Monday, February 25, 2013

a pastor?!?!?!?

I never sought to become a "pastor", in fact, I intentionally avoided seminary even when others suggested it.  And, like Garrison Keillor (my storyteller brother) I knew being a prophet was a dangerous proposition as well; they have very bad things done to them by others!  But somehow, God has directed my life the more I've surrendered to Him, and in this season I find that I have become a "pastor", "prophet" of sorts, and maybe even an "apostle" as He has "sent me out" wherever and to whomever?!  I am humbled that He would choose to use an attention-seeking, crazy at times old Moose like me for such important work, but I guess that's Who He is?!

I have blessed beyond my wildest dreams and imagination in many ways, and hindsight has shown me much of that.  That said, in this season I am privileged to be "officiating" at funerals and weddings; the joyous occasions and the deeply spiritual ones of the journey to Paradise.  In the next month I get to preside over the weddings of two former Sunday schoolers on consecutive weekends.  Then in the fall at another in Puerto Vallarta with a brother and his beautiful fiancee and all his Mexican family there!  And finally, somewhere in between I assume and expect, to preside over my own Mother's memorial.  All of this is possible only through the amazing Grace, Love and Mercy of Jesus Christ, and His Father and Spirit.

Yes, as I tell others, "I am stupidly blessed!"  Meaning none of it could possibly be due to me, and old cracked pot . . . 2 Corinthians 4:7.

da Moose

sacred intersections with people of peace

I needed to get my grandson to go to sleep, which we usually do via the stroller and a walk.  However, this day it was raining and hailing hard, so we went for a drive instead.  We live in urban Sacramento city and have a large homeless population throughout our community.  We do have many shelters, but many homeless people choose to live on the streets for any number of reasons (mental health issues being the most prevalent, they just can't handle confinement and lots of people in one place.)  Anyway, this day with Anthony in his car seat I drove around downtown/midtown past all the places I know my "friends" frequent.  I hadn't seen anyone, which was puzzling considering the weather, as I expected to find them huddled up in their "homes".  On the way back home, I decided to drive the street that passes by the elevated freeway here, often a home to many temporarily.  As we drove by our YMCA I looked to the left under the freeway and saw the familiar loaded shopping carts and large boxes (homes).  We pulled in and I grabbed my bags of energy bars, etc..  Before I could get my window completely down (Anthony was asleep by now, so I wasn't able to actually get out and visit this time), a pleasant (think "person of peace") African American man ambled up to the window.  I handed him my bags and simple said, "Grub".  He replied, "I know you.  I knew you was a'comin."  I said, "God is good isn't He?", and he replied, "Yes, He is." We gave our blessings and parted company; him to a friend lying in a sleeping bag keeping warm and me to our all too comfortable and warm home to put Anthony to sleep. Now, that would be story enough I suppose, but there's actually more.

A few days later, with my minivan reloaded with clothing, food and blankets, I decided to go for a drive (think mission trip).  I headed back to the freeway area where I found my friends had moved a bit.  This time I stopped and got out with my larger bags this time.  I set them down and noticed that a young (caucasian) man was reading from his cell phone, yes, holding "church" for my friend and his buddy (still in his warm sleeping bag).  I didn't interrupt, but simply exchange smiles and two thumbs from each other and went on my way, knowing somehow God was doing His thing via another sacred intersection I was privileged to witness.  And I suppose this story could certainly now come to an end.  But, the beautiful epilogue was provided by my wife, who coincidentally swims daily at the YMCA.  She came home the other day and said, "I saw your friend I think?  He was wearing your parka, the brown and yellow one.  Did you give that to him?"  :-)

Patrick Watters (and Patti too)
aka da Moose and wife  (taking a Lenten break from Facebook currently)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Spirit of Simple Church -

Two poems that seem to speak to the spirit of being simple church:  "A House by the Side of the Road" and "I Stand at the Door"

I hope you can see that whether living alone or raising a family, regardless of our life situation or circumstances, we can be what these verses speak to and yearn for.  Yes, it will look different for each of us through the seasons of life, but the spirit will be the same.  Christ's Spirit of love, grace and mercy imparting the HOPE of God to all we encounter along the road.

