Church Today

From the Lord’ Supper comments:
I am in the presence of greatness every day because God/Jesus/the Holy Spirit is/are with me.

From the sermon:
What if the voice of God had spoken to you? Why to me, when there are others who long for it? I don’t know, but I am very grateful, God. Thank you.

I know God has spoken to me multiple times, though I only remember a few of them.

“an amazing relationship with God”
I have been blessed with an amazing relationship with God. I have not kept up my end of that relationship, but he is always faithful and willing to meet me where I am whenever I come back.

We all want to stay in the most enjoyable time/place/moment. We want to build a house and stay right in that awesomeness.
But we have to come down (off the mount of Transfiguration, Mark chapter 9) because there’s a cross that needs to be carried.

Jesus is our safe place.
He wants us to become safe places for those around us.

Question:
Jesus said (Mark 9:2-13) that Elijah has come. Is this reincarnation or an archetype?

When I am giving a talk:
I try to do too much at the same time. I wonder if I do that with my teaching as well? I need to focus on making my speeches short and about only one thing.

Suffering and Pain

I have been considering for the last few Sundays (and I am unsure why it is only on Sunday, put perhaps that is the only day I slow down and actually think) about God’s view of suffering and pain.

Jesus came, knowing his life would be hard and his end would be horrible. God/Jesus was “good” with that. It was important and it was necessary.

When I moved to NewTown I hoped life would be perfect, but it is not. Somewhere along the way of this move I realized that God did not promise surcease of pain or suffering. He only promises that I can endure it and that he will be there with me through it.

I have often wondered if there is a point to pain and suffering. When we are experiencing pain is there something we need to learn? Are others supposed to learn from our suffering? Are we here as an example? And I don’t know. I’ve often heard people say so, but as I age I realize that there are many things I have heard people say that are not true.

Right now all I can say is that suffering and pain exist, sometimes because of our own choices, often because of the bad choices of others, and often because of “natural” things that (as far as I now know) have no human cause. Pain and suffering are here to stay–at least until Jesus returns.

Connections

When I first came to my new position, I was asked for a six-word autobiography. My teaching blog is down, but it had to do with coincidence being God’s working in my life. It was beautiful and succinct. This will be far more rambling, but it also is a weaving of God in my life.

First, I visited with my good friend AB in Weatherford, halfway between our two homes. I spoke of “being the answer to Jesus’ prayers,” an idea I learned in the preaching of Phil Ware. She spoke of a recent sermon/talk which said that the fields are white for the harvest when we are willing to be used in the harvest–that, in fact, our willingness to be used by God makes the harvest white.

Then I was reading Popular Religion in Late Saxon England and Jolly spoke about salvation as an event and a process. It is/was, she said, a one-time thing and in the same way was a metaphorical spiritual journey.

While reading God and Harry Potter at Yale: Teaching Faith and Fantasy Fiction in an Ivy League Classroom by Tumminio, I texted AB this quote: “When humans follow that example (of Christ) and commit to love the way Jesus loves–caring for all people and not just those for whom it is convenient–they help to bring about the reign of peace God hopes to create on earth” (Location 1786 of 2877).

God tied the Yale story and AB’s teaching into a thread.

He also tied Jolly’s book to Tumminio’s book. I highlighted the following: “The first part (of salvation) is recognizing there is a problem that affects all humans–sin.” I wrote Event. Then I highlighted: “The second is a solution that corrects that flaw, and that solution results in salvation.” I noted Process. (Location 1758 of 2877) The author did not use those words in the discussion. But in the “Questions for Your Reflection” at the end of this chapter, she wrote: “Is salvation an event or a process? Which characters are saved over time in the story and which ones receive salvation in a moment?”

Maybe the autobiography/idea was closer to –Connections: God weaving disparate life events.

Image was a tapestry once for sale at Grimalkin's Hearth.

Image was a tapestry once for sale at Grimalkin’s Hearth.

I am taking the gifts of interlacing that God is giving me in my life just now and celebrating them here. Thank you, God, for the time to read, the eyes to see, the mind to comprehend, and the grace of your connections.

I also had some interesting ideas for the research and creative projects for my students next semester. I will need to develop those before I forget them.

Prayer and Rhetoric

I began reading Spiritual Modalities: Prayer as Rhetoric and Performance by William FitzGerald. It’s a fascinating book and I am highlighting too much. I thought I might put it in some of the things I highlighted that I want to ponder more. Maybe I can do that here in this space.

