolerance for reconciliation, in fact?

If they can't tolerate a divergent view, or women (and the talk against women in the church is growing in these groups), or gays or lesbians, if they won't sit in the same room with a bishop or with anyone who didn't actively oppose his ordination, then I have to think a schism is inevitable. Are they so intent on tearing apart the body of Christ?

If someone is so determined to leave the church, they really should go. But they are the minority. Father Jake reports a study by John Clinton Bradley that shows "Diocesan Convention support for affiliating with the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes is extremely limited." And, "The overall ratio of positive to negative impacts resulting from diocesan convention resolutions is 2.2 to 1."

So, my rightwing friends are in the minority in the Episcopal Church. The number of dioceses to join the Network testifies to that.

If the Episcopal Church is so intolerable to this minority, maybe they should evaluate where they are. A dissident minority can certainly leave, but does it have the right to take the buildings in which we worship from the rest of us?

The Archbishop of Canterbury has been under increasing attack by these groups' gurus. I'm starting to wonder: Do they want to pull out of the Anglican Communion now, too, since the Archbishop is not doing as they wish? Is all this AMiA activity the preliminary to a move into some other communion? Why are priests in this Network diocese given letters dimissory to transfer into a church that has no status with the See of Canterbury?

In fact, on David Virtue's blog today is a long diatribe against Rowan Williams and related persons, basically saying that the Anglican communion needs someone with passionate biblical convictions, ending with this: "If there is going to be a new leader it will probably come from Africa in the person of Peter Akinola, Primate of Nigeria. But if that happens the shape of Anglicanism will change forever, and if that occurs a lot of people are going to be very unhappy, mostly and including archbishops like Rowan Williams."

Of course, Akinola is as virulently anti-gay as is Virtue himself. But he doesn't seem to object to polygamy (but I guess, after all, it is biblical), stoning, slavery, child labor exploitation or other things most of us heretical "revisionists" would have a problem with. But I'm beginning to suspect more and more this is the direction some of these bishops want to take us.

There are too many things that concern me to want to give the AAC-types any more than they've already taken. I have no trust left for them. I've heard too much arrogance and hate come from the lips of bishops who lead the AAC and who claim to be modeling the face of Christ on earth.

Yet I feel strangely optimistic. Whether the AAC members go or stay, the Holy Spirit has all this in hand. He will bring good out of even the most wretched actions in the long run. We can hand our concerns over to him, for he is the one we can trust.

Monday, March 29, 2004

Who is Mary

Who was, who is Mary, mother of Jesus?

I've been thinking a lot about Mary since Thursday (March 25), celebrated as the Annunciation. There are areas of disagreement about her. She has been believed to be born free of the stain of original sin. Some believe she was whisked into heaven instead of dying a normal death.

The Gospel of Luke gives us the most compelling picture of Mary, alarmed at the appearance and words of the angel Gabriel, then accepting when she understood: "May it be to me as you have said." Then the Song of Mary.

The angel told her, "The Lord is with you." God, who always knew her, must have been with her, watching her closely, protecting her, preparing her all her short young life for the task ahead of her. And God, the master geneticist, must have worked through all her previous generations to bring into being the person with the qualities she would need.

She was the flesh of which Jesus was created. Mary, fully human, gave Jesus the part of him that was fully human. Her humanity was her gift to Jesus. This is the miraculous: Jesus Christ, fully divine, yet fully human. Son of God and son of Mary. It was her blood that coursed through his veins.

Mary loved Jesus with a mother's passion, a mother's protectiveness. She nurtured him to become what he was to become, then at one point, she took his brothers to bring him home, to keep him safe. Of course, she could not.

It was real blood that Jesus spilled on the way to the cross. It was the blood of Mary's blood; it was the corpuscles, the genetic material that was created when the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary and caused the creation of Jesus. Exactly what mixture of DNA and Holy Spirit was combined there is a mystery. But he was her child and flesh of her flesh, blood of her blood.

What an amazing human being she had to have been.

Mary, like Jesus, endured the unimaginable for us. She watched as her son was cruelly murdered.

The Sons of Thunder argued over who would sit on Jesus' right hand in heaven. It is neither. I think it is Mary, who intercedes for us, who prays for us as a mother prays for her child, now and at the hour of our death.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Musings of a fevered brain

I've been sick. It was one of those things that come on you slowly: first, at the beginning of last week, a little sinusy, a little washed out. It grew progressively worse through the week. Praying to get better every day.

Saturday morning I got up not feeling good. Thought about skipping EFM, then dragged myself into the shower and went. Went to the office for a couple of hours to catch up on stuff. Enough of this. I went to my best friends' house and was served up a nice dinner and a movie. They deserved better than me. Praying to get better.

Coming home from church Sunday, all right, I'm definitely sick. My head hurts. My sinuses hurt. Nasty stuff is draining down the back of my throat. My throat hurts. The sun is sending knives of light into my eyes, which are squinting and watering like crazy. I go home and stretch out on the sofa. Praying to get better. I'm definitely running a fever now.

I keep thinking about a meditation for the Maundy Thursday foot-washing that our deacon had asked me to write a couple of weeks ago. Great phrases are coming into my head as I lay here. I finally get up, go to the PC and write it out. I don't think it will be usable for a service. Too personal, probably too metaphysical and sensual. I dunno. I'm going to make a couple of minor revisions then I'll post it next week. You can decide if it's just delirium at work.

Monday morning, the alarm goes off. My body says, "I don't think so." I shut off the alarm and go back to sleep. I wake up a couple of hours later and call in sick, get something to drink, take a decongestant and antibiotic and go back to bed. I'm coughing terribly and my sides hurt from coughing so much during the night. My head hurts, my face hurts. I can hear popping, crackling and whistling sounds from the vicinity of my bronchia. Yuccky stuff. I wake up for short periods of time then sleep.

In my more conscious moments, I think a lot about Christ. In one of the chapters of the book I'm reading, Rick Warren's The Purpose Driven Life, Warren affirms that it's in our times of trouble that we reach out to Christ the most, and I think that's true. I've been praying, asking for His presence, and I am aware of His presence. He's right here with me. I feel like a small child being comforted by a loving parent. He tells me it will be okay, and I know it will. It is good to be so aware of His proximity. Illness does give me more time to pray.

Still, not all my thoughts are so lofty. For instance:

1. The Romantic Novel/Soap Opera
or, As the Stomach Churns

Our Heroine, tragically dying of tuberculosis, reclines on her deathbed. Amazingly, her long illness has served only to make her thin, beautiful and 20 years younger-looking.

Enter Mr. Should-a-been from stage right. He approaches the bed of Our Heroine hesitantly, head down. He looks upon her slight form and his shoulders shake as a sob wracks him. He sinks to one knee and buries his head in Our Heroine's (now fuller) bosom.

"My dear. All these years it's been you. You're the one I loved. Please give me a sign that you can hear me."

Our Heroine's eyes flutter open. She is able to lift one hand and gently cup the side of his face, smooth his hair.

Mr. Should-a-been looks upon Our Heroine lovingly, with tears streaming down his face. He takes her hand and holds it in his, gently kissing it. Then he buries his head again, at her side, determined to stay with Our Heroine until the end.

"I have always loved you," he declares, "through all the years of separation. I have been searching for you these last few years, hoping against all odds that you love me too. Please tell me you love me -- then I will die happy."

Our Heroine struggles to speak.

"Hack ACKK hack, spume ACCKKK wheeze hack ACKKK ACCKK HACCKK."

"Cut !"

2. Thoughts on a scaredy-cat dog

I've written before about The Best Dog in the World. She really is the Best Dog in the World. I'll call her Betty for short. Part border collie, part Australian shepherd, part who-knows-what, the lights of canine intelligence and good nature shine from her eyes.

Betty's biggest problem is that she looks like some kind of black-with-white wolf. Small children are frequently frightened of her, which puzzles her and hurts her feelings. She likes them. (No, I mean in a good way -- not for breakfast.)

Today, she keeps me company in my sick bed, all 45-50 pounds of her. Once in a while, she gets up, sniffs towards my face, and says "whuff" in sympathy, smelling the infection and realizing I'm sick. She snuggles against my leg.

One thing about Betty has been puzzling me for a while: she is afraid of the dark. She goes out for her morning romp with no problem, goes out anytime during the day, but is scared to go out after dark. I usually have to order her out. She goes to the door, peers cautiously around, peers nervously up at the night sky. Sometimes she'll then slink out, do her business as fast as she can, then fly back inside the door. Sometimes she refuses to go out unless I step outside first, walk out with her and stand guard over her, my wolven dog, while she squats.

In the hot part of the summer, I used to wait until after dusk to take her for walks, when it was a bit cooler. Understand, Betty loves to go for walks. She's overjoyed by the sight of my white, lace-up walking shoes. But several times at night, she suddenly panicked like something was after her, and she bolted for the safety of the house as hard as she could go, dragging me behind her on the end of her leash. I gave up on this night-walking practice.

I wonder, what frightened her? Did an owl swoop at her sometime? Did she walk into a cobweb? Do her canine senses pick up on some danger that doesn't register on my poor human senses? -- I do believe in the unseen world. There are things undetectable to our everyday senses.

Betty is a very sensitive animal, unlike Good Old Boy, my golden retriever. He is sweet and lovable, but definitely not sensitive. He shows no hesitation about going out after dark.

Sometimes, I stand there with Betty, peering at the night sky and wondering what she senses, or remembers.

I say prayers of protection for my animals, my home and myself.

3. Pondering on The Purpose Driven Life

I haven't been journaling regularly on this book. I'm finding most of it to be pretty basic Christianity 101. In Chapter 22, Rick Warren talks about how we are created in the image of God, not to be gods (of course), and how God's ultimate goal is not our comfort, but our character development (as in, this illness is good for my character. True--it made me just stop everything and pray). We become transformed, metamorphosed, through the Holy Spirit working in us.

Chapter 23, "How We Grow," continues the thought, talking about choices and commitment, and changing our autopilot, or our basic thinking, to an attitude more compatible with our beliefs, so that we "automatically" tend to the best choices.

In Chapter 24, "Transformed by Truth," Warren talks about the Bible being our spiritual nourishment. He gets into some thinking I find flawed -- he discounts tradition and reason.

I believe in Richard Hooker's three-legged stool of Scripture, reason, and the tradition of the church -- the foundation of Anglicanism. I don't believe that God personally wrote every sentence in the Bible. He inspired his prophets, who wrote it. These people were listening to God, but they were human beings, in their time and culture, and this has to be taken into account as we read it. The Bible is not merely a list of rules. It's a beautiful witness to God working in these people's lives and their relationship with Him. It teaches us, it instructs us, and it has to be interpreted. It's not a dead dusty book, but a living witness.

From the writings of Richard Hooker, courtesy of gigibeads.net - Chaplet of Richard Hooker:

"God is no captious sophister, eager to trip us up whenever we say amiss, but a courteous tutor, ready to amend what, in our weakness or our ignorance, we say ill, and to make the most of what we say aright." -- Richard Hooker sermon, "A Learned discourse of Justification."

The Holy Spirit guides us in applying scripture to our own lives and to what he is doing in the world today. He is working, and the church usually lags behind him. I think this is because the church, whatever denomination, is a bureaucracy, intent on defending itself, its position and the way it has always done things.

So whether it was slavery, women's rights, child labor, concentration camps, civil rights, or whatever the Holy Spirit turned his attention to, the church lagged behind. Certain people, clergy, came to the fore in these issues, working for the change the Holy Spirit required, but the church as a body seems to always lag behind.

The church as a corporate being just doesn't respond very well to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

So I am leery of any kind of demand that wants to make him or the Scriptures like a fly in amber, frozen in time. This is what some of my AAC brethren want to do. They'd like to put him in a vault in a museum somewhere. They're still unhappy about women in the church and cannot see any possibility that God might call a gay or lesbian.

I really didn't expect the General Convention to ratify Gene Robinson; I was surprised at the vote. This required me to do some hard praying and thinking. I came to the conclusion that this was the Holy Spirit at work.

