Lent and Death

Something Rachel and I wrote as filler for the church newsletter, but we didn’t end up needing the filler:

For most people, Lent is about what they have to give up. It is a season of monotony where we yearn desperately to wear our new Easter clothes and hunt for plastic eggs. But Lent is so much more. Lent is a special time, set apart by the Church, to accept the reality that we do just about everything we can to ignore, escape, and evade God. All the while, God calls us to die to ourselves so that we may live to Him. For the Church, Lent is a time in the rhythm of life in which we concentrate on dying to ourselves. We practice this self-denial through the Christian disciplines of repentance, meditation, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. As we die with Christ each day, the goal is that the pattern of Jesus’ life—death to self—becomes the pattern of ours – that, like Jesus, we will journey into the wilderness and utter the words, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Mt. 4:4).

If we learn to slow down the whirlwind of life and realize its powerlessness over us, monotony will be transfigured into peace. Sadness will be transfigured into a realization that we must recover what we have lost, what is all around us and yet so distant—God’s presence.

Some of us choose to give something up for Lent, whether it’s chocolate, television, or some other luxury we normally enjoy. All of us should take on new or additional disciplines – like the traditional practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. The point of this is not to punish ourselves, nor is it to be “super spiritual.” The point is acknowledging that we must die—to live. Alexander Schmemann once wrote,

“We simply forget all this – so busy are we, so immersed in our daily preoccupations – and because we forget, we fail. And through this forgetfulness, failure, and sin, our life becomes ‘old’ again – petty, dark and ultimately meaningless – a meaningless journey toward a meaningless end. We manage even to forget death and then, all of a sudden, in the midst of our ‘enjoying life’ it comes to us: horrible, inescapable, senseless.”

And each time we fail, we realize that we have alienated and exiled ourselves from God. Drifting from God, we lose our joy, our soul, and our life.

We practice self-denial in both Lent and life because we know it leads to eternal life. Just as death is not the end, so too, Lent is not the end. Death ends in resurrection, and Lent ends in the festival of life – The Great Three Days (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter) – where we celebrate that Jesus Christ has trampled down death by death.

Filed under: Church, Death, faith, Theology | 1 Comment

Random stuff 1,387,492: Life and Spirituality

I haven’t blogged in awhile. I think I’ve mostly been digesting life lately. Sometimes that doesn’t leave you wanting to talk much.

Introspection

I’m allergic to introspection. I guess I see what happens to a lot of Christians when they get overly introspective. They get filled with fear and doubt. I guess I just wasn’t interested. My journey with introspection began a little over a year ago when the whole friendship explosion happened. I mention it only to say it made me look at others differently. But the event also made me look at myself too.

Personality

In the months since, I’ve taken a few pastoral theology courses. One of the courses required that I undergo professional personality and spiritual gift tests. They didn’t really tell me anything new about myself. I’m driven. Determined. Good at speaking to large groups. Thrive in high-stress environments where others freak out. Don’t know how to relax. Always have to be accomplishing something. Have a sense of urgency. Cocky. Prideful. Disorganized. Impatient. Too loose with my words. While I already knew my personality, I have learned a lot about checking my relationship style when dealing with others…reigning in parts of my personality (still not great at it, but if you would have seen my original first paragraph, you’d notice I’m getting better). See, before the friendship explosion, I would repress those feelings. That’s a very different thing from checking them. Repressing made me feel grumpy, annoyed, lost. I was off-center.

Spiritual gifts

The spiritual gift portion of those tests stated faith, mercy, teaching, and prophecy are my gifts. The former two gifts I find invigorating. My personality type and my top two spiritual gifts are rare matches. I’m good at and enjoy empathizing, sympathizing, and just generally “being there” for others, but I also have to really check my tongue. You see the problem with my personality type/spiritual gift mix is I “tend to demand everyone display a caring spirit. [My] driving spirit can be seen as insensitive, when showing mercy is [my] motivation.” Hmm…yeah…sounds about right.

Dementia

One thing I do on a weekly basis is visit with and help lead a worship service for dementia patients. One lady says the saddest things sometimes. I mean, it’s likely the dementia talking, but she says these things that make it sound like she was watching someone drown. The pain and sadness are deep, even if it was not a real event.

Sadness

I’m a sad person. I don’t really have any personal sadness. I have such a peace about my own life. But I carry burdens and deep sorrow for others most of the time. Other people’s pain is hard on me. I feel it physically. I want to just give them the peace of Christ so badly. I mean, many are already Christians, but they’re not experiencing the peace that I know they can experience.

Grief

I lead a weekly Bible study for the elderly. It seems like someone they know dies at least every month. Sometimes two weeks in a row. Two of my attendees lost spouses last summer. I am a strong person, and the death of acquaintances brings me great sadness. I cannot imagine what it is like for those of weak constitution to lose someone so close to them.

Death

I asked Rachel how she thought people could deal with that, and she said she didn’t think people thought about it much. This week’s “Community” was on death. It played out what she said pretty perfectly. Abba Evagrius said to always “Remember the day of your death.” I do. I think about it many times a day, every day. It’s horrific. To have a single living soul ripped into two, a soul and body. To have to wait until the Resurrection to have a body once again, for Christ to make all things right. But I ponder it because 1.) It’s coming, and I hope to die well. 2.) It gives me a sense of urgency about this life.

Sobriety

I’ve definitely become more sober in the last year. A lot of things that used to give me joy just seem like such a waste of time. That’s not to say I don’t waste time, but much less. And what time I do waste does not give me the joy it once did. There is so much to do, and so little time to do it.

Stuff

Compared to a lot of people, we don’t own a lot of stuff. Rachel and I are both “minimalists.” But we do own some expensive stuff, and I’ve really come to hate most of it. It’s so freaking fleeting. Some of it I want to keep because of it’s usefulness for fellowship, but when it’s not being used for that, it seems like such space-robbing trash.

Christian Education

Our church started an ambitious fall program, and a result was an education hour before our service. I love to see how much my wife enjoys it. She doesn’t get to do a lot of stuff like that, and I can really tell how much she appreciates it.

Small groups

We’ve also started small groups. Listening to other Christians in that setting gives me a perspective I don’t carry around with me. This week we were talking about what was the most difficult trait to have when doing God’s will: Humility, Reverence, Delight, or Love. My immediate thought was humility, though I thought reverence and love were also hard. Over half the room chose, “Delight.” I was really, really surprised. Rachel, who knows me well, knew that I would be thinking that. My faith is such a delight. I could literally pray eight hours a day and then work a double-shift studying Scripture (and I would, if my wife allowed). I wouldn’t do it with humility. I would probably not be as reverent as I should be. And I would do the opposite of love when someone dared to interrupt prayer to fellowship with me….but there would be no shortage of delight. I guess I’m still trying to understand that.

Prayer

I have been really wrestling with my prayers lately, especially for a woman in my Bible study and a peer at small group. I’ve been in anguish for them. And it is such a delight.

Scripture

Reading through John this week, I’ve been amazed at the number of times I’ve laughed out loud. I just keep thinking, “How stupid! How could they not get that?!”

Malchus

I was listening to my brother-in-laws’ music today. They have a song called, “Mercy for Malchus.” I’ve heard it before, but I was really moved by it today.

Sleep

I need to get some.

Filed under: Church, faith | 1 Comment

On the Clerical Collar

I am a fan of the collar, but I came across this quote on an email list. It’s by Pastor Jason Farley on Trinity Covenant Church in Santa Cruz, CA. I’ve reprinted it with direct permission from him:

One thing that I have noticed, is that there are certain folks for whom the collar is a help, and others for whom it is a hindrance, so we most likely need both around. I wear a tie most of the time. In Santa Cruz that is revolutionary. It has led to dozens of conversations. “So, what’s with the tie?” “I’m a pastor. Do you go to church anywhere?” We had a vandal spray paint across the front of our building, ‘quit wearing ties.’ Last week, I was preaching downtown from a corner and a young kid came up to me, blew smoke in my face and said, ‘what’s with the tie, I’ve never been able to figure out how to tie one of those.’ As I taught him a double windsor (which I explained was the knot that ladies prefer) I was able to talk to him about his nihilism and anarchist convictions, as well as explain why The Bible is opposed to Facism just like he is, and real rebellion against the man would be to quit being a secularist and start following Jesus.

