I don’t believe in the word “cannot.” So when I was in seminary and was being taught liturgics it was hard to accept that we were not allowed to sing Christmas carols before Christmas. For me, Christmas was a special time and since I was sixteen represented life and hope more than the gifts and food. So I did not get Advent the way they were teaching it. I guess to some extent I still don’t. For me, I think the greatest expressions of faith are often the most simple. So why make it so complicated?
As I started to look at Advent and its origins, I became more fascinated with Christmas and its origins. Since Christmas was not an original celebration of the church, what brings it into existence? What is its importance?
Christmas enters the Christian calendar around the 3rd Century A.D. It was first suggested by Clement of Alexandria to be May 20, though it does not garner consistent recognition until the late 4th century as the debates over the divinity and incarnation of Christ begin to escalate. Until that time the Epiphany celebration, which represented the incarnation or when God’s spirit enters Christ at the Baptism, celebrated on January 6 represented the “Birth” of Christ. Epiphany celebrates the baptism of Christ and the beginning of his ministry. Through the 3rd and fourth centuries many dates are used to mark the Christmas celebration, though by the end of the 4th century the settled date was December 25.
The rise of the Christmas over Epiphany can be traced to the debates of the early church between the 4th and 6th century over the divinity of Christ. We can see this escalation in the Nicene Creed, which was written in 325 A.D. and revised in 381 A.D. In this creed they affirmed, “The divinity of Christ, the Son, is of the same substance as the divinity of God, the Father. To hold otherwise, they said, was to open the possibility of polytheism, and to imply that knowledge of God in Christ was not final knowledge of God.” So it is not coincidental that there is also a new emphasis on a celebration that commemorates the divinity of Christ from birth. Thus, Christmas becomes a major holy day.
While much is made over the pagan rituals adopted by the Christians and made part of the Christmas holiday, the reason for the rise of importance probably has much more to do with the expression and assertion of Christ’s divinity rather than the conversion of pagans to Christianity as some recollections make it out to be. Historically speaking, the modern inception of Christmas is just that, modern. Many of our celebration date back only a few hundred years.
As for Advent, it comes into existence in the late 6th century and like the time of Lent; Advent was a time of fasting and penitence. Today, we also make a connection that Advent is not only a time of waiting for Christmas, but also a time of waiting for Christ’s coming again. Unfortunately, from my perspective, the message of Christmas is far more important than the message of Advent, and while we all need to be reminded to be patient, I think that it is far more important that we are reminded of the divinity of Christ and that God came into this world. If we hold this great witness hostage to the calendar, we end up holding back the great and faithful witness of those around us and the stories and songs of this time.
Have a very Merry Christmas celebrating the joy and life we have because God came into this world as Jesus the Christ.
This Sunday we begin the Advent season. "Advent" comes from the Latin, adventus, which is means "coming." Waiting is a big part of the message of Christ. For hundreds and thousands of years people waited for the coming of the Messiah, yet we often find a struggle waiting a few days for Christmas to come.
However, I must say that Advent is not only about waiting. Probably a more important message is the fact that Advent is a time of preparation or building. I think back to my favorite toys of my childhood, Lego’s and my Matchbox cars. While as toys I used them interchangeably, both required a great deal of work and effort to create. In fact, I think it would be safe to say that I had far more fun creating the towns and roads for my Matchbox cars and the buildings and spaceships of my Lego’s, than I did in playing with them when they were created.
Advent is about creating a place in our hearts so that when the time of waiting has come to an end we might find and connect with God on a much deeper level. Granted, this has nothing to do with the music played or the commercial side of the season. It has to do with the steps we take to prepare our individual hearts for the coming of Christ.
In our church, the Advent wreath is one way that we prepare. Each Sunday we light a candle; traditionally the candles represent: Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace. Each week as we light the candle we are called to explore inwardly the relevance. From that reflection we see the importance of each expression of faith in our hearts. This helps us to grow, for every time we engage the spiritual struggle we come to new understandings and insights of faith.