So, anyway, this is an area of disagreement with Warren. Another area is the idea that this time on earth is no more than a preparation for eternity spent in heaven. I believe that this world is real and it matters here, too. Salvation begins here, in fact, we're already in life eternal. And the Kingdom of God is at hand, not in some far off cloud.

Chapter 25, "Transformed by Trouble," (yes, this illness is serving some purpose to mold me), Chapter 26, "Growing through Temptation," and Chapter 27, "Defeating Temptation," are all pretty standard.

Anyway, it's late, I'm sick and tired (literally) and I'm going to bed.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Determined to call it "splitsville"

I haven't posted the past few days. I just haven't had the energy to marshall together everything to express what's been on my mind.

You see, this past Sunday, in the Diocese of Ohio, some disaffected clergy of the AAC-type violated canon in an attempt to hurry the schism in the Episcopal Church. They gathered confirmands from their parishes, went to a non-Episcopal church, and had the confirmations performed by some retired bishops from other parts of the country and one bishop from Brazil.

This is both a violation of canon, which states that permission must be obtained from the local bishop to perform any sacramental acts or official duties, and a violation of common courtesy. No such permission was asked; in fact, this was done in the darkness of secrecy, like most AAC actions. It was announced just about time the confirmation was starting.

The usual (traditional and orthodox !) procedure is for the bishop of the diocese to perform the confirmations, laying on hands and saying a prayer for each confirmand. But, one self-righteous priest explained that a lot of parents didn't want this "liberal" local bishop or bishop-elect, who had voted to ratify Gene Robinson as bishop coadjutor, to touch their children.

This is a slap in the face to both these men and to Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold. The intent was to put the PB in a "damned if you do or damned if you don't" position (you let them continue their hateful actions or respond and be accused of hatefulness), and hopefully provoke a response that they would use to "justify" a schism.

This is the kind of action you see in a relationship where one partner wants to leave to pursue someone new, but wants to blame the breakup on the old partner, so does things to provoke the partner to an angry response. Then the faithless one says, "See, I just can't live with you any more. You're just too hard to get along with. I'm going to pursue a new relationship over here with so-and-so."

PB Griswold hasn't bit on the bait. I'm developing more and more admiration for him as I watch him through this crisis.

PB Griswold, in his response, reminded them of church canon, the instructions from the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the upcoming meeting this week to work on alternative oversight. (The action taken in Ohio was an attempt to preempt this meeting. They don't want anything worked out.)

Here is the conclusion to PB Griswold's response from Monday, March 15:

"Why, I am moved to ask, did these bishops decide that Confirmation of these persons was pastorally necessary at this moment and act without permission of the Bishop of Ohio? Given that the House of Bishops will meet later this week, I can only surmise that their intention is to co-opt the bishops' agenda and provoke a reaction that will appear sufficiently lacking in pastoral concern for 'dissenting minorities' to justify what they have done in the eyes of others.

I trust that they will be disappointed in their hope and that the vast majority of bishops of this church--occupying the diverse center--will find a way forward that is clear and just in its principles, pastoral in its approach and responsive to the needs of the church in this present moment."


Through a study program in my parish, I've been reading Rick Warren's The Purpose Driven Life. Ironically, this action in Ohio took place right after I'd read chapters 20 and 21, "Restoring Broken Fellowship," about reconciliation and peacemaking in the church, and "Protecting Your Church," about protecting unity in the church: "Unity is the soul of fellowship. Destroy it, and you rip the heart out of Christ's Body."

I've watched every principle in these chapters being broken by the actions of these priests and the bishops who participated or encouraged them.

I can only regard this as bad shepherding, as in "The Hired Hand." At the same time, I know they must feel justified, feel that what they are doing is right, to persist with these kinds of actions.

Are they so afraid of change? I look at the history of Christianity and see that the Holy Spirit is constantly leading us to change. Again, I see Peter sitting at the table with unabashed, uncircumcised folks who didn't obey the dietary laws, being very uncomfortable because this went against all he had been taught all his life, but doing it -- because the Holy Spirit was bringing these awful gentiles into the fold.

Are they so afraid of an admitted, open and honest homosexual bishop? They see this as such an awful sin that they can't live with it. I have to look at the example Jesus set for us and know that He was an inclusionist. He brought to him people who at that time were viewed at least as, or more contemptible, to the religious "right," and He even made apostles of them. Otherwise, we wouldn't have the Gospel of Matthew. I would rather risk erring on the side of love than erring on the side of prejudice. This is the way I feel the Holy Spirit calling me, as I think most Episcopalians feel the Spirit calling them.

How can you deny someone who loves Christ with all his heart, soul and mind, who has demonstrated able pastoral leadership and wants to serve God? I don't understand the animosity.

So maybe we are set for a schism. If so, it won't be because there is no common ground, as some claim. We are all Christians. We all believe the Nicene creed. No, if there is a schism, it will be because this group has set their will to it and are determined to have it. It will be their choice.

But hear what the Spirit is saying to the church, because it's to God we'll have to answer for our actions.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Be not Episcopal

Philadelphia -- UNS (Unsaintly News Service) The Rev. Dr. Peter Toon, spiritual counsel to the American Anglican Council (AAC) and Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes (NACDP), admitted today that he had not gone far enough in his advice to them to go back to the 1928 prayer book.

"I realized I had been incredibly short-sighted," he admitted, of his advice to the groups who wanted to stand their ground on opposition to policies and practices of the Episcopal Church of the United States (ECUSA). "I told them that in order to have an identity distinct from that of the revisionist ECUSA, they should go back 70-some years to the 1928 prayer book, before the revisionist practices of admitting women, gays and lesbians and minorities to the priesthood. Now I realize that doesn't go far enough."

Toon now recommends going back to the 13th century, "before the innovations of Pietists, Anabaptists and such groups who taught that it's possible to have direct experience with the Holy Spirit, undirected by bishopric authority."

"This current practice of everyone having Bibles is just not traditional, either," Toon exclaimed. "In those days, the only Bibles were those chained down in the churches, and they were in a foreign language, so people did the orthodox thing and waited for their priest or bishop to explain to them what was inside the Good Book. It kept order and kept everyone on the same page, so to speak."

Obviously incensed, Toon continued, " Nowadays, everyone has an opinion on the interpretation of scripture. Lots of these heretics even say they can have grace as a direct gift from God, unchanneled by higher authority within the church. It's just not orthodox."

