Monday, October 31, 2016

Little Books For Momentary Formation

Little books with little readings are like mustard seeds.  They can sprout large homes for multi-dimensional faith.  Here are 4 little books that I find to be a blessing day in and day out.


It is not surprising that I start my list with a book by this Old Testament scholar, as my fandom of his work is well known.  Many of us encounter the Psalms in weekly liturgy and the daily office, but we may not know much about the Psalms.  We also might desire some guidance in finding our life and our prayer life within this library of ancient prose.

Here is a beloved quote from another book of Dr. Brueggemann, that applies to psalmody as well.

“Here we are, practitioners of memos:     We send e-mail and we receive it,     We copy it and forward it and save it and delete it.     We write to move the data, and                 organize the program,                 and keep people informed—     and know and control and manage.   We write and receive one-dimensional memos,         that are, at best, clear and unambiguous.     And then—in breathtaking ways—you summon us to song.” 
― Walter BrueggemannPrayers for a Privileged People


Folks who have been around me for a while also know that I am a fan of these 'a year with' books.  Whether it be L'Engle, C.S. Lewis, Bonhoeffer or Rilke: these brief snippets can feed daily pondering.  If you don't know much about the poet Rumi, he was a 13th century Sufi Muslim, and is widely regarded as a holy mystic.  Within Islam the people of the Hebrew Bible and Christian scriptures remained vital, interacting with Islamic principles in storytelling and poetry.  So while parts of Rumi's world are 'otherwise', many of the images and motifs in his spiritual poetry are familiar.  His works have been translated into many many languages, and he may be one of the most widely read poets of this era.

“Knock, And He'll open the door
Vanish, And He'll make you shine like the sun
Fall, And He'll raise you to the heavens
Become nothing, And He'll turn you into everything.” 
― Jalaluddin Rumi


These simple and short reflections on the Benedictine way of life can drive right to the heart of our everyday struggles to live a compassionate Christian life.  Esther de Waal is a historical scholar who specializes in interpreting and sharing Benedictine and Celtic practices for everyday use.  In this book she offers insights for living in a fractured world, for encountering dark moments and the grief that is a part of every life on earth.  My experience with this text is that I will pick it up and just choose a page, and almost always discover something I needed to hear at that exact moment.

“There is no once and for all moment when we can say that at last we are whole, the past is buried and over, the hurts forgotten, the wounds healed. Instead we find that it is to be a search that we must expect to continue throughout our lives.” 
― Esther de WaalLiving With Contradiction: An Introduction to Benedictine Spirituality


This book of single page readings is designed to poke, prod, and nurture a more connected, whole and balanced community and world.  Margaret Wheatley is the leader of the Berkana Institute, which incorporates research with organizational principles and the metaphors of contemporary science.  She is a mentor and consultant for organizations as different as a small town church and the US Army.  PERSEVERANCE is a breath of hope and a challenge of truth in the chaos of our lives.

"Determination, energy, and courage appear spontaneously when we care deeply about something. We take risks that are unimaginable in any other context." 

So what are the little books that give sustenance to your daily formation?

Sunday, October 30, 2016

5 Digital Ways to Grow in Your Lifelong Formation

If you are going to reach a little bit further in your lifelong formation you may be wondering how to do so.  There is so much out there and many of us are rather busy.  Here are five simple additions to your lifelong journey that you can make this week.  All of them are available online, free of charge.

  • If you like watching a wide array of short videos that are more inspirational than teach-y, it can be hard to wade through all the ridiculous online.  My friend Randall Curtis curates a collection called Videos for Your Soul.  He focuses the work around Ash Wednesday through Easter, however after several years of this collecting, you could watch one everyday for a long long while.  Here is a video from the folks at Soul Pancake, and my favorite sage, Kid President.

