Life is a Pilgrimage

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experiences from my life story as they unfold.

 

visiting priest followup

Friday, September 4th, 2009

I wrote a letter to the pastor expressing our hurt and disappointment in the visiting priest’s homily.

The pastor called us today! I wasn’t there for the call, but my wife spoke to him for a few minutes. He expressed his sincere apologies, reassuring us that this visiting priest did not express his views nor that of the Church. He also welcomed us to the parish saying “you absolutely have a home here!”

So, some good news comes out of a uncomfortable situation.


I was inadvertantly called evil today

Sunday, August 30th, 2009

The small town culture shock continues. Today my wife and I went back to the local Catholic church down the street, but at a time we hadn’t tried before. Apparently the pastor is on vacation so a visiting priest presided.

The visiting priest begin his homily saying “There was a new phenomenon which began in the 1960s called theological dissent, when it became common to disagree with the church. If this were the 1600s they would be called Protestants but now they are called theological progressives.”

He went on to say “this dissent is evil. To stray even the least little bit from the teachings of the church is explicit evil!” He then went on to explain the specific form of evil/dissent which is abortion. This was the entirety of his message for the next 15 minutes: “abortion is evil, dissent from the Catholic church is evil.”

He continued with the rhetoric about how Notre Dame is no longer a Catholic institution because they invited President Obama to speak at commencement. This is August 30, is this all this priest has been preaching about for the past three months? I can’t believe people are still harping on this!

Today is the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary time and the readings were:

Deuteronomy 4:1-2,6-8
Psalm 15
James 1:17-18,21-22,27
Mark 7:1-8,14-15,21-23

What do these scriptures have to do with dissent and abortion? The homily ought to be a continuation of the word of God, not our own political soapbox. I do not believe the word of God was preached in this church on this day.

Being a Protestant Christian, I couldn’t help but focus on his opening when he called dissent and Protestants evil. I was so profoundly hurt by this homily. My wife (who is Catholic) expressed her apologies for the priest’s homily. She told me “I do not belong to the church which preaches these things; this is not the Catholic Church I know!” Never have I heard such an active destruction of the unity of the Body of Christ. Not to mention his own dissent of Catholic doctrine which teaches that Protestants have a real, however incomplete, union with the Catholic church by virtue of our baptism. Consider a Protestant who might be thinking about entering the Catholic church. Would this homily help or hinder someone’s decision to enter the church? Or perhaps someone who has been affected by abortion. What hope can be provided to that suffering soul if you bash them with just how evil they are? Would this homily help or hinder someone recovering from the destructive powers of abortion?

As I left the church I shook the preacher’s hand. I looked him right in the eye and said, quite calmly, “Father, I am a Protestant Christian and you called me evil today.” A brief second went by, and a few eye-blinks. He was clearly taken aback. He stuttered for a moment and began to back pedal. “Well,” he said “I wasn’t saying Protestants were evil, I was talking to people within the Catholic church, those who should know better.” I responded “Please be aware of what you are saying and how it might harm the unity we all hope for.” He came back with a weak apology “That’s certainly not what I meant. I’ve been a priest for 23 years and have never called Protestants evil.”

He patted me on my shoulder as I left and a woman behind me in line shook the priest’s hand. I overheard her say “bravo on such a wonderful homily.”

Be sure to read the followup!


Christian Equal Opportunity Employment

Friday, July 10th, 2009

logo_-_liberty_university

I recently completed an application for employment at Liberty University and was surprised to discover that it included a statement of faith. I wasn’t aware that my theological perspectives had anything to do with my ability to push paper.

Officially the document was called “The Statement of Doctrine of Liberty University.” It is published at their website, and you can read it for yourself here. I thought Baptists were anti-creedal. I guess if you start with “We affirm” instead of “We believe” then it’s not a creed.

There are certainly some points of Liberty’s affirmation which I have trouble with (The literal fall of Satan, six literal days of creation, the inerrancy of scripture, that the church is only the local assembly of belivers, and a seven year tribulation followed by Christ’s millenial rule – just to name a few of my points of departure).

How should that affect my employ-ability? The relevant question on the application is “Please tell us in what way you share our statement of purpose and doctrine.” A page is left blank where you can leave a response. I gave a politically correct response on my application stating “I share your statement of purpose and find no major points of disagreement with the statement of doctrine.” I guess it doesn’t come right out and say “believe this or don’t bother.”

But what about someone who disagrees with even the basic stuff, an atheist for example. Would Liberty University refuse to hire an atheist? Or to avoid the obvious legal trouble, scare atheists and non-Christians away by inserting a statement of belief in job application? Why?

Instead of only employing those of like mind, could employement be an evangelistic tool, or an aid to fellow human beings? What a great testamony that would be. A non-Christian gets a job at Liberty University and thinks to himself or herself “Wow, even though I disagree with these Christian folk, they gave me a job – the very source of my wellbeing. There might be something to this Christian thing after all.”

