"So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering." (Romans 12:1, MSG)

Monday, January 21, 2013

Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr.

Fifty years ago this April, Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote these prophetic words in his Letter From Birmingham Jail:
There was a time when the church was very powerful. It was during that period when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators”‘ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests.
Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an arch supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent and often even vocal sanction of things as they are.
But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.
Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ecclesia and the hope of the world.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Our spiritual parents...

I read something by Henri Nouwen not long ago that really resonated with me. It certainly is not the first time that has happened...I love Henri's writing. And, as is also quite often the case, I read it at a time when I needed some perspective on events that were unfolding around me. Here is what Henri wrote:
"Joy and sorrow are never separated. When our hearts rejoice at a spectacular view, we may miss our friends who cannot see it, and when we are overwhelmed with grief, we may discover what true friendship is all about. Joy is hidden in sorrow and sorrow in joy. If we try to avoid sorrow at all costs, we may never taste joy, and if we are suspicious of ecstasy, agony can never reach us either. Joy and sorrow are the parents of our spiritual growth."
 Joy is hidden in sorrow and sorrow in joy.

How very true. I cannot tell you how often I have reflected on a sorrowful situation only to discover that joy had also been present all along. How does the saying go? Our vision is always 20/20 in the rearview? It certainly is.

Still, I had to pause and think about the rest of this sentence and the assertion that sorrow is hidden in joy. I tried to apply this thought to remembering the birth of my children. Where might sorrow have been hidden in such joyful moments of my life? As you might imagine, it didn't take long to figure out. With the birth of my firstborn daughter nearly ten years ago came the sorrow of my Mom's ongoing battle with cancer. With the birth of my son four years ago came the sorrow that my Mom would not meet him this side of heaven and be here to watch him grow up. With the birth of my youngest daughter last year came the sorrow that my dear sister had lost a baby several months earlier and was grieving not being able to bear children of her own. 

It is  quite true. Joy and sorrow are never separated.

This week I appeared before the Board of Ordained Ministry for the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church, seeking their approval for licensing as a local pastor. This milestone gave me ample opportunity to reflect on my spiritual journey, my movements from grace to grace and and the joys and sorrows along the way, that ultimately led me to such a moment. 

It was six years ago this week that I served God and the people of Spring of Life UMC for the first time as a part-time worship music leader. Had you told me then that I would leave my career in financial services in order to attend seminary full-time and pursue ordination, I would not have believed you.

It was eight years ago this week that my Mom died from ovarian cancer. Had you told me then that I would be conducting my first patient visits as a hospice chaplain on the very anniversary of her death, I would not have believed you. 

In my reflection I found my understanding of what Nouwen meant when he wrote that joy and sorrow are the parents of our spiritual growth. It has been said that sometimes the way to God is not up but down. The deep sorrow I felt over my Mom's cancer and death took me into the darkest places of my heart. Yet, it was in that place, the very end of myself, that God sowed seeds for a new life and spiritual growth. Without that time of sorrow, I doubt very seriously I would be on the journey I am on today. And so, I have learned from my spiritual journey that God's grace is found in every moment of joy and sorrow we experience in our lives. I've also learned that I must positively respond to God's grace in these moments so that I might grow spiritually. 

So, I invite you to reflect on your own spiritual journey. Looking in the rearview, how have you seen joy and sorrow as spiritual parents to help you in your growth? How have your joys and sorrows helped mold you and shape you into the person you are today? How can you positively respond to God's grace in your present joys and sorrows so that you grow and become more fully the person God created you to be?