Living God, burning wild and unconfined, you call us to a new being, free from the fear of death: take away the limits that bind our imagination and choke our compassion that we may feel your pleasure in all that brings us life; through Jesus Christ, risen and ascended. Amen. (Prayers for an Inclusive Church by Steven Shakespeare)
At any given point in time, I think all of us have one burning question we’d like to ask God. When we are infants, the question might be “Why strained peas? Why strained carrots?”
As we grow older, our God questions grow and change with us. Children’s questions about the world around them might include “Why is the sky blue?” “Do dogs go to heaven?” “Are angels boys or girls?”
As we approach adolescence, our questions change. Innocence is often lost and questions about life and death begin to appear. “Why does everyone hate me at school?” “Why do I look the way I do?” “Where are you God, and why do bad things happen?” Often, in our teens we begin to stop asking God questions; and by adulthood, we learn to figure out how the world works (supposedly) understanding there are scientific answers for many of the simpler questions we had asked earlier in our lives. Continue reading Burning Questions→
If a child is securely attached to non-religious parents there is a greater likelihood that child will not be religious as an adult. If a child is insecurely attached to religious parents there is a greater likelihood that child will not be religious as an adult there is also a fair number in this group who fall into the “spiritual but not religious category. Mostly because their attachment issues make them suspicious of what researchers call, “social religion” [i.e., organized religion].
BUT…If child is insecurely attached to non-religious parents there is a greater likelihood that child will grow up to be “spiritual but not religious.” for the same reasons as above.Finally, children who are securely attached to highly religious parents are the most religiously attached of all groups as adults.
I constantly run into people who say they won’t impose their religious thoughts, beliefs or traditions on their children, wanting them to make their own choice. Well, how can you make a choice if you don’t know your options?
Nurya Love Parish makes some great observations in response to a recent article / blog post from the New York Times. Read it and pass it along to all the parents of young children you know.
Yesterday I was reminded by a colleague how different Holy Week is when you are not working in a congregation. It’s been 15+ years since I’ve been immersed in the planning, preparation, crazy hours and last minute details of assisting in the implementation of the wonderful experiences of walking through Holy Week from the inside out.
Since then, Holy Week has become a more personal journey, participating from the outside in for lack of a better description. The work week continues the same, but there are few phone calls and less e-mail. Everyone is focused on the moment to come.
Many of us in the pews may be looking forward to reclaiming what one might have “given up” for the season of Lent. I never give up anything. I do try to do something new or take on a contemplative practice. This year it was purging.
Not purging of the physical kind, although I am trying to lose weight – the old fashioned way by eating healthier. I’ve been purging the contents (again) of 60-years worth of stuff. My dad moved to an Assisted Living facility right before Ash Wednesday. The condo in which he and my mom were living is now just about empty. We have a tenant to move in May 1st. The carpets still need to be cleaned and perhaps painting will be done. Two pieces of furniture remain – a 100+ year-old Federal drop-down desk that has been in my father’s family for years, and a 10-year-old dining room hutch. Craig’s list has become the latest bookmarked site on my computer.
But I still have all the stuff. Stuff of years of accumulation which I thought they had sold, given away or tossed out when we moved them to be closer to us from eastern Maryland almost four years ago. Boxes of 3 generations worth of china, crystal, knickknacks, photographs, papers, and memorabilia.
Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” Matthew 19:21
I do not need more stuff. Even though it may be valuable to its once owners, it is stuff. Our home is already full of 18th century antiques from a previous deconstruction of my husband’s parents’ estate. The pieces are beautiful and serve as wonderful conversation pieces. I doubt my children will want much of it someday – they are not about the accumulation of things. It is a generation that travels light and desires to be mobile at a moments notice. Stuff gets in the way and inhibits freedom.
We rented a storage unit when the kids finished college and had not yet settled into a “permanent” location. For the past several years the boxes and furniture have slowly left the unit – for the summer tag sale, new apartment or donated to those in need. We were about to rid ourselves of the unit, having purged what we did not “need.” Now it is full again – with stuff. Stuff we do not need. But stuff that was sacred to past generations. And things that my dad still cherishes and believes are worth more than their weight in gold. “You don’t want it?” he asks. “Then sell it. I can use the cash.” He shakes his head in despair. A lifetime of collecting things with no one to share it with. And so he tries to hide money in his unit for when he needs it. For all those trips he should have taken with his wife when he could. For that new winter coat my mom needed but they couldn’t “afford.”
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will be your heart also.” Matthew 6:19-21
Well, the stuff is not worth anything anymore. It doesn’t fill the regrets of “we should have done it when we could.” While all these possession and treasures of their lives have not been stolen – their “golden years” have been. He visits Mom at least three days a week as she calls him her “sweetheart” and asks to go home, even though she does not know where home is. She asks for her mother, and she calls me “Mama” sometimes. She is what has been stolen.
Almost a year ago my husband said goodbye to his mom. On Good Friday we decided to stop all medical care and allow her to die in dignity. Yesterday the nursing home called to let me know that Mom has suspected pneumonia – test results due today. It’s Holy Week again. Amidst talk about bank accounts, hiding cash, and selling stuff I wish this was all over. I want to purge the responsibilities of being the daughter, the eldest child. But Good Friday must come first.
I give thanks to all my friends and colleagues who are deep into the preparation and logistics of these next few days. The planning is done. It is now time to re-create the annual pilgrimage to the cross. Thank you for allowing me to forget about all the stuff. Ultimately, the stuff is so unimportant. Who do we break bread with? Who do we allow to wash our feet? Who remains with us when we are alone and abandoned?
