Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Thursday, 1 April, 2004

We continue with pieces from “Holy People” by Gordon Lathrop

In a day when we hear much discussion and reference to a “personal” spirituality that may lead to an individually determined practice of worship, Lathrop has several things to offer us.

Of course, for Christians, this sense of the importance of the personal is not entirely wrong. Worship may indeed take place when one is alone. The Sermon on the Mount itself counsels prayer in one’s own room, behind the shut door (Matt.6:6). Especially in the modern age of the handheld, privately owned book, the Bible can be read alone. But such reading is more than a modern phenomenon. None other than the great Augustine of Hippo, for example, reports that he found his way to Baptism partly by picking up the “book of the apostle” in his solitude and by himself reading Romans 13:13-14.

It is a wonderful act of grace that through an individual encounter with the Word, we can be knocked off our feet and have our lives transformed. Yes, alone one may contemplate on the richness of God’s Reign and find within a few bits of scripture or a word shared by another, a profound event that has the power to lift us up to a new domain in which our lives may be comforted or shaken or both. It is, for example, why people enter into private devotion. We give ourselves time…alone…to have our hearts opened to God’s unending grace. In fact, I would suggest that such private worship or devotion open us up to a more radical experience of corporate worship and study.

Connection: Already you give yourself time to pause and contemplate the day as it is presented to us by our God. Now, I would invite you to consider entering the assembly of believers and taking part in an expression of the Word of Grace that is not within our control or even our “space.”

Lord God, you ignite our hearts and cause us to be open to your gracious Reign that takes us to a new place and time within the ordinary times of our lives. Continue to crack us open to your grace. Amen.

Wednesday, 31 march, 2004

Text: Galatians 1:6-7

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel - not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.

The great punch line...not that there is another gospel. I've always loved Paul's quick correction to what he has just said. It drives the point home all the more powerfully. There is one gospel! But even now there is great disagreement about what is this Gospel - this Good News. Is it something we learn...or come to know? Is it the rule by which we judge all things as to whether they are in or out of our "good news community?" it a truth about our God that reveals the worth of our lives in the eyes of God and the life such truth can bring to us each day? Is the Gospel something about a life after we die or is it something about life - now? Is it like a savings plan that we hope to use later or is it like a gift (let's say an ice cream dessert) that is given to us right now - take it, eat it, enjoy it, savor it. It is for life! It does us no good to criticize the so-called Christian Right and the so-called Christian groups whose invitation to life is full of "exclusions" if we do not have a life about us that is the gift of life Paul seems to treasure so dearly. Good News - gospel - how radical of a life comes with that news. A rooted (radical) life that draws life from the fact of God's unconditional love - that life is just as unconditionally loving as God is loving. Jesus is no mere mystical presence. His life is our life - free for all.

Connection: What limits do you put on your loving? Can you at least spot some today? Not big thing...just the everyday ways we actually live by a gospel other than the gospel we know in Jesus...not that there is another gospel.

Most Holy and Loving God, take us into your arms and teach us your ways. When we face the day at hand remind us of the life of Jesus and how his life is the way we come to see you most fully. Amen.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Tuesday, 30 march, 2004

For the next few days, we will be using devotions from the Summmer of 2000 archives.

Text: Galatians 1:3-5

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

The present evil age. And interesting note. This could be written to us today. This is especially true in the middle of the election races heading into the final stage of development. I have heard enough and maybe too much about the present evil age and all of its many faces. I'm not going to deny many of those faces but I am not going to say they set the way or that they are the only word of truth out there. I look at it this way. In Paul's day, in the middle of that "evil age" there was the church...a light in the world. Sure there is the brokeness of the world but the church is the light. They and we are "set free from the present evil age" for the church is a people who risk another life given and shed for all. As the light we do not get rid of the evil - it will pursist. Rather, we take part in lives that are as sacrificial as the one "who gave himself for our sins." We live alternative lives. Everyone doesn't have to follow that way. It is an invitation not a mandate. Religious powers trying to tie their concept fo Christianity to the way the country needs to be run are, in my consideration just as much as the "present evil age" as all the usual stuff associated with "evil in the world." They become just another power...looking for power. Where is the way of the cross? Where is the freedom to live gracefully and with peace in a community that is an alternative life for all...all? Our exclusive "christian" communities often give off a witness to the powers that separate rather than to the power that brings life together. According to the will of our God, we are free from being like the power of the world...and we can walk into our day truly free to be God's beloved.

Connection: When you hear back biting exchanges...when the pundits are pounding this side and that side...when we have given up our ability to think and have taken on the easy words and directives of entertaining talk shows....just say quietly to yourself, "you must be kidding!" Then, let your self hear the resounding voice of God claiming you and inviting you to follow the Jesus of the scriptures and not of the far right or the far left.