This Sunday our focus is hope. I think Hope is something that is really becoming difficult for many in our society. Whether it is the draw to only live in the moment or a sense of a helpless future, I think hope is fleeting for many. I think this is where, a few years back, a friend of mine in his despair asked me what hope was. My quick answer was that hope (in the Christian sense) was trusting that God would make good on his promises. It was fairly spot on to the dictionary definition that Hope is:
The Christian anticipation of the future as the fulfillment of God’s purposes based on God’s covenant faithfulness and the resurrection of Jesus Christ as known by the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church.
I like to think of hope as the beginning of a deeper faith. Think about it for a second; without even a modicum of hope, it is hard to go anywhere with faith because there is nowhere to go. Faith without hope is ultimately empty. This is why tradition starts with hope at the beginning of the Advent season. Everything that follows in the Advent season starts with hope in the promises of God.  The Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms by Donald K. McKim
Many, many years ago about this time of year a few friends of mine were in the City. In this case the city was Chicago. We were walking along the beach of Lake Michigan and my friend piped up and said, “Let’s join the Polar bear club!” If you do not know what the polar bear club is, that is probably a good thing. But in this case the polar bear club consists of really stupid people who think it is fun to jump into the nearly frozen lake when the temperature outside is at or below freezing. Being teenagers with a challenge set, we embarked! Like I said, it was really stupid and I don’t think any of us ever told our mothers why we were sniffling for the whole week after.
I think about that plunge into the cold waters of Lake Michigan whenever the weather begins to change. It is not out of some strange desire to do it again, that desire left 30 seconds after I got out of the water the first time! But there were three things that we did before getting into the water. We each took a deep breath and let it out, we looked to each other for support, and we ran into the water together.
We all did stupid things as kids, and this was tame by most standards, but each time we test ourselves we learn something deep down about ourselves. Aside from learning just how hard it is to breathe in near-freezing water, I caught a glimpse of strength in the few seconds we were in the water, and, most importantly, just how much my friends meant to me. As another friend said when I relayed the story later on “you did not have to try and kill yourself to find that out.” True, but we also knew that while it was stupid, it was fairly safe and popular at that time.
When we think about faith, calling, and the church, sometimes finding out who we are as a person of faith, or even an institution relies on us setting aside logic, comfort, or even knowledge to risk. As a mentor of mine once said, “Risking is the only way to find the edges and push them, and when you push the edges you might just push through and find yourself in a glorious new world.
This Sunday we celebrate Christ the King Sunday. This is an interesting celebration because it is a culmination of the liturgical year, as it marks the transition from one liturgical cycle to another, but more importantly, it reminds us that we are kingdom citizens. This means that we can find neither comfort nor peace from things of this world, we can only find that from God. But to let go and find that peace we have to do something that our world says is really stupid; we have to give up on and let go of the things that hold us back in this world.
In a way is it like taking a plunge into a very cold lake,: to some it makes no sense, even to the group of us that did it, it did not make sense at the time, but by doing it our relationship changed, and it began one of the best years of my life, all because I let go and allowed myself to experience that freedom. As a member of God’s kingdom you can experience that freedom every time we come together, challenging each other in our faith and growing with each other in our lives.
Christ the King Sunday was not one of those days that would be recognizable to the earliest Christians. It does not come into the church until around 720 CE and is abandoned by most Protestant groups at the time of the reformation. The problem that the reformers had with Christ the King Sunday, and all of the feasts was that they were continually trying to connect with the earliest Christians, trying to purge out everything of the tradition that was not connected to Christ. In fact, the only real holy day kept was Easter.
Over the years many of the holy days crept back in, and today we celebrate many, including Christ the King. Most of the observances that came back into the liturgical year were brought back but given a very reformed spin, like the All Saints celebration we just had. But the feast of Christ the King was brought back in the same fashion that it was always set aside to be, it was a day that we recognize and celebrate Christ’s dominion over us and our calling to be Citizens of his Kingdom.
It seems like it would be a given that as Christians we recognize Christ as our King, but throughout history this has continually been a problem. This Sunday we look at Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, one of the earliest Christian communities. In this very direct letter you can see Paul’s frustration that this early church had already forgotten that Christ was the head of the church, placed here by God.