“the most profound problem we face with respect to prayer is not that it goes unanswered but that it goes unsaid” (28).
This, I think, is the most important. God, teach me to pray. And when I pray, let my words and my thoughts be shaped into who you want me to be.

“God grants requests appropriately performed.” (2) ?Really? Or is he saying, perhaps, that we feel that this is so. If we can figure out the formula we will get the cave of wonders opened and we will be rich beyond measure.

“words and deeds communicate an essential attitude of their performers” (4).
That’s a scary idea because, unfortunately, too often my words and deeds do not connect with the person I want to be and the person I see myself as. (Think of the grumpiness with the whiny student who sends texts about every assignment, two or three or four, and on my day’s off as well.)

“prayer serves as a counter to rhetoric, perceived as insincere or self-serving speech” (5).
If you believe like Plato that rhetoric is so much hot air, then prayer is the opposite. It’s not hot air let loose, but used to blow up the balloon or the air mattress. It’s focused. Even if the focus has become as rote as “doing the right thing.”

“prayer aspires to ascend the ladder of language to discover a purer language, even transcending language altogether to achieve a state of perfect, wordless communion between human and divine beings” (6).
Yes. This is why when my student wrote and said that no one believes in dream visions anymore I wanted to write her back and say that I do. But I didn’t, because I am a coward and because I didn’t want to crack a golden calf or fracture the foundation of her temple–one of those.

“rhetoric distilled and abstracted to allow for its application in extraordinary contexts. It designates core functions of discourse that make communication possible, and it acknowledges the impulse toward purity and perfection in prayer. Indeed, “prayer” is a name assigned to practices of a better rhetoric” (6).
I love the idea of prayer itself as an extraordinary context. Prayer is a situation in which we place ourselves to find/create/revel in communication with God.

My work involves studies that relate to prayer:
“invocation, or the calling upon some unseen presence or power, is prayer’s definitive speech act” (9)
“identifies prayer as a rhetorical art of memory… argues that prayer is a socialized craft of both communication and commemoration” (9).
“Never are we more ourselves as linguistically enabled, embodied beings than when we perform appeals to our counterparts in diving beings as manifestations of the real” (10).

“prayer is a complex encounter with the real through the virtual, the spiritual through the material” (10).
God is real; this life is the virtual. (Ha! Platonic reality. God is spiritual; I am material.

Where we belong
“prayer is appropriately understood as the most intimate and honest means through which an understanding of our place in the universe can be achieved” (Wirzba, “Attention and Responsibility” 88)
Oh, wow. The most honest way to figure out where we should stand and how we can stand there. I love that as a definition of prayer.

When I am praying for my friend’s marriage, my place in the universe is as an intercessor? as her shield wall? as the gap-stander? as the words for when she is too weary for them? as the faith when her faith has emptied?

Prayer defines
“In the case of prayer, the objective is not to discover the available means of persuasion in a given situation, but, rather, the situation itself” (12).
Yes. We seek in our prayers to reach an understanding of God’s will. It is why we struggle to say, “Heal him” when we know that healing may mean his death. It is why we struggle when others say, “God healed her.” and we wonder why God did not heal her. But really for one God gave temporary healing and for the other, God gave permanent healing.

“prayer expresses a sense of place in an ordered cosmos by negotiating between different orders of existence” (21).

“the understanding that prayer in general situates human and natural events in a larger drama by acquiring perspectives even more accurate” (like Serenity Prayer) (26).

Prayer Marks
“A summons to prayer, even at its most informal, marks a ritual moment” (13).
“Not least among prayer’s purposes is to mark occasions as significant” (13).

Before we eat, when we pray, we are pausing at a ritual moment to be grateful. When we stop and pray with a friend at a meal out, we are saying that this is a special, significant time–a time which needs a rite to grace it because it is so important.

We pray at weddings. We pray at funerals. We pray at baby blessings. People pray at football games and memorials and standing in God’s living room at the foot of a mountain.

Modernity, Impossibility, and Prayer
“Rahner identifies the situation of modernity: for many, prayer, a language of possibility, has become impossible” (15).
“Rahner imagines a kairotic opening in a radical receptivity to God’s love. Experience of need opens one to prayer, and prayer becomes an experience of blessing. Discovering prayer is equivalent to discovering our real situation in the world” (15).
See also the note on page 12.

Functions of Prayer
“prayer performs ceremonial functions associated with the epideictic in expressing shared values and forging collective identity; the critical functions of the forensic in discerning causes and conditions; and the persuasive functions of the deliberative in influencing future actions of people and of deities” (16).

So we celebrate in prayer, coming together at AA with the Serenity Prayer, at church with sung prayers, at home with bedtime prayers.

The forensic I will have to think on more.

I think for the deliberative, God is most likely to use prayer to change me; as I think about how to express what I want to say, I am forced to reveal why I want to say it and sometimes the how shows flaws in my thoughts and hopes and I see that all is not well with my soul because I am trying to move it in the wrong direction.

Singing Prayers
“prayer is at once a communal act … and a dramatic rendering of a universal condition of dependency” (19).

“’Standing’ articulates a devotional commonplace—one always stands in the need of prayer—to be given lip service or embraced as an experiential truth. Such commonplaces are an inventional resource for discerning and performing situations” (20).
Sometimes what I sing is not true, but it calls to me to remind me, perhaps, that it should be true. It is a self-summoning to the reflective aspects in prayer elicited from the corporate worship with prayer and God uses it to speak to me in the bass/tenor/alto/soprano of the church.

Ceaseless prayer
“prayer is itself a frame—a space we may enter and leave and within which we may abide” (21). I Thess. 5:16-18

“prayer is more state than statement, a matter of ongoing condition” (21)

“’The express activity of formal prayer overflows to communicate a quality of prayer in the whole of one’s life’ (21). John Wright, qtd in Giardini 336

genuine, ongoing, not a last resort “Payer is thus imagined as a basic orientation toward the source of one’s being” (21).

“The charge ‘to pray without ceasing,’ to be fully present in any communicative act, requires considerable effort” (21).

2 views:
“prayer is a timeless space irrespective of immediate occasion” (21)
“prayer is bounded as discourse performed in time” (21)

“the call to pray without ceasing is a call to inhabit an alternative frame—an extraordinary space (with otherworldly beings and distinct rules of engagement)” (22).

I really want to think on this more. Pray without ceasing. Let the words of my heart and the meditations of my lips be acceptable in thy sight. Every move I make, every step I take, I’ll be loving you.

Prayer forms us
prayer = a child’s imagination, “to play in this way is not to pretend; it is to imagine through topoi of possibility” (23).

“Prayer takes place in a space of performance essential to the formation of individual and social character” (23).

When we pray, we are changed. God changes us in the context of our prayers, in the situation of our contemplation of our words.

Recent events

Ron’s mom had a stroke yesterday and she has Broca’s aphasia. Ron flew out this morning on the 5:50 am flight and arrived in Fayetteville by 9:05.

We bought a TV yesterday for my dad–but ended up buying a bigger one for us (not that I thought we needed it, but…) and giving our 55 inch television to Dad. We also bought a chair for the guest room so Dad can sit in there and watch TV. We got it at Sam’s.

My dad is coming to visit on Tuesday or Wednesday, if I get in gear and look up flights.

I actually managed to water all the trees this morning. (Three extra morning hours–after taking Ron to the airport–gave me a lot of time to get stuff done.)

Tony Fernandez spoke at church this morning and Tim Archer translated. I actually understood most of the Spanish sermon. I was surprised and pleased.

Tony’s dad was a factory owner before the Communist Revolution. He was also a preacher. He decided not to leave Cuba, so that he could continue to spread the gospel in Cuba after the revolution. He lost his factory and became a mechanic in a government factory.

The government gave awards to the best workers. All of Tony’s father’s coworkers said they should go to him. Radio–to Charo. Television–to Charo. Bicycle–to Charo. Each time the boss said, “No. Charo’s a Christian. We don’t give gifts to Christians.” Then the Herald of Truth sent Charo money for a brand new car. (He had been working as a full-time minister as a second job for years by then, with no support.) Charo’s boss saw him driving the brand new car and asked him where he got it. Charo told him it was a gift from God. He was able to witness to his boss because of that.

When Tony was growing up, their congregation thought they were the only CofCers in the whole world, although they did have a picture of a church in San Antonio, Texas which was supposed to exist.

Their church has 700 members and on Sundays they travel around Cuba and hold church services and prayer meetings in 30 different communities across the island. The congregation has started 28 new churches and there are about 200 new Christians a year.

God’s grace is overflowing.

Answer to Prayers

Our preacher spoke on Jesus asking the Lord of the Harvest to send forth workers and said something I have never heard before. He said,

We are the answer to Jesus’ prayers.

Quote Journal

“Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God; But only he who sees, takes off his shoes – The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.”
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Reading the Bible

While I do not recommend to anyone a multi-year hiatus from reading the Bible for yourself, I will say that the lack of familiarity when I came back to it has been eye-opening. Many things I remember and knew already and yet other things I see as if I had never seen them before.

I notice, in reading four chapters at a time and each day, that some things repeat (in the 4 chapters or within a book or within the two books) and others I see and say, “Wow. I didn’t know that.”

While it is not that important, I did not know that Barnabas (son of encouragement) was a Levite from Cyprus named Joseph. But according to Acts 4:36, that is exactly who he was.

Praying Causes Irreparable Harm

A federal judge has ordered a Texas school district to prohibit public prayer at a high school graduation ceremony.

The ruling was in response to a lawsuit filed by Christa and Danny Schultz. Their son is among those scheduled to participate in Saturday’s graduation ceremony. The judge declared that the Schultz family and their son would “suffer irreparable harm” if anyone prayed at the ceremony.

from Fox News

Zombies in Church

“He died, and they buried him. The third day he rose again. It’s not like a zombie, no, because he is alive for sure.” from “Alelouya” (Haitian Easter song), sung at Easter Sunrise Service of Worship in Durham, NC

Middle Class Poor

Frowning Providence is a post on what it is like to not be able to participate in church because of financial issues. Even more than that it is about the inability of the church to accept a discussion of the reason they cannot participate.

We don’t want to hear that you are doing badly, basically. Reminds me of Deb and how she feels folks don’t want to know you are sick, especially when you are often/always sick.

Just a bit:

In middle-class Christian America the Joneses absolutely demand that you keep up with them because otherwise they feel guilty. I found you only have so many “I-am-sorry-I-cannot-participate”-cards before people start getting frustrated with you. The result is that if you cannot afford basic middle-class requirements such as paying $20.00 a pop for church dinners or even gas for driving to such an event or lunch at the park because you are making do with what’s in the cupboard and that is cereal, your only real option is to disappear from society. Most people do not understand being absolutely penniless for several days a week or month, penniless after enacting the most severe austerity measures and money-saving techniques.

You do have the option of honesty but that is even worse than just letting people get frustrated with you for being unfriendly. If you mention that you can’t afford something it makes people uncomfortable. They immediately feel that you are complaining or begging. As a matter of fact, I found the honest route to be totally unworkable in every single instance I used it, except one.* Frequently church events carry the caveat that anyone who cannot afford to pay is still welcome but I have never had the confidence to take a church up on that one. Who can’t afford $20.00 ever?

The comments are interesting as well.

Right now, though, I think we are in the other end of the spectrum. And it’s why I asked R to quit saying I was eating out with him. I got tired of people saying how we eat out all the time. (We do.) It’s just not your business. But if it’s on facebook, which it is, then it seems to be.

The Star: A Recommended Read

The Star from American Digest begins with a quote from T. S. Eliot and then proceeds:

Theirs was the Age of Myth; a world where night was not dimmed by the web of lights that now obscures the stars. Their nights were lit by flaring torches, dim oil lamps, guttering candles; by the phases of the moon and the broad shimmering river of the Milky Way. As the sun declined and night ascended, life withdrew into shuttered and barred homes. Only the very rich or the very poor were abroad in the dark.

The night sky, now so thin and distant, so seldom really seen, was to them as thick and close as a handful of coal studded with diamonds. They could turn it in their mind’s eye even as it turned above them. They reclined on their hill sides, their roofs, or in rooms built for viewing and marking the moon and the stars. They watched it all revolve above them and sang the centuries down. They remembered.

It continues and gets better.

Cheating Students

I am never particularly happy about cheating students, but this paragraph from a “shadow scholar, a ghostwriter” of college (undergrad and graduate) work really frustrates me:

I do a lot of work for seminary students. I like seminary students. They seem so blissfully unaware of the inherent contradiction in paying somebody to help them cheat in courses that are largely about walking in the light of God and providing an ethical model for others to follow. I have been commissioned to write many a passionate condemnation of America’s moral decay as exemplified by abortion, gay marriage, or the teaching of evolution. All in all, we may presume that clerical authorities see these as a greater threat than the plagiarism committed by the future frocked.

from a Chronicle of Higher Ed article on paying for original papers

How My Colleagues Think of Christians

In the eyes of some, August fits stereotypical images such as the comic-strip character Zippy the Pinhead. Yet likening my son, and other people who have microcephalic heads, to Zippy is about as relevant as likening African-Americans to blackface caricatures. In the eyes of others, August resembles Terri Schiavo, who, for the secular-educated, triggers the fearful response of “better off dead than disabled.” Many such well-meaning people would like to put an end to August’s suffering, but they do not stop to consider whether he actually is suffering. At times he is uncomfortable, yes, but the only real pain here seems to be the pain of those who cannot bear the thought that people like August exist. For many of those folks, someone with August’s caliber of cognitive and physical disability raises the question of where humanity leaves off and animality begins. But that animal-human divide is spurious, a faulty either-or.