What do you think? Should Christian institutions hire non-believers? Should they include statements of belief in job applications?


2 weeks in the Guard

Saturday, June 6th, 2009

I’m going on my 2 week Army National Guard training from June 6-20.

So, I wont be posting (except for a post or two I have scheduled). This also means I wont be able to moderate comments. If you already have an approved comment you will be able to make new ones. But if you are new here, please be patient for your comments to appear.

If I open comments to the world, this blog will be nothing more than a glorified spam farm.

Thanks for your understanding, and see you in a few.


A Welcoming Eucharist

Friday, April 17th, 2009

We were unable to attend our regular church for Good Friday because my wife had to work during their services. I found another local church with an evening Good Friday mass which we went to. It was absolutely beautiful. We decided to continue the Easter Triduum at this new church. So we went to the Vigil and Easter Sunday.

Easter Sunday. The sanctuary was already packed so we heading to the “overflow mass” in the social hall. This was monsignor’s first mass since he had had surgery. He preached on the Gospel text, John 20, when Mary and the disciples discover the empty tomb.

He said that Peter is a symbol of authority in this Gospel and The Beloved Disciple is a symbol of love. He recognizes that The Beloved Disciple gets to the tomb before Peter. The main idea of his homily was “love always trumps authority.”

Later, during the Eucharistic prayers, the priest broke from the liturgy and said a word about the church’s Eucharistic practice. I cannot give a perfect quote here, but I will try to remember. He said “I invite everyone here to come forward. If Eucharist is not part of your tradition I encourage you to come forward for a blessing so that we can welcome, accept and bless you.” And then he quoted Galatians 3:28 “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female.” We are all one in Christ.

There is more he said, and he said it quite beautifully. Eucharist is part of my tradition (even as a Protestant), and I understood it has an invitation. It was the first time at a Catholic church that I felt welcome and invited to commune. I heard a radical message of Christ’s love and welcoming.


Update: DOC Easter Vigil

Monday, April 13th, 2009

While working on something else I found a liturgy for Easter Vigil in Chalice Worship (A worship manual for the Christian Church Disciples of Christ).

It follows very closely with what I found at the Catholic liturgy this past weekend. There is the liturgy of light, word, baptism, and Eucharist.

I will be examining it, and pray for me – perhaps even celebrating it in the next Easter season when I am serving a church.

How exciting.


Stations of the Cross at a Protestant Church

Monday, April 13th, 2009

Tuesday of Holy Week the youth group at my internship church presented a modified version of the stations of the cross for the pastoral staff and their parents.

There were many positive reviews. It was rather meaningful for both the presenters (youth) and participants.

I am encouraged to see a Protestant church open to accepting practices that are so often considered to be for “Catholics only.”


My First Easter Vigil

Monday, April 13th, 2009

This past Eastern Triduum I had the opportunity to attend my first Easter Vigil. It was remarkably beautiful.

The evening began with the service of light, unfortunately I wasn’t able to find a candle. The Christ candle processed down the center aisle and those closest to it lit their candles from it and passed it along to the fellow worshipers. By the time the Christ candle made it to the front of the worship space the entire sanctuary was full of light. It was a sign of Christ in and spread throughout the world.

Next came the liturgy of the word. It began with creation, then told the exodus story, the prophets and finally the story of Jesus’ resurrection. It was a retelling and even a reliving of all salvation history. In particular I remember the Exodus reading. Someone from the church sung it and the congregation responded. It was like being part of a divine opera.

Fifteen people were baptized that night. There was one infant with her mother, two children and eleven others. As each person received the waters of baptism the entire congregation burst into song singing “Blessed be God!” I could feel the Body of Christ get larger with the reception of each new member. Following the baptisms were confirmations on those newly baptized and those not yet confirmed.

The evening concluded with a celebration of the Eucharist. With the retelling of our salvation history and the reception of new Christians, the community gathered for the climax of the evening in Eucharist.

It was a beautiful. The choir led worship wonderfully, but they did not sing to us; it was a community event. The telling of our history was done so well and vividly.

I wonder why Protestant Christians so readily adopted the Christmas Vigil (Christmas Eve service) but not the Easter Vigil. I feel like I have been missing something significant all these years.


The Rosary at A Protestant Church Camp

Monday, February 16th, 2009

This past weekend I had the privilege of attending FebCamp, a regional high-school youth retreat co-sponsored by the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ. I was asked to develop the worship, and I enjoyed the weekend very much.

On Saturday and Sunday afternoon campers attended an interest group of their choice. The various interest groups were developed and lead by counselors or campers (with a counselor’s help). I proposed an interest group: Rosary Prayer. I presented it as a medieval Christian spiritual practice of meditative prayer. I was a bit unsure about how it would be received, but I got 6 campers to sign up for the group, and another interested counselor also attended.

After I announced my interest group, a fellow counselor approached me and showed me his Rosary. It was comforting to know that I was not the only one in my tradition who is drawn to this spiritual practice. If you are not familiar with the D.O.C./U.C.C., they are Protestant denominations closely resembling a mix between Baptists and Presbyterians. My fellow Rosary-praying-Disciple graciously offered his Rosary to aid the interest group.

We began with a simple show-and-tell and I passed around the two Rosaries. As the Rosaries made their way around the circle I gave a brief history of the prayer and spoke about its use today.

Then I showed them the structure of the rosary: the decades, the crucifix, etc.

I wanted to slowly introduce them to the Hail Mary, the heart of the Rosary. Keep in mind that our Christian tradition has practically zero Mariology.

We read Luke 1:28 “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” (NIV) showing them that the prayer comes from scripture. We talked about intercessory prayer, and how it’s okay for us to pray for one another. We believe that people are in heaven, including Mary, and they pray all day to God. So its not that we pray to Mary, but rather we ask Mary to pray for us. They accepted this premise quite well.

I then taught them the prayers themselves. We began with the sign of the cross. I said it is a way to mark sacred time which is set apart for speaking with God: “In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” About half of the campers were comfortable with making the sign of the cross.

I skipped the Apostles Creed because I thought Mariology would be difficult enough for Disciples to grasp, I didn’t need to tackle creeds today too (we are “anti-creedal”). I prayed three Hail Marys while the campers listened. I offered them a cheat sheet for the prayers, but no one seemed quite comfortable yet to pray the Hail Mary themselves.

I also taught them the Glory Be. In a Sunday liturgy Disciples often sing this following the tithes and offerings. We sung it together and many campers instantly made the connection. All were comfortable with this prayer.

And of course we prayed the Our Father together, which I explained is another name for The Lord’s Prayer (a more familiar title in our tradition).

I then explained how you are supposed to mediate on a different set of mysteries for each day. It was a Sunday which is the Glorious Mysteries. These included The Assumption and the Coronation, which again may be too much for an induction to the Rosary for Protestants.

We looked at the first Glorious Mystery: The Resurrection. I told the campers to focus and mediate on this as we pray together. I then prayed a decade for them, announcing each scripture following each Hail Mary. They prayed with me the Glory Be and Our Father. I prayed the concluding prayers, and made the sign of the cross to finish.

I asked for their responses. They said “it was cool.”; “it helped me to focus on the resurrection.”; “I could almost see it.”; “it was relaxing.”

There was a small discussion which followed. The counselor asked if many other Disciples pray the Rosary, and I said it was uncommon. A camper asked “why is Jesus’ body on the cross?” And we talked about how you can’t have a resurrection without a cross, and how it is a visual aid to prayer. We also talked about the different focus of each tradition (see post on The Cross and the Crucifix). Another camper shared that she had a Rosary at home and now “know[s] what it is for.”

I was surprised at how well it was received. A survey was taken at the close of camp and this interest group got rated a 3,4,4,4, and a 5 (with two not responding). That is an average of 4 (out of 5)!

Please feel free to share your experiences with the Rosary in a Protestant context, using the comment link below.


The empty sacrament

Saturday, October 18th, 2008

I went to my church’s regional (like a diocese or synod) gathering. There were several worship opportunities throughout the event in which communion was served. (We celebrate communion in every worship service)

There was no clear mark which signified an entrance into holy time – that worship was not set apart from our everyday lives. The worship leader just began to sing a song while everyone else continued their conversations. A sermon was given and someone came forward to introduce communion.

They emphasized how all are welcome, with no precondition. Neither sin, creed, nor status of baptism were reasons to separate one from the communion table. That it is a table of hospitality.

As the elements were passed I took and ate. I normally cross myself (as I learned from the Catholics) after I partake in order to mark the holy moment. But, I could not bring myself to do it this time because it felt so very profane. Not profane in the sense that it was irreverent or unholy, but simply ordinary. By the introduction to communion and a stress on symbolism, it was clear that this meal was only bread and juice. It tasted empty.

Do not misunderstand me. I believe communion is for all, invited by Christ. But it is not an ordinary meal like we eat in order to sustain our physical bodies. It is a spiritual food which nourishes the souls of those already united with Christ. It is certainly not a meal which one can approach on one’s own terms – for it is Christ’s table, not ours.

Emptier still.
Saturday morning we worshiped again. This time the communion elements included pretzels and gold fish crackers. I cannot recall the justification for this practice at this time because I remember feeling so empty at the thought.

Granted, nearly all Christians in this tradition believe communion to be symbolic only. But what happens when you tamper with the symbol? When I approached the communion plate and saw the pretzels and gold-fish crackers I did not think of Christ’s last meal, but rather a children’s party. For that is what those elements symbolize.

I did not partake. I had to leave the worship service at that point because I was so angry and I took a walk until lunch.

The church said “look how hip, cool, and open WE are that we can do this.” I believe Christ was overshadowed by this novelty. It is a feat in mental acrobatics when we attempt to force a new symbol to mean what the bread and wine once meant.

Symbol or not, let us not profane (make ordinary) the Table of the Lord.