Tag Archives: Martin Luther

A Comma for All Saints Day

IMG_7116In confirmation class back in 1980, we were deep into the Third Article of the Apostles Creed (your favorite topic). Pastor Yunker, training us in the jedi ways of Lutheran doctrine, said this weird thing:

“Pay attention to the comma.”

Okay. What young teen isn’t riveted when invited to behold punctuation.

Here’s how my thirteen-year-old self memorized the Third Article from Luther’s Small Catechism:

I believe in the Holy Ghost;
the holy Christian church,
the communion of saints;
the forgiveness of sins;
the resurrection of the body;
and the life everlasting. Amen

You’ll note a number of phrases here separated by semicolons. The only comma is between “the holy Christian church” and “the communion of saints,” not setting them apart like the other petitions, but identifying them with each other.

As I understand it, the 1941 LCMS (Lutheran Church Missouri Synod) catechism and hymnal used that comma amid semicolons. Most every version I see these days has all commas.

A comma might matter on All Saints Day.

With it, we honor the holy Christian church being the communion of saints. Or at least the one being folded into the other as the Body of Christ beyond space and time.

Without it, we make a distinction between them. Not a bad thing, and theologically there may be good reasons to do so.

But in this moment of the liturgical year, we are re-membering who we are: All Saints. With the comma, we understand that the single, global church, having evolved over generations and sprawled across our planet is comprised of saints in communion. In other words, people embodying the Christ as they live in harmony, unity.

Sound like us?

Sure is. You with the barbecue drippings on your sweatshirt, her with the foul mouth, him oblivious to his rudeness, people theologically inferior to you– all of us forgiven sinners, all of us stumbling saints.

On All Saints, we re-gather, re-member, re-claim one another around the bombastic notion that Christ’s single, living Presence is made up of no one else.

We’re invited to live into God’s claim on us.

We’re challenged in our vocation to– depending on your favorite gospel of epistle– follow, obey, nurture friendship with and/or embody the Christ.

I like that comma.

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To Give Yourself

When our ten-year-old son comes to ask me to play, I am sometimes more willing than others.

To be honest, sometimes I agree with an inward sigh because I want to be a good dad and putting in my time is important.

Other times, I fully give myself to Sam with a wide-open heart smile.

I give myself.

I let go of my agenda and allow myself to swept away. I’m clearly not in control and into it, whether it’s dominos, chess, a light saber duel or freestyle wrestling. Whatever the play, I am so There. I will not be a spectator this time. I will not be juggling the thoughts of my little projects. I am in it for a real encounter with my beloved boy, not to check a box when the task is done. Not this time.

There are two ways to approach the spiritual life:

1. Disciplined and goal-driven.

2. Mystical and Experientially-driven.

Neither is wrong. They are two sides of an important coin. However, I think the first mode is what our consumer society imposes, so the latter is more deeply needed in this time.

In the first case, our ambition and desire motivate change. Through discipline, we take the wheel with some measure of assurance that we have what we need to navigate the watercourses of our lives. The positive is that we draw from the strength of our personhood. In this current season of Lent, there are disciplines that may shape the design of a faith-full life. It’s good. Spiritual practice can show us it’s possible to live consciously, intentionally.

The downside of this perspective is that the sense of responsibility for one’s life makes us prone to feel either pain in failure or pride in success. Grace and mystery are kind of bottom shelf.

In the second mode, we are immersed in Great Mystery and, like a daddy with his kid, we give ourselves to It. We are All In. As one theologian puts it, God is shaping us “like water shapes a rock.”

Like a bride to her bridegroom, a mama nursing her baby, a passionate student to her studies, we give ourselves.

The downside is that mystics may be so good at opening, allowing and surrendering, that we neglect agency. (Talk to Neo about that.) Martin Luther wrote that even the will to make the tiniest choice originates from God’s Holy Spirit.

But in every spiritual tradition I can think of, there’s a dimension of surrender where we put ourselves in the flow of something we trust is bigger than ourselves and watch ourselves be part of it.