God of grace and peace, you give us the power to stand in our world and walk in the way of your Beloved. Amid the voices and powers of our day make us wise so that we will walk according to your will. Amen

Monday, March 29, 2004

Monday, March 29, 2004

We will be playing with some material from “Holy People” by Gordon Lathrop.

Continuing to give a description of the Christian ‘assembly,’ Lathrop writes:

According to the classic description of this basic symbol, then, this meeting is not – or ought not to be – a crowd, a cheering section, a gathering to hear a lecture or a sales pitch, an audience. It is not a collection of consumers come to an expert, a gathering of the uninvolved come to be entertained.

Another kind of assembly – a gathering together of persons in which each of those gathered has a participatory role, in which the central matters of worship are at the heart of this shared participation – constitutes the most basic symbol of Christian worship.

There is a big difference between being an observer and being a participant. One of the most powerful pieces of the liturgy will always be for me the times when the congregation –as a whole – is engaged in the singing of a hymn. This is a time when the people – the whole assembly – lets go and sings. In congregations with big organs, it means the organ backs off and leads the people so that the people can be heard and the organ plays its part in the singing of a hymn. But we need not stop there. The assembly is to be invited into a full participation that helps to bring the Word forward in the lessons, the words of the liturgy, the movement to the meal, sharing of the peace and the many ways we find ourselves connected to those around us and in that, to the action of the whole assembly.

Connection: Next time you are in worship, make note of how often you are actively participating in the worship. And remember, the sermon is not a time of nonparticipation.

Lord God, you continue to invite us to participate in the life of the body of Christ and in worship we are given one opportunity to come together and do just that. Lead us into a more profound participation in the community of gathered saints each time we come together. Amen.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Friday 26 March, 2004

We will be playing with some material from “Holy People” by Gordon Lathrop.

…even in the most idealized of those old descriptions (of an assembly), the hope was by no means always realized. Ordinary, quarrelsome, nonexemplary, needy, sinful people met and still meet. But Christian faith finds God active in the meeting, finds in the very fact of meeting a deep ground for thanksgiving. Against the spirit of the age, Christians still gather together, and that simple face remains symbolically powerful.

Of course the hope is not realized…that would be the end. And yet, we live as though the end is known and therefore you could say that we are pulled into that end and the experience of the end now…Christ is victorious and we gather to be with all who trust in that reality that will be and is already. Sure we are sinner…less than the best…uncultured…out of place…even the best of the bunch, and yet, when we gather as one – one body – we are invited into the character of God’s Reign. The world may fight over every issue that can make its way into the dynamics of our culture or our political agenda, but we will gather around the font and we will take the meal and we will keep reminding ourselves of the promise of what is not yet…and yet…it is indeed, breaking in even as we walk across the parking lot into the building in which we sing praises to our God.

Connection: Today may or may not be better then yesterday…but today is still a time to face the world as it is – and that can be a pretty sad and broken place – and not let it rule us. The Holy Spirit’s power for life is and will be with you.

Breathe upon us, Gracious God, just as you did when there was nothing at all. For sometimes, we do not see anything of worth around us and we do not feel as though we are worth much at all. Keep breathing upon us so that we may be refreshed and revived to trust in your love for us…a love that never ends. Amen.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Thursday, 25 March, 2004

We will be playing with some material from “Holy People” by Gordon Lathrop.

There are some characteristics to the Christian ‘assembly” many of which are quite unusual among current conceptions of public meetings. This assembly should meet regularly, every Sunday at least. It should be of life-and-death importance to its participants. This assembly should be marked by participation and by an honored place for every participant. Is should have its strong and cherished center in the things in which the community participates, the things we have called the heart or the basic building blocks of the gathering… Indeed, the assembly should have an open door, a permeable outer boundary, accessibility to the surrounding world, a marked hospitality. Its practice should have lines of meaning that extend from the meeting into the re-descriptions and re-imagination of all ordinary life.

This is such a remarkable piece. Can you imagine an assembly – and for me that would be the body of Christ in worship – gathering as though it is of life-and-death importance for us to be together?!? Not only that. Imagine a community in which all have an honored place – no matter who we are, what we have been, what we have done, how we go about our lives. We would, in such an assembly, be people who trusted only in the word of God’s promise to all people in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. There is no “get better” or “first you must stop this or do that”, there is only the grace of our Lord, Jesus, Christ. And yet…that is the case…even now…and we can be a part of that kind of assembly.

Connection: This is the perfect time to let loose of all that is keeping us from taking part in the fullness of the body of Christ and to shed the trappings we tend to want to use to cover up that body.

Lord God, by your gracious love you honor us with life that is brilliantly upheld by your love and nothing else. We thank you, O Lord. Amen

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Wednesday, 24 March, 2004

We will be playing with some material from “Holy People” by Gordon Lathrop.

“The ‘coming together’ of the Christians is the distinguishing feature of Christian worship.” And “we do all this together because we are a ‘together’ and not just individuals. Christian salvation is by its very nature ‘church,’ a ‘gathering.’” And “worship in the sense of assembly of the Christian congregation in the name of Jesus is virtually the dominant mode of the manifestation of the church on earth.” And “among the symbols with which liturgy deals, none is more important than this assembly of believers.”

We are a “together.” This expression reminds me of the fact that the church does not “excommunicate” us because we have done something wrong or do not believe as others may believe. The notion of “excommunication” has more to do with naming what is going on….that is… when someone removes him/herself from the “together” the community must name that action…that removal of one’s self from the whole. Then, the community is work like a whirlwind to bring that ex-communicated person back home or to set them free to enter another community. We are a “together.” Sometimes it may be good to simply come and be a part of the whole…and just listen…or just observe…or simply be greeted by others. For in that simple exercise of being with the church “together” the Holy Spirit takes off and who knows what will take place and how life will change. This is all a good reason to encourage people to come and be a part of the assembly at worship…even the stranger.

Connection: Clear a spot in the week to be with others in worship. Don’t wait for what will come or how the week will unfold, do it now.

By the power of your Holy Spirit, O God, pull us into your community of saints who you have called to be ambassadors of your gracious Reign. Amen.

Tuesday, 23 March, 2004

We will be playing with some material from “Holy People” by Gordon Lathrop.

…Sunday is the day of assembly, the liturgical year a calendar for the work of the assembly. Daily prayer reflects and anticipates the meeting of the Sunday assembly… The basic building blocks of liturgical structure – biblical texts, preaching and sacraments, hymns, prayers, calendars, and creeds – are all essentially communal in nature. In themselves, they presume an assembly.

It is not easy to remember that each of us is part of an assembly…a community…a we…a broken bunch of folk who count on one thing alone, God’s love for us as we hear it told to us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Even as I do “my own thing” within the devotions of a day or a week, I am reminding myself of the universality of God’s gracious Reign. That reminder…that wondering about what it all means for me and all creation…is part of the exercise that keeps me pointed toward that promise of life. I may wander within all my wondering, but the reminder is there…the vision is there…the assembly is there…and I praise God for that gathering no matter what size it may be or who it is that is part of the assembly for in that gathering the Spirit transforms and lifts us into a realm of unbelievable graciousness.

Connection: Stay connected!

Bind us together Lord. Bind our hearts together that your Will…will be the guiding light for this day that leads us into and through all that may greet us this day. Amen.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Monday, 22 March, 2004

We will begin to play with some material from “Holy People” by Gordon Lathrop.

Assembly, a gathering together of participating persons, constitutes the most basic symbol of Christian worship. All the other symbols and symbolic actions of liturgy depend upon this gathering being there in the first place. No texts are read, no preaching occurs, no hymns are sung, no Eucharist is held without an assembly, however small or large this gathering of persons may be. The event we call Baptism brings a person into this assembly.

We are a community people. Our faith is not merely a personal adventure. Yes, we do move away from the font and away from our Sunday gathering and away from the Meal as individuals, but we do so as part of a people. To stay away from the community is to stay away from the vitality of the church – the body. In a day when the mega-church…or simply a church bigger than what is presently the case seems to be the goal of congregations, there is that important word that defines us: Assembly. We gather. Sometimes small numbers…sometimes many...sometimes we are quite alike…sometimes we are as diverse a collection of people that is seems as though God is gifting us by placing us alongside those we do not know. Yes, we can be in “touch” with God as we wander in the woods or watch a sunrise, but it is as we gather together that we face something we cannot face on our own – the body of Christ…in all its glory.

Connection: Come to worship and take part in the many facets of our life together that may just lift up our lives and cause our voices to reach up and praise our God.

Gather us in, O God, and shape our hearts so that we may come to rest in the gracious ways of your Reign. Amen.

Friday, March 19, 2004

Friday, 19 March, 2004

We will continue to base the devotions on “God for a Secular Culture” by Jurgen Moltmann.

This week we will look at how we apply a principle like ‘unity in division and division in unity’ to the knowing of other people, other things, and the Wholly Other God.

It is only when human beings see themselves simply as human beings, no longer as gods, that they are in a position to perceive the wholly other nature of God. It is only when we cease to be unhappy supermen and pathetic mini-gods and permit ourselves to become human beings through and through again that we let God be God, as Luther said.