The lack of collar has led to an ability for ‘sneak attack’ that a collar would prevent. I love all the collar stories, but we all know that there are people turned away as well. Those turned away that are being pursued by the Spirit, are often turned towards a pastor without a collar. If we are prepared to share the gospel, are caring for the people God has given us, and are taking opportunities that God opens up, then we will have more and more. So I pray that the Lord blesses the collared and uncollared with open hearted interlocutors, since we aren’t trying to convert anyone to the collar or away from the collar, but unto Christ. So please, keep the collar stories coming, just don’t think that any lack of collar is a lack of rejoicing to see the gospel preached.
—Jason Farley
Pastor, Trinity Covenant Church
Santa Cruz, CA

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We’re Back

We’ve been away for a while due to blog problems but we’re hoping to wake up things a little around here. Life has been crazy for the past several months. There’s been good crazy and bad crazy. I don’t even know where to begin and I know that at least for now, I can’t get into all of it. But God is always there, and I’m always trying my best to listen.

In September, I went through some trials that left me feeling very down and very self-absorbed with my problems. As the months have passed, I’ve found that in moments, I am able to rise above the pain, and in others, I’ve succumbed to my own weakness. God continues to be gracious and I continue to wrestle with my own sin and pray for the healing of relationships.

My family has been, as always, amazing. Rick is a constant source of comfort and encouragement, and Kyrie and Antonio fill my life with joy and moments of being as carefree as I remember being as a child. Sometimes there is no better description for my children than little angels. And goodness knows they’re not really angels—their behaviour can be exhausting and infuriating—but the love and the innocence that they display from their sweet spirits really help to lift mine. It’s such a joy to be a mom, even though I have those moments when I wonder if I really am called to be a mom. Sometimes I’m just really truly not good at it. At all.

God has been kind enough to open my eyes to friendships that have always been there, waiting for me—and introduce new friends into my life. He has never abandoned me, even when I think that He has.

It’s been difficult for me to enter into the season of Lent this year. Antonio was sick on Ash Wednesday, so I wasn’t able to attend a service. Being able to hear the words “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” while the cross is drawn in ashes on my forehead by the thumb of the priest is something that is so profound to me that I can hardly articulate my feelings about it. It helps to set the tone for the entire season. I have not chosen to give up anything specifically, nor have I conscientiously added any particular disciplines. However, I do find myself returning to the Lord, and drawing closer to Him, and seeing the sickness of my own soul and the desperation with which my whole body aches for salvation.

Our Trip to Florida

It has been embarrassingly long since I’ve updated the ol’ blog. Facebook is to blame, I’m afraid. But I’ll try to do better in the future.

We recently took a trip to Florida and had a wonderful time. Rick has been attending Robbert E. Webber’s Institute for Worship Studies in Orange Park, FL for the past 3 years, spending the past year working on his doctoral thesis, and finishing it up last winter, earning the title of Dr. Capezza. The official graduation ceremony was 8 days ago in Florida, so we decided to plan a family vacation around that time so we could kill two birds with one stone.

We arrived on Wednesday, June 10th, in time for the convocation. The worship was beautiful, and the enthusiasm and love for God was felt in everyone around me as we sang our praises to God without reserve or hesitation. After the service, we drove down to Daytona Beach, where we’d spend the next three days soaking up sun, splashing in the waves, building sandcastles, and relaxing in the pool. We had an oceanfront hotel, which was really just perfect for us. We were able to spend lots of time on the beach, which is mostly what I wanted to do. The kids absolutely loved the pool, and were very brave and confident in the water. Antonio was too afraid of the waves at the beach to get near the water, but liked digging in the sand. Kyrie was thrilled with the waves and also loved looking for pretty seashells along the shore.

