Getting Outside of a Boxed-in Faith

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I recently attended a workshop with Anna Carter Florence on “Preaching the Verb”. While the focus of the workshop, understandably, was on the verbs, she commented that adjectives are rarer than verbs and nouns in scripture. Therefore, when there is an adjective, we need to pay attention to it. This side comment has stuck with me and made me take more notice of adjectives- not only in the bible but in our faith language as well.

If asked to throw out the first descriptive words that come to mind when you think of the word faith, I have a feeling most of us would say: comforting, belief, love, hope, foundation and other similar words.

These words seem so passive, so tame and, while our faith can be a comforting foundation, a source of love and hope, I feel that there is something more- something we are missing if these are the only words we encounter when it comes to our faith. Over and over again in scripture, I discover God doing something unexpected, something new that messes with the expectations of faithful people. This is especially true in this Season of Pentecost when one of our metaphors for the Holy Spirit is fire- untameable, powerful, unpredictable fire.

I am enthralled and inspired by more active unpredictable words for faith like: energizing, exhilarating, risky, reckless, abundant, challenging, radical, passionate, extravagant, extraordinary. These words too have a foundation in scripture, but more importantly, they ignite something in me. This is the kind of faith that keeps me on my toes, never bored, not sure what is around the next corner and never stuck in doing the same old thing just because it is familiar and safe. These are the kinds of words that keep me learning, praying, asking questions and seeking God’s voice.

I am going out on a bit of a limb this Sunday in worship. This week is our annual church picnic held off sight at a park lodge. I enjoy this opportunity to have a basically blank space in which I can move and place the chairs and worship space in ways that our sanctuary space limits me. So, I always try to take advantage of the opportunity.

So, this week, the theme is Wisdom’s participation in God’s creation of the world. This is a perfect theme for being in a space full of windows looking out onto a grassy field and trees. But instead of simply talking about how Wisdom participated with God in creation, I want us to experience the act of creating. Creativity is an attribute of the divine and a spiritual discipline we can cultivate. So, this is where it will get a little crazy. We will have tables set up with craft supplies and after setting up the purpose of the activity, people will enter a time of creating in whatever form that might take. This is an application of an experience I had at Presbyterian CREDO last month.

I think this will be a breath of fresh air to some and a challenge for others. It will be something all ages in our church can participate in: from two years old and up. My hope is that we can open ourselves up to connect with our Creating God in a new way and see how we are called to participate in acts of creating for God’s kingdom.

I admit this is a bit of a digression from my original topic, but by experiencing faith in a new and perhaps challenging way helps us to connect to those less tamable adjectives for faith and see that when we try something new, we may be transformed in ways we never thought possible.

Childlike Exploration

I love watching my daughter playing in the backyard. At two years old, everything is new. She enjoys hunting dandelions and asks what the leaves and the pinecones and the buds on the branches are. Every bug is a ladybug and she constantly asks “What that Mommy?”  What I love the most about her backyard adventures is the complete joy she takes in discovering something new. She roams around the yard, no knowing what she will discover around the next corner or under the next rock.

This reminds me of how we should approach our faith and worship. But all too often, worship becomes routine, something that we do out of habit instead of a desire to praise the God who loves us. How often have we come to worship and only half listened to the prayers, only half paid attention to the words of the songs we sin? Or what about when, upon hearing the scripture text we thought, “I know this story” and tune out until it is over? Scripture then, also becomes routine, something we fully pay our attention to only when it is a story we are not familiar with… and then it is something we need to conquer and dissect.

Instead, we need to kindle a child-like attitude toward worship. Jesus said “come to me like a little child”. In part this means coming to worship in an attitude that sees it as unknown territory to explore; expecting to encounter something new under the rock of scripture; to discover how God is moving and breathing among us. One way we do this at my church is when we worship in creative ways. The liturgical art and interactive worship opportunities enable us to see a familiar story or concept in a new way. They provide a different lens through which to perceive timeless truths.

I pray that along this journey of faith we keep our sense of wonder and exploration, like a child discovering the joys of God’s creation of the first time, when we come to worship every week. May we put aside the idea that there is nothing new to discover and open of hearts to hearing in new and fresh ways the living Word of God.

“Why, O Lord?”

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Photo taken by Author

After the explosions in Boston during the marathon yesterday, the news media, Facebook and Twitter lit up with comments and prayers. Today, many of the blogs I follow are commenting more eloquently than I about their response to the event. Some people are angry, some want revenge, some say that it was terrorists while others say we don’t know that. Some focus on how to talk to children about what they are hearing and seeing in the media. Others have reminded us of Mr. Rogers when he said he always “looks for the helpers.” There is a wide range of opinions and responses that reflect the deep sadness and horror we feel.
Many, including myself ask “why”?    I have a hard time understanding why someone would want to hurt fans watching a marathon. Perhaps it is my own naivete I felt the same strange lack of understanding when a gunman shot first responders to a house fire on Christmas Eve here in the Rochester, NY area. The only thing I can think of in response to the question “why?” is that they want to cause fear- which is a definition of a terrorist.
Yet, even as I ask the question, I realize that I will never get a satisfactory answer to my question. They may find the person responsible and ask them the same question, but will it help me any knowing the reason?
Even though the Psalmist did not receive an answer, it did not stop him from asking God the hard questions. “Why?” is frequently asked in the book of psalms. The one that stood out to me today is Psalm 74: 10-11: “How long, O God, is the foe to scoff? Is the enemy to revile your name forever? Why do you hold back your hand?” It may feel like God is sitting on God’s metaphorical hands letting these tragedies happen. After the psalmist lays out these questions, he turns to remembering all the ways in which God did act in the world. Then he asks God to remember God’s covenant, remember and act powerfully on behalf of the people God loves. Most likely, I will not get a satisfactory answer to “why” but I can hold this situation up in prayer- hold it before God and say, “remember your covenant. Remember your love for your people and send healing, peace, and hope into this situation.”
I wondered if I should say anything at all since so many others already have. Then I remembered that as Christians, we need to say something. We need to express our feelings, whatever they may be, and respond both in the church and with our friends about these tragic events. Far too often, we remain silent about what we think and feel about events of tragedy and injustice in the world. Maybe we have believed the lie we have been told that church and the world do not mix. Maybe we are afraid of offending someone. Maybe we don’t want to be criticized for how we feel. There are lots of reasons to stay silent, but one reason to say something- we are called to be witnesses to the world. Witnesses of the good news that the light of hope replaces darkness and God has triumphed over death. Witnesses of peace and justice in a world where all too often these are lacking.
I may not have anything particularly new or profound to say, but I will say what is on my heart. I will say something because that is what I, and we, are called to do.

This is Us.

This is Us.

In a relatively small suburb of Rochester, NY, lies the “little white church on the hill.” We have been a light to the community for almost two hundred years, yet we have not remained the same. Through those years, our community of faith has adapted and changed with the times as can be traced through our building, the faces in the pews, the programs, the pastors and staff. Through all of the changes made in this church’s resilient history, one thing has remained the same: this is a place where people come to meet and be transformed by God.