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Christianity: A Movement, Not an Institution

Jesus Started a Movement

I really don’t think we can ever renew the church until we stop thinking of it as an institution and start thinking of it as a movement. —Clarence Jordan, letter, 1967

Michael Curry is the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church and is passionate about the church rediscovering itself as a movement of Jesus:

Jesus did not establish an institution, though institutions can serve his cause. He did not organize a political party, though his teachings have a profound impact on politics. Jesus did not even found a religion. No, Jesus began a movement, fueled by his Spirit, a movement whose purpose was and is to change the face of the earth from the nightmare it often is into the dream that God intends. . . .

That’s why his invitations to folk who joined him are filled with so many active verbs. In John 1:39 Jesus calls disciples with the words, “Come and see.” In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, he asks others to “Follow me.” And at the end of the Gospels, he sent his first disciples out with the word, “Go . . .” [. . .] As in, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15). . . .

If you look at the Bible, listen to it, and watch how the Spirit of God unfolds in the sacred story, I think you’ll notice a pattern. You cannot help but notice that there really is a movement of God in the world.

Curry identifies several characteristics of the Jesus movement [1]:

First, the movement was Christ-centered—completely focused on Jesus and his way. . . . Long before Christianity was ever called the Church, or even Christianity, it was called “the Way” [see Acts 9:2]. The way of Jesus was the way. The Spirit of Jesus, the Spirit of God, that sweet, sweet Spirit, infused their spirits and took over. . . .

The second mark of the movement is this: following the way of Jesus, they abolished poverty and hunger in their community. Some might say they made poverty history. The Acts of the Apostles calls this abolition of poverty one of the “signs and wonders” which became an invitation to others to follow Jesus too, and change the world. . . . It didn’t take a miracle. The Bible says they simply shared everything they had [Acts 4:32–35]. The movement moved them in that particular way.

Third, they learned how to become more than a collection of individual self-interests. They found themselves becoming a countercultural community, one where Jews and Gentiles, circumcised and uncircumcised, had equal standing [see Acts 15:1–12].

Curry continues, taking inspiration from the early church for our own moment:

Ministry in this moment . . . has to serve more than an institution. It has to serve the movemen

Today’s Quote

Perfect for our times. He not only saved us from a bloody race war, he showed us how we can follow the WAY Jesus lived and died without hating or resorting to violence.

Soul Gatherings

 

We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope.

~ Martin Luther King Jr. ~

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Fire and Spirit

Baptism of Fire and Spirit

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. —Acts 2:1–4

In this Pentecost homily, Father Richard Rohr encourages us to recognize and call upon the Holy Spirit, a gift God has already given us!

It is a shame that the Holy Spirit tends to be an afterthought for many Christians. We don’t really “have the Spirit.” We tend, I’m afraid, to simply go through the motions. We formally believe, but honestly, there isn’t much fire to it. There isn’t much conviction. There isn’t much service. We just sort of believe. That’s why in the Gospels there are two baptisms that are clearly distinguished. There’s the baptism with water that most of us are used to, and there’s the baptism “with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11); that’s the one that really matters.

The water baptism that many of us received as children really demands little conviction or understanding. Until that water baptism becomes real, until we know Jesus, and we can rely on Jesus, call upon Jesus, share Jesus, love Jesus, we’re just going along for the ride.

We can recognize people who have had a second baptism in the Holy Spirit. They tend to be loving. They tend to be exciting. They want to serve others, and not just be served themselves. They forgive life itself for not being everything they once hoped for. They forgive their neighbors. They forgive themselves for not being as perfect as they would like to be.

Even though we so often pray, “Come, Holy Spirit,” the gift of the Spirit is already given. The Holy Spirit has already come. You all are temples of the Holy Spirit, equally, objectively, and forever! The only difference is the degree that we know it, draw upon it, and consciously believe it. All the scriptural images of the Spirit are dynamic—flowing water, descending dove, fire, and wind. If there’s never any movement, energy, excitement, deep love, service, forgiveness, or surrender, you can be pretty sure you don’t have the Spirit. If our whole lives are just going through the motions, if there’s never any deep conviction, we don’t have the Spirit. We would do well to fan into flame the gift that we already have.

God does not give God’s Spirit to those of us who are worthy, because none of us are worthy. God gives God’s Spirit in this awakened way to those who want it. On this Feast of Pentecost, quite simply, want it! Rely upon it. Know that you already have it.

Richard Rohr

The City of God

I think this post connects to another one Death and Resurrection……which I will post after this one.

Laughter: Carbonated Grace

Once, in a dream                                                                                                                                    I found myself in a coat,
– nothing else.
I had no money,
credit cards or credentials,
not a single clue
to my financial status.

I had no memory
of friends or family,
if I was loved by many
or by anyone at all.

I didn’t even know my name.

I was standing alone
at the gate of a golden city
full of sunlit buildings
on an ocean’s edge
of clean white sand.

Inside the city
friendly faces welcomed me
lavishly…

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My Journey

What Did I Want to be When I Grew Up

I wanted to be loved. That seemed like enough. I know. I know. Need is not love. And yes, I was a bottomless pit of needs and wants. And now, I know no one can fill all of anyone’s needs, never-the-less wants. But my husband of sixty years tried his best, because he loved me. And the greatest gift he gave me was in his last years when he was very ill. He needed me. And with the grace of God, I learned to love.

The Fruit of Love

Feeling the tender softness of the gift beneath the golden skin, then tasting that moist sweetness and savoring its delight is exquisite pleasure. But cherishing the one we love more than our own ecstasy frees love to flow though us until we melt together now as one. And suddenly, we find ourselves at one with all God’s Glory.

My Sign of Hope

I’m breathless from struggling up the hill. A rope dangles before me, taunting, tempting, “You’re too old. Eighty-four is ancient. Your shoulder hurts. Your memory leaks. You’re worn out from the effort it takes to just keep on. Where will it get you? You’re not going to climb me, old woman.”

My shoulders slump. I know I can’t climb this rope. I stare at it and sigh. Maybe it could be a noose. I tie it in a loop. Why not give up? Who am I now? Why am I? Invisible, unheard, trapped in the ugly faded soundproof coffin of old age.

As I stare into the cloudy sky a memory comes. Swinging, floating long ago. Starting slow, swinging low, but keeping on until I touched the sky. I laugh and stretch the loop into a swing. Here I go. Starting slow. I feel a breeze teasing my hair. Climbing higher. Spirits lifting. A sunburst ignites a field of golden daffodils below. Daffodils, my sign of Hope.

What Do I Want Now?

I hunger to discover the inner silent me, the self that doesn’t dance for applause. I long to free my torn and scattered self from being tossed helplessly by the winds of constant irresistible distractions. To recognize and accept my new limits and be grateful for the graces freely given by the God who knew me then and now. I need so desperately to be silent, open, focused on listening to find my center where hope and the God of Love live.

Deep Listening

Everything is God’s Music The Reveille of my morning coffee The Silent Night of snowdrifts and stars The morning Medley of gold and violet flowers The Love Songs and personalities of birds at feeders The exuberant Ode to Joy of my youngest two great-grandchildren The Arpeggio of love of four sons, a daughter, spouses and their children The Just as I Am courage and perseverance of grandchildren with challenges The Symphony of classes that feed my hunger for understanding of life and humanity The Amazing Grace of sometimes hearing the Spirit singing through my imperfect writing

Left-Brain Fairy Tale

This from a fellow blogger. It’s delightful. Had to share it.

catterel

“Let me tell you a story,” I said to my millennial grandson when he was about nine.

He acquiesced, probably out of politeness to his aged grandmother.

“Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess who lived up on the top of that mountain,” I gestured towards the peak towering above our village.

“Was she a dwarf?” he asked.

“Er – I’m not sure,” I hadn’t developed my story quite to that point.

“She was the daughter of the King of the Mountain …”

“The King of the Mountain was a dwarf,” he stated in an irrefutable tone.

I considered that irrelevant and continued:

“… and she spent most of her time wandering around exploring the …”

“Did she have a snowboard?”

“A snowboard?”

“There’s a lot of snow up there in winter.” He was, of course, right. “Or skis. She might have had a sledge.”

“Well, maybe she…

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Would You Want to See Like Jesus?

Helpless to help those we love seems like the worst suffering in the world. And the more people we love, the harder it is. I cannot imagine knowing and consciously loving all those suffering in our world.

Laughter: Carbonated Grace

I got a Christmas card from a beautifully spiritual priest friend of Julian’s. We’ve been exchanging Christmas cards and notes from a long time ago when Julian designed a very contemporary Church for his congregation . An amazing man, who even fills in for Protestant preachers and works with all sorts of other religions for the poor. I look forward to the card each year because his hand written notes usually have insights that speak to me. This year his card had the words “I want to see like Jesus” across the front over a silhouette of the Baby Jesus in the manger. I started thinking about what Jesus sees and got overwhelmed. He sees the children in war zones, the hungry ones, the abused ones, the lost to drugs ones, Christians fighting Christians, Muslims fighting everyone,  even good people throwing out the baby Jesus with the dirty bath water…

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Does God Heal?

To Pray or Not to Pray: Chapter 9

Reposting this as part of my series on Prayer.

Laughter: Carbonated Grace

Recently I was reading a discussion on face book with pros and cons about miracles of healing. Many vehemently rejected that a loving God would heal some and not others. I remembered my wonderful friend Bobbie. In her early forties she began to have trouble breathing, finally ending up in intensive care on a ventilator. After several specialists told her she was in the last stages of Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis and would never be able to come off of the ventilator, she asked her family to agree to her stopping treatment, because she didn’t want to spend what little time she might have left in ICU on this machine. Her family didn’t want to do this. That night while Bobbie was in total despair, a woman she hadn’t seen before stopped to talk to her in ICU. She told Bobbie that God loved her and had a plan for her…

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To Pray or Not to Pray: Chapter 7

Daffodils, a Sign of Hope

That evening after the doctor’s appointment, Tommy’s fever broke. His eyes sparkled and he was his funny independent little self again.

“Everybody start looking for pots and vases,” I said cheerfully, as I organized the older children and my husband into a treasure hunt for containers for the daffodils. We found dozens in diverse sizes and appearance and brought all the beautiful golden blooms inside the house. Everywhere you looked, it was Easter. Everywhere you looked there was the love of God and hope for the future.

The year continued with Tommy still succumbing to frequent illnesses, but I clung to my sign of hope, believing that God would heal him without surgery. Tommy turned four in November and a week before Christmas I took him to the heart specialist for his yearly tests. I had been told in the beginning, that sometimes these heart valve defects closed on their own, but that it was almost always by the time they were two years old. Still, I fully expected to be told that his heart had improved.

After hours of going from labs to X-rays to offices all over Vanderbilt Hospital, Tommy and I waited wearily, but hopefully, to hear the results from the heart specialist. By the time our name was called, Tommy was asleep in my lap, his head on my shoulder. He didn’t even wake up when I carried him into the office.

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Norman,” the doctor began. My heart broke at the words and I fought back tears. “The hole hasn’t gotten any smaller. We need to do a heart catheterization in preparation for surgery right away.” Looking at his calendar, he continued, “You have several other children, don’t you?”

“Yes, four.”

“Well, we’ll schedule it in the week after Christmas then. December 27th is clear for me. Does that work for you?”

Speechless, I nodded my head. I drove home too shocked to cry or even pray.
That night, when everyone else was settled down to sleep, I sat at the kitchen counter with my Bible and a cup of hot chocolate. Praying, “Lord, help me. I do believe; help my unbelief,”  I just opened my bible randomly and began to read.

My heart almost stopped, when I realized that I had opened to the story of Abraham taking Isaac up on the mountain to sacrifice him to God. I wept, thinking like Abraham, that God was asking me to let go of my child. Finally, I reached a point of deciding that God knew what Tommy’s future might be, and if He wanted to take Tommy now, He had His reasons.
I prayed and struggled until I could say, “Everything in me is screaming in protest, God. I can’t control my feelings, but with my will, I choose to trust you and to place my son and my heart in your hands. Your will, not mine.”

An amazing peace came over me and I recognized that letting go is part of everything in our journey. And that once Abraham had let go, God did not take Isaac. I knew that part of the story, but remembered only the letting go part, until I had done that myself.
The next few days, I called every person of praying faith, that I knew of any denomination, and asked for prayers for Tommy.

Christmas came and went, and we prepared to take Tommy to the hospital. I clung to my faith that God was with Tommy. The morning he was scheduled, the doctor’s office called and postponed the procedure, because the doctor had an emergency surgery. She rescheduled him for the following week. Then the day before the appointment, Tommy began to run fever, so we had to reschedule for two weeks later, hoping he would be well enough then. But the next week, they called to say that the doctor was going to be out of town, so we made it for two weeks later again. I called everyone on my prayer list each time we rescheduled. By the time we finally managed to get Tommy to the hospital, I was a basket case.

I was numb as they rolled him away, but a very kind young intern went with him, keeping him smiling by pretending Tommy’s sock monkey was saying funny things. A gift from God.

I don’t remember much of anything from the waiting.  But the bright smile on the Doctor’s face when he came out, was enough to make me begin thanking God right then.
The hole in Tommy’s heart had closed enough to be so tiny, that surgery was not necessary. The only difference it would make in his future life was, if he had any other surgeries, he would have to make sure he was put on antibiotics before them.

But even more amazing to me was that, literally overnight, he became a normal healthy child, no longer catching every germ that came by. In fact, he was often healthier than his siblings.

Easter can come in our lives at any time. Now is a good time to remember and celebrate the hard times that stretched our faith, but turned into rejoicing.

To Pray or Not to Pray: Chapter 6

God’s Presence in a Child’s Suffering and a Mother’s Heartache.

My heart sank and I felt a wave of nausea as I read the thermometer. One hundred and four degrees.
“Oh, God. Not again please,” I whispered, as I coaxed medicine into my feverish son. While I was fixing him juice, the telephone rang insistently until I finally answered it.
“Eileen,” a neighbor said, “you need to get over there to my granny’s old home place and get yourself some of those daffodils. They’re just coming up. If you plant them now, they might go on and bloom for you next month.”
“I can’t take Tommy out today, Mae. He’s running fever again. Besides are you sure it’s not stealing??
“Naw. There are thousands of them now, all from the ones my granny planted years ago. They need thinning out, so they’ll keep blooming. I’ll come over and watch Tommy for you.”
“Well……Okay,” I answered hesitantly. “I’m just putting him down for a nap. Come in about twenty minutes.”
I sighed as I hung up. I didn’t really feel like going out in the cold January weather, but I couldn’t think of any more excuses. I picked up my three-year-old son and began to rock him to sleep. His face was flushed and his thin little body felt hot against mine. Poor Tommy. I hope this isn’t going to be another long siege, I thought silently.
“I love you, little one,” I said softly.
“Love you,” he whispered hoarsely, patting my face gently as his eyes began to close.
As I carefully put Tommy in his bed, I heard my neighbor come quietly in the front door.
“Hi, Mae. Thanks for coming. He’s restless, but I think he’ll sleep,” I greeted her. “But I don’t have anything to put dirt in. How will I carry the daffodils?”
“They don’t need dirt. Just put some newspapers down in the back of your station wagon. Get yourself a lot. They’ll look great along your driveway and out front of the house.”
A few minutes later I gasped and shivered when the cold wind hit me, as I got out of the car. I wished fervently that I hadn’t agreed to do this. I started digging as quickly as I could, eyes tearing from the wind. I dug for several minutes, then thought about giving up and going home. Each time I’d begin to straighten up, I’d see another thick clump just barely pushing through the frozen ground, seeming to beckon to me. I kept going until I had almost filled the back of my station wagon with hundreds of bare bulbs.
When I finally got back and sent my neighbor home with thanks, I went to check on Tommy. He tossed restlessly in his sleep and when I touched his forehead, it almost scalded my hand. Tommy had taken a turn for the worse, so I forgot all about the daffodil bulbs, as I spent the next two weeks caring for him and making trips to the specialist fifty miles away.
With trembling voice, I finally admitted to the doctor how frightened I was, when Tommy’s fever ran off the thermometer and there was no way to know how high it was.
“Don’t try to bring it down below 104 degrees,” he advised me. “If you do, it will shoot back up fast and that can cause a seizure. He catches everything because the hole in his heart valve lets blood circulate without being purified by the lungs. We’ll try another antibiotic. If he has a virus, it won’t help, but we can’t risk this going into pneumonia. We’ll consider surgery when he’s four, but we need to get him stronger first. Bring him back in two days, if he’s not better.”
I drove us home through a flood of tears. Tommy whimpered listlessly, his eyes too bright and his skin too pale under the flush of fever. My spirits matched the bleak January landscape.
I spent the next two days and nights struggling to keep his fever down. Sometimes he lay in my arms limply. Other times when the fever shot beyond the measure of the thermometer, he would chatter brightly, using words far more complex than his normal vocabulary, reminding me of the possibility of brain damage.
Two days passed and his fever was still shooting back up off the thermometer. Trying yet again to bring it down slowly, I put him in a tepid bath, that seemed to hurt his hot skin and make him shake with chills. He looked like pictures I had seen of war orphans with their ribs showing and their sunken eyes pleading. He looked at me like he was asking mutely, “Why are you doing this? Why are you hurting me? Don’t you love me?”
As I wrapped him in wet sheets and sat rocking him, both of us were sobbing. I even yelled out loud, “Where are you, God? I pray and pray and you do nothing. This is an innocent child. Why do you let him suffer? What kind of God are you? A cruel God? An impotent God?  Where is the loving God of Jesus? Have you abandoned us?”
As, I exhausted my anger, memories of God’s many gifts of grace in my life flooded my mind and I began to pray again, “You are my God, the only God I have. I have seen Your awesome glory in the beauty of Your creation and I have felt the depth of Your love through Your son, Jesus. So, I, like Paul, will try to praise you at all times, in joy and in sorrow. Right now, I can’t feel it, but with my will I praise you. I thank you for the many times you have blessed me and for the grace you have poured into my heart even in my darkest moments. But, please God, help me know you are with us in this. I feel abandoned.”
Then I began to dress Tommy for another trip to Nashville. As I carried him to the car, I was stopped in my tracks by an incredible sight.
Hundreds of bright yellow daffodils in full bloom completely filled the back of my car. It looked like Easter morning! I felt like God had put His arms around us and whispered, “See, I am with you always. Don’t despair.”
I drove to the doctor’s singing hymns of praise.  That night Tommy’s fever broke and we filled the house with vases of Daffodils, my sign of hope was everywhere I looked.