28 February, 2007

Principle: God loves me

One of the great joys of my vocation is that I regularly get to share in the leadership of chapel for our day school. Children from 4 years old to 5th grade.

When it's my turn to lead chapel, I always begin my homily with the same call-and-response prayer:

God is
God is

God loves
God loves

God loves me
God loves me

It's my hope that they will remember this, in the years to come, if they remember nothing else. And now you know why there's a pattern to my last three entries.

Not only does God love, God loves me.

Hear the words of the scriptures:
Jesus said: "indeed, the very hairs on your head are all numbered." (This is in the middle of a joke Jesus is telling, so I won't distract you)

and, in another place, Jesus said: "I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my father I have made known to you."

I am known to God, all of me, good parts and bad parts, in such a way as to be valued, treasured.
I matter.
And that changes everything.

27 February, 2007

Principle: God loves

God loves.

The first thing I know about God, the first thing that the scriptures, the tradition, and my own experience tell me, is that God loves. The source of all things, toward which I stretch, the creator of all that is, can be described as loving.

Think about that for a second. When I studied the Greek gods in literature class, the stories were all about a universe ruled by deities that were vengeful and cruel. Selfish, spiteful, manipulative beings. If you were an ancient Greek, you didn't want the gods to notice you, most of the time. Other cultures had, or have, similar understandings of the universe -- that the universe is capricious, cold, mean. At best, indifferent.

Maybe creation is indifferent, but the Creator is not.

God is not malicious and cruel. God does not intend suffering and pain. God is revealed in self-giving love for all of creation. We walk around, every day, in a universe created by One who gives ridiculous, self-sacrificing, boundless love.

Because the Creator loves, so we are freed to love. To live in love, not in hatred. To give, rather than take. To be joyful, not afraid.

26 February, 2007

Principle: God is

First, we gotta talk about what we're talkin' about.

from dictionary.com:
prin·ci·ple /ˈprɪnsəpəl/
1. an accepted or professed rule of action or conduct: a person of good moral principles.
2. a fundamental, primary, or general law or truth from which others are derived: the principles of modern physics.
3. a fundamental doctrine or tenet; a distinctive ruling opinion: the principles of the Stoics.
4. principles, a personal or specific basis of conduct or management: to adhere to one's principles; a kindergarten run on modern principles.

I'm not sure which of the above definitions Wayne is talking about. (and I hope that if I asked him, he wouldn't say, with a spiritual-ish glance, "whatever you want." I hate it when people say that.) Are we talking about truth from which rules are derived (#2, above), or are we talking about the rules themselves (#1,#4)?

Meeegan seems to be going with the latter (seriously, go read the link. She is, as usual, spot on). I think I'm going to go with the former, and leave the latter for later. I made two lists, and decided to flesh out one of them, in brief form, one per day.

* * * * * * * * * *

God is.

No, I'm not going to try to prove God's existence by rhetoric. I remember reading Kant and Descartes in college, and getting a tremendous headache, and then falling asleep. Plenty of people smarter and more eloquent than me have written on this; go read them instead.

The vast majority of people in this world have some sort of spiritual dimension to their lives. We understand God in different ways, of course. While I'm not a universalist (i..e, all spiritual paths lead to the same place, or all religions are essentially the same), and I sure don't think that I have cornered the market on the right answer (dude, I'm an Episcopalian, just look at us recently), I do think that the essence of spirituality is a search to respond to the self-revealing God. AA uses the term "higher power" instead of God, which I think is a stroke of genius.

The rest of my life flows downhill from this source. Because there is a God, I believe what I have come to believe. Because there is a God, I try to govern my actions in a certain way.

more tomorrow.

Sabbath 15 addendum

A monday-morning addendum...

Okay, so I wasn't going to do Wayne's exercise. Them are deep waters. But this weekend, my bishop asked me to go out into deep waters. And then Megan also specifically asked me to. Oh, drat. Well, maybe I will after all.