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On Saturday morning, we left Daytona and drove back into Jacksonville to pick up Rick’s mom from the airport. We spent some time at the mall until our hotel was ready for us to check-in. We had a nice evening at the home of the Creeches, the couple that hosted Rick every time he traveled to Florida for classes throughout his schooling.

The next morning we attended a Russian Orthodox Church in the area. I would have probably enjoyed it more if Antonio hadn’t decided to be a screamer that day. The singing was beautiful. There are definitely aspects of Orthodox worship that I would love to see recovered in Western liturgy. There were other things about the service that I didn’t find particularly appealing, but overall I thought it was a lovely service.

We had to kill some time before the graduation, so we took the kids to Chuck E. Cheese’s to get some energy out (the beach wasn’t an option because we had already checked out of our hotel and didn’t want to come to the ceremony all sandy and salty). They had fun, and to our surprise, we killed all the time we needed and were ready to head over to the church. Rick went to rehearsal and Rick’s mom and I spent some time with the kids in the nursery. I also had the chance to take a few pictures of Rick before the ceremony.

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The ceremony was great. Some of the music was a little weird for my taste, but some of it was just beautiful. And the people sang with all their hearts, so the sanctuary was filled with noises of praise to God. After taking lots of pictures following the ceremony (visible on facebook if you’re my friend), we headed to Palm Coast, where we’d spend the remainder of our vacation in a 2-bedroom condo along with Rick’s mom.

It was really cute, spacious, and relaxing. The pool there was huge, and we made sure to get plenty of use out of it. We also managed to make it to the beach, although sadly, the beach there wasn’t as nice as Daytona beach. We had lots of fun anyway, though.

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On Wednesday morning, we packed up and headed back to Jacksonville. No trip to the South is complete without a visit to the Cracker Barrel, so that was where we ate lunch. Soon after, we dropped Rick’s mom off at the airport, and then went to a few stores to kill some time before our flight. It was beastly hot, so we found a Chick-fil-A with an indoor play place and let the kids get some energy out before the long flight home. We stayed there until it was time to get to the airport, return the rental car, and check-in for our flight. Other than the long, 4 hour flight in the middle, it was all relatively smooth travel on the way back. Our vacation was just what we needed, but it was really good to be home.

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Kyrieism

One thing I’ve really enjoyed since Kyrie was born is putting her to sleep. I’ve probably done this more than any other child responsibility. Something about papa and just wanting to go to sleep. Since Kyrie’s birth, I’ve used two main lullabies to get her to sleep. The one I use most often is “Eat this Bread” (followed by “American Pie,” which is what I use when she’s not very tired).

Anyway, after compline tonight, both Rachel and I were singing her to sleep. It doesn’t happen very often that we both sing her to sleep together, but Kyrie stopped us in the middle of our singing to say this:

Kyrie (tapping her doll’s head): I put water on her head.
Rick: To baptize her, so she can be in Jesus?
Kyrie: Yes.
Rachel: Do you know anything about this?
Rick: Noooo.

Why Contemporary Music Makes Congregational Singing Difficult

Tom Schwegler offers insight into why contemporary music makes congregational singing difficult over on the Internet Monk’s blog.

I think Schwegler is right on. I’ve always had a problem with finding a way to incorporate contemporary music in such a way that it’s good for the congregation. I think Schwegler put some of my own thoughts into the words I couldn’t find. His points sum up my own thoughts:

Complexity: Many contemporary songs are made for soloists, not congregations. Nothing is worse to me than a passionate band singing for the congregation. That just irks me. It makes true the charge of entertainment worship.

Less information: As someone who doesn’t read music, but can generally follow notes (most of the time), I find it quite annoying to go into a church and hear a song I’ve never heard before and expect to sing it. Sometimes I can; sometimes I can’t. I want to see the music.

More oral tradition:It also vexes me to hear a worship leader sing a song contrary to the way you might hear it on CCM. I want to know what I am singing before I start singing or at least have a road map.