In order to gain AAC-bishops' opinion on this, UNS reporter Dwayne T. Smodge infiltrated an AAC meeting by signing an oath.

"It was kind of hairy," Smodge reported. "I was supposed to sign allegiance to the Network [NACDP] in blood, but I distracted them by asking if Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold should be removed from office, and signed it with a red ballpoint pen while they were shouting."

Pittsburgh bishop and possible 39th Province presiding bishop, Bob Duncan, told our reporter that he agrees with Toon's assessment.

"It's been a mess these past 800 or so years," he said. "We need to get back to the basics. I'm going to call for the faithful to make a voluntary surrender of all their Bibles. As the potential next pope of the new Traditional Orthodox Anglican Union, everyone should heed my infallible, inerrant interpretation of Scripture and not strain their intellects trying to think and pray and form their own thoughts on its meaning."

"There were a lot of heresies that appeared around the time of the Reformation. People were getting Bibles hot off those newfangled printing presses and spouting all sorts of ideas. Oh, there were a few good things from that time, like Cromwell. But don't forget that a woman became head of the Church of England in the 16th century and various unorthodox trends were coming about. The conclusion you have to draw is inevitable."

Duncan continued, "This return to the true faith will be much easier to put into practice without all those Bibles all over the place. In fact, I'm having them removed from the pews in all the parishes in my diocese today."

Duncan said he believes going back to the practice of burning heretics at the stake will be good for orthodoxy, as well, "Especially when dealing with these pesky women. They've been nothing but a thorn in my side ever since they got the vote in 1924. The ones who didn't turn lesbo right away started wearing pants and immediately got too big for their britches, thinking they had the right to have opinions and take part in things. I trace a lot of the current problems in the church back to these opinionated godly ladies getting the vote. And, of course, as soon as they got in [to ordained priesthood] it opened the way for all these gays, too."

Duncan concluded that the new slogan of the AAC will be "Let's get back to the true orthodoxy of the Middle Ages."

Saturday, March 13, 2004

Fellowship in trying times

Chapters 17, 18 and 19 of Rick Warren's book, The Purpose Driven Life are about our relationships with each other in and through the church. Warren stresses that we are members of the body of Christ, "a vital organ of a living body." We were not made to worship or minister alone -- we need a family around us, and commitment to real people.

Life is meant to be shared, and we are called into fellowship, into community. It takes honest, gut-level sharing to build real fellowship. It takes quick forgiveness. "Fellowship happens when mercy wins over justice."

To building a loving community takes honesty, "speaking the truth in love. Glossing over tension-causing issues doesn't build fellowship -- instead, the issue is not resolved, "and everyone lives with an underlying frustration. Everyone knows about the problem, but no one talks about it openly. This creates a sick environment of secrets where gossip thrives."

Why is genuine fellowship so rare? "It means giving up our self-centeredness and independence in order to become interdependent."

Of course, I've been thinking about all these things the past few weeks. I encountered a lot of superficial fellowship at my last parish, due in large measure to the political atmosphere. A lot of people were just going with the flow and weren't going to voice any opinion. There were people with hidden agendas who only presented a side they wanted visible, and so on and so on.

Yes, this is true to some degree all the time and everywhere. But I saw a marked diminishing of fellowship the last months I was there.

It's made me be a bit leery in my new parish, which I like very much. The rector, though on the conservative side, doesn't try to coerce anyone into a particular position. He encourages us all to think and speak for ourselves, which automatically defuses some of the tensions I had felt before, with so much secrecy and deceitfulness and things done in the dark -- I guess Father Dearest thought this was how to do things without engendering controversy. What Warren says about honesty and openness really resonates with me.

Still, I'm very cautious. I'm the new kid on the block. I don't know where I might get caught in old conflicts. I don't know how most of the parishioners feel about things yet. I'm being quiet.

In my study group last week, someone told a bad gay joke. I didn't say anything, but thank goodness, his wife jumped on him about it. I've been thinking about this. Should I have said I found it offensive? I think his wife realized how several people felt in the awkward but polite silence after he told the joke, so it probably worked out better that way.

Tonight, I went to a parish fellowship function. I sat at a table with some people I did not know at all. I don't think they are members of the parish, but attend things there pretty often. To look at them, I'd have said they are all very conservative -- a woman, her husband and brother, probably somewhere in their early 60s. They have the features of Appalachia, that Scots-Irish, hard-working, protective-of-what-they-have-earned-in-a-difficult-life looking. Good-hearted but conservative.

The brother started explaining to the husband how he'd heard that membership had declined some, over that gay priest (he had the details confused), you know, they've got that one now (yeah, only one!), talking about gay marriage and stuff, and people had left.

I watched in fascination as his sister got right on his case in a loving way. She said that God made people they way He made them and we shouldn't hold that against anyone. And while she wasn't sure about something called marriage, everyone should be able to have some kind of legal union that protects them and their partners. Everyone is entitled to that protection.

Brother didn't offer one objection. He might not have bought what she was telling him 100 percent, but he was listening.

I can't help but smile. Whatever other purpose God had in mind with that interchange, part of it was for my benefit. To help restore my faith in people.

Thank you Abba. I know I'm going to have to open myself up.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

The earth comes to life

From the Gospel of Mark, 4:26-29, today's lectionary reading:

He also said, 'The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would
sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain
is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.'

The mystery of life: He would scatter seed and "would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how."

Spring comes earlier to Florida than to most of the country. I've been noticing the past week or two how green the grass has become. The trees are budding. Delicate green leaves of tiny proportions are suddenly there on all the trees and plants, popping up from nowhere. Azaleas, in profusion of reds and pinks, shout their existence to the sky. Where did they come from, so suddenly?

New life becomes evident each day. "It sprouts and grows" joyfully. This is the work of God's hand.

I planted the rose bush that's so full of buds, I scattered the seed of the green bahia grass. I can water them and tend them. But I cannot make them sprout and grow. I can only watch God's work in awe.

So it is with the Word.