* * * * * * *

Now, just so's you know, here are the thoughts that flew through my head in rapid succession:
where did I put that "I believe" statement I did during the last confirmation class? Is it in the file drawer? No, I think it's on the hard drive of my work computer. No, remember, you wrote it out longhand. It's in the file drawer.....hey, wait a minute, does that defeat the purpose of the exercise, to use something you've done before? No, not really. yes, it does. well, maybe.
The next set of thoughts had to do with making statements of important principles on a blog. Back when I was an airport consultant, "Robinson's First Law of Consulting "was: if it leaves your hand, it's gone. You can't get it back, you can't ask for a do-over, and you will always be asked to account for your mistakes in the first draft, even if they were typographical errors rather than calculation errors.

The Law applies to blogging. Big Brother's hard drive, somewhere, may have copies of everything I say, and it might be held against me later... and now we're not talking about the amusing antics of my pets, we're talking about life-governing principles. eek! But hey, I already wrote about this, just about a year ago.

* * * * * * *

Are you ready for the concept of a priest whose theology is not a fixed structure, but is instead a tent? Not a symphony, but a song made up as we go along, and always unfinished?

You might have said yes. Do you mean that?

Okay, here we go. And, by the way, welcome to the emergent church.

* * * * * * * *

Muller asks, "What are some of the inviolable precepts that guide your life?... Make a list of the principles that shape your days. Include both those you currently follow and those you would like to be able to follow."

Okay, here we go. A week's worth of principles, not necessarily in any order. Starting... tonight, maybe tomorrow. I gotta think about it for a few minutes.

25 February, 2007

Sabbath 15: why time is not money

Sabbath 15: Megan's post. (everyone send Tripp a quick get-well email)

Summary of Muller's chapter:
(1) Gross Domestic Product is a bad metric to use for measuring the value of the activities of a country. (my note: duh. It's not about "value," Wayne, it's an indicator of the industrial output of a national economy.)
(2) many things of value are "bought" with time, not money.

there, I just saved you several pages of reading.

I didn't get the connection between the chapter and the suggested exercise, though it's a doozy: make a statement of your most important priorities. Write it down; say it out loud.

I have a love-hate relationship with several of my duties as a priest. One of them that fits this description is to hold 'preparation classes' for baptism and confirmation. The reason I don't like it is that we don't spend enough time on the process, and don't acknowledge the gravity of the moment in some people's lives. Publicly stating your intention to deliberately be a part of a Christian community, to try to live as a Christian in the 21st century, might seem like a teeny thing to some ('specially here, in the Bible Belt, where people tend to ask where you go to church instead of whether you go). But it's an enormous deal for others, a day that your life story will always pivot around. Preparing for that day can either be done in the one-meeting method, or it can take years.

We tend to do the one-class method for baptizing infants (in which the parents make the enormous commitment to raise the child in the Christian faith and life, and the community of the baptized promises to help in that task), mostly for pastoral reasons--gathering parents of teeny to toddler age children more than once or twice is usually a deal-breaker. For baptisms of adults, or adult confirmations, we meet together for a few weeks.

Where I'm going with this is that I always ask the adults I meet with to do an exercise similar to Muller's, and I realize what a big deal it is. Go get a blank sheet of paper (or several), start at the top with "I believe..." and then go until you're done. We do this in the context of talking about credal statements of faith, since Episcopalians recite one of the ancient statements of faith together when we gather for worship.

Some of the responses have been simple. Some have been orderly and logical. Some have been halting and brief, which is also okay. I often hear things like "I've never done something like this before." Some of the statements of belief I've heard have been absolutely beautiful.
(if you're reading this and you've done this exercise with me at some church or another, and would like to share it--unattributed--send it to me or let me copy it and I'll post it here.)

However, it's a big exercise, requiring some introspection... and I don't have time for it this week. Council is this weekend, Ash Wednesday, and other things. Sorry, Wayne.

19 February, 2007

sabbath 14: carpe diem

Sabbath 14: Tripp's post, Megan's post

In his second chapter on the section titled "Time," Muller asks us what our time is worth, and how we value it. He begins by telling the story of the Kellogg plant in Battle Creek, Michigan, in the 1930s. Kellogg experimented with four six-hour shifts instead of three eight-hour shifts, and the result, at the time, was viewed positively.

In 1932, the U.S. department of Labor sent a research team to Battle Creek to interview Kellogg's workers. They found that nearly eighty-five percent preferred the six-hour shift, primarily because it provided "more time for family activities and home duties and leisure" and because it helped some of the unemployed find work. The great majority of the Kellogg workers used freedom or closely related words when the agents asked them to compare the eight-hour and six-hour shifts.
(Muller, p. 104, paraphrasing B. Hunnicutt, Work Without End)

He goes on to describe how the workers described the shorter hours as "a moral act," stressing their willingness to share with others. But in the 21st century, workers no longer use words like "freedom" and "family" to describe the benefits of work. We tend to work for one thing--money--and we can never get enough of it unless we work full time or overtime. Theoretically, enough money is supposed to buy back our leisure time, but we tend to use any extra time we have to...work.

Muller begins his description of the suggested exercise by asking: "What do we place on the altar of our life? It is useful to have a visual reminder of what we hold sacred..." And only now does the title of his chapter begin to make sense. He might have tried "the value of time" or "take back the leisure hours," but it doesn't have the same pithy punch as "Carpe Diem." I, of course, immediately went in a tangential direction in my head:

They're not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they're destined for great things, just like many of you, their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because, you see gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen, you hear it? - - Carpe - - hear it? - - Carpe, carpe diem, seize the day, boys, make your lives extraordinary.
--John Keating, "Dead Poets Society," 1989

Muller's suggested sabbath practice for this week is to create a sacred space in your home, a space where you can remember things that are important to you, a place to put reminders of what's important--for example, pictures of family. This follows somewhat naturally from the chapter, in which he mourns that we have come to value money as a society more than time with family.

Unfortunately, he uses the loaded word "altar" to describe the special place. In my world, particularly in my parish, that conjures a very different image than the one he intends.

It's an open question whether the piece of liturgical furniture we gather around on Sunday is a "table" or an "altar." The liturgy, and the tradition, and the prayers, mix the images up. On the one hand, we put bread and wine on it and say grace and then eat, deliberately and mindfully recalling a meal that Jesus ate with his disciples and asked us to continue, so it's a meal, and the thing the bread and wine sit on is a table. On the other hand, the Eucharistic prayers refer to our "sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving" and we give thanks for the death and resurrection of Jesus, which has elements of a substitutionary sacrifice... so it's an altar.

The liturgical architecture clearly thinks the thing at St. Thomas is an altar--it's on a raised platform, three steps higher than any other thing in the room, and lit by nine theater-style stage lights. It's mostly surrounded by a waist-high railing, so that it feels like crossing a boundary to deliberately step into the area immediately adjacent to it. We even tend to dress differently for Sunday--the people who serve inside the rail wear special dresses, and the people who serve outside the rail wear street clothes.

I will occasionally say "table" to describe the thing, but I don't really pay attention to deliberately using one or the other. It comes up in odd conversational moments. Yesterday, for example:
me: would you put this [handing over a folded stole] on the table for me, please?
parishioner: oh, on the [pause, glance at me] altar?

I love the concept of having a sacred space in your house. In our house in California, we had a whole room that served as the chapel. (okay, it wasn't much bigger than a closet, but still) There was an altar there (we used a bookshelf), with a cross, and a bible, and a finger labyrinth, and a few other prayer tools and/or reminders of grace. There was a comfy-ish seat, and some artwork. We dedicated it as a chapel in the company of friends.

Given the directions Muller seems to be going with his text, I'm sure I'll get a chance to talk more about the chapel in a future another post.

However... I balked at Muller's suggested exercise. Maybe it was because I'm doing these exercises to try to rest, and having an altar at home is too close to a job-related thing. Tripp didn't feel that way; let's see how Megan reacts when Muller asks her to read a new play for relaxation.

If I decide to put one up in the house, though, I know exactly where it would go.

14 February, 2007

I'm a saint?

Somebody trying to find me via google search misspelled my name, and came up with this link. She thought I would find it amusing.

It's from the "patron saints" section of the new catholic encyclopedia.


It doesn't say who Christopher Robinson is the patron of, but that he's been beatified. If I ever get to be a patron saint, I'll be the patron of liturgical irreverence or something.

13 February, 2007

Sabbath 13: a life well lived

Sabbath 13: Tripp's post, Meeegan's post

Meeegan's post does a good job of summarizing the chapter, so I'll refer you there for the summary.

The new currency of the 21st century, friends, is time. I find this particularly true in the work that I do, trying to get people to connect to each other and help them to find meaning and purpose in their lives.

I spent the weekend getting my ticket punched to be able to mentor an education program called "Education for Ministry." This program is serious, varsity-level stuff, sometimes called "seminary lite." We did some talking about recruiting and advertising the requirements of the course, which involve a $350-$450 annual fee. But the bigger deal is that the program involves one evening a week spent in group study and reflection during the school year, and as much as 8 hours per week of homework and study. Most people in my congregation could find the money without too much trouble, but that amount of time is a tremendous commitment.

Muller's suggested exercise this week is to spend our most precious resource--time--on play. Make time, he suggests, in the evening, to be together. Talk, play catch, play cards, whatever. Turn off the phone, the TV, the computer. Lock the door, it's play time.

A few thoughts come to mind. The first is to remember a high school friend of mine, who was (and is) LDS, introducing me to the concept of Family Home Evening. Her family would spend an evening together each week, being together. I thought that was a cool idea. And then I heard that there was a church-distributed program or agenda for the evening, which dampened my enthusiasm a little. And then, being a teenager, I realized that a night at home with my parents wasn't my favorite thing either. But if we had done it regularly, it might have been cool rather than forced.

The second thought, is: believe it or not, we do this on a regular basis at home. The time between coming home from school and suppertime is usually play time with our son, although we do take him with us to the gym or run errands occasionally. It's a part of my rule of life that this time belongs to him, and I do my best to let him be a little boy and drive the agenda, because I believe that it's important to do that for him. But here's the place I disconnect with Muller. I have to try, hard, to give our son my full attention, and I don't always succeed. He's a tornado of energy, with a five-year-old's attention span. What is a recipe for rest for Muller is a recipe for tired for me.

I'm writing this with his best friend over at the house to play, and I just had to separate them and give them time-outs because they ran full-force at each other and bumped heads. On purpose.

Forgive me, Wayne, if I think I'll appreciate your suggested exercise more when my son is a little older.

04 February, 2007

Sabbath 12: The Book of Hours

Sabbath 12: meeegan's post, tripp's post

Muller's way to talk about rest this week is to point us the direction of things that don't change. The specific example he uses is the seasons and festivals of the church. The seasons of the year come and go: advent, christmas, epiphany, lent, easter, pentecost, advent, christmas... There is comfort in knowing, Muller says, that millions have prayed this way before you, millions have observed these festivals, and millions will do so after you are gone.

Every year people make resolutions for the new year. Some do it in January, some do it in Lent, a few rare ones at the beginning of the church year in advent. The idea of a resolution, for most people, is self-improvement. By this time next year, we will be morally, physically, emotionally, spiritually stronger. Better behaved. Closer to God. Muller offers liturgical celebration as an odd antidote to the constant need for self-improvement. Liturgical ritual, he points out, is meant to be repeated. Not done until we "get it right," but done over and over again in its proper time and season. To recognize our place in a long chain of worship is to remember our history, to free us from the need to try to get it right, and not rest or be satisfied until it's perfect.

While I can appreciate the scriptural idea that there is something about God that is solid and immutable, as in Malachi 3:6; "For I, the Lord, do not change," I'm wary of ascribing the same attribute of changelessness to the liturgy. Liturgy is meant to allow the people to pray according to ancient patterns of worship, but not in exactly the same way as in years past. (Just as an example, we tend to bathe regularly, and so need less incense in church... ) Language, movement, dress, music, all these have changed over the centuries, and will continue to do so.

Some of the biggest fights I've ever seen in church have been over liturgy. I've also, unfortunately, seen more people driven away from the church, and from God, by trying to make the liturgy play the changeless role. In fact, the key attribute of God's people at worship should be agility, not immovability.