The Violence of Commitment

The violence we should use in religion is the violence of commitment:  Using every means you have as a creative being to bring yourself closer to God…I believe that everybody on earth was created in God’s image.  We are all related in being created.  So I, as a created [being] have to respect other created things.  That’s what I mean when I say putting God at the center.  He created us this way.  We have to learn to live together.

Such were the words of an Orthodox Christian nun of the St. Mary Magdalene monastery located at the Mount of Olives who  Bruce Feiler spoke to as part of the stirring conclusion of his book Where God Was Born.  This nun exemplified the passionate position that the God of Christianity is a God of Love, not hate.  Therefore, when I need to send my friend Liz a link to Rob Bell’s Bullhorn Nooma video, to provide her with some relief and hope after she stumbled across this, I am convinced more and more of the need for the gospel to truly be the Gospel- the Good News of a loving, compassionate God.  If we as Christians remain quiet while our misguided fellow brothers and sisters in Christ preach a message of hate and exclusion, instead of the redeeming message of love and inclusion spoken from the lips of Jesus, then where exactly do we stand?  Book Burning?  Is this what we want to be reduced to?  Or shall we be lights in the darkness, bringing peace and love to those we meet, regardless of race, sexuality, creed, etc.?

Feiler writes that “religion can only be saved by religion,” that the “only force strong enough to take on religious extremism is religious moderation.”  I believe he speaks the truth in this regard.  Do we want to be content to shout from the mountaintops our “rightness” or feed the poor and hungry at the foothills?  No matter what translation of the Bible you read, care for the poor, the widow, and orphan is pretty self explanatory.

For too long we have allowed the message of Christ to be used as a weapon, not as a unifying force for good.

Walking.

It feels good to walk again.  No, I haven’t been injured in any way that’s had me bed-bound or unable to move.  I have been moving.  Perhaps a bit too fast, a bit too much.  And often in my car.  Going to work, errands, trips, and treks to the gas station to get more fuel to go to work, errands, trips…well, you get the picture.

Or if I am walking, it’s usually at  brisk pace to get to my classroom ahead of the students, jumping into one store, then another- always go go go.

Well, tonight I said no.

I took a nice leisurely stroll around my neighborhood as the sun went down.  Bats fluttered overhead, and insects, as if on cue, seemed to increase their chirping in volume and intensity.  It felt nice to casually put one foot in front of the other, to hear the squelch of mud underfoot, or the rhythmic tap of the cement on the sidewalk.  I noticed I was taking deeper breaths, my heart rate slowing.  My mind stopped churning, at least for a little bit.

This used to be a routine for me, and maybe it should become so again.  I used to take time in the evening to meditate and reflect on the present moment.

A wonderful Nooma video expounds on this, and God’s place all around us. It’s called Rhythm.  Enjoy:

“Sunday:” Why do we go to Church?

Interesting that I am attending two significantly different churches at the moment: Emmanuel Episcopal, a low church Epsicopalian congregation, and Discovery Church, a contemporary worship, non-denominational church.  Both have a significantly different approach to liturgy, but this week, at Discovery’s Young Professionals Group (a focus group for Christians in their 30s), and during Father Malcolm’s homily at Emmanuel, the two converged on the subject of the relevancy of church in our lives as Christians.  Is church something you just “do” once a week, out of habit or expectation?  How do we live and love Christ with our whole heart when it just boils down to empty ritual after a while?

Father Malcolm emphasized our liturgy in the Episcopal Church as a “means, not an end.”  They are there to ground us in the ineffable mystery of God, to bring us closer to the Divine in a physcial, methodical way.  Unless we carry within us that desire to be closer to God, it is empty, and bereft of meaning.  In a similar way, if we do not carry that desire with us beyond the walls of the church, if we do not try to see Christ in all things and in every person, then our live as Christians become empty as well.

At Discovery, we had the opportunity to watch and discuss Rob Bell‘s Nooma video “Sunday.”  Below I’ve nicked part one and two of the episode from Youtube:

“No Massing:” Reflections on George MacDonald 19

“There is no massing of men with God.  When he speaks of gathered men, it is a spiritual body, not as a mass.”

Okay, so I realize I’ve let quite a few days slip without posting on MacDonald.  Rather than compiling the bunch that I missed, and trying to make a broad sweeping statement about them all, I’m starting on 19 and saying phooey to the rest.

Besides, this MacDonald reflection hits pretty close to things I’ve been experiencing this week. I caught up with guy I used to work with on Facebook, and then ran into him when I went to a Saturday evening service at Discovery Church.  Now, what compelled me to go to Discovery Church, a so-called mega church in Orlando, is still something I’m grappling with.  Suffice to say I’ve been restless in my spiritual life, and not necessarily looking for something “new,” but wanting to dive a bit deeper into my faith, and have the ability to communicate this with people my own age.

Now, I still call Emmanuel Episcopal home.  They were the church I stumbled on when I was in my deepest need to reconnect back with Christian life and community.  But I am not joking when I say that at 34, I am still one of the few “young people,” at the church, and definitely the youngest person in the choir, the next oldest being in his mid-forties.  Lately, it’s been a small issue.  I still feel so blessed to be a part of that community, and to be a part of the larger Episcopalian community.  For the past couple of years, they have nursed my broken and disjointed faith back to health.  I feel like Emmanuel has been a wonderful incubator for me.  I’m wondering now if it’s not time to start moving out of that space to start breathing on my own.  I could be wrong, so let’s just label it for what it is: a feeling.

Back to Discovery.  For the longest time I’ve been wary of mega churches, and for good reason.  They seemed driven by sheer attendance and not much else.  This is where a majority of the “prosperity gospel” ideas found their home, and why not?  A church with a $1 Million per month budget probably did have something to say about getting rich with the help of Jesus.  In addition, the high-tech “performance” sermons complete with huge video screens, rock bands, and a light show felt more like entertainment than a true reflection of faith.  One of my positions- and I do still hold to this- is that American Christianity would do well to pipe down and reside in God’s silence for a while.  This is why I see the practices of Christian monasticism and mysticism as better paths to a clear, balanced relationship to God than any other way (I realize I’m not being very concise in my words, but this is one of those “ramble posts” that I have about once every couple months).

So why Discovery?  I remember attending the church to hear Shane Claiborne speak on his Jesus for President tour.  Claiborne is/was part of the neo-monastic movement which I read about in addition to my studies of traditional monastic life.  So I had “entered the building” once, and I guess one Saturday night was hungry to do it again for a bit of spiritual refreshment.  It also gets to the point with me that I think “well, if it’s not going to tackle me and rip my head off, why not?”  And lo and behold if they weren’t doing some of the centering prayer techniques I’ve read and practiced from the ancient Desert Fathers.

I attended, and ran into Duncan, who invited me back to a young adults meeting the next Saturday evening.  During the “Young Professionals” meeting, we watched a video by this guy Rob Bell.  Never heard of him before.  Some of you right now are saying “Uh-oh.”  Oh well.  The NOOMA video Dust really resonated with me, and I googled “Rob Bell” and “NOOMA” when I got home, and opened up a whole new can of controversial, worms in the process.  Bell is part of the new “Emergent Church” which wants to radically change the perception and outlook of Christianity in the postmodern era, in order to make it more relevant and “stir up” what they (the Emergent Church) considers a stagnant and disconnected body.  They have a point- church attendance is down across the board, and many see the church as less than inviting, almost to the point of being exclusionary.

This brings us to MacDonald’s quote.  We have indeed become mass and not a body.  And when a Shane Claiborne or a Rob Bell comes along to point this out, the community eats him alive.  I found this great perception contrast on A Mending Shift‘s blog:

This is how we view the world:

world_us

I believe this is how God views the world:

world_god

One my heroes, C.S. Lewis, longed for the “petty divisions” among us to cease.  He wagered that we were still the “early Christians,” giving hope that we are still trying to get that Message, the Message of Christ’s, and therefore God’s, Love right.  We are a hurt, battered, and broken world, and we need to pull together through Him.  We need to lose that disjointed, disorganized mass mentality and reconnect.  Will it ever happen?  It has to.

But I know it will take a while.  We’re imperfect, we struggle, and we’re near sighted.  Feeling a bit overwhelmed and disjointed tonight, I took an evening walk with God, asking Him to open my eyes to see the peace of the night around me, and to dwell in His silence and peace.  As I walked, I passed this tree that to me has always looked like an angel praying in profile: A large, arching group of branches representing a wing, a rounded bit of branches on the lower right representing a bowed head.  It waved a bit in the chilly breeze, but still stood firm, head bowed, in silence except for a few rustling leaves.  It looked like something to emulate.  I kneeled down in the grass by my house, felt my head bend low, my hands fold.  The wind ruffled my hair a bit, and I was still, my body intact and directed toward God.