Note: Go next door to Today's Gospel Insight(see "Links") to read a great exposition on today's Gospel reading.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

A command of love

[For any new visitors, let me explain: I'm reading a chapter a day of this book for a church-wide study program. I'm journaling about each chapter as I go through the book. Some days I find more to say than others.]

Chapter 16 of Rick Warren's The Purpose Driven Life, "What Matters Most," is about love.

"As you have heard from the beginning, his command is this: Live a life of love."
(2 John 1:16, NCV)

Warren says we are to show special love for each other in the family of believers. "Jesus said our love for each other -- not our doctrinal beliefs -- is our greatest witness to the world. He said, 'Your strong love for each other will prove to the world that you are my disciples."

LOVE? NOT DOCTRINAL BELIEFS? GOOD HEAVENS! Warren's sounding pretty radical here. He'd better watch out for accusations of heresy from some in my neck of the woods! But it is exactly what I think. It's in how we treat each other that God will judge us.

But this is Christ's second commandment. To love God first, with all our hearts, all our souls, all our minds, and all our strength, and second, we are to love each other as we love ourselves.

My own aside inserted here:
Not in a kinda, maybe, I would but...sort of way. Rather, to do for each other exactly as we would do for ourselves: The way we feed ourselves, take care of ourselves, protect ourselves, indulge ourselves, pray for ourselves, overlook our own faults, ask for mercy for ourselves...love ourselves.

This, like most of the things Christ asks of us, is not easy to do. I think I'm getting better at it. I encounter someone once in a while that I just cannot like. I do my best to love her with Christ's love, but I know that's not the same as loving her as myself. I think it's a matter of acceptance -- of being accepting -- an area of surrender to God's will that I must work on. I know a priest who sets a great example of this.

Anyway, back to Warren:
Life without love is really worthless, says Warren, who quotes Paul: "No matter what I say, what I believe and what I do, I'm bankrupt without love."

Love will last forever. Warren again quotes Paul: "These three things continue forever: faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these is love."

The greatest gift we can give is our time, of ourselves. Not giving things, but ourselves and our time to those we love. "Whenever you give your time, you are making a sacrifice, and sacrifice is the essence of love." And the time to do it is now.

Warren asks us to consider whether our relationships are our first priority, and how can we ensure they are.

Can we, can I, be so busy "doing good" I neglect the people around me?

The song "Easy to Be Hard" from the rock-musical Hair asks us to consider:

"How can people have no feelings
How can they ignore their friends
Easy to be proud
Easy to say no

And especially people
Who care about strangers
Who care about evil
And social injustice--
Do you only
Care about the bleeding crowd?
How about a needing friend?
I need a friend."

Let us not take each other for granted.

Monday, March 08, 2004

Contradictions: Reconciliation and Activism

I feel as though I'm being asked to do two things at one time. I've been involved in healing ministry since the beginning of my Christian walk. I tend to look at situations in the light of intercessory prayer: toward forgiveness, healing woundedness, reconciling differences and wholeness.

Recently, I've felt dragged into the role of activist, to an as yet small degree. (Me, the former politically apathetic.) When I started blogging, I didn't have in mind a fraction of the stuff I've been writing. Look at Sunday's (March 7) entry: Political activism. Using (or at least trying to use) humor, sarcasm, and pointed commentary to object to censorship.

This takes a little different attitude. The not so conciliatory part of me.

It would be easy to say, "If God wants things a certain way, He'll take care of it," and do nothing. But fatalism is not the Christian way. Christ calls us to be activists in His behalf. We are the body of Christ -- the feet, hands, eyes, ears, mind and mouth of Christ, to do His work on this earth. We are to use the spiritual gifts and talents He gave us to accomplish this work, whether it is feeding the hungry, healing the sick, comforting the mourners or setting free the captives.

It is the qualities within me that draw me to the healing ministry that draw me to the disenfranchised, the victims of oppression, to want to help bring healing. It is the activist in me that wants to squawk loud and long, until the injustice that causes so much need for healing in the first place is corrected.

Living in this diocese, I am seeing so much woundedness. How can any gays or lesbians listen to themselves be called depraved and lower than animals, have political action groups spewing animosity, and not have a terrible wounding?

At the same time, I wonder what kind of woundedness causes someone to be so full of fear or anger toward a group of people. I know that children of abusive situations are often rigid control freaks -- survival meant controlling the people around them. I wonder what kinds of wounds were suffered to make someone feel so threatened, so dispossesed, so angry as to make him or her so intent on controlling the situation by whatever means it takes.

This kind of feeling, taken to its extreme within a group, leads to terrible abuses -- blaming all its ills on a few people, the "them" of whom they are so resentful, who are put into a different box, not fit to be in the same room (or at the same table) with "us."

I'm coming to believe that as Christians, we have to be both activists and intercessors. That means we point out injustices and work to correct them. We also pray for the people concerned, even those who would sneer at any attempts to pray with them -- we simply pray for them. We pray for all to be healed. We pray for those who call us enemies and ask God to lead them and us to repentance.
Worship that Pleases God

Chapter 13 of The Purpose Driven Life is called "Worship that Pleases God."

Worship in truth and spirit, Warren advises. "Worship must be based on the truth of Scripture, not our opinions about God." I'm not sure what Warren's getting at here, talking about worshipping a "politically correct image of God" that is idolatry.

Well, our opinions about God have created a lot of bloody wars over the centuries, because it seems there are a number of differing views, all based on the same Scripture.

We have to set that aside and just worship the Creator.

Father Jake has a great entry on worship: just look to your right, hit the button for "Father Jake Stops the World" and read his entry from Friday, March 5 on worship.

I defined worship as an outpouring of love and adoration for God.

Warren says be sincere. Adopt the style of worship that best represents your love for God. After all, we were all made differently, so we shouldn't be expected to worship in the exact same way. There are traditionalists, naturalists, activists, ascetics, caregivers, enthusiasts, comtemplatives, and intellectuals, each with their own approach. For me, it can be any of the above, depending of the time of the day!

Warren says "God is pleased when our worship is thoughtful." It must engage our mind - rote recitation, with our minds engaged elsewhere, does not glorify God. Be specific - praise God for what? It must be intelligible to others, to act as a witness. It must be rooted in the Word.