In Lent, I suggest there is more to give ourselves to than be in charge of. as we hear the stories of Jesus and soak in the Psalms, we might open our imaginations to what transformation looks like in us. There might be some work to do, but maybe most of it is allowing stuff to happen to us. One could make a case that the whole of Jesus’ ministry was about these two words: “Give yourself.” Give yourself to me and share abundant life. Give yourself away to one another and discover a large, round filled-to-overflowing life. You are seasoning for the earth and light for the planet, after all.

It’s human to want to give ourselves. We desire to see our existence expand past our perceived personal borders. A rich life means losing track of our individuality sometimes to know ourselves large, as Uncle Walt wrote.

Rumi:
“And still, after all this time, the Sun has never said to the Earth,
‘You owe me.’
Look what happens with love like that.
It lights up the sky.”

What this means is that giving yourself is a spiritual practice. When we do it, we are magnetically drawn to Fullness and Goodness and Holy.

So we give ourselves to our kids and to our parents. We give ourselves to our neighbors, to our community, to our leaders because we witness life being more full.

We give ourselves to strangers, to the poor, to the widow, because that’s where we are most certainly present.

We give ourselves to the Samaritan, to the Muslim, to the bullied because we get clear on who we are.

We offer ourselves gift-wrapped to our unique and sometimes hard-to-explain callings.

When you eat, be mindful and completely savor. When you make love, be totally There. In fact, whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of Holiness.

Teachers, give yourself to your students. Nurses, give yourselves to your patients. Dentists, serve as unto the Holy One.

If you fish, consider yourself a fisher of humanity. Surrender to fishing, to the lake, to the fish. Make yourself part of the circle of life. Your life will lure the Holy, your fish will feed the world. Your heart, so present.

Like a gardener, full of hope and trust, plant seeds. Your nests will gather immigrants and strangers into Love.

We are up for anything the spirit of the Living God puts in our way today. We may set aside our preferences in order to serve. We may set aside our theological commitments to say yes to stretching and growing. We offer ourselves as students, disciples–  teachable, shapeable ones.

To One we lay ourselves open to service, open to healing, open to surprise and to an ever-emerging future.


What You Believe is a Stepping Stone

When I was a kid, I did bedtime prayers. I remember folding my hands a certain way, closing my eyes with my parents and speaking words in a certain rhythm. It was perfect at the time.

Now that I’m 44, I use different words and I think of prayer differently.

Human beings at our best are all about adaptation. When something isn’t working for whatever reason, we can change. Right?

Say the Man’s Pledge with me from the Red Green Show (Women, please join in, too):

I’m a man.
I can change.
If I have to.
I guess.

Some churches could use this in worship with very little editing. (And I have spent way too much time deciding whether to put a smily face here or not.)

As with many of you, my theology has changed a lot since I was small, mostly activated by seasons of growth and/or emotional upheaval. Kind of recapitulates the story of Israel when you think about it. I guess at this point in my life I’m aware that relationship with the Holy One is alive and dynamic. As such, it is impossible to institutionalize; it is always evolving. When I hear a good sermon, when I am moved by a song, when I notice the movement of change in a relationship… these can be moments when boundaries are broken and new word-containers are birthed to ring more truly. As Martin Luther said of the wider church, we are always reforming. Continually being born again, again.

Alternatively, we could choose to frame our experience of life apart from the weather of Holy Revelation. We could tell ourselves that some ideas mustn’t change. Continue working with old wineskins. Keep using worn-out words if they work for folks in the pew next to you.

There’s a thin blue book on my shelf which I keep simply for the title: “Your God is Too Small.”

When we were children, we thought like children. As Paul’s mail to Corinth says, now it’s different. Our species is supposedly excellent at adapting, but we sure are attached to same old, same old. At least that’s what I see in myself as I see myself stretching.

We are meant to change our minds. Our lives work best when our ideas transform, so we’re best off holding them loosely. What you believe right now is merely a stepping stone to what you will evolve to know and be.