Chords vs. tunes: I’ve always been fond of a piano or organ (mostly piano) leading worship (Forrest is trying to convince me a guitar and drums are better, but now I’ve obtained newly read ammunition!). I’ve never understood why I felt that guitar didn’t work as well for leading congregational music, but I think Schwegler’s right in asserting it’s because guitars play chords, not tunes. It may also be that I am partial to piano over guitars; I hardly ever see anyone play an acoustic guitar in a way that doesn’t sound cheap when it comes to worship. My wife assures me that it’s just because I’ve never been in a church that plays acoustic guitars well, but I think it’s because my Catholic-Lutheran upbringing has given me a particular standard of what music should sound like.

More on GAFCON

Fr. Jerry Cimijotti gave me a book earlier this week called The Way, the Truth, and the Life written by the “Theological Resource Team of GAFCON” in the time preceding the conference.

After reading the 89 page book, I have a fuller understanding of GAFCON. The opening chapter gives a brief, but very full history of the relationship between Canterbury and GAFCON leaders, particularly in the Global South. This history clearly shows how Canterbury has consistently gone against the will of the Primates. (Perhaps one of the most interesting assertions was the belief that, in unwittingly adopting an Orthodox view of discipline, we have left ourselves defenseless.) The expense of these battles along with the distraction they have caused for spreading the gospel have caused leaders to desire a quicker measure to restore authentic Anglicanism.

The second section seeks to define authentic Anglicanism. It gives a robust and broad view of the Scriptures, the nature of Christ, and the purpose of worship.* While I found the work on sacraments lacking, it was broad enough to encompass a wide range of views. I also received the worship guide for the services that took place during the week of GAFCON. The worship definitely looked more evangelical in tone, with the use of more alternative services—which is personally not a negative, but makes me wary of the introduction of poor liturgical forms.

My major concern after reading the booklet was the interpretation and nature of the Articles of Religion (though I have been directed to further discussion on the issue). While I still have questions about whether GAFCON will be proposing a long-term solution, the description of the future re-alignment has given me a renewed hope that this is a long-term solution. While I have heard some of these plans through a couple of GAFCON attendees, I see very little written on these future plans, which I think lends itself to the understanding that GAFCON isn’t offering an alternative to what we already have in place. It is.

Moreover, my reading of the short book has also given me confidence in the competence of GAFCON leaders to create something that works.

GAFCON, Wright, and bearing false witness

Matt Kennedy wrote this article on Stand Firm: Responding to Bishop NT Wright part 1: Mystifying Vitriol. In the article, Kennedy quotes Wright:

‘AS FAR AS ENGLAND IS CONCERNED, it is damaging, arrogant and irrelevant for GAFCON leaders to say, as they are now doing, ‘choose you this day whom you will serve’, with the implication that there are now only two parties in the church, the orthodox and the liberals, and that to refuse to sign up to GAFCON is to decide for the liberals. Things are just not like that. Certainly not here in England.”

After citing this, he writes, “Bishop Wright comes very close to bearing false witness here” because GAFCON leaders have not said this. While I disagree with Wright about things not being as bad in England as GAFCON says, Wright’s “vitriol” has to do with the issue of polity. The GAFCON “recruitment” was done at an Orthodox parish in a conservative diocese. Why does GAFCON choose a parish under a conservative who has yet to sign on to GAFCON? Kennedy writes,

I do not know why he takes offense. The Jerusalem Declaration was clear in expressing support for interventions only in those places where bishops with jurisdiction presume to depart from orthodox Christianity. Once a bishop, or any ordained leader, presumes to contradict or overturn apostolic teaching, he is anathema, his authority is null and void.

So long as bishops in the Church of England remain faithful to apostolic doctrine and so long as those bishops who do not come under discipline and those parishes under the authority of heretic bishops are given refuge and succor by the wider church, then there need be no fear of intervention.

Really? You can’t understand why he’s upset? If GAFCON is “recruiting” signatures in an Orthodox diocese, I can very much understand Wright’s perspective. If this was in my diocese, I would think that GAFCON was trying to turn my parishioners against me. Bishop Wright may be off in his analysis of England’s orthodoxy (as he may be in his analysis of his own orthodoxy), but I think Wright’s reaction is understandable. If I was in Durham or London, I think I would fear that GAFCON was trying to turn my diocese into Australia.