There is a bit of terror in seeing ourselves as human beings…and just that. We are vulnerable, finite, and there will always be something more than me. My word will never be the last word…nor has it been the first. When a parent or friend dies, there is the word that says to us that we may be next…we do not stay as we are forever. I look at myself in the mirror and there is not the same texture and shape to my body as I was ten year ago. When we are able to let ourselves be…as God created us…creatures/human beings, it may do something miraculous to how we welcome and live alongside those who are other than us…for they too are not gods…they are God’s beloved creatures also.

Connection: So when you are sitting on the porcelain throne today…wonder a bit about God…and wonder a bit about humanity…and wonder a bit about the place of us all.

Creating God you have masterfully shaped us into your people and given us so many gifts for life that we sometimes think that we can rule over others and even ourselves. Remind us of our place and the many ways we can be fully human and creative and shaped by your loving image without trying to be You. Amen.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Thursday, 18 March, 2004

We will continue to base the devotions on “God for a Secular Culture” by Jurgen Moltmann.

This week we will look at how we apply a principle like ‘unity in division and division in unity’ to the knowing of other people, other things, and the Wholly Other God.

Applied to God, dialectical thinking leads to the recognition of diversity in community. ‘God is only known by God,’ says the ‘likeness’ principle. Dialectical thinking says that God appears as God only in the sphere of what is other than God, that is to say, in the realm of the finite and in the sphere of human beings who are in contradiction to him; dialectical thinking says that for human beings God is the Wholly Other.

God becomes available to us by being with us and not distant. In that availability we come to know our God and our God becomes fully aware of what it is to be creature. The Good News is impossible to trust because it is so foreign to us…and yet, we say that God becomes for us the power that draws us into some understanding of the way God rules…by grace alone. If God was like us, there would be conditional grace…which is no grace at all.

Connection: Sometimes it is a weird exercise to simply try and imagine what Jesus would be like in our shoes. How would God be revealed in us…knowing that we, at all times, complete turn to our own way of being.

Lord, keep us attentive to your power for new life that is always pulling us beyond ourselves and into the vision of life that you set before us in Christ, Jesus. Amen.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Wednesday, 17 March, 2004

We will continue to base the devotions on “God for a Secular Culture” by Jurgen Moltmann.

This week we will look at how we apply a principle like ‘unity in division and division in unity’ to the knowing of other people, other things, and the Wholly Other God.

Must a society’s enemies not be told: either adapt or emigrate? I do not believe so. While the foundation of a society consisting of people who are like each other is normally the love of friends, the foundation of the society made up of the different is, if the worst comes to the worst, the love of enemies. To love our enemies means taking responsibility not just for ourselves and those who belong to us, but for our enemies too. We then no longer ask merely: how can we defend ourselves against our possible enemies? Our question now is: how can we take away their enmity, so that we can all survive together? In this sense, love of enemies is the foundation for a shared life in conflicts.

What a very different way to look at enemies. Rather than focus on how we defend ourselves against them, we ask how we can take away their enmity/hostility. Obviously, it is a much easier take into consideration defense against someone than to consider entering into a relationship with that ‘other’ so that both sides can look at the power of division that manifests itself in the form of hatred and hostility. Jesus always went toward those who criticized him. The conversation never stopped. In family systems theory we are told to stay connected with those against whom we may simply want to war! Unfortunately, we don’t teach the ways of peacemaking very often. As much as Dennis Kucinich was derided for many of his ideas, I really did think his notion of a department of peace would and could be an asset for it does not call us to arms; it calls us into conversation and the ongoing journey of reconciliation. Aren’t we, as followers of Jesus, called to be ministers of reconciliation? I think so.

Connection: Building a community in which our so called ‘enemies’ are included is not as easy as simply closing our doors to them. For the sake of peace, we may be invited within this day to spend more time…to step out of our box…to look again at the actions and ideas of others. Yes, that takes time…and patience…and endurance…and hope. That’s sounds kind of biblical.

God of Peace and Reconciling Lord, continue to make into the instruments of your peaceful Reign. Lift us up, send us out, lift us up again, and bless us with the power of love that given by your alone. Amen.

Tuesday, 16 March, 2004

We will continue to base the devotions on “God for a Secular Culture” by Jurgen Moltmann.

This week we will look at how we apply a principle like ‘unity in division and division in unity’ to the knowing of other people, other things, and the Wholly Other God.

In Greek, mathein (to learn) and pathein (to suffer) go together, as we see from many proverbs and sayings. Understanding empathy then engenders a connecting sympathy, once the empathy leads to mutual understanding. It forms the community in the diversity and the diversity in the community. The basic law of a society like this is ‘recognition of the other’ in his or her difference. Societies which develop according to this principle are not closed societies. Nor are they uniform societies, where people are brought into line. They are ‘open societies’. They can live not only with different and dissimilar people, but also, as Karl Popper required, with ‘their enemies’ too; for they can even make the enmity of their enemies fruitful for the things that are of concern to them.