In terms of your beliefs, maybe you have one foot in the air right now, between This and That. That’s good. And you are good. You haven’t betrayed anyone or anything by noticing that your ideas are changing. In fact, that’s G-d in motion. Any time it happens, I think this is a vitally creative and often terrifying moment.

Feel the stretch?

This is a song about personal evolution, idolatry and the adventure of honest trust. It was debuted at a concert in Hawaii last month, along with the Lua Pele song.

Stepping Stone
by Richard

Verse 1
You think that if you change, you’ll betray yourself
But what if your soul asked you follow it off the map
What you used to believe has brought you here
What you believe now is gonna change

Chorus
It’s a stepping stone
       What you believe is a stepping stone
It’s a stepping stone
       What you think now is a stepping stone

Verse 2
You’re sorry to leave it, this comfy dead end
You’re smelling the fresh air, outgrown where you began
What you used to believe has brought you here
What you believe now has your foot in the air

Bridge
Rock solid convictions come alive and launch you like a trampoline
Upgrade to new wineskins to hold the holy stuff that’s ripening

Verse 3
Look at you evolving– you’re “born again” again
And you’ll keep transforming til you’re dead or you ascend
What you used to believe was perfect at the time
What you believe now is like a breath


Progressive Christianity, Wild Geese and Evolution

I’m part of a quad of musicians convening a music/worship event we’re calling SHIFT. It’s in response to a question the four of us hear all the time as we travel: “Where can we find good worship songs?” (I wish a higher percentage of people would add “like yours.”) They tend to reach for words to describe what they want in a worship soundtrack as contemporary, alternative, emergent, post-modern, ancient-future. The most recent addition to the vocab list is progressive. We want progressive Christian music for progressive worship.

I quote brother Martin Luther: “What [the hell] does this mean?”

The blogs are humming with opinions. Smart people are scrambling to define it: progressive. Does it mean liberal? Post-evangelical? Left or Right? People who are recovering from an immersion in any tradition? There’s an amazing range of sensibilities for the people claiming this term. Maybe the most telling mark of this so-called movement is that so many are so keen to be on board. Lots of buzz, lots of words. More than a few writers claim to have thought of it first and are leading the way.

The idea of progress in the word progressive bothers me a little. It implies advancement, moving forward. Suggesting if you’re not in that club, you might want to check your compass or shift out of Park.

The main reason for our SHIFT event is to get to the bottom of what this word means for people. As a person who values questions, I am curious how people are feeling inspired, pushed and pulled? What are they excited about progressing toward? And what are they eager to leave behind?

The Wild Goose Festival starts today in North Carolina. It looks brilliant, offering an unprecedented gathering of amazing artists and theologians. Among those on stage, I’d be most excited about hearing T-Bone Burnett. Next most interesting for me would be David Wilcox, Michelle Shocked, Jennifer Knapp, Beth Nielsen Chapman, Richard Rohr, Brian McLaren, Peter Rollins, and Nadia Bolz-Weber. Anyway, you start to get the idea of the presence. There will be lots of words spoken and heard. Metric tons of it. Lovers of words will do their best to define this trend some call progressive Christianity. The thing is, language’s job is always to divide. So I am paying attention, dying to know what dialogue emerges from the event.

Luther’s idea was that the church is always reforming. In an incarnational theology, the Living ChristLogos is woven into every particle of creation. Fresh into Pentecost, we might say we’re within the flow of the Holy Spirit. Present with the holy, we live and move and have our being.

When I think of how my ideas about life, the universe and everything have changed since I was a kid, I’m certain that what I believe today will change. I’ve learned to cherish intentions more than beliefs. More of my center these days is in clarity and not certainty. My life works best when I remember I am an evolving being with a mind that is soft and flexible.

And if we are always emerging– as individuals, as societies, as the homo sapiens sapiens species, and as a global village with all creation– maybe it’s good for the church to see herself this way, too.

Hey. Instead of progressive, how about progressing? It reminds us we will never arrive, that we are always reforming, and that we have a lineage that includes wandering, being led and being provided for along the way.