What is interesting is that Paul does not demean the followers in Ephesus; rather, he celebrates with them their faith. While he is celebrating this faith he redirects their motivations away from their egos and back to their callings to be Kingdom Citizens. This is important because throughout human history we continually find ourselves in the position where we are putting ourselves before God, forgetting that our lives and our communities should be ordered on God.
This is something that the Presbyterian Church takes seriously. So much so that a few years ago when they re-organized and updated the Book of Order they separated out this understanding, placing it at the very beginning of this new section known as the foundations of Presbyterian polity. This means that in everything we do, hopefully, we start first by submitting ourselves to Christ’s authority.
This is why every meeting we have always begins with prayer asking that God may be present at the time to give us wisdom and understanding. This is very important because often when we forget to do that we find ourselves forgetting that the business at hand in not for our desires, but for God.
Maybe it seems like more of a problem today than other times, but forgetting God in the midst of our ministry causes real problems. Not only is it hard to understand why we make the choices we do, but also we often take a path that may not be one which ultimately builds up the body. I think about the recent fall of another mega-church pastor. In the short term he spoke a good message and was able to grow his congregation, became nationally known, but the power brought him to a place where he no longer was speaking for God, and that separation caused him to be let go from his position, which was probably a good thing. But in the same way this lack of focus has brought many people to lose their faith because their time in that community was not built on God, but on a cult of personality.
So as we celebrate our place in the Kingdom, we start with a joyful recognition that Christ is our King. At the 10:30 am service we will look at what that meant for the people of Ephesus and how that relates to our community today. At the 5pm Gathering service we will discuss what is means to be a “Kingdom Citizen.”
Wow, what a year. In some ways it seams like 2014 has been but a blink of the eye, but in other ways November 2013 seems like a lifetime ago. This year we saw many things begin to take shape, we welcomed new members, and had great impacts in our community.
I am constantly amazed that over the 3 years ago, we have gone from having to figure out which bills to pay based on what was in the bank to now having all of our funds paid back and we have a month reserve, though we really should get that up to two months, next year’s goal!
I guess I bring that up to highlight just how far we have come as a congregation. Through openness, priorities, and a lot of sweat equity we have taken what to many congregations would see as an insurmountable problem and made it into an asset. As Jim will remind us at Stewardship nearly every week, many churches are living off their rentals or endowments, and we have been able to do rentals. What I think is really cool about our rentals is that all of our full time rentals are programs or organizations that we are proud to have with us and all of our part time or weekly rentals are supplying real needs for our community. OK, maybe not the wedding receptions, but those are really a very small part of our rentals.
I won’t go any further into the financials, but I think we need to really give a lot of credit to our finance team for the work they have done. Sandy, Jim, Pam, Ed, Ron, Charles, all added their parts including for some their vacation time and sleepless nights so that we could do everything that you will hear about in the rest of my speech.
There were two areas last year that I said were our goals for growth in 2014: Outreach and evangelism to our neighbors, and Christian Education.
I love the quote Barth’s Church Dogmatics: “The peace of God experienced in the community and by its members could only be a false peace if limited to this circle and enjoyed only within it.” In other words, if we live only to serve ourselves and our comfort, we have problems. So we spent a good amount of time thinking about others.
Thanks to the Gathering grant we gained some different data and understandings about our community and the needs within. It was interesting to learn that demographically our neighbors are quite diverse; in fact, the largest group were middle-aged single “confirmed bachelors and bachelorettes;” in other words, me. But that was only by a few points. We learned that we have a very well-educated, though economically and ethnically diverse community surrounding the church including many immigrants.
Some have pointed out that we have not spent money on mission like we have in the past. This is true. In 2012 a letter was sent out to all missionaries requesting information about what they were doing and what type of support they needed. We only received two responses. At the end of 2013, Olga began sending letters to members trying to populate a committee. Unfortunately, there were no takers, even after many individual calls. Olga did not give up on her mission goals, and began to work with the denomination and presbytery to think and get some training on new ways of doing mission that are connected to our community. This will be a big focus in our leaders’ training next year, but really asks: “how can we be a stronger missional and multi-cultural community?”