As good as this sounds to me, it is not an easy adventure in life. To be open comes with much criticism because the concept of openness leads some to say things like, “you let anything go.” Well, no. There is still order and boundaries and safety and respect for others. In fact, I would suggest that we the place of honoring others is greater when we are within a community in which the ‘other’ is present with us. Honoring others draws us into conversation and dialogue and it is within such a situation that the miracles we see in the book of Acts become a reality. It is also where we hear the enemies forgiven in the middle of execution of Jesus…and from that comes newness of life beyond what we could ever imagine.

Connection: To so listen to others and share of ourselves may bring into this day something more than we planned. That is good! That is part of the creative power that still is alive among us.

Like the wind whipping around at the beginning of time and making something of nothing, you O God, continue to lift us up and take us to new places within our lives and to help to see the wideness of your creative Reign. We give you thanks for this day. Amen.

Monday, March 15, 2004

Monday, 15 March, 2004

We will continue to base the devotions on “God for a Secular Culture” by Jurgen Moltmann.

This week we will look at how we apply a principle like ‘unity in division and division in unity’ to the knowing of other people, other things, and the Wholly Other God.

If the unlike know themselves, then interest in the difference of the other must be greater than the interest in its likeness. In the others I do not look at what is like me, but at what is different in them, and try to understand it. I can only understand it by changing myself, and adjusting myself to the other. In my perception of others, I subject myself to the pains and joys of my own alteration, not in order to adapt myself to the other, but in order to enter into it. There is no true understanding of the other without this empathy.

Is this beginning to show some signs of what I would call self-sacrifice? I let go of myself – how I would want the world to be…how I would order life…who is a part of my world - in order to enter into the world of the other. I don’t give up who I am. Rather, I let go of all the ‘stuff’ that usually keeps me from having some kind of quality exchange with the ‘other.’ When that happens, there is space for dialogue, change, alteration, or simply…conversation…conversation that I may not have entered previously. I find the gospel is a collection of stories in which our God enters into that which is ‘other’…completely that God enters into what is creaturely…when God is the Creator of our creaturely selves. How do we some times hear it in church: the one without sin became sin…for us?

Connection: Yes, to know the other may take stretching ourselves. And yet, in that stretching, both the other person and I change and, I would suggest, grow.

Help us to step out onto the pathway that leads to that which is not known to us, O God, so that we may begin to see the sheer beauty and grandeur of your creation and be daily amazed at your creativity. Amen

Friday, March 12, 2004

Friday, 12 March, 2004

We will continue to base the devotions on “God for a Secular Culture” by Jurgen Moltmann.

This week we will be looking at how knowledge of the ‘other’ leads to community in diversity.

It is Hegel’s dynamic dialectic of love which creates unity in division and division in unity, because it itself is the union of division and unity.

Beyond what we would like love to be…is a love that is greater than our imagination. Even in our greatest adventures of imagination, we fall short of the love that brings life to the Reign of God. For when we cannot tolerate division and otherness or when we are sweetly drowning ourselves in likeness, the Holy Spirit draws our attention to that which is not merely the way we would choose to live. Love, as is known through the stories of God’s love, never stops being creative and never ceases its interchange with the newness of the world we enter today. “…the union of division and unity.” That may be the beginning of a life adventure that will know no end.

Connection: The dynamic day at hand will bring us many opportunities to experience the love of God blossoming all around us. It would be good to take the time to witness its unfolding glory.

Lord God, take us by the hand and move us through our way of seeing this day so that we may see and experience that which is not like us and look again at that which is like us. In our looking, help us see your image. Amen

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Thursday, 11 March, 2004

We will continue to base the devotions on “God for a Secular Culture” by Jurgen Moltmann.

This week we will be looking at how knowledge of the ‘other’ leads to community in diversity.

Here too (with the other) the concern that guides perception…is union. But the goal is not a unity in uniformity; it is a unity in diversity. Those who are different can complement each other, and long for reciprocal complementation as the earth longs for the rain, and rain for the earth… Antagonisms do not always have to be deadly. They can be life-giving as well, and can promote life… Yin and Yang, which rhythmically and fluidly divide and unite, divide so as to unite, unite so as to divide, and thus advance the process of life.

What kind of union are we looking for? There can be no better example of diversity taking part in a union as when we see a man and a woman enter into a covenant relationship in marriage. Talk about opposites…differences. From physical appearance and physical design to claims that one is from Mars and the other from Venus, marriage is an adventure in antagonisms. One of the great challenges in many marriages is that the relationship will develop into a union and not merely an episode of uniformity in which one person rules or dictates the life of the two. Vitality in a marriage comes from the notion of the union of two strangers seeking to make a go at a life journey together…side by side. It is risky but it is also filled with great potential for life for both sides.

Connection: It would do us all a bit of good to make a mental note of someone within spectrum of our friends and co-workers who is quite different from us and then ask what it is that we receive from that person that makes our life something other than it would be without them. Then, ask…how does it make my life better.

Manifest in the diversity of your creation, O God, is a creativity that continues without end through the relationships we enter each day. Thanks for the differences among us that ask us to march on within your creative realm of life. Amen.

Tuesday, March 9, 2004

Wednesday, 10 March, 2004

We will continue to base the devotions on “God for a Secular Culture” by Jurgen Moltmann.

This week we will be looking at how knowledge of the ‘other’ leads to community in diversity.

But how do we perceive this other? Not through its correspondence but through its contradiction. We might say, in general terms, that we perceive things first through their contrast to the things they are not. We perceive the other with what is opposite in us ourselves. It is through dissonance, not consonance, that we become alive to the new. To take up Anaxagoras’s imagery: ‘the darker it is in us, the more we sense the holiness of light.’ The colder we are, the more intensely we feel a fire’s warmth. When we are among people who are black, we notice that we are white. Among people who are white we see that we are black.

Today’s piece made me think of those instances in our lives when our heads turn…or our eyes are drawn from that which we are watching to something else that has come into our view. Friday evening I was driving to dinner and as I was at a stop light, a bunch of people were crossing the street. With bags in hand, they were obviously coming from the “Arnold” fitness expo at the Convention Center. So as you would expect, there was quite a bit of muscle passing in front of me…as would be expected. But it was a woman in a sleeveless shirt that caught my attention. Now…I know what you’re thinking so let’s just continue. Her arms were more muscular than most men – certainly more than this man. She had a tank top on as it swooped down in the front; her large pectoral muscles (not breasts) were very visible to me. Noticing that which is different and other and strange to my experience, there I was dumbfounded…but visually attentive!

Connection: Sometime during the day our heads will turn to see something or someone. What is it that turns our head (even if it is simply a mental ‘turning’)? What does ‘different’ mean for you and how do you respond to something ‘other’?

Within the strangeness of your creation, O God, help us to understand that we too are a part of that strangeness that we often let limit our lives. Open our hearts to the wonderful beauty that is present within the odd and strange world around us that may indeed be us. Amen

Monday, March 8, 2004

Tuesday, 9 March, 2004

We will continue to base the devotions on “God for a Secular Culture” by Jurgen Moltmann.

This week we will be looking at how knowledge of the ‘other’ leads to community in diversity.

If our organs of perception encounter something like, something familiar, or something that already corresponds to ourselves, we feel endorsed, and that is pleasing to our senses. If our organs of perception encounter something different, strange or new, then the initial effect is pain. We feel resistance of the alien. We feel the contradiction of the other. We sense the claim of the new. The pain shows us that we must open ourselves, in order to take in the other, the alien and the new.

The suggestion that we feel pain when we perceive something strange or new or different seems to be a bit strong. And yet, the way we react to such stimuli is to back off and return to what is more like us…more familiar. No, we don’ say “ouch” or grimace with pain when that which is different is taken in by our senses…but then again, we do…in various ways. A classic example is one used when we talk about racism. How often do you hear stories of people (I don’t want to use any of us as examples because that would having us admit to something we may not want to endorse) who sometime in their life were confronted with people of another color…lets say a few young men that were “different” than we may be. The first reaction…panic…cross the street…look around to see who else is close by…clutch a purse. That which is different creates an instantaneous reaction…but we need not be ruled by that reaction. These opportunities – to be with the one who is different – may need to go through some translation so that we will see ‘different’ as potential for new life…all around.

Connection: We react so quickly it may be difficult to step into the space of those who may be strange and different from us. Therefore, we are urged to be in prayer – constantly…to be in touch with the one who loves…no matter what the ‘differences’ may be. How would that impact this day!?!

By your creative imagination, O God, you bring into this day the many faces of your loving Reign. Remind us of the beauty of the ones who are around us and how you long to weave us together within the vision of your loving kindness. Amen.

Monday, 8 March, 2004

We will continue to base the devotions on “God for a Secular Culture” by Jurgen Moltmann.

This week we will be looking at how knowledge of the ‘other’ leads to community in diversity.

“Other is only known by other.’

…Aristotle quotes Euripides as saying: ‘The parched earth yearns for rain, and the high heavens, great with rain, desire to fall to earth.’

…Anaxagoras holds that sense perception comes to pass by means of opposites, for the like is unaffected by the like…We come to know the cold by the hot…the sweet by the sour, the light by the dark…All sense perception, he holds is fraught with pain, for the unlike when brought into contact [with our organs] always brings distress.

