Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Dining (and Praying) Together

Have you ever noticed that most tables are made for more than one person?

It sounds like a rather redundant question but think about it for a moment. Why are tables generally intended to seat multiple people? The answer is that most people like to eat together, not separate.

Ironically, eating is really an exceptionally individualistic process. I cannot eat a meal for another person. Whatever nourishment I take into my body will no more help another person’s nutrition than if I were to exercise in somebody else’s place and hope they would be the one to lose the weight.

In spite of the fact that we alone are the only ones that can eat for ourselves, we also like to do it most in the company of others. In fact, I think there are few realities more depressing than constantly eating alone.

In Christianity, we share the common meal of the Eucharist. Call it Communion, the Mass, Lord’s Supper, Last Supper, or Lord’s Table, it essentially remains the singular symbol of a sacred meal shared Christ shared in the intimate community of his closest friends. They each ate and drank individually, but did so together. In gathering at that table we do more than remember, we also join together in sacred prayer as one Body of Christ shared in community.

To me, this image takes on even greater significance when I encounter the book of James. “If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?” (James 2:15-16) The primary meaning behind this is that it is not enough to simply have faith and pray for one’s well-being, one needs to take an active role in making a difference with that individual.

This reality became vividly clear to me when a friend said to me today that the difference between praying for someone versus with someone is like eating for someone versus with them. Not that there is anything wrong with praying for people! I do it all the time and have no intention to stop. But think for a moment how easy it is to say on the fly, “Oh, I’m praying for you!” and then pray when it is convenient. Now imagine what a difference it may make for that individual to stop, take their hand, and offer up a heartfelt prayer by the power of the Holy Spirit and actually pray WITH them, rather than simply for them.

Pray! The book of James concludes with one of the most powerful testimonies to prayer in all the Bible. “Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise.   Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.   The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven.   Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.”  ( James 5:13-16 )

I believe that part of the power of this prayer is not that those remembered in prayer are being prayed for as much as the prayer directly involves them!

As the New Year dawns, prayerfully consider who you can pray with as well as pray for. Perhaps even pray for them to come to a place that you CAN pray with them if that is necessary! It could mean the difference between you eating for them and eating with them!

God bless!  

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

What I Learned from Charles Darwin

In our modern society one name that is either feared or revered is that of Charles Darwin. To some he is the poster child of satanic lies that seeks to undermine the integrity of Creation as proclaimed in Genesis. To others he is a ground-breaking scientist and theorist that gave meaning to many of the mysteries surrounding the origins of life on earth.

I find it particularly interesting to see how this man’s name (or, more precisely, his memory) is characterized in silly bumper logos of fish, fish with feet called “Darwin,” and fish called “Truth” eating fish with feet.

So just what is it about this Darwin fellow that has people over 150 years after Darwin published “Origin of Species” so up in arms?

Darwin’s “Origin of Species” was a carefully researched theory that basically postulated one primary resolution to a basic question of life on earth. How do different species come into being? Darwin suggested that through the process of natural selection, species were not so much created out of nothing, but evolved from streams of common ancestries to adapt to changing and unique environments.

On the outset, Darwin’s theory clashed with the established religious traditions of the day that easily and faithfully accepted the biblically literal account of Creation as told in Genesis. Essentially, he postulated a dichotomy where two conflicting understandings of Truth seemed in such stark contrast that they could not coexist. In short, he threatened our religious understanding of Truth. Of course, when in doubt, people of faith clung tightly to God and the Biblical Truth that had guided humanity for so many years.

Yet I believe Charles Darwin did something far more radical—and threatening. Darwin’s theories, regardless of how inconsistent they are with literal readings of scripture, were brilliantly researched and exquisitely stated in ways that were difficult to challenge on any but strictly religious grounds.

At the core of Darwin’s theories was the presumption that biological life on earth was not divinely appointed in a matter of days. Even more frightening (or shall I say, offensive) to many was the presumption that humanity may have also evolved along a tract similar to those Darwin postulated in his theory.

I believe Darwin’s primary offence was never one of challenging religious orthodoxy or contradicting Biblical literalism. Perhaps what offended people the most was that Darwin’s theories required humanity to critically re-evaluate our place in the universe, creation, and even in God. Such deeply introspective revaluation of core identities is always difficult and will easily evoke hostile resistance. Yet, is such introspective analysis a bad thing? Nicolaus Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei, and Issac Newton stand in a long line of great thinkers who challenged religious and human assumptions in frightening and revelatory ways.

Science and Religion are still at odds in many ways and perhaps may never see eye to eye. Yet, sadly, this never need to be the case.

Conflict between science and religion exists only when their core purposes are transposed or confused. Science is focused on the how of our world and religion on the why. In the case of Darwin, his theories postulate a theory that tries to explain how life came to exist as we know it today. It is up to religion to provide a meaning and purpose to that knowledge.

In short, religion and science actually need one another. I am not necessarily advocating for or against Darwinism or Creationism. I think both have their flaws and strengths. Likewise, there are valid reasons for each to be pursued in their own right.

As a person of faith myself, and one who’s deep belief in Jesus Christ as revealed in the Scripture and experienced in the Holy Spirit, I believe the greatest lesson I can learn from thinkers like Darwin is to not fear their challenges to my faith but embrace them as strengthening something far more valuable—my own self-understanding and knowledge of place in this cosmos! 

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Hopes and Fears of all the Years

"The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight." 

With these words Phillips Brooks has touched hearts at Christmas time in more ways than I can fully imagine. 

This blog is about how all of life's experiences (good and bad, controversial and sublime, uplifting and challenging, ... they all come together in the One born of Mary in the little town of Bethlehem. 

I invite your comments, challenges, suggestions, and whatever else you have to share! 

To start things off, here is a reprint of the blog entry I posted today for the church! Enjoy

The entire nation had been in the crushing grip of a deadly and devastating civil war. At the conclusion of that war, a broken and bleeding nation attempted to come back together under the singular banner of hope that had once guided it only to have its leader assassinated. The frightening cost of war and tremendous destruction left in its path left the entire nation gasping for hope amid looming economic uncertainty.

It was then that pastor Phillips Brooks took a sabbatical leave from his congregation to make a pilgrimage to another land. He carried with him the pastoral hopes and fears of a nation languishing in the aftermath of crisis, division, mistrust, and hatred. Brooks wished to reconnect with his faith and find hope for his church back home.

Brooks’ travels took him on horseback to the darkened streets of a small village. It was Christmas Eve 1865 and looking down those dark streets he recalled that in them once shown a great light, an Everlasting Light, Emmanuel!

In the last year Books had seen the bloody end of the American Civil War and the death of Abraham Lincoln. Even amid the tenuous truce, long-held tensions and hatred between North and South always threatened to blow wide apart! Differing attitudes and expectations regarding the role former slaves would play in the newly reunited nation further exacerbated the political, cultural, and social tension tugging at the hearts of an already bleeding nation.

Thankfully, as I look at our nation nearly 150 years later, I am grateful to say that the troubles we face are nothing like the catastrophic healing that faced the fledgling nation in 1865. Yet there is a lot of healing needed today!

The economy may be turning the corner, but unemployment remains increasingly high. We live in a land with the world’s most sophisticated health care system but affordable access to this system remains a challenge for many. In the wake of