Resources for the journey:

• the Bible; beginning with the gospels, then moving forward and backward in Jesus' story

Then, in no particular order:

• The Imitation of Christ (Thomas 'a Kempis, I personally prefer the Tylenda version with forward by Cuneen)
• Devotional Classics from Renovare for wisdom from the saints who've gone on before us
• a recent little treasure I came across, Sacred Intersections by Steve Adams
• finally, the wealth of witness out there in books, blogs and even "bogs", relying on the Holy Spirit to guide, test and speak as you surrender all to God; Father, Son & Holy Spirit.

Of course, sooner or later we must put down all the books, 'cept the One, and "Go" as Christ commissioned us to. It may be to wife, family and friends, Or, to the ends of the earth and everywhere in between as seasons change and life unfolds. God will be faithful in going with us, but we will only see by "the lamp unto our feet and the light unto our path" one step at a time.

epilogue: by all means, keep going to your respective churches and fellowships, but recognize that they (including all the buildings, programs, budgets and paid leaders) are not the Church. You Are! You are Christ's Body, the living, breathing manifestation of His Presence on earth! So GO into all the world and preach the Gospel, and if necessary use words. But first and foremost, be the living, breathing love, grace, mercy & HOPE of God in His Son.


Saturday, February 16, 2013

A strange conundrum; is the absence of God the Presence of God? Is it dark or Light?

If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.  Psalm 139:11-12

Jesus experienced the extreme of dereliction. Pronouncing on the cross the first words of the psalm, 'My God, my God, why have you deserted me?' Jesus wants to express the meaning of the whole psalm.

But how can we fail to see that this psalmody of Jesus on the cross is the expression, once more, of a temptation overcome, of a despair outrun? Faith, trust, hope are not natural to humanity: religion, law, sentence, are. But to reveal, in the very heart of failure and at the hour of death, amid human clamour and the silence of God, that God is Love, is that not the true, intense and free acknowledging of God? And is it not a turning of the back, in manner more victorious than any other, on the temptation of unbelief? Evil, wretchedness and failure are, in effect, the first grounds of unbelief and this is understandable: how can one not curse God and despair when evil is there - period - and heaven seems empty? Jesus overcame this temptation.

The cry that Jesus uttered on the cross - 'a loud voice' says the Scripture - must not be romanticized but, rather, taken in its precise texture.

Therese of Lisieux underwent profound changes in her experience of faith during the Easter of 1896: Before that time she thought that atheism was a flaunted position, a sham, ‘I could not believe that there really were godless people who had no faith at all: it was only by being false to their own inner convictions that someone could deny the existence of heaven.'

 Finally, her eyes were opened to realize that unbelievers really exist. She experiences the sense of the darkness, such impenetrable darkness, a darkness which cannot recognize the King of Light. 'But here I am, Lord, to whom Your divine light has made itself known.' She finds herself in a situation which seems absurdly contradictory. She does not cease to participate in the light of the faith and at the same time she participates in the darkness in which unbelievers live. She is immersed in suffering never experienced previously and in joy greater than she ever felt before. She thinks that if Jesus has made her see the reality of unbelief and has made her participate in the night of unbelief, it is only so that she may turn the tables: so that she may live this state of darkness for the sake of unbelievers themselves. And, consequently, for her it is a new joy that she had never experienced until then - the joy of not living, the joy of faith so that precisely these 'others', these unbelievers who do not know this joy, might finally attain to it: 'What does it matter, that I should catch no glimpse of heaven's beauties, here on earth, if that will help poor sinners to see them in heaven.'

The night Therese experiences is a sharing of life with Jesus and unbelievers at one and the same time. From the moment she recognizes the existence of genuine unbelievers she reckons herself as their companion.

'Lord, one of Your own children, to whom Your divine light has made itself known ... by way of asking pardon for these brothers of mine, I am ready to live on a starvation diet as long as You will have it so.' Her concern is to remain with those who eat the bread of unbelief: she does not want to 'rise from this appetizing meal'. She is prepared, she says, to remain there as the last one until 'all those who have no torch of faith to guide them catch sight, at least, of its rays.'

This manner of sharing the bread of unbelief is at the same time a manner of breaking bread with Jesus, of sharing the Eucharistic table: for it is Jesus who has led her to this table of unbelievers. Of this she is certain. For Therese, the perfect joy is to find herself among unbelievers and, eating at their table, to be shaken by their questions while remaining in the faith.

‘I find it difficult to believe in the existence of anything except the clouds which limit my horizon. It is only then that I realize the possibilities of my weakness; find consolation in staying at my post, and directing my gaze towards one invisible light which communicates itself, now, only in the eye of faith.'

The more a human being advances in the Christian faith, the more they live the presence of God as an absence, the more they accept to die to the idea of becoming aware of God, of fathoming Him. For they have learned, while advancing, that God is unfathomable. And from then on the presence of God assumes value in their eyes only against the backdrop of absence. The mystic, in his long and complicated pilgrimage, experiences alternately the presence and absence of God. But, by degrees, the absence of God is felt more and more and the mystic understands that this absence is now the norm. Thus the mystic is someone who has had a long-term confrontation with God, like Jacob in the struggle that he waged all through the night, someone who does not cease to confront God. God always precedes us, we see Him only from behind, He walks ahead, He is ahead of us. What the mystic experiences - and every Christian is a mystic because it is not the great illuminations that are the mark of the mystic but the night, an everyday night - is a kind of distancing from God in proportion to advances in the deepening of their faith.

Jean Francois Six as cited in Celtic Daily Prayer

And yet, somehow, His Spirit seems always to be present . . . it is a mystery.

A mystery also expressed in these poems:

Sunday, February 3, 2013

When did the church start to go "wrong"?

When did the church start to go "wrong"? - "openings" lately as I ponder what it means to follow Jesus, to be and do disciple/discipleship:

Probably not one specific date or instance, but certainly when Emperor Constantine in the 4th century declared Christianity the religion of the "state" and the church moved into buildings.  This marked a significant change, and apparently not a good one in the life of the church.  It heralded a movement from the Body life to a more structured, legalistic life.  A returning of sorts to that which Jesus Christ Himself had challenged while He walked the earth.

Some passages from Scripture seem to point to this aspect of the church's history:

“Woman,”  Jesus replied,  “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.    You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.    Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.    God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” (John 4:21-24 NIV)

Even in the Old Testament after Israel had returned from exile and before the temple was rebuilt (lots of issues during that time re: "building"):

"all the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the  Lord  had commanded for Israel.    So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand.  He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law." (Nehemiah 8:1-3 NIV).  NOTE: "in the square", a foretaste of another time when the Law was fulfilled in hearing a "sermon on a hill."

Most Christians who are familiar with the Bible will point to the book of Acts (acts of the apostles) for a living "definition" of "church" as Christ intended:

"They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.  Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.  All the believers were together and had everything in common.  They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.  Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,  praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved." (Acts 2:42-47 NIV)

Now, some would argue that it says, "every day they would meet together in the temple courts", indicating the "building" was still important. But one must consider the context and culture (changing) at that time, remember that Jesus Himself said, "not in Jerusalem . . . ".  The critical verses are those first ones; "They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer."

When "buildings, programs and budgets" (Dallas Willard) become our focus, we are likely to lose the Church's reason and intent for existing, to "Go and make disciples."

Think about it . . . the only time Jesus went into the Temple and synagogues was to question and challenge the religious leaders, His "teaching" was always done outside or in homes.

"As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’    Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy,  drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.       “Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts—       no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep."(Matthew 10:7-10 NIV)

and later after He had risen:

"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,    and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19, 20 NIV)

I am becoming increasingly troubled that we in the "church" spend so much time, money and energy on our "boxes" and living them, while neglecting the 24/7 life of following Jesus "Up, in & out".