This really is based, though, in the reformed understanding that everything that we do is mission, from worship to handing out hotdogs at the Fourth of July parade. Think about what it means for us to welcome our neighbor? Honestly, you might ask Loraine. She said when she joined a few weeks ago that one day trying to figure out how she was going to do an Easter Egg hunt for her daughter, she looked up and saw our sign, an answer to a prayer? Well, she came and has become a very active member of our congregation because we extended a ministry of hospitality and kindness.
When we look back over the year, almost every month we had one, two, or even sometimes three different large activities, all pulled off with professionalism and tact. Some of my favorites were the Great Hot Dog Give-away on the Fourth of July. Kris Carrarow took the charge of the kitchen, on a very hot day cooking just shy of 1000 dogs! The Stroll the Alameda, the All-Church picnic, and even the very rainy Halloween Trunk-or-Treat, all of these using the support of our relationships with both the Shasta-Hanchett Neighborhood association and the Alameda Business Association. We all have to be thankful for Betty’s long-time work nurturing those relationships!
But the team of Betty and Kris in evangelism was spectacular! They brought fun themes to our game nights and helped continue to challenge us on how we are connecting with our neighbors and reconnecting with our members.
I was telling Ross and Charles after the Stewardship meeting how unique our ministry is since we are relatively small in our membership, but we have such a large footprint in our community. We definitely do not suffer from not being known anymore!
The other area that we focused on is just as missional and that is how we connect with children. This year we hired our new Christian Educator, Chris McKee, as our Director of Children’s Ministry. Chris has brought a renewed energy, along with Elder Christy Frost and all of the parents and members of the Christian Education Committee we continue to see steady growth in all of our CE programs, including Sunday School, and my favorite, Vacation Bible School. We are also seeing some old programs coming back with a new twist like movie night and Trunk-or-Treat.
We also have our much-needed Family respite area which is fully stocked for all family needs and now staffed, by our newest employee Csarina Tabor.
In addition to Chris’s CE program, Mary Anne has assembled two children’s choirs with her directing the older ones and Jenifer Seguin, the younger. Together with Chris they gave us one of the most moving Children’s Sabbath services I have been to. But this is not new to Mary Anne, who continues to amaze me with what she can get our very small choir to do.
It has also been really neat to see how Howard, who this Sunday has been with us for one full year! Howard has grown as an organist and enlivens our congregation with his passion for music and willingness to serve.
Nancy and her ministry of care continue to be a very important aspect of our church. Through her loving care and phone calls she lets us know we are all part of God’s family. Nancy also makes sure that the needs of our women’s ministries are met, which is a big part of our congregation’s ministry.
We are lucky to have two very good men’s ministries. We have the wonderful, but very early 6:30am men’s Bible Study, which also doubles as our facilities committee. Did you know every week they pray for our congregation and if you are on the prayer chain they are praying for you too? Also, thanks to them and Ed’s leadership they keep our facilities operating and well kept up!
Since 6:30 am was too early for many of us, we started a new lunch time men’s study. Granted none of the people that picked the time ever came, but those who have, have really enjoyed it and over the year it has grown from 3 to 5 regular members. Personally, I think it is fun with the diversity of this group, which leads to some very interesting discussions and debates!
In the less fancy areas I need to give credit to Rob, who has set forth to create a new committee for our session focused on technology. It is always hard to be new to session, but pulling together many different working groups into a cohesive and active committee is really great.
I also have to lift up Joel who has stepped into his full time position, making the adjustments and doing his best at what is a very difficult and sometimes scattered job.
Granted, I did not set out to write this as a thank you letter, but I guess that is what happens when you realize that were are the community together and we need each other to make it work. I continue to be honored to serve as your pastor and I look forward to the coming year when we will see our children’s programs expand into youth, as we continue to reach out to our neighbors and minister to the needs God places before us.