Blessings as we wander the streets of Jerusalem together this week. For there is hope when all has been purged and given over to the One who accepts and embraces us all.
Today’s Gospel Lesson is the parable of the talents. Let me ease your minds upfront; I’m not going to talk about money, our economic situation, Occupy Wall Street or our investment portfolios. But I am going to address the feelings we may have in this world at the moment. And I believe it is the root of what Jesus is asking us to sit up and pay attention to.
All of today’s readings contrast hope and fear, and abundance and scarcity, as spiritual issues that shape our personal and corporate behavior. Do we see the world in terms of what we lack or in terms of possibilities for growth and transformation?
I returned home on Thursday from an intense 48-hour gathering of over 80 Episcopalians who came from all over the Episcopal Church. All orders were represented: lay folks, deacons, priests and bishops. A multitude of Episcopal networks were represented: camps and conference centers, youth ministers, Christian educators, policy makers, school administrators, seminary professors, musicians, and liturgists. We represented the diversity of region, economics, ethnicity and theology of our church. And it is one of the first gatherings I have attended in a long time that was filled with the equal participation of young adults – those between the ages of 18-30. And how life giving it was to have their voice along with those of us aging and graying folk. Besides our commonality of being Episcopalians, we all had a passion for Christian formation. We were invited to participate in a Faith Formation Summit entitled, “Building the Continuum.”
One of the goals of the gathering was to analyze the present realities and future uncertainties in the church and the world and envision potential futures for Episcopal faith formation in a diversity of settings over the next 5-10 years. Our focusing question was, “How might Christian lifelong faith formation over the next ten years affect the renewal and transformation of the Episcopal Church in a 21st century world?”
It was a timely question, because just as in our readings for today, we are concerned with the future – of our community, our families, and our church. Resources for children, youth and Christian education continue to be marginalized on the congregational, diocesan and church-wide level. We see it in how budgets are put together and how they are cut when income goes down. We see it in how much we invest in our teachers and their training. We see it in how we welcome the child in our midst in all that we do – not just Sunday School. How do we invest in these human resources?
So much of our conversation at this gathering was how our churches are living in fear. Recent demographic studies have shown the membership of mainline denominations is aging and decreasing. Young adults are not attending church. Families are so busy that going to church is low on the priority list – sports, school, vacations, and simply downtime now fill the Sunday morning time slot.
In such a reality, how are we helping all our church members engage with the world with Jesus eyes? How are we engaged in bringing about God’s kingdom to those who are crying to be healed in a hurting world? How can we look outward when we are worried about survival?
Today’s Gospel urges us to be risk-takers with our investments. And one of the greatest investments we have is our children. They offer possibilities that are beyond our imagination. They give us a glimpse of what God calls us to be and do. Their sense of awe and wonder of the world around us cause us (if we are paying attention) to stop, listen and hear their words of prophecy.
Do we see the world in terms of what we lack or in terms of possibilities for growth and transformation?
One of the scenarios about the Episcopal Church of the future that was developed at the gathering was one we titled, “Episcopal Christian Country Club.” This church was focused on itself, its immediate neighborhood and membership, church activities, its building and identity. It is trying to maintain itself as to what it was 50 years ago and so has become insular, aging, using its resources (financial and human) to maintain itself. It is a church living in a world of scarcity, fear and isolation. This scenario is one in which the church will die. And in my travels around the United States, it is a growing reality. Those that choose to retain their identity in what once was instead of what could be. Living in a world of scarcity without wanting to take new risks. It’s the third servant who buried what was given to him.
Another scenario that was a polar opposite is a church that is totally engaged with the world, embracing technology for the building of community. This is the church that is open to the extravagance in our lives, one that is focused on God’s mission of abundance. It involves all sorts of possibilities. It moves us from seeing life only in terms of the bottom line or our current perception of our resources as barely adequate to support our needs. It involves children, youth and young adults as co-contributors to the church’s mission.
We can see this in the feeding of the five thousand: the disciples complain that they only had five loaves and two fish, which, of course, can’t feed five thousand. But Jesus believed in a deeper reality, which included God’s lively energy, the generosity of the crowd, and divine-human abundance hidden in apparent scarcity.
The spiritual gifts of love, forgiveness, faith, hope, trust, compassion and active care need to be invested and used in the service of others. And those who take the risk of investing those gifts do receive in abundance. More will be given to them. But for those who have not risked the investment of those gifts but have buried them in the ground, even the gifts they have will be lost.
One example is our children. How we invest in them in our churches will also determine our future as a church. If we invest ourselves in mentoring and accepting the children in our midst and helping them grow in knowledge and love of Jesus, they will continue to pass on their faith.
But it is not by sharing bible stories and coming to church. That is important, but investing in them by showing them what a life of following Jesus is really all about. Not just talking the talk, but walking the walk. The investment envisioned by Jesus is an investment in the priorities of the kingdom of God: giving to those who are hungry, thirsty, sick and in prison as in the parable that follows the one in today’s reading.
Noted preacher Fred Craddock writes about today’s parable: “Take account of the high risk activity of the first two servants. They doubled their money entrusted to them, hardly a possibility without running the risk of losing the original investment . . . the major themes of the Christian faith – caring, giving, witnessing, trusting, loving, hoping – cannot be understood or lived without risk.”
As we are liberated from our own fears our presence will automatically liberate others. Don’t worry about the future. Take risks. Live in abundance and hope. We are children of the day, called to walk in the light, trusting in God and one another. As part of the body of Christ, we are an interdependent community in which our joys and sorrows, successes and failures are woven together. We can choose what the future will be by how we choose to engage with it.
We have everything we need to be faithful to God and live abundantly. Share it with joy – from generation to generation.