When I first read that it was the Greeks who came up with both the epistemological principle of ‘likeness’ and that of ‘other,’ I thought: “They had too much time on their hands.” But then I recall how much time is spent in the area of evangelism in the church. There are the many people who have done so much to try and tell us how a church will grow and how it will function best. Homogeneous churches can thrive…because…well they are suited and focused on one group of people - be it race, economics or community. Add that to a well thought out and well tested programmatic approach to ministry and, you’re off! In the Church, we know that like is known by like and we “like” that. It’s comfortable and, we can add, it is safe – at least it appears to be. Then again, even though Euripides image of rain and the earth sounds good, how often is the ‘other’ actually attractive to us? If we arrive at any church within a metropolitan community, one need only visit around to see that ‘likeness’ rules. In fact, once a congregation begins to be diverse in its membership, it takes only a small percentage of the ‘other’ in the congregation to make people on the outside refer to this well diversified group as now being…the ‘other.’ Is it that we fear the ‘other’ so much we would defy the will of Jesus that we all are ‘one’?

Connection: Next time you visit around to a place of worship…or even a social group, look around. What do you see? In regard to ‘like’ and other’, what attracts you and what makes you understand that you may not want to return?

Creating Lord, it is by your hand that there is this great diversity within humanity. We trust that you will give us the wisdom to understand the gifts present among us when we see in those around something that is not like us at all. Open up our hearts to your love that knows no bounds and seeks to unite all humankind. Amen

Friday, March 5, 2004

Friday, 5 March, 2004

We will continue to base the devotions on “God for a Secular Culture” by Jurgen Moltmann.

Here’s what happens when we apply the principle of likeness to “other people, other things, and the Wholly Other God.” (#1 was covered on Wednesday, #2 on Thursday)

3. Applied to God, the ‘likeness’ principle leads either to the divinization of human beings or to the humanization of God. …As Feurbach’s modern criticism of religion shows, it even makes it (religion) narcissistic. Like the beautiful youth Narcissus, modern human beings, wherever they may turn – whether it be to other people, to other ‘nature’, or to the Wholly Other of the divine – always see everywhere only their own reflection.

In many ways it is easy to understand that we would be involved in such projection. It is also frightening to come to the realization that we would define or see God in our ‘likeness.’ Then again, so often, the God of Grace and Glory is not allowed to be such a God to us because we are so often a people of judgment, vengeance, and threat. Just listen to the stories of how people depict God. Even though God may be talked about in loving terms and called a loving God, keep listening…it often becomes a story filled with condition and exceptions….that is…a god like us.

Connection: Listen to how we speak of God and the way others speak. It would be a good exercise in listening to try and get people to talk about their idea of God and see what sort of God you hear being described.

Lord God, you are beyond us and yet you are always defined as being “with us.” Within our faithful contemplation this day lead us to see the bit more of the expansiveness of your grace and love. Amen.

Wednesday, March 3, 2004

Thursday, 4 March, 2004

We will continue to base the devotions on “God for a Secular Culture” by Jurgen Moltmann.

Here’s what happens when we apply the principle of likeness to “other people, other things, and the Wholly Other God. (#1 was covered on Wednesday)

2. In the ancient world, knowledge meant participation: I perceive nature outside myself through the nature within myself, so that with my own nature I may participate in nature as a whole, and may unite myself with her. Reason was…thinking with the eyes which see what is there.

In modern times… (Since Francis Bacon & Rene Descartes) to know has meant to dominate. I want to perceive nature outside myself in order to dominate it. I want to dominate it in order to acquire for myself. I want to acquire it for myself in order to do what I like with my possession.

…In modern civilization…reason is no longer understood as an organ of perception; it is now an instrument of power.

I can hear the themes of Martin Buber when he lifts up the difference between relationships that are call ‘I – Thou’...relationships that honor and respect and keep the ‘other’ on equal footing so that a dialogical relationship would develop. This is in opposition to what would be an ‘I – it’ encounter. I cannot even call it a relationship because the one side actually denies the qualities that could be called a dialogical relationship. As God’s people in our times, we must not let ourselves be seduced into the power over others way of living in the world. We can see too much of that within the imperialism that seems to be running away filled with fear and demanding to control the world. Since the creation story in Genesis one, we are not to be people who dominate. We are given responsibility to be in dialogue with all of creation…to look after the well being of all things…to take care. Taking care of the world demands listening - not dominance and control. The Good News builds within a community the recognition of the worth of all. Therefore we are free to listen, care, give of ourselves, and love neighbors and those who are ‘other.’

Connection: How many times in this day is knowledge seen as or used to bring about dominance…or control? How do we go about walking down another way?

Lord God, open our eyes that we can see the world and those around us with the eyes of your grace and in that seeing be open to the many new ways we may walk through this day. Amen.