One of the aspects I love about the Lectionary is that it often forces us to look at the same issue from multiple contexts. In this week’s pericope, we have a way of looking at the same issue that the Bridesmaids story talks of, just in a way I know many Presbyterians will understand more. This is one of our favorite stories of the talents.
When I was a kid this story was infinitely confusing. Mainly because the language always seemed to mess me up. I knew the word talent to mean “a special natural ability or aptitude” so it always messed me up to think of it as money, and in the case of this story, it is very important to start with understanding this as a monetary explanation. Yes, the symbolism of the allegory/parable is ultimately important, but understanding this in terms of its monetary example is imperative.
So I am going to get into just what a Talent is, biblically speaking. This is important, because the amount that is being given is quite massive. And thinking about it in terms of paper money, may cut out a bit of the perspective, and thinking about it in terms of numbers may be difficult too, since there would be weight within this story.
Before we talk about what a talent is, we need to first look at the shekel. This is the standard monetary unit. Like the early coin money in the United States, the metal, in this case silver, was a precious and necessary metal and comprised the value of the coin. The standard silver shekel would weigh roughly 8.25 grams. For perspective, a US Quarter weighs roughly 5.67 grams. 1 Talent would equal 3600 shekels or roughly 65.48 lbs or 5238 quarters. Just or fun I looked up online and found that this is just shy of $15,000, while it would not have been that much in those days, it would have been fairly equivalent. Granted I am not laying this out to make an economic argument, rather so that we can begin to think of the gravity of the situation and maybe understand the rationale better.
I know this made a big difference to me, because when I realized that it was such a large sum of money I began to read the characters differently. I mean when this was described as a couple hundred dollars, it’s a lot of money, but nowhere close to a year’s wage for many people, and probably much more than that for these three men.
For the first two, the Master knew them, and they knew the master and most importantly, trusted him. So when he gave them the large sum of money, they used their intellect to make that money work, investing wisely (most likely in some type of agricultural work; usury was prohibited) and reaping the rewards. But the one who received the 1 talent, still probably more than a year’s wages, did not do anything with it, even to use a proxy (i.e. a bank).
The sin this passage highlights is that the sheer amount of money became a fear for the one servant. Thinking that if he did not risk at all, at least he could give back the money; no harm, no foul. But he missed the ball completely staying safe. But the Master did not set him up to fail, and even though it was a lot, the Master trusted that he would be able to turn that money around, he did have that ability. Unfortunately, the man did not trust himself. So this is where the parable really takes off. God gives responsibility to us, each according to our ability, but always more than what we expect. We can take that and hide it away, or we can use it to see it grow. Our choice. Though choices have consequences, and when our choice is self-preservation, well, all we need to do is look at the third servant.
Clergy, theologians and the like are good at writing theological statements as you can see from mine (http://www.yatt.org/theology-and-calling.html) but when you get down to a story or episode which encapsulates that is it always difficult. As one of my colleagues said in the class where I was introduced to the This I Believebook, “how can I possibly get my beliefs into a story only a couple paragraphs long.” Honestly, I don’t think it is easy for anyone. But one of the ideas is that if you can isolate a core idea, then an entire theological perspective on life can smoothly follow.
For me, it is interesting because every time I write my “This I Believe” article it highlights a different story, yet they all seem to have the same components: Love, Justice, Compassion, and Perseverance. As I sat down to write my “This I Believe 2014” the image that came into my mind was that of Judy, my mother’s best friend.
I always think it is interesting how I remember Judy, because the last time I saw her I was 7, and she died when I was 9. But impactful people are always that way. Judy was one of the strongest women I have ever known and, being honest, probably will ever know. Her story was simple in its complexity. The same age as my mother, Judy was born with many medical issues related to a spinal degenerative disorder as well as other issues.
As I look back I don’t think we ever were put off by her wheel chair in fact as little boys it became a mobile jungle gym with a prize at the top, sitting and getting loved up by Judy. It is interesting because through my life I have met bitter and angry people, and if there ever was a person that could be that way Judy could have been that person. An incredibly intelligent woman, she was often the subject of discrimination because of her looks and wheelchair. But she turned those feelings into a fight for justice through love. In fact, much of the framework for what became the ADA laws started through her legislative work in Iowa in the early 70’s.
Granted I did not know about that part of her life until much later as I would talk to my mother about how I missed her. Judy died about the same time as I was having what would become my first surgery, so we all missed the funeral. I actually wanted to postpone the surgery to go, but that was not going to happen. The interesting thing is that I also remember thinking about her and achieving strength and courage at that time, and often when I feel the world is against me, I think of Judy and get the strength I need.
My mother had no ulterior motive for brining Judy into the lives of her three boys, but in a very core way she shaped and molded my core beliefs of what it means to be a person and what it means to be a Christian. First, that everything starts in love. Judy was alive as long as she was because her mother and her friends fought for her out of their love, and Judy fought in justice out of love for herself and love for those whom she had never even met but she knew were discriminated against.
Of course, for me, so many years later I still have a visceral reaction to discrimination of any kind. I feel for kids and adults who are marked as less then normal (whatever that is) because of a disability in one area or another. So as I think about a story that encapsulates just what I believe, I go back to the very beginning of my life and look to my first mentor who probably never knew she had such an impact, and can say that I believe that love can transcend just about anything. Moreover, when we love we cannot help but work towards building each other, and the world around us, up.
I go to a lot of movies; thankfully I have found fairly inexpensive ways to see them. But I have noticed something in movies that I find frustrating, where is the happy ending? Maybe aside from the Disney movies, which have taken their own interesting turns, I am amazed at how many are laden with hyper-realism, dystopian angst, or massive violence. Movies today seem to almost go out of the way of allowing the viewer that clear, unmistakable, happy ending. I wonder why or even what really is wrong with the fairy-tale ending?
I am not meaning to sound as if everything had to end happy, but I wonder what is going on that we no longer demand the happy ending; why is it that our despair as society has devolved so much that we accept movies that seem hopeless. Does it validate our own feelings or point to the viewpoint of the coming generations? I can guarantee there are dissertations being written about this as I write this article. Many will highlight the sociological state of a post 9/11 world where vulnerability, terror and economic instability have been rampant. I might agree, but I think there is something worse, more sinister to blame.
I think that the evil that has always been part of this world has found its way into the heart of society, disguising itself as cynicism, contempt, vitriol, anger, and hate. All of this leaves us without the one thing Christ came into this world to give us, Hope!
In Christ, we have a unique view of the world in that every life is not subject to an end, but is given hope for a new beginning. In fact, one of the quintessential parts of the Christian life is to let go and leave. Take a look at all the disciples; none stayed. Either they found themselves martyred or made their ways in all directions. They followed the great commandment to bring the good news beyond what was known, trusting that God was there.
Just as the disciples were not to stay, the churches they and Paul left behind were not to be stagnant either, but they were called to be bold in the threat of death and respond to the world without fear, because they knew the glory that was to come and the hope that was held within that.
A professor of mine in college used to say: “Fear is a fickle thing” as if this quote was a mantra. He said that when we fear, we will find ourselves doing stupid stuff (though he did not say “stuff”). Moreover, he said that with time there is nothing to fear, because, good or bad, whatever we fear now won’t exist in the future. Thus, fear is only a construct, which makes it fickle.
I would go one step further to say that one of the great powers that fear has is that it makes us hopeless. When we are hopeless we no longer seem to seek or strive for hope; rather, we seek and strive for survival because hope tends to be illusive. As people of faith, one of our greatest battles is the battle to bring back hope, and show a better way.
Back in college, while I was working at the summer camp, I had the joy of being trained as a WSI and Lifeguard. One of the most important lessons we learned was that when someone panics, not only do they stop thinking, but they also react in ways that are counterproductive to their own survival. I am sure that you have seen images of the flailing drowning victim working so hard to keep afloat that they expend all of their energy when very little is actually needed.
For those who want to help, namely the lifeguards when a heightened adrenalin kicks in, if they were without proper training, there is a good chance they could cause a lot more harm then good. This meant that a lot of our training as a lifeguard were drills that taught our bodies to react differently. In order to save a life, the lifeguard had to be prepared.
