Sunday, 31 March 2013

Pope Francis Stirs the Religious Pot?

So it seems that the new pope is wasting no time stirring up the religious pot. Our local newspaper carried an article entitled, “Pope Angers Conservatives” (Lethbridge Herald, Saturday, March 30, 2013). How did he allegedly anger them? I underlined the following statements from the newspaper:

“ … simple style and focus on serving the world’s poorest … devastated traditionalist Catholics … ”

“ … washed the feet of two girls – a Serbian Muslim and an Italian Catholic … The church’s liturgical law holds that only men can participate in the rite … ”

When he became pope he made his appearance “without the ermine-rimmed red velvet cape, or mozzetta, used by popes past for official duties, wearing instead the simple white cassock of the papacy.”

He received the cardinals “not from a chair on a pedestal as popes normally do but rather standing, on their same level.”

“Francis also raised traditional eyebrows when he refused the golden pectoral cross offered to him right after his election … ”

“ … no-nonsense vestments and easy off-the-cuff homilies.”

“ … none of those trappings on display … “

What do all these quotes point to?

In my way of thinking, they point to a servant leadership, not too dissimilar to the type Jesus portrayed. I find it strange that the conservatives would take exception to this. But then again, just as in Jesus’ day, people do like their kings, and they do like them decked out in all forms of pomp and regalia. Pope Francis seems to have other ideas, and I say kudos to him for taking this stand.

No, I am not a Roman Catholic, and so in reality, none of what this pope does makes any difference to me or my spiritual walk one way or another. Still, I am encouraged by what I have seen so far from this new pontiff. I only hope that he has the backbone to stay true to his convictions on these things and not fall victim to the institutional trappings that many in religious leadership, regardless of catholic or evangelical or charismatic denomination, often succumb to. I guess that remains to be seen.

Maybe there is even a lesson in his style for the rest of us when it comes to the care and concern of the poor and needy. Maybe it's time that you and I also washed a few feet, and perhaps even those that belong to people of other faiths. Maybe it's time for more leaders to climb down off their pedestals, lose some of their fancy vestments, and put themselves on the same level as everyone else. Maybe ...

“He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, 
but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.” 
(Proverbs 14:31; NIV)

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Brother to Brother ... Revisited

"for God has welcomed him"
(Romans 14:3; ESV)

What would you say is the most profound and amazing thing that has happened in your Christian walk? Aside from coming to know the Lord Himself, is there one event that stands out in your Christian experience more than any others? Perhaps that's a tough question.

As I thought about that, I think one of the most amazing things in my life was learning to see others the way God sees them. Oh, I am still far from perfect at this, but by God's grace, I have begun to see people from different backgrounds and church traditions as brothers and sisters. Taken one step further, since they're brothers and sisters, then logically they're also family. And if they're family, then I must love them as family members because, like me, they're also joint heirs with Christ in the kingdom of God.

Imagine being in a family where each member is always poking at what they perceive as faults in the lives of other family members. Imagine having to always tip-toe around each other for fear of being misunderstood and criticized for being different. Imagine feeling like you don't have the freedom in your own family to simply be yourself. Imagine not feeling loved in your own family.

Not a pretty image, is it? Unfortunately, I know that there are some who do not have to "imagine" that at all, for it is a part of their reality. Equally unfortunate is the fact that somehow we've allowed this to happen in the family of God. Fortunately, we each have the ability to do something about it. As Anne Frank once said, "How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world."

For me this revelation seems to have had its genesis after we left the traditional institutional church and started simply fellowshipping together. Suddenly we found ourselves surrounded by people from a host of different denominational backgrounds and who all grew up believing all sorts of different things that historically have divided Christians. Suddenly those differences, that only a few years earlier would have kept us from fellowship, began to seem strangely insignificant. Now all that matters is knowing that they are also in love with the Lord; how they express that love has become unimportant.
"Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God." (Romans 15:7; ESV)
In his classic daily devotional, A Table in the Wilderness, Watchman Nee says,
Here is the simple basis for our fellowship with others. It is that they belong to the Lord and so do we. That is enough. Alas, when you and I meet we generally discuss the points on which we disagree. Instead of dwelling on the Lord whom we have in common, we turn to the negative ground of our differences and stress what is right or wrong in them. Differences abound in the passage before us, but Paul does not tell who is right. For he is concerned with Christian fellowship, and that does not depend on whether a man's views are right or wrong. The question is not whether he believes exactly what I believe, or has had the same experience as I have had. The sole question is: Has God received him? If so, then I receive him too.
Watchman Nee's devotional resonated with me. This is exactly the area that God has been working in my life. "The sole question is: Has God received him? If so, then I receive him too." Again, I am not perfectly there yet, not by a long shot, but I believe that is the quest that God has laid before me.

As amazing as that revelation was in my own life, equally as amazing is the fact that for too long I was blind to its truth. For too long, like many others, I splintered myself off from other brothers and sisters based upon how much they did or didn't think like me. For too long I acted according to "the acts of the sinful nature ... dissensions, factions" (Galatians 5: 19-20; NIV). For too long I failed to see that "family" resemblance that we all have in Christ. For too long I had this bad habit of focussing on the differences between us, instead of celebrating that which we have in common. God forgive.
"If anyone says, 'I love God,' yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother." (1 John 4: 20-21; NIV)
Do you claim to love God? Do I? Of course we do! Yet if we deliberately fail to genuinely and unpretentiously love other brothers and sisters, who also call on the same God that we do, then God calls "BS" on our claim of love toward Him. Ouch!

So, brother to brother, if I have failed to fellowship with you simply because of our differences, then here and now I repent and ask your forgiveness. Peace.

Post note:
I called this post "Brother to Brother ... Revisited." That's because there was a previous Brother to Brother post. For more on this topic, you may also want to see Celebrate What's Right With The Church.

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

Sunday, 17 March 2013

of Green Beer and Dead Priests

So today is Saint Patrick’s Day, the day that the Irish and the Irish wannabe’s celebrate a Roman Catholic priest who died on March 17, 461 AD.

Now I do not wish to get into all the history of Patty’s special day, for anyone who wishes to can read that almost anywhere. Nor do I wish to be a party-pooper and rain on the parade, but I am amused by a couple of things surrounding the day.

I am amused by the fact that though it had its roots in the religious, it is perhaps more a cultural event today that it ever was a religious one, and certainly more than it ever was in any way a Christian event.

I am amused by the fact that the shamrock, which is so synonymous with the event, was used by Saint Patrick (according to tradition) to explain the Trinity to those whom he sought to evangelize. I wonder how many revelers of the day who host the shamrock think of it as the old priest did? Hmm, probably not too many.

However, I am amused mostly by the fact that it is celebrated in the middle (more or less) of Lent. Why does this amuse me? It does because traditionally for many Lent was a time to fast and restrict oneself from food and alcohol, and way back in about the 17th century Saint Patrick’s Day essentially became a feast day in which, among other things, alcohol restrictions were lifted for the day.

People used to ask me what I was "giving up" for Lent. I'm tempted to ask if for Saint Patrick's Day they're "giving up" Lent? (Yes, I'm being facetious; grin, grin). I wonder what old Patrick would think of that? Hmm, probably rolling over in his grave right now.

Obviously events and traditions evolve, and I certainly am not interested in building any form of argument one way or another on the subject. These are just a couple of my humble musings.

How about another pint of green beer, Patty?

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

Saturday, 9 March 2013

The Bottom Line Is ...

Years ago I was introduced to Stephen Covey’s bestseller, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change.” If you’re not familiar with Covey’s book, I do encourage you to check it out. It comes highly recommended, and especially if your career has you in some sort of a leadership role.

While I am not normally much into these success and positive thinking type books, recently I did start to read this one again. Having said that, I confess that my doing so had more to do with business interests than personal or faith-based interests.

As a result, I really did not expect to find any spiritual motifs in this book, and yet in at least one section, I did find just that. While I seem to have missed it on previous readings, or simply have forgotten it, this time around something the author said about “Church Centeredness” caught my attention. Covey writes,
“I believe that almost anyone who is seriously involved in any church will recognize that churchgoing is not synonymous with personal spirituality. There are some people who get so busy in church worship and projects that they become insensitive to the pressing human needs that surround them, contradicting the very precepts they profess to believe deeply. There are others who attend church less frequently or not at all but whose attitudes and behavior reflect a more genuine centering in the principles of the basic Judeo-Christian ethic. 
“Having participated throughout my life in organized church and community service groups, I have found that attending church does not necessarily mean living the principles taught in those meetings. You can be active in a church but inactive in its gospel.
“In the church-centered life, image of appearance can become a person’s dominant consideration, leading to hypocrisy that undermines personal security and intrinsic worth. Guidance comes from social conscience, and the church centered person tends to label others artificially in terms of ‘active,’ ‘inactive,’ ‘liberal,’ ‘orthodox,’ or ‘conservative.’ 
“Because the church is a formal organization made up of policies, programs, practices, and people, it cannot by itself give a person any deep, permanent security or sense of intrinsic worth. Living the principles taught by the church can do this, but the organization alone cannot. 
“Nor can the church give a person a constant sense of guidance. Church centered people often tend to live in compartments, acting and thinking and feeling in certain ways on the Sabbath and in totally different ways on weekdays. Such a lack of wholeness or unity or integrity is a further threat to security, creating the need for increased labeling and self-justifying. 
“Seeing the church as and end rather than as a means to an end undermines a person’s wisdom and sense of balance. Although the church claims to teach people about the source of power, it does not claim to be that power itself. It claims to be one vehicle through which divine power can be channeled into man’s nature.” (p. 117-118)
In context, Covey was describing some of the different things that compete for our attention as “centers” of our lives. Besides church, Covey says that these “centeredness” things often include: Spouse, Family, Money, Work, Possessions, Pleasure, Friend/Enemy, and Self. The point is, there are lots of different things that can (and do) compete for centre stage in our lives, and which affect the way we ultimately live and who we ultimately are.

While this is no doubt a great personal leadership book, but from a faith perspective this section misses one crucial point. One of the “centeredness” options it fails to mention is “Christ Jesus.” Yes, it speaks of the state of the church and of spirituality, but that is not the same thing as speaking about Jesus, which in the end isn’t really surprising, given that Covey himself was a Mormon. So obviously, there are differences in understanding between him and me of exactly what we mean by “church,” but we won’t get into that at this time.

The bottom line for me is, contrary to Covey, if the “center” of our lives is not Jesus, and Jesus alone, we’re going to have issues. Sure, we can colour it all we want in different shades of religiousness and business secularism, but take Jesus out of the equation, and in my humble opinion, we’re going to be missing the boat. Jesus said,
I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
The bottom line is, the only centeredness in life that matters is: JESUS. All the rest is ultimately just mumbo-jumbo. That’s the way I see it anyways. Peace.

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons