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Turning theology to biography

by Demi Prentiss

from Education for Ministry

The Rev. Michael Piazza is a well-known progressive clergyman, dedicated to justice particularly for the LGBTQ+ community. He posts every weekday, and recently examined the connection between our Sunday worship and our weekday lives:

What does it mean for our theology to become biography?

 

That can’t happen only when you are at church. It also must happen when you are fishing or filing. Ninety-nine percent of the ministry of the church takes place Monday through Friday in shops and offices and factories. The deep purpose of our lives must extend to every area of life, and our purpose also must extend beyond the boundary of our own lives. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said:

You ask why are we here, and I will tell you. We are here to serve. Success is not defined by the number of servants you have, but by how many people you serve.

 

According to a parable Jesus told, only a fool thinks the purpose of life is gaining more and more. This generation has certainly proven his analysis to be correct. The most certain formula for misery is to have as your only purpose for rising in the morning and working through the day to be what you can accumulate for yourself.

 

If you can summarize the purpose of your life with the words “me” and “mine,” then you have succeeded in sentencing your soul to hell. Oh, not the hell of eternal fire, but the hell of a shallow, vain, and meaningless existence. Look at the great lives that have made this a better planet:

        • What if Beethoven had just been an organist?
        • What if Edison had just been a mechanic?
        • What if Rosa Parks had just been a seamstress?
        • What if Desmond Tutu had just been a priest?
        • What if Mother Teresa had just been a nun?

Great people are those who have most enriched life for others. Isn’t it time for us to rise up to become great people?

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Pass it on: Toby’s legacy

Toby and team

by Pam Tinsley

A year ago I blogged about the ministry of Toby the Therapy Dog. For years, Toby, a gentle giant of a St. Bernard, and his person Stan have brought joy and comfort to nursing facility residents and have helped reduce anxiety in waiting rooms of emergency rooms. Toby warmed the hearts of parents and children alike in our regional children’s hospital as young patients nuzzled their faces in his fur, crawled over him, or simply snuggled with him. Stan combined his love for dogs, his love for Christ, and his passion for caring to offer peace and healing to others.

Stevie

I was sad to learn that Toby suffered a stroke and passed away during emergency surgery early this month. The outpouring of love from the communities Toby served is a testimony to the impact his and Stan’s ministry has had on others.

The exciting news is that Toby’s legacy lives on! A week after Toby’s stroke, I met Stevie, a friendly golden retriever, as I left the hospital after a visit. Stan had founded Toby’s Therapy Dogs to train a team of therapy dogs, and Toby had mentored Stevie. Stevie has achieved Novice Therapy Dog status after having completed ten visits to nursing homes! And although the initial plan was to build a local therapy dog team, it has quickly expanded to include a chapter in Wisconsin and beyond. All to continue to honor Toby and to carry on his ministry!

When I think of how quickly Toby’s legacy is spreading, I’m reminded of Kurt Kaiser’s hymn, Pass it On:

“It only takes a spark

To get a fire going,

And soon all those around

Can warm up in its glowing.

That’s how it is with God’s love,

Once you’ve experienced it,

You spread His love to ev’ryone,

You want to pass it on.”

Stan’s ministry with Toby started small – just a spark in a seemingly dark world – and is expanding day-by-day thanks to Stan’s faith and his commitment. To learn more about Stan and Toby’s ministry, visit his Facebook page: Toby the Therapy Dog.

Look for love and justice

by Wayne Schwab

Love and justice are the reliable and constant guides to discern and to find God at work in our own life and in the world around us. Wherever we meet love and justice, we are meeting God at work among us. Wherever love and justice are missing, God is at work somewhere to bring them. If we do not see where God is at work now, we will see it in time. God never fails to be present and active somewhere.

Wherever you find love and justice, God is present and at work. Wherever the two are weak or absent, God is already there working to restore them. Love and justice have guided the biblical writers from the first. They are our guides to find God at work and they guide us to find God at work in today’s world. Both testaments abound in love and justice.

God’s love guides the Israelites in their escape from Pharoah (Exodus 15:13) and Hosea hears God say his love cannot give up on a rebellious people (Hosea 11:8). Matthew, Mark, and Luke record Jesus’ teaching that loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself are the foundation of the law and the prophets (Matthew 22:37-40, Mark 12:29-31, Luke 10:27-28, 8-34). Enemies are to be loved as well (Matthew 5:44).

Micah’s call to “do justice” (Micah 6:8) and Isaiah’s picture of a just society (Isaiah 65:20-23) proclaim God’s justice. In Isaiah’s vision of a just world children do not die, old people live in dignity, people live in the houses they build, and farmers eat what they plant. Jesus challenged the injustice of Jewish laws that called for the faithful to avoid eating with tax collectors and sinners. Tax collectors served the Roman emperor and sinners were any who did not abide by the over 700 religious and ceremonial laws. Matthew sees Jesus as fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy of one who “brings justice to victory” (Matthew 12:20). Finally, Jesus’ resurrection overcomes the injustice of his crucifixion (Acts 2:23-24 and Romans 1:4). We, too, are raised with him to new life. (Ephesians 2:4-6).

Whenever you’re searching for God, look for love and justice to find where God is at work, today or any day.

Growing baptismal awareness

by Fletcher Lowe

Men's field lacrosse game between UNC and Duke
Men’s field lacrosse game between UNC and Duke

For those of you who may not be aware, this is the beginning of the college/high school lacrosse season.  I grew up in Baltimore, MD, that, along with Long Island and part of New England, were the hubs of the sport.  Outside of those places, nobody had much knowledge/interest/awareness of it – until the last 20 years. Now there are over 3400 high school boys’ teams and over 2700 girls’!  My granddaughter in California plays as do my grandsons in western North Carolina!

Reclaiming the centrality of baptism may be in the “three Lacrosse hub” stage within much of the Christian church including the Episcopal. Our seminaries are mostly about training seminarians how to run parishes rather than empower lay people for their ministries in their day-to-day lives.  In congregations we are good at asking the first question: What is your name? And we gather relevant information so we can be in touch.  But what about the question that usually follows: What do you do?  Congregations are more interested in what you can do to help the parish and its programs than in how the parish can support, encourage, equip the baptized in their baptismal living.

The Way of Love – Practices for a Jesus-centered life

There are signs that this is beginning to change. A professor at one seminary has empowering the laity as a part of two of the courses she teaches.  The academic dean of another is exploring how to make it part of the core curriculum.  The Episcopal Church’s General Convention in July formed a task force focused on how parishes, dioceses, and seminaries can develop ways and means for equipping the laity for their daily lives.  The Presiding Bishop’s signature program, The Way of Love, has as its last phase the thrust to GO which incorporates much about baptismal living, engaging our faith in our everyday lives.  The national organization, Episcopalians on Baptismal Mission (EBM), continues to be an advocate for the calling of all the baptized in their daily lives.

In that advocacy, EBM’s main metaphor is a base camp.  The base camp is not the hikers’ destination. It exists of the good of the hikers, not vice versa, and is, therefore. there to support the needs of the hikers for their journey.  Translate that to a congregation and you get a sense of what this movement is all about.   Let’s keep working and praying that the Spirit will continue to move the Church to see as its primary mission to enhance the mission of all the baptized in their daily lives.

Re-brand us

PRAYERS FOR THE BAPTISMAL JOURNEY . . . .

 

 

 

Re-brand us

You mark us with your water,

You scar us with your name,

You brand us with your vision,

and we ponder our baptism,     your water,

your name,

your vision.

 

While we ponder, we are otherwise branded.

Our imagination is consumed by other brands,

— winning with Nike,

— pausing with Coca-Cola,

— knowing and controlling with Microsoft.

 

Re-brand us,

transform our minds,

renew our imagination,

that we may be more fully who we are marked

and hoped to be,

we pray with candor and courage.  Amen.

 

 

Yes

You are the God who is simple, direct, clear with us and for us.

You have committed yourself to us.

You have said yes to us in creation,

yes to us in our birth,

yes to us in our baptism,

yes to us in our awakening this day.

 

But we are of another kind,

more accustomed to “perhaps, maybe, we’ll see,”

left in wonderment and ambiguity.

 

We live our lives not back to your yes,

but out of our endless “perhaps.”

 

So we pray for your mercy this day that we may live yes back to you,

yes with our time,

yes with our money,

yes with our sexuality,

yes with our strength and with our weakness,

yes to our neighbor,

yes and no longer “perhaps.”

 

In the name of your enfleshed yes to us,

even Jesus who is our yes into your future.  Amen.

 

…. from  Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth — Prayers of Walter Brueggemann, Fortress Press/Minneapolis, 2003

(submitted by Edward L. Lee, Jr.)

It’s never too early for God’s love

By Pam Tinsley

Medical staff members attend a newborn in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. Photo by Phillip A. Jones

A reflection on Sacredspace.ie recently reminded me that God is present in all that I do, in the people I meet, and in the midst of each situation I’m in. Over the past several weeks, this has been particularly driven home for me.

Our family received the gift of God’s ongoing love during an extended hospitalization – though at the other end of the age spectrum from what fellow Living God’s Mission blogger Fletcher Lowe described several weeks ago. Serious pregnancy complications resulted in our daughter-in-law’s month-long hospitalization. In the midst of a record-breaking snowstorm and freeze, our granddaughter, Sienna, made her appearance – nine weeks early!

Parenting a newborn isn’t easy, and parenting a preemie calls for the support of community, not the least of which are the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) healthcare providers. I marveled at their love and commitment as they braved severe weather conditions to care for Sienna and the other preemies. I also marvel at their choice of vocation to tenderly care for these tiny, delicate infants with equally tiny PICC lines, feeding tubes, and blood pressure cuffs. The devotion of Sienna’s nurses has transformed her room into a physically and spiritually nurturing sacred space. And several have shared that they pray for their little charges, as well as how their faith shapes their vocation, in other words, their baptismal ministry.

Strengthened by prayer in the midst of so many joys and fears, hopes and tears, we watch our son and daughter-in-law being transformed by God’s love and grace into loving parents. And they bear witness to Christ’s love in all that they do and say. Sienna and her parents are part of yet another family – the NICU family – and when she eventually graduates from the NICU, she and her parents will not only continue to have the support of those who’ve journeyed with them, but they will also support other preemie families – and share how Jesus was present in all that they experienced as they walked through this storm of uncertainty and danger to mother and daughter.

Missional spirituality – finding God in the busy-ness of life

By Wayne Schwab

Photo by Shadowmeld Photography

God is on mission. God is at work in the world everywhere, every moment, to overcome evil – whatever blocks love and justice – and to bring and to increase love and justice. Love is valuing the other person and helping that person to live life as fully as possible. Justice is the public face of love. Justice is how we love in a “crowd” when we cannot see those we affect face-to-face.  When you cannot have face-to-face relationships, you work for everyone to have equal access to the good things in life. Our world today is in desperate need of Christians seeking to be loving and just wherever they are, all the time – in both public and private life.

Wherever you find love and justice, or the need for them, you find God at work.

Jesus Christ is the center of God’s mission for Christians. God’s power over evil, sin, and death has come among us in Jesus Christ. The story of Jesus is one of power over sickness, evil, sin, and death. Jesus is the victor – the victor over sickness, evil, sin, and death!

Jesus comes proclaiming the kingdom of God: the rule of God in human life, the power of God at work among us now.  His words and actions demonstrate this proclamation:

  • “If it is by the Spirit of God I cast out demons, then the kingdom – the power – of God has come upon you.” [Matt 12:28]
  • “Who is this that the winds and the waves obey him?” (Mark 4:41)
  • “He gave them authority over the unclean spirits” (Mark 6:7) so that his disciples might preach and heal.

Each of us can choose to walk a spiritual path. That journey inward / journey outward must, each day, unite prayer and action. Life is indeed hectic and overly busy. The Christian needs to learn to discern what God is doing in the midst of a busy moment and join what God is doing there now. That is the journey outward. The journey inward, then, is learning to discern God at work within us in the busy moments of daily life. So that is our focus for a missionary spirituality – learning to discern what God is doing and joining God in that work.

On the lookout for Jesus incognito

by Fletcher Lowe

Prayer is part of my Jewish doctor’s approach to her surgery, as she sees her faith as integral to her relationship with her patients and her profession. She shared that thought with me both before and after my recent operation.

During my post-surgical  hospitalization, I was aware of the multitudinous ways that others were ministering to me: the team of doctors who at 6:45 every morning shared where I was and what the day’s plans were; the night nurse who made sure I was getting enough rest and sleep; the nurse’s aide who recently retired from the banking industry to be more closely engaged with people who needed a caring hand and a reassuring word; the personable housekeeper making sure my room was clean and neat; and how many others.  Unlike what I know of my surgeon, I have no knowledge of the faith perspective of any of these folks.  What I do know is that they were Jesus incognito to me, bringing his healing gifts to me.

There have been other Jesuses amidst all of this: the great cloud of witnesses who through cards and emails and phone calls and food have been ever so supportive. There, too, has been my church community – lay and clergy alike – who have nurtured and encouraged me.  And most important has been the steadying presence of my wife.

When I translate this to my larger life – and I suggest you do the same – I/we need to be aware of those who bring Jesus incognito into our lives with their gifts.  God looks beyond the ranks of those who call themselves Christians when choosing who will be God’s ministers.  Thanks be to God for the multitudinous ways God’s hand is felt in our personal and public worlds.

Where do you see God at work?

Catholic Health Initiatives by Jordan Gruener

by Demi Prentiss

Where do you see God at work? In the magnificence of Sunday worship, or the embrace of group prayer, or the quiet of devotional times?  In the sky, or the mountainscapes, or the crashing ocean?  In the play of children or the intimacy of family life or the hospital room?

For many of us who practice the weekly discipline of naming our “moment closest to Christ,” those are places that we often expect God to show up. But seriously, how often do you see God at work – meaning, in your workplace? Whether that’s the place you receive a paycheck or the place where you volunteer or the place you labor to serve those you love – that’s not usually the place we perceive God at work.

What’s up with that? We know God is all, and in all. God is high above the heavens and nearer than hands and feet. God is at work in all things, including us and the people we interact with. So why can’t we see God at work in our workplaces?

In a recent blog, the Theology of Work Project posed the question and offered an answer, via a blog from The High Calling: Why Is It So Hard to Connect Spiritual Value to Our Work?

Fundamentally, the problem is this: our culture has no framework for approaching work from a spiritual point of view. There is no context, no point of reference. It simply does not exist….

 

And since there is no cultural context, then guess what? You must create your own context. You must face that blank slate and make it up as you go, even if it doesn’t fit what you’ve been told all your life. You might have to use your spiritual imagination to see God’s hand at work in that next presentation, to pray for your boss under pressure, to grasp the infinite potential for goodness and mercy and righteousness that is literally at your fingertips.

Training our eyes to see God in the workplace can be a challenge. Are we willing to stop leaving Jesus in the car once we’ve parked in our assigned parking place? Are we humble enough to see the Holy Spirit at work in that troublesome co-worker? Are we perceptive enough to locate God at work even in our failures? Are we ready to recognize Jesus next to us in the board room or the production line?

God is ready to help us do that. So are, possibly, some of our co-workers. Or someone outside of our work context.  Many congregations have faith in the workplace groups that meet regularly. They provide a place to discuss how to sharpen our ability to notice God at work and how to be pro-active in partnering with what God is up to. Imagine what might happen if every Christian became intentional about bringing God to work.

With respect to words . . .

by Pam Tinsley

#Tagxedo Wordcloud: Pope Francis’s address to a joint meeting of Congress, September 24, 2015

“Will you respect the dignity of every human being?” was one of the questions we were asked as we renewed our baptismal promises on the First Sunday after the Epiphany (Book of Common Prayer, p. 305). This question was especially poignant in the face of the vitriol spewed by the administration’s leaders which resulted in an impasse that requires hundreds of thousands of government employees to work without pay. The longest government shutdown in our nation’s history is having a rippling effect on some people and a tsunami effect on others, such as those who rely on the government for essential services like food inspection, airport security, food for children and their families, and loans for already financially strapped farmers, not to mention paychecks for contract workers required to work and who will not receive back pay.

Will you respect the dignity of every human being?

As we wait for our elected officials to lead, I’m reminded that each one of us is a leader within our own sphere of influence. The words we proclaim on Sunday mornings when we renew our baptismal promises are not meant to be for Sunday only, or for only within the walls of the church. They are words meant for every day. They are words meant for each situation we encounter when we relate to others, regardless of whether they look like us, where they are from, or whether they hold the same opinions or beliefs as we do. Merely words? No! Words that shape how we live.

Living by the words of our baptismal covenant, including “will you respect the dignity of every human being,” requires us to hold our leaders accountable. This includes speaking up when the dignity of others is violated, because silence, after all, is consent. Our baptismal promises also call us to respect the dignity of those with whom we disagree. And therein lies the challenge.