Tuesday, March 2, 2004

Wednesday, 3 March, 2004

We will continue to base the devotions on “God for a Secular Culture” by Jurgen Moltmann.

Here’s what happens when we apply the principle of likeness to “other people, other things, and the Wholly Other God.

1. If only like and like know one another, then I recognize in other people only that which corresponds to me myself in my own nature. I do not perceive what is different in kind and alien in other people. I filter it out. I perceive only the things in which we are alike, and only this can become the foundation of community between us… If friendship is based on likeness, it has an exclusive effect… The result for ‘the insider’ is deadly boredom, because they have already heard the stories and jokes with which closed societies are accustomed to amuse themselves a hundred times over.

Much of the anxiety of our culture and of the Church seems to brew around just such a need for likeness and an inability to “play” with what is not like me. I find that the drama over the union/blessing of Gay/Lesbian couples is one example of those pieces of ‘other’ over which so many are stumbling and bumbling. Anxiety is high…we manufacture things over which we can whip up fear – even if they are not real or if they are merely a stereotype. We can do this for any issue or any practice or any thing that is perceived as being a part of the ‘other.’ It is important for me to notice that the only peace I am able to find is when I step back into the most basic statement about our God…the fact that our God loves beyond all our knowing and all our prejudice and all of our expectations. Our God is this eternal Lord who rules with a love that cannot be contained or be turned into some sort of biased word.

Connection: Can we let go of the filter and experience that which is not like us today?

Deliver us, O Lord, from the many ways we try to rule this day so that our way will be honored above you. Deliver us. Amen.

Tuesday, 2 March, 2004

We will continue to base the devotions on “God for a Secular Culture” by Jurgen Moltmann.

Like strives to like in order to be united with it. It is the force of Eros which leads to the knowing of like by like, Eros being the power which creates the universe and holds it together. Likeness of essence between the macrocosm and the microcosm makes it possible for human beings to know the world, and this knowing in its turn leads them to community with the world through the correspondence of within and without.

… “All that is separated finds itself again” … “Everything is eternally related within”

It is very apparent that these comments are quite true to the way life seems to go among us. And yet notice - especially in the quote “All that is separated finds itself again” - we are left within a world in which I am the center of what is around me. When I must find myself in others, it makes my uniting with others quite limited. That leaves out of my life much more than I can imagine if I am simply seeking to be united with that which is like me. Jesus’ powerful life was one in which those who were quite out of the norm…out of the way things were, became the ones with whom Jesus entered into relationship. In fact, the bridging of the gap between that which is different or offensive or considered beyond the bounds of acceptability was the very breath of Jesus’ daily life. It is no wonder that the “powers” of the day, who only embrace the “like” and the “similar” found his activity to be dangerous to the status quo.

Connection: Our daily prayers to our God seen in Christ, Jesus, continue to pull us beyond that which is already “in our pocket.” We would do well to consider the beauty in those whose lives would not usually connect for us.

By the power of your Holy Spirit, take us to the Promised Land in which you gather all your people without exception. And there, within your loving Reign, O God, make us a community shaped by the inclusive cross of your beloved, Jesus. Amen.

Monday, March 1, 2004

Monday, 1 March, 2004

We will continue to base the devotions on “God for a Secular Culture” by Jurgen Moltmann.

‘Like is only known by like.’

All cognition is then merely a re-cognition of what is already known, and knowledge is nothing other than ‘the eternal return to the same thing’. Early Greek philosophy therefore at once expanded this principle to cover ‘the similar.’ ‘Similar is known only by the similar.’…In the spheres of those that are different, the knower always perceives only what is similar – that which corresponds to him/her. Why? Because s/he perceives only that which finds a correspondence in his/her own inner life.

How in the world are we to “love all people” when it appears as though we do not have the capacity to do that? We do have the capacity, it seems, to love a whole bunch of people…for there are many people who can be categorized as somewhat “like” us…and even more so, “similar” to us. But don’t we hear words about loving our enemies and aren’t enemies often ones who are not like us? On the other hand, our enemies are very often people who are just like us and that’s why we do not tolerate them! So to bridge that gap and begin the adventure of loving all people appears to be so beyond our capabilities it will just not take place. It is in just such a case that we call on our God whose power of love can become for us the power to risk loving out of our parameters. That power is for me, the Holy Spirit. It upsets what is in place to begin to create new ways of being who we are in this day.

Connection: Sometimes it is good to simply ask ourselves what it is that keeps us away from some people…what pushes us to others? That exercise is as simple as something called prayer. Prayerfully considering those questions during this day may be the beginning of power of new life that is available to us and waiting to be tapped.

Lord of Love, empower us to face that which is unknown and venture into place and relationships we may have never considered. We know that it takes courage to step outside of our way of life, so we ask for your encouragement and power to step out in a new way this day. Amen.