This week we come to the familiar story of the 10 bridesmaids. This is a story that is interpreted very differently depending on your tradition and background. In some traditions it is used to create fear for those who are saved and those who are not, while other traditions often focus on vigilance. For me, and many commentators, this pericope has everything to do with patience, preparation, and training.
The wise women were wise because they knew that they needed to be prepared because there was a good chance that their oil would not last until the bridegroom came to take them to the party. While we don’t really know what the women who did not take the extra oil were thinking, we do know that they thought they did not need it. But the interesting, and chilling part of this pericope is at the very end “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’”
On one side you have to feel sorry for the women who missed out. I can think of all the modern arguments “they made an innocent mistake” or “come on, they were just as vigilant as the other why cut them off?” But here is the thing; they left. They left their post, they were not prepared and they dishonored themselves by not being present when the bridegroom came. More then anything else, they disrespected the bridegroom.
One of the things that separate those who believe from those who don’t is that we know better. We know what we need to do to honor God and we know what God expects from us. What Christ is really saying in this passage is that when he does come we are not going to know the time or the place. Like an unexpected windfall or tragedy, we just don’t know what will happen, but we do know that it will come and we can prepare.
Like the lifeguard who hope to never have to save a drowning person, they are always trained and ready for the moment. We need to be as well so that we are vigilant and ready for when Christ comes. Even if it is not in our life time, to know and understand God’s grace and love and to react not out of fear, but in a way which is honoring our Lord.
In finishing out the wheel of spirituality, we come to the one that is probably the most prevalent in the Presbyterian Church and the Reformed tradition and that is the “intellectual” spirituality. In her book, Ware actually starts with this type that is heavily present within American Culture. However, I chose to do this last because it is so dominant; I did not want to cloud the uniqueness of each type or lift it up as the “model” spirituality. If anything, this exercise for the past month should not be about seeking a model for more perfect spirituality, but finding an understanding for how you see and understand God for yourself and how you can be closer to God while also challenging yourself to try or explore different spiritualties.
The joke about the Presbyterians is that we are the frozen chosen. This is well earned; in many churches in our denomination, services can be extremely devoid of emotion, but in its place comes intellectual challenges and questions. While we are not the wealthiest protestant denomination, we are the highest educated, and part of the reason for that is the culture we have that we feel very connected when we are thinking, questioning, and finding answers.
I often find it funny about every other year when a presbytery does a “contemporary” worship service. It is an odd experience watching folks try to sway and sing to the music, and while they often talk about how much they enjoy the service, the following comments often hit on how empty they felt after the service was over, or comments like, “did the pastor even say anything in the sermon?” I often get that comment when I preach the rare “emotional-driven” sermon from time to time.
The difficulty with a person who leans towards this spirituality is that they often don’t show it. There is nothing obvious about them that screams spirituality. In fact, even in discussions they often shy away from talking about what God means to them in lieu of expressions or proofs of faith through theological or scientific discussions.
As you may guess, the extreme of this spirituality is the heresy that the Gnostics ran into that through the right knowledge one could achieve a divine state. In the same way, knowledge is power, and another problem that this spirituality leads to is the idea of superiority or that their understanding of God is the only understanding because they have proof. You can imagine the problems that would result from that. While the heart spirituality at its extreme manipulates people, this spirituality at its extreme subjugates them. Some might say that Mormonism or even Scientology is an extreme of this spirituality.
The trick though of all these spiritualties and approaches is that understanding is important. While each spirituality adds to our understanding of God, in their extremes they often become much more about their own movements than they do the spiritual expression of faith. Like I said at the outset of this series, I take this test annually just for the fun of it. I find that depending on where I am, and what is going on in the church and my life I tend to move around the circle, and where I am being filled changes. This is true for most of us, and for most of us we are never exclusively in one area or the other. But when we have an understanding of how we connect with God, whether that is our advocacy, our silence, our emotional connectedness, or our mind, we can grow deeper and be filled in far more substantial ways.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen