Friday, February 29, 2008

feeling a little cynical

As I read about the church in various times of history I sense a great sense of import and of influence upon the lives of the worshipers. People lived and died by the Word of God. Every aspect of life revolved passionately around the Word of God. The history of the world has been impacted time and again by brave souls striving to follow God’s word to the fullest, to worship unceasingly. There have been martyrs in almost every age, including ours. But, there certainly are not many martyrs that I know of in our western society now. Not in late 20th and 21st century America. (There are probably some isolated incidences, and I don’t mean to slight those here.)

Nope, we seem to have all gone to sleep. No longer are we persecuted for our beliefs. You cannot call the barbs we get from the non-religious in our society persecution. No, by persecution, I mean people being burned at the stake; people ostracized by the government and society in a complete and total way; whole groups of people being fed to lions; genocide; etc. But, people in all times and places have had such strong faith that these kinds of threats did not deter them from meeting together as community to worship.

We don’t have threats like this, and thinking about what others have endured for the privilege of worshiping, we should be infinitely thankful for our current lack of threat. However, perhaps because of this lack of threat, we seem to have fallen asleep. Lot’s of people go to church, lead good lives, even spend a significant amount of time and energy within their Body of Christ communities, but still are lackluster. I’m sure there’s a church like that mentioned in Revelation – is it the one that God says that he will spit out of his mouth; the apathetic church? Is that what we’ve become? Is that why our worship is either lackluster or has devolved into mere entertainment? Or are our lives so apathetic and asleep because our worship has become lackluster or mere entertainment? Is that why Paul said we should rejoice in our sufferings? In all things (that’s ALL THINGS, folks) we are to be thankful to God. In some way persecuted Christians are so thankful in their persecution that they continue to risk their very lives to worship God.

Can there be found a group of Christians in America today that would behave like the example of the early church during the Diocletian persecution described by Simon Chan in Liturgical Theology? “There is an inner assurance in their simple assertion. Against the mightiest political power of the day, these Christians’ discovered a greater reality, the power of an unquenchable life, concretized in their worship on the Lord’s Day. Sunday then was not even a public holiday. But for the Christians it was the new point of departure to a new order of existence. So real was it that, like their predecessors in the first century, they felt the inner compulsion to ‘obey God rather than men.’(Acts 5:29)” (Chan, 43). How might our times of corporate worship look if we too “discovered… the power of an unquenchable life?”

Friday, February 15, 2008

Happy Bow Bridge Day

My husband and I do not celebrate Valentine's Day. No, we celebrate Bow Bridge Day. Four years ago, today, Jack proposed to me on Bow Bridge in Central Park:

I was living in New York at that time, and Jack had come to visit me, as he was living in Texas. I knew that a proposal was coming soon, but didn't know when or how or where. Sunday afternoon, after church, we went for a walk in Central Park. Jack knows that it was my favorite location in the city. I loved walking through the park. It was SOOOOO cold! Oh my goodness, I think it was 22 degrees or something ridiculous like that. Anyway, we came to Bow Bridge and were hanging out, taking pictures and chatting with chattering teeth. After a few minutes Jack reached into his pocket and said, "Hey, I still have my silly putty egg in my pocket. I wonder if silly putty freezes." We had both purchased silly putty eggs on his last trip to New York at the Toys R Us store in central park. We're silly that way :). Anyway, I grabbed the egg from him, curious to see if silly putty did indeed freeze, since EVERYTHING ELSE in the world was frozen at that time! And I opened the egg, and there, perched in the silly putty was a diamond ring! I started squealing and jumping up and down. Jack threw his arms around me and I said to him, "You've got to ask me, you have to ask me!" So he quickly dropped down on one knee, and blurted out really fast, "Will you be my wife?" He then jumped back up and threw his arms around me and I squealed again and said yes about a million times.

2004 was quite a whirlwind of a year for me. And, no offense to any of the guys I've dated in the past, but I'm so thankful to God for bringing Jack and me together. I love you honey!

Friday Five: The Water and the Word

The latest Friday Five is brought to us by RevHRod

In this Sunday's gospel Nicodemus asks Jesus, "How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother's womb and be born?" Poor old Nicodemus! He was so confused about the whole "water and Spirit" business of baptism.

For today's five, tell us about your baptismal experiences.
  1. When and where were you baptized? Do you remember it? Know any interesting tidbits? I was baptized on Palm Sunday, March 31st 1985. Sixth grade was the age youth were baptized in our church (Disciples of Christ). I remember the experience vividly. We attended "Pastor's Class" for the whole year, culminating in a weekend retreat the week before Palm Sunday. Both of my parents were out of the country at the time, on tour in Japan with the Texas Boys Choir, so I had an adopted 'mom' who was there with me that day, one of the members of the congregation. First, we were asked, one at a time by the Senior Minister (Rev. Pennybacker) the traditional baptismal questions and gave our statement of faith, and then robed up in white robes and were baptized. Even more memorable was our first communion on Maundy Thursday later that week. I'll never forget that night - it was a communion service followed by a Service of Tenebrae. It was quite the full and rich experience for a young 6th grader.
  2. What's the most unexpected thing you've ever witnessed at a baptism? the first time I attended a Pentecostal service was in 10th grade. It was a Sunday evening service and they were having a baptism. That was most unusual for me as I was used to the more reserved and organized baptisms of the Disciples church - highly participatory though they were. At this service, only one person was being baptized and they were an adult (wasn't everyone baptized in the 6th grade?!?). The actual baptism also took about 30 min. as they stayed in the bath for quite a while while people cried and sang and prayed and danced around. It was almost scary to me. But, there was no doubt in my mind that she was definitely baptized!
  3. Does your congregation have any special traditions surrounding baptisms? Now that I serve in a Presbyterian congregation, it's almost always infant baptisms. Our (relatively) new pastor has added a really cool thing to the baptism event in our worship services. After the actual baptism, he'll walk with the baby up and down the center isle and ask those seated on the ends of the rows to reach out and touch the baby as a symbol of our connectedness in the Body of Christ. I think it's a good, though small, step in teaching our congregation about how the water rite is just the beginning of a relationship as a family and that the vows we say at that rite are more than just fluff. We're working in many different areas of the church life to help people continue to live out those vows.
  4. Are you a godparent or baptismal sponsor? Have a story to tell? Nope, but I'd love to be one.
  5. Do you have a favorite baptismal song or hymn? I Was There to Hear Your Borning Cry. We don't really ever sing baptismal songs in our worship as many times the baptism isn't really central to the service, just one part. That's definitly something I'd like to see changed, however. I would love to see our church adopt a policy of baptizing on certain Sundays, leading to many children being baptized at the same time, as well as the whole service focusing on those baptisms. That, I think, would be another step in making Baptism a more significant event in the life of our church. Maybe someday...

Thursday, February 07, 2008

A Good Day

Today was a really good day. By all accounts, I should be exhausted, and in fact, I am. Every day this week has been 12 hours work days, and continuing to work at night. Today, even though I was at work for more than 12 hours, was a great day and I came home with a big smile on my face.

The day started with preparation for a lecture to be given at lunch. Then, once I got to the church, I spent most of the morning getting the projector set up and running through my lecture one more time. Additionally, I spent some time visiting with various people at the church and proofing the bulletins. Then, I gave my lecture to the Hannah Circle. They asked me to talk to them about worship. Well, that's wide open! So, I talked first about various definitions of worship, inviting discussion from the group. Then, I gave an overview of some worship themes in the Bible (God initiates through an event, out of that event develops a covenant, and worship is the outward manifestation of that covenant, etc.), talked about the many words in the OT that are translated as worship and how they are all highly active verbs, and finished off the talk with some words about how our worship can be active as well, and should be, yada yada yada. Anyway, it was kinda cobbled together from my thesis work. It was a nice time - just 8 ladies, but I mentioned to them that one of the things I've learned through this project is that I cannot change the whole congregation in 5 Sundays. However, we can learn and grow and change through one-on-one relationships and through small groups like this one.

After that lecture, I had another meeting - the Guild. These are the very helpful ladies who keep the candles full, iron the paraments, set up the sanctuary for the various services, keep the pew racks neat and clean, coordinate the flowers and create banners and other art in the worship space. It was, surprisingly a productive meeting.

Next, I met with one of our new Elders to work with him on the Scripture reading for this coming Sunday. Each of our Elders serves as a worship leader about 7 times a year, offering the Prayer for Illumination and then reading the Scripture passage for the day. I'm the one responsible for making sure they know what to do, and how to do it, etc. He was really great to work with and when I helped him for a while, he asked if he could stay and practice some more. An hour later he was still at it! Just earlier in the day someone had commented to me how much they appreciated how much time and effort our lay worship leaders put into their service. Since that falls under my duties, hearing that makes me very happy. I know that our lay leaders work hard and that through their work they are being spiritually transformed just as much, if not more, than those they lead in worship.

After that, I worked some more on the bulletin, and actually was able to spend some time... gasp!... practicing!! Which was nice since we were starting some work on Worthy Is the Lamb from Messiah. Certainly not the most difficult thing to play from Messiah, but definitely deserving of some woodshedding before trying to play for choir rehearsal.

This evening, when I finally got home at 9:30, I walked through all of this with my husband and he listened patiently. I was positively giddy while going through my day and was surprised that what was such a long day had left me in such good spirits. He pointed out to me that all these things that I described doing and being in charge of today were a direct result of what I have learned through IWS and this degree program. He is absolutely correct! The only thing I did today that was not related to what I've studied and learned over the past 3 years was playing for choir rehearsals.

So, even though I'm cursing the process right now and wanting to be done with the blasted thing, I have to realize that it has given me so much and taught me more than I'll ever realize. So, thank you IWS. Thank you Bob Webber. Thank you to all my wonderful teachers and classmates. You made my day :)

Friday, February 01, 2008

Tag: Page 123

I have been tagged by Tripp.

The Rules:-
Pick up the nearest book of 123 pages or more. (No cheating!)
Find Page 123.
Find the first 5 sentences.
Post the next 3 sentences.
Tag 5 people.

Ok, so I'm cheating a little bit. When I first read Tripp's blog, the nearest book was some Star Wars book that my husband was reading. But, I didn't actually complete the tag then. So, now, I'm sitting in the study... studying :). And the nearest book has this to say on page 123:

Another refuge for a small, beleaguered people? To Isaiah, this was pernicious. The times might well be menacing and the prospect of recovering independent sovereignty enticing, but all the security Zion and its people needed was the in the Lord.

That is from the Tyndale Old Testament Commentary on Isaiah. This particular snippet is from a comment on Isaiah 14:28-32. Not sure why that book was on top of my book pile as I've not used it in a while. I think I must have inverted the pile yesterday as I was looking for another particular book.

So, now to tag 5 people:

Post in the comments if you played...

Some more thoughts...

Psalm 55:12-13
My vows to thee I must perform, O God;
I will render thank offerings to thee.
For thou has delivered my soul from death,
Yea, my feet from falling,
That I may walk before God in the light of life.

That first line could be read with an attitude of drudgery and obligation (in a bad way). But, instead I hear great joy in that statement. Like the joy of my dog Trent when I pet him and shower him with attention. He is almost beside himself with joy, he can’t control himself when he gets going. He just wants to lick my face and jump up on me and starts barking at me and starts running around like crazy. He’s so happy that I love him. Or like my neighbor's well behaved Labs. They will willingly sit still and wait because they know you love them. They’ll do all kinds of tricks and obey well in response to the love you’ve shown them in the past. This first line of this Psalm is like a happy, loved animal. The Psalmist is so filled with joy and love that he wants only to worship God. Not because he has been told to or else he’ll get some punishment, but in an uncontrollable response to God’s faithfulness.

What if we each came into worship every week with this kind of response? What if each person in the pew was responding with worship to the God of love, instead of going through the motions to get something, or worse, expecting to get something for doing absolutely nothing – just out of a sense of entitlement? Is that why we’re passive? We pay our money, we wear the right clothes and appear in the right places – we’re entitled to get something and we don’t want to have to work for it during this hour out of our busy lives. We’ve been working hard all week, now it’s “my time.” Is worship “my time” for many people? Perhaps the idea of Sabbath perpetuates this thought? Sabbath is thought of as “my time” to refresh and rejuvenate instead of a time to stop and reflect and focus on God. But wait, didn’t Jesus say that Sabbath was for us? Perhaps it is a time to refresh, relax and rejuvenate. If that’s the case, then is Sunday worship a part of that? Or is Sunday worship separate from Sabbath? The early Christians still observed Sabbath, and worshiped on Sunday (a work day). They didn’t see Sunday as the 7th day of the week as the Sabbath is the 7th day of the week. No, they saw it as the 1st/8th day of the week – the day God created light, and the day God recreated Light. So, perhaps Sunday worship was not a part of Sabbath, because Sunday worship was for God and is work, it is the work we do for God. It’s not the only work we do for God, but it is the work of worship.