And then there are the Christians, who see in August a child of God. Given the educated alternative I just sketched out, that response seems a relief. Here in the South, they come up and say “God bless!,” to which, depending on the occasion and the person, I sometimes respond, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.”

Do you see what he said? Christians are the opposite of educated.

It’s clear, but generally unstated.

from A Life Beyond Reason

The Blood of Martyrs

A string of anti-Christian bombings has cost six more lives in the wake of the Baghdad church bloodbath, sowing panic in Iraq’s 2,000-year-old minority on Wednesday, many of whom now want to flee.

“Since Tuesday evening, there have been 13 bombs and two mortar attacks on homes and shops of Christians in which a total of six people were killed and 33 injured,” a defence ministry official said. “A church was also damaged.”

An interior ministry official earlier gave a casualty toll of three dead in 12 of the attacks across the Iraqi capital early on Wednesday.

The attacks come less than two weeks after 44 Christian worshippers, two priests and seven security personnel died in the seizure of a Baghdad cathedral by Islamist gunmen and the ensuing shootout when it was stormed by troops.

On November 3, Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the cathedral hostage-taking and warned it would step up attacks on Christians.

Google News

Thankfulness: 2010 A and B

In my 26-day thankfulness, leading up to Thanksgiving, let me just say that I am thankful for Abilene Christian University, where I got an excellent undergraduate and graduate education, had some amazing teachers, made some wonderful friends, and met my incredibly awesome husband.

I am also thankful for Ashton and Aby. Angie and Amy. Apples and apple pie. Arms to hold me in the middle of the night. Adderall. Aunts: Stephanie, Jerry, Norma, Kay, Ruth, Mary. Armonk, New York and my high school there.

Today I am especially thankful for my boys and my brother.

Butterflies, bluebonnets, Butterfingers, beauty, babies, bassinets, blankets, barbeque, bark, bald heads, brains, bananas, blogs, beaches and beach memories… All b things I am thankful for. Best of the Bs, not already on my list, Beverly.

Thank you, Jesus, for these bountiful blessings you have brought into my life.

Song from God

In the shadow of the cross, I leave my fear and woe.
In the radiance of his love, I let my anger go.
He is my Savior. He rescues me. He is my lord for eternity.
He is my shepherd. He comforts me. He is my love for eternity.

In the shelter of his wings I come his love/my lord to know.
Even when I feel alone, I trust it isn’t so.

I’ve already lost the lines with XXXs. Hopefully the Holy Spirit will give them back. And he did.

He is my Savior. He rescues me. He is my lord for eternity.
He is my shepherd. He comforts me. He is my love for eternity.
I have his love for…
I am his love for eternity.

In the shadow of your cross, I leave my fear and woe.
In the radiance of your love, I let my anger go.
You are my savior. You rescue me. You are my lord for eternity.
You are my shepherd. You comfort me. You are my love for eternity.
In the shelter of your wings I come your love to know.
Even when I feel alone, I trust it isn’t so.
You are my savior. You rescue me. You are my lord for eternity.
You are my shepherd. You comfort me. You are my love for eternity.
You are my love for…
I know your love for…
I have your love for….
I am your love for eternity.

Sin-Eater

BBC News: Last Sin-Eater Celebrated with Church Service

Sin-eaters were generally poor people paid to eat bread and drink beer or wine over a corpse, in the belief they would take on the sins of the deceased.

Frowned upon by the church, the custom mainly died out in the 19th Century.

It was prevalent in the Marches, the land around the England-Wales border, and in north Wales, but was rarely carried out anywhere else.

Believers thought the sin-eater taking on the sins of a person who died suddenly without confessing their sins would allow the deceased’s soul to go to heaven in peace.

While most of the sin-eaters were poor people or beggars, Mr Munslow was a well-established farmer in the area.

Locals began the collection to restore the grave, which had fallen into disrepair in recent years, believing it would be good to highlight the custom and Mr Munslow’s place in religious history.

Too bad that didn’t work. Wonder how the poor felt. Were they just glad to have the money and food? Or were they concerned about the 1,000 years of purgatory they were adding? Did the vicar really turn a blind eye? Or were the unshriven allowed full rites?