  • I don't like mornings.  I can barely function until I get some caffeine and some calories.  Thank goodness for the people who offer daily audio morning prayer.  I can pray and not even use much brain power.  Usually I intentionally draw or color while listening, and find myself much more ready for the day at the end.  The first suggestion is Morning Prayer from Garrett County.  A priest named Chip Lee serves a community in Maryland, and has a wonderful digital mission.  It is Morning Prayer II, with the daily Epistle and Gospel readings, and lasts less than 20 minutes.   Any podcast app should be able to find it!  

  • Perhaps one of the most amazing contributions to ongoing spiritual exploration is the show you might hear on public radio called 'On Being'.  Krista Tippett interviews a wide array of people who are contributing to our sense of connectedness and meaning in the world.  I try to listen to one of her broadcasts once a week.  Sometimes it is the fresh program, other times I reach into the archives and find new gems.  You can listen to these online, or as a downloadable podcast, or even when it is broadcast.  Most broadcasts are about 40 minutes long.  This year they released a short form of some of her interviews, called Becoming Wise.  

  • d365 is a short meditation and reflection program that is available through links online or as a downloadable app for your mobile device.  Simple and thoughtful this is a lovely way to practice prayer daily. 

  • As for knowledge building free videos, I love CRASH COURSE.  These are not 'spiritual or religious' videos; but because they are about humanity, religious and spiritual and ethical issues are everpresent.  Originally aimed at young people, these productions are sassy and fast moving, but also insightful and worth your viewing time.  About 15 minutes each, I recommend you start with World History (One) and keep growing from there.  

Aspire to Climb: Zacchaeus Leaps

I once had a job where my most important asset was not my friendliness, or attention to detail.  My most valuable skill was my willingness to climb.  The back room at the toy store was very narrow, and filled with three sets of floor to ceiling industrial shelving.  When a shipment would arrive it would fill the two of the narrow aisles, with 6-foot-high stacks of boxes.  I would climb up the shelves and brace myself in varying configurations, and as quickly as possible relocate all the contents from the boxes to the shelves. 

The gospel reading today tells us that Zacchaeus was a petite fella, and I find nothing unusual at all about his tree climbing strategy.  Even if it is ‘undignified’, now and then.  There are a few things we know about Zacchaeus and volumes that we do not.  We are given his name, and a place: Jericho.  This episode is situated in time and can be found on a map, being one of the last encounters of Jesus on the way to Jerusalem.  Not only do we know his name, we also know he was a wealthy tax collector.  We know that in Jesus’ society wealth would bring respect, but collusion with the occupying empire would not.

We can tell that Zacchaeus was a notorious person, you can see it by the way the crowds do not let him through.  As a tax collector he interacted with all zones of society and was therefore considered unclean, a rich outcast.  It is fair to say that Zacchaeus had heard of Jesus, and the Jesus movement. The Jesus movement is what scholars today sometimes use to name the earliest phases of community and discipleship around Jesus.  I wonder what it was, what sent this derided and privileged man out into the streets, pushed him into a crowd of people who didn’t like him at all.  What part of Jesus’ life, what part of his word and welcome draws anyone out of their comfy home and into the streets, and then, daring to scamper up sticky lumpy tree?  There is something about that climb, that striving to do something, anything, to get a glimpse of this movement that calls to him, there is something unmistakably aspirational about it.  

We don’t know if he had any friends or family, but I assume he had servants.  I imagine him heading out, and telling a household servant something like,  ‘well, I am going to go check this out.  It is important for me to know about people like this Jesus.  I had better go see what all the fuss is about.’ I imagine that because that is my place in this story.  I did something like that once upon a time.  Early in my young adult encounter with this Jesus Movement, soon after I went from open agnosticism to participating in a church community, when it was still new to me, well, I claimed to other people in my life that I was doing sociological research.  ‘Because religion and the Bible are important influences on society and I should know more about them.’  I actually said that, and I might have even believed it.  So I stepped out into my crowded street and I climbed my tree, and sought to see Jesus.  And he saw me in there, and drew me out of the tree, and invited himself into my life. 

What sent you into your ‘tree’ to seek Jesus?  Perhaps you have no idea why you keep climbing these trees or this tree in particular.  What hunger sent Zacchaeus up that sycamore tree?  Was it a desire for wholeness?  Refuge?  Was he seeking a group of outsiders with which he could possibly no longer be an outsider?  Or was it a hollowness that needed to be filled with a more wonder-full way of living?  Zacchaeus had been on a spiritual journey his whole life.  He may not have known it, but he was, just as I believe that everyone is.  We are all on a lifelong journey of faith formation, even in the parts where we say there is no road, or cannot see the forest for the trees.  Somedays we see the vistas and the rainbows and feel the unity of the forest, and sometimes we are just trying to sludge through the inches of decomposing muck on the floor. 

Tree climbing is a lovely metaphor for faith formation.  Trees are symbols of nourishment, refuge, transformation, and holy insight. We have been blessed with a home that has a solid trunk made of living words and a living heritage, with branches that lead us up and into the edges of God’s longing for this world.  The FIG SYCAMORE that Zacchaeus climbs is a specifically a symbol of regeneration and rebirth.  Our tree should be like that tree, a way of continual reawakening, lifelong striving and wondering,  and a practical tool for when we are brought up short. 

I assess formation in my life and the places I serve by the promises of the baptismal covenant. CONTINUE, RETURN, PROCLAIM, SERVE, STRIVE.  Aspirational formation should continue in learning, worship and prayer.  It keeps studying the branches of the tree and wonders where it can climb to next.  It puts up tire swings and helps neighbors to enjoy the ride.  CONTINUE.  When we fall into sin we are a people who return, confess and forgive, like the arms of a tree as welcoming as Jesus’: limbs of understanding seeking wholeness.  How am I returning?  I also look for proclaiming Good news in word and action. Is this a community that SERVES with Jesus, that learns and grows through serving neighbors and seeking the common good? We certainly SERVE, but is it a limited few and could it be more of us?  And I look for striving.  Aspiring from the roots.  roots are there for trees to live and grow.  Their energy is upward and their being is intertwined.  Roots pull in nutrients and send them up for sharing in courage and daring to live for others.  Roots strive to offer strength to breathe God’s dream in our leaves.    How will we STRIVE this year,  and how will we prepare ourselves to always STRIVE?

You climbed a tree, I can tell because you are here.  Jesus is calling to you to examine your place in his movement, this dream, this hope, this way.  How can this gospel today lead you to renew a promise for lifelong formation for all, including yourself? CONTINUE RETURN PROCLAIM SERVE STRIVE.  Remember how Zacchaeus climbs a sycamore tree?  This isn’t an American type of sycamore, like the one that was planted around here and produces those yellowish seed balls that are easily crushed underfoot.  This West Asian sycamore tree is a fig tree, and its name in Hebrew shik-ma seems to be rooted from the same place as words such as restore and regenerate.  When the wind exposes this sycamores roots, this tree will stretch its roots deeper into the earth.  When the sand covers its low-lying branches, they transform into roots, which give rise to new trees.  

The trees we dwell in together are made of strong sycamore wood and can bear our brokenness and support our questions and renew our hearts.  Jesus sees us in this restoration tree.  Maybe you don’t like heights,  yet here we are and God’s people are looking up at us.  Dare we welcome them up into this holy tree?  Aspirational Membership is the heart of our stewardship campaign and one of the pillars is a commitment to lifelong formation.  We are a lifelong tree climbing, baptismal living, wholeness seeking Jesus Movement group of people.  Can we dig deeper, letting branches become roots?  Can we sprout new trees, and absurdly strive for renewal? How will we reach to do this all the way back to the heart of God? Let us sit in that tree for a moment and ponder psalm 46.  Be Still And Know that I am God.

October 30, 2016
St. Paul's Episcopal Church