"One thing worship costs us is our self-centeredness. You cannot exalt God and yourself at the same time. You don't worship to be seen by others or to please yourself. You deliberately shift the focus off yourself."

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength" (Mark 12:30, NIV) is quoted at the beginning and end of the chapter.

Chapter 14 - "When God Seems Distant"

"God is real, no matter how you feel," says Warren. Amen.

There are times when we feel God's presence very closely, and other times when it seems that God has disappeared from our lives.

Warren says sin sometimes causes a disconnect in our lives. But sometimes God is testing us. "It is a test of faith -- one we all must face: Will you continue to love, trust, obey, and worship God, even when you have no sense of his presence or visible evidence of his work in your life?"

Even David felt abandoned by God at times -- the dark night of the soul.

"God's omnipresence and the manifestation of his presence are two different things," says Warren, a good point. Warren uses the story of Job to illustrate how we should praise God even when He is silent: "..The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised."

Focus on God's unchanging nature and trust that God will keep his promises. Don't focus on your emotions. Remember what God has already done for you.

"When you feel abandoned by God yet continue to trust him, you worship him in the deepest way." This, to me implies a realization that God has not abandoned me -- it may seem that way at times, in the depths of my misery. That's why my faith should lead and not my feelings.

Chapter 15 is "Formed for God's Family"

A child of God. Each one of us. God treasures that relationship. Warren talks about our rich inheritance as children of God.

Baptism is identified by Warren as "not an optional ritual, to be delayed or postponed. It signifies your inclusion in God's family. It publicly announces to the world, 'I am not ashamed to be a part of God's family.' Have you been baptized?...Baptism shows you are part of God's family."

I know Warren comes from a different denomination, so I'm jumping off here:
Baptism is one of the most beautiful and meaningful sacraments of them all in the Episcopal tradition, a covenant with God. It marks us each as one of God's own -- belonging to Him. It is a communal, a community act in the Episcopal ritual. See pages 299-308 in the Book of Common Prayer.

Each person in the congregation is asked to help uphold the candidate for baptism in the Christian faith, "with God's help." We renounce the evil powers of this world and turn to Jesus Christ, putting our whole trust in his grace and love. At each baptism, each of us is asked to renew our own baptismal covenant.

The celebrant sanctifies the water and the oil, thanking God for the gift of water, connecting the baptisms of John and Christ to this baptism, and consecrating the oil, "that those who are sealed with it may share in the royal priesthood of Jesus Christ."

The celebrant says, "(Name), you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ's own for ever. Amen."

There is nothing better we can ask for.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

Somebody 'splain, please
"Faith unexamined is a curious offering to be made to the creator of the human mind."

It has come to my attention that in my former parish, Forward Day by Day, the little devotional booklets that list each day's Bible readings with an accompanying short meditation, have been removed from the racks in the church. It is apparently just too liberal.

A few months ago, I had heard a fellow vestryman talk about taking the booklet away from his wife to protect her little mind from its corrupting influence, but I didn't understand what he was talking about. Now I understand my former rector has the same dim view of the devotional.

To use some of the language I've been hearing from certain parties, I am baffled. I am perplexed. I am bewildered.

Why should this staid bastion of church lady-ness now be considered heretical? It seems to me to be a bulwark of middle-of-the-road conservatism, as controversial as vanilla pudding. To try to decipher this mystery, I picked up the Aug.-Sept.-Oct. issue that was conveniently at hand (the current issue, obtained from my current parish, is in the other room with my Bible.)

Let's see.

Oh, dear. Look at the meditation from Aug. 26, an essay asking you not to automatically discard something that doesn't fit in your box marked "religion." (Reference: Acts 26:24-27:8, "I am not mad..but I am speaking the sober truth.") The essay addresses someone who chose holistic healing as a treatment for cancer and the congregation "had the rector speak to her because with those views [which they considered New Age] she didn't belong in their box marked Christian. Some wanted her banned from the altar rail."

The author asks you to consider, "How many times have you looked the other way, discounted a person, written them off as mad because the truth they spoke was outside of your comfort zone, outside of your box marked Christian?"

Humm. My great-aunt, a tea-totaling, Bible-carrying, ladies'-church-tea hosting lady, was also a firm believer in holistic medicine, way back in the 1930s and 1940s. (She lived into her 90s). I guess it's a good thing she was a Baptist and didn't have to worry about being refused communion at the altar rail.

Here's one I bet the the AAC-card carriers find offensive, the most "liberal" in tone, and talking about sexuality: the entry from Aug. 30. The Biblical reference is Mark 14:43-52, "Have you come out as against a robber with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I was with you in the temple and you did not seize me."

The meditation writer says, "Yesterday, Jesus was saying, we laughed and talked and told stories. Today you are treating me like a wanted person. What changed? Am I different?"

The difference was the writer's daughter phoned to tell her she (the daughter) was in a lesbian relationship.

The writer continues, "Finally, I thought, I loved her before the call, what's changed? What made me reel? It was my need to conform to the rules of the society around me How often do I go along? ... What would happen if you stepped out and dared to listen to the voice of God within you and not to the voice of your co-worker, neighbors, or the media?"

I guess this is shocking, indeed. Imagine loving your daughter, regardless, with the same love the Father lavishes on you. How heretical. How apostate. I guess this woman and her daughter should be refused at the altar rail, too.

In a very controlling atmosphere, the greatest heresy is thinking, thinking for yourself -- not blindly accepting what you are told to think and believe. Thinking is a very threatening activity in some quarters.

Yes, this bland, innocent-seeming booklet is full of heresy, asking us to examine our preconceptions, to think just a little "outside the box." I'm sure it has gained no favor in certain quarters by being an agency of the Episcopal Church.

Maybe there should be a book-burning in the church parking lot.

Friday, March 05, 2004

Further meditation on the will of God

I'm still thinking about the things that happen to us. Sometimes they're so horrendous that we cry, "Why, God? Why did you let this happen? You could have prevented it."

The omniscient, omnipotent, ominpresent, transcendant God could surely reach into the situation and alter things. I believe that sometimes He does -- we just don't know about the things He prevents. How then, can we explain Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen? Ted Bundy? 9-1-1? The death of a baby?

I have been asked these questions, and the only answer I can give is, "I don't know."

Why did God let His son die on the cross in that horrific way? Surely God could have found some other way to bring us to Him in reconciliation. I just don't know. I can only follow Christ's teaching by example and mourn with the mourners, and know He was there to receive that baby into His arms, lovingly. This is part of the mystery at the heart of faith. Some day, when there are no more tears, it will be made clear.

Maybe there is something we can see something in Joseph's story, which we are currently following in our Old Testament readings (Book of Genesis, starting in chapter 37). Joseph must have thought, over and over again, that God had abandoned him. Joseph was a prayerful man and he asked God to deliver him from the pit, from slavery, from prison, from the circumstances in which he found himself, but it seemed that God was ignoring his prayers. God was working a purpose, however. Joseph came into a position in Egypt where he could save his tribe and countless others from starvation, to God's glory.

This is no comfort to someone in grief. We can only mourn and wonder why.
The Purpose Driven Life
Chapters 11 and 12 - deepening the relationship

In Chapter 11, "Becoming Best Friends with God," author Rick Warren talks about deepening our relationship with God, who "yearns to be your Friend." After the fall, our close relationship with God was lost, and only a few people in the Old Testament, like Moses and Abraham were called "friends of God." It was Jesus who brought each of us the ability to have a wonderful new relationship with God.

Warren gets a bit into the predestination/predetermination mode, saying God "planned the universe and orchestrated history, including the details of our lives, so that we could become his friends." To me, Warren still doesn't give enough due to free will.

It is a delicate balance. I think God does put people and things, and of course, the actions of the Holy Spirit, into our lives to help point us in the direction He wants us to go. But He still gives us free will -- us and the people around us. I read in a physics article years back about the concept of "independent variables," those random actions, chains of actions and reactions that occur in the physical world and bring an element of unpredictability with them. I see this in our lives. We can't see those independent variables coming at us. (Maybe they're what happens while we're planning our lives.) God, able to see the whole of history and time, which He also created, sees those outcomes.

So, if I should be mugged in a parking lot, is it because of God's will or because of a chain of free will actions in a fallen world that leads the mugger to conk me and steal my bag?

I don't think God causes bad things to happen to us. But having given us that free will that was first abused in the garden, He lets us deal with the consequences. It is His mercy that so often saves us from ourselves and this world. The Bible tells us that every good thing comes from God.

Constant conversation, breath prayers, taking joy in the common tasks of life, and using reminders, such as the chimes of a clock to remind us to pray, are all ways we can spend time with God.

Chapter 12, "Developing Your Friendship with God," touches on what I blogged about March 2, that even imperfect people are chosen by God because of God's Grace. Abraham and Moses were honest about their feelings, sometimes challenging and questioning God, and Jesus is still the "friend of sinners."

He wants honesty, not mealy-mouthed piety, and He does want us to choose to obey God in faith (ah, some free will). We don't have to do great things; sometimes it's in the smaller things -- a word of kindness, praise, prayer. "What pleases the LORD more: burnt offerings and sacrifices or obedience to his voice? It is better to obey than to sacrifice."(1 Samuel 15:22, NCV) This sums it up pretty well, in God's own words.

Warren says that the truth is we're as close to God as we choose to be. I mostly agree. There are things, spiritual, emotional, physical, circumstantial, that get in the way sometimes.

I think John Denver best summed up what it's all about -- a "sweet, sweet surrender." Once we get past that point of ourselves, there's a joy in surrender to God. We can become what He wants us to be -- "like a fish in the water, like a bird in the air," whatever we are called to be according to God's design.

Funny thing when I blogged yesterday -- I was convinced that the words "I can't live without you" are in the song somewhere. I looked at the lyrics -- they are not -- my unconscious addition to the song. I corrected the quote and added mine to it.

I can't live without Him, so I will surrender to Him.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Sweet Surrender
"There's a Spirit that guides me, a light that shines for me
My life is worth the livin', I don't need to see the end

Sweet, sweet surrender, live, live without care
Like a fish in the water, like a bird in the air."
- from a John Denver song

Sweet, sweet surrender...Lord, I can't live without you

Chapter 10 of The Purpose Driven Life is on surrender, one of the hardest elements of faith. We are called to surrender ourselves, our bodies and the souls contained within them, our will, everything that we are, to God.

Just as Christ poured himself out for us and made Himself an offering and an oblation, a sacrifice, he requires us to empty ourselves of ego, ambition, pride and all the "me" things that the world would have us focus on. It is in this dying to self, though, that we become alive in Christ. When I am so focused on Him that I lose my self-consciousness, that I lose my own will and desire to do His, then I am in the Kingdom of God.

That is the prize, so seldom attainable in the kingdom of earth. Self is the last stronghold, the hardest thing to yield to Christ. But I will continue to seek to do it -- I can't live without Him.

If You Ask

If You ask me only to wait, I'll be still.
If You ask me to tilt at windmills, I will.
Because You asked me to follow Your way,
I seek to so surrender my will each day
That if You ask me to follow You up a hill
to die, I will,
to live forever in You.

Coming soon: radical Christianity

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Has Christ been divided?

From today's New Testament reading, Paul's first epistle to the Corinthians, chapter 2:

10 Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among
you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. 11For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there are quarrels among
you, my brothers and sisters. 12What I mean is that each of you says, 'I belong to Paul,' or 'I belong to Apollos,' or 'I belong to Cephas,' or 'I belong
to Christ.' 13Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?

Today we can name other persons or groups to whom people claim allegiance, which is all right only to a degree. All the while we should have our eyes firmly fixed on Christ.

We may join different groups because we think they help further the cause of Christ, but we cannot "belong" to them. There is only Christ to whom we can belong, in whose name we are baptized and who was crucified for us. He is the only one to whom we can swear an oath of loyalty or affirmation. He alone is the one who is unchanging and eternal, who will be with us to the end of the age, and who will claim us at the end.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

"What Makes God Smile?"
or, "Are you sure it's me, Lord?"

Chapter 9 of Rick Warren's The Purpose Driven Life is "What Makes God Smile?" Warren says the smile of God is the first purpose of your life.

Warren uses Noah as a clear example of a life that gives pleasure to God. When God, regretting making humankind, was about to wipe out the world, he instead chose Noah, who pleased him, to save us. Noah followed God's will despite all the obstacles in his path.

"God made you to love you, and he longs for you to love him back. He says, 'I don't want your sacrifices -- I want your love; I don't want your offerings -- I want you to know me." (Hosea 6.6, LB)

Trust, wholehearted obedience, praise and thanks, and use of our abilities all please God. It's a reciprocal act -- We enjoy what God has done for us, we express that to God, which brings Him joy, which brings us joy.

Warren even uses the "G" word in this chapter: Grace. About time.

I like most of what Warren says in this chapter, even though sometimes he sounds like he's writing for sixth graders. The quote from Hosea is one of the best things I've encountered.

I'll quibble a bit with Warren's assertion that Noah obeyed God without any hesitation. He must have wondered if he heard God right -- building an ark in the desert? But Noah did all that was commanded of him.

All of the ones accorded the status of "righteous" were confused and hesitant, I think.

I was confused by the term "righteous" when I first started reading the Bible. Noah, Abraham, Moses -- all were called "righteous" though all had some obvious character flaws. Noah had a little drinking problem; Abraham often had trouble telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Then there was Moses. He tried to get out of it from the very beginning, telling God, 'Who, me? Surely you don't want me. Why, I can't even talk right. Why don't you use Aaron over yonder. He can talk better and lead the people. Nobody would believe me, anyway.'

Of course, God insisted on using Moses. Moses got fed up and tried to hand the stiff-necked, whiny bunch people he led out of Egypt back to God, but God wasn't having nothin' doing. They were Moses' problem (though God gave Moses His help).

So, I don't see robotic obedience as what God calls for. He calls for us to obey even though we're not sure, even though we don't know what's going on, even though we don't understand what God is doing, and sometimes we just don't feel like doing it anyway. But we do it because God asked us to and we realize that's enough.

We love Him enough to obey, and God smiles.

So these righteous guys weren't always very "righteous," but when it came down to it, they were obedient, and God cherished and honored that and accorded them the stature of "righteousness."

Even Paul, that notorious Christian-slayer, was able to claim, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth, there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing." (Timothy 4:7-8, KJV)

Paul could only call himself righteous because once Christ made himself known to Paul, Paul obeyed, pleasing God, and through the grace of God, Paul was made righteous.

To want to please the Lord. In love, trust, obedience. That's what it all boils down to.
Catching up on The Purpose Driven Life

I've fallen down on my pledge to journal a little every day on Rick Warren's book, so now I'm playing catch up.

Chapter 6, "Life Is a Temporary Assignment," is a continuation of Chapter 5's thesis that this life is only a preparation for the next life. Warren makes some good points:
"Compared with other centuries, life has never been easier for much of the Western world. We are constantly entertained, amused, and catered to...it's easy to forget that the pursuit of happiness is not what life is about. Only as we remember that life is a test, and trust and a temporary assignment will the appeal of these things lose their grip on our live. We are preparing for something even better."

We tend to look for spiritual satisfaction out of what the world offers us, when that can satisfy only momentarily.

Warren wants us to remember that "This is not your permanent home or final destination. You're just passing through, just visiting earth." And, he says, this "explains why some of God's promises seem unfulfilled, some prayers seem unanswered, and some circumstances seem unfair. This is not the end of the story."

Chapter 7, "The Reason for Everything" is for God's glory. We can bring Him glory by worshiping Him, loving other believers, becoming like Christ, serving others with our gifts, and telling others about Him. Living "for the glory of God requires a change in your priorities, your schedule, your relationships and everything else...sometimes choosing a difficult path."

Warren talks about "eternal rewards" and we should believe and receive. Still a little too much emphasis on works for my taste -- Jesus came that we might have life and have it abundantly -- not talking about material things, but in joy, peace and contentment of leading the life He wants us to have. It's not all about the "next" life. Warren gives a good summary about how to live for God, though. "It's all for him."

Warren does quote Iranaeus, "The glory of God is a human being fully alive!"

Chapter 8, "Planned for God's Pleasure" gives a good accounting of how God took pleasure in creating us; He created us for him. "You are a child of God and you bring pleasure to God like nothing else he has ever created."

And how do we give pleasure to God? By worshipping Him. Warren points out that worship is far more than "worship" music before the sermon. And worship isn't for our benefit - it's for God's. We do it to bring pleasure to God, not to ourselves, and it is a continual state of praise and thanksgiving. Whatever we do, we can do for the glory of God. "This is the secret to a lifestyle of working -- doing everything as if you were doing it for Jesus."

Warren compares it to when he fell in love with his wife -- he thought of her constantly and talked to himself about her and all the things he loved about her -- "abiding in her love. This is what real worship is all about -- falling in love with Jesus.

Warren's verse to remember for this chapter is, "The Lord takes pleasure in his people." Psalm 149:4a (TEV)

I like Warren's emphasis that worship is what we do with our lives -- not just a style of music or a 20-second prayer. It's a response to his pleasure in us.

Warren is telling us some very basic stuff in these chapters, a kind of Cliff notes for Christian living. And in these chapters, much more so than the earlier ones, he's getting into the relationship with God we should be seeking. To live for Him as He is our most beloved and seeking to please him above all. After all, each of us is His beloved child, whom He has chosen.

I'll post separately about Chapter 9 tonight. There's more in it that I want to discuss than I have time for this morning!

Also, a family update: My brother, Toby, moved out from the AA friend's house into a room somewhere near his work. He said there wasn't a phone there and I haven't heard from him the past couple of days. I'm afraid that he's doing another disappearing act, but I'm praying for him. Praying that something of what he heard will stick with him. That he'll turn to God for strength and comfort. I'm praying for his protection. That he called to let me know he moved is a good sign, I think.

I talked to my older brother on the phone last night. He put my mother on and she sounds in good shape physically, but each time I talk to her she seems to have gone farther downhill mentally. She had to turn to my brother and ask his name because she couldn't remember who had put her on the phone, and I think she wasn't sure who he was -- my brother or my nephew. But at least she sounded fairly content.

Lord have mercy on us all.