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Archive for September, 2008

this week has been a scattered mess, with Wednesday dedicated to cleaning out our church basement after a “not entirely unexpected” sump pump failure. I made what seems to be a half-way decent attempt to save the 3 month old nursery carpet, but we shall see. the scattering has taken me out of my normal rhythm of reflection, but today I returned and utilized a book I found in our church’s “library”. the book is John Baillie’s A Diary of Private Prayer. Dr. Baillie (1949) gathered insights on prayer from several different sources, but the reading from today struck me and so I thought I would share it with you.

…let me not, when this morning prayer is said, think of my worship ended and spend the day in forgetfulness of Thee. Rather from these moments of quietness let light go forth, and joy, and power, that will remain with me through all the hours of the day;
Keeping me chaste in thought;
Keepiming me temperate and truthful in speech;
Keeping me faithful and diligent in my work;
Keeping me humble in my estimation of myself;
Keeping me honourable and generous in my dealings with others;
Keeping me loyal to every hallowed memory of the past;
Keeing me mindful of my eternal destiny as a child of Thine. (p. 9)

As I have not been terribly ‘community-disposed’ this week due to some challenges, I think this was a refreshing prayer because of the potential for transformation in a community that would live this prayer out in interaction with each other and with the issues of contemporary culture and society. Again, this is a place where spiritual formation does not have to be a hyper-individualized, Western modernist psycho-spiritual (thanks Doug) pep rally. It can indeed be the catalyst for the Kingdom to come, “here as it is where You are.”

listening: Norah Jones
reading: “That Distant Land” (still), Wendell Berry

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Reading from my old friend, Wendell Berry, these days. The collection of short stories, chronologically ordered around his other novels, called That Distant Land, is as good as anything else I’ve read of his and I’m only halfway through.

I (as well as others) have commented on Berry’s use of community as a main theme. Every story centers around a geographical place in time, spacing itself from the greater world while at the same time being influenced by the greater world outside of Port William, Hargrove, etc. The first crisis moment of Hannah Coulter is actually a good example of this.

However, what is sometimes ignored is the next level of micro-story, which are the people and personalities themselves. Yes, community is central but Berry is careful to make sure his people are not just drones, mindlessly wandering into the single file line of community. In the pendulum swing that I’ve been on, and even advocated, I’m afraid we’ve adopted a community-only stance (which is similar to Old Testament thought) instead of an individuals-in-community stance (which seems to be the ethics/ecclesiology of the New Testament) in our thinking and talking about the church.

I’m thinking specifically about the fact that Christ called individuals in His role and activity as the Savior of the world. Is it possible that revolution does not begin with getting community right, but becoming an individual disposed to community living out the values of discipleship? Or, in Berry terms, is someone like Nathan Coulter who he is because he lives in Port William or does Port William take its cue from its residents?

Living in a rural community, I have to say it’s the individuals that give the community its life and character, and only in percentages is it the community itself that creates the individuals. Could it be that the revolution and renovation of the church in America today is not going to come through the abandonment of appealing to individual minds and hearts, but through that appeal and to the greater world waiting?

listening: Ray Lamontagne, “Hold you in my arms”

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Yes, I am humble…

I used an illustration in class yesterday of a sermon I preached way back and when I asked the RHETORICAL question “Who of you here today is humble?” someone actually raised their hand. I made light of this as somewhat symptomatic of misunderstanding what humility really is, even though the lady who did it is a gem of a person. I couldn’t help but find it funny.

One of my students objected via email and said that it isn’t necessarily wrong to be confident in one’s own humility because it is something we should be seeking as followers of Jesus. The student also stated that it is primarily a position that focuses on others not ourselves. My response was that I think it is both a perspective on ourselves and a perspective on others, and that humility evidences itself not in self-proclamation (Yes, I am humble…) but in the ways we naturally and implicitly¬†act/think/give/work/teach/live.

This has pushed through a strand of words that seem to float around the quest to be humble:
brokenness
empathy
compassion
splangchnizomai
self-awareness/self-critique
discipline
community
forgiveness
servanthood
self-denial
kenosis
the cross

thinking more and more on these lines, I wonder if humility is something anyone can really DISCUSS considering the fact that once we take a stand on the what/how/who of humility, aren’t we saying that at least the core qualities of humility are within us at the moment of utterance? Or, in working through the idea are we really saying “We can fall at any moment. We can screw up and act without love and anti-redemptively (which is anti-Kingdom) at the drop of a hat.”

Is humility the knowledge that we are not deserving of the quality of humility being ascribed to us even though we are searching through grace to have it describe us entirely? Is it an active pursuit or a passive admission? Is it the modernist climb of the “humility corporate ladder” or is it the way of the mystics/Desert Fathers/and other “dead guys” that says humility comes in falling through the “floor” of every single level of ascending status until you realize you were born to fall below others until you find yourself in the basement with Christ himself?

listening: “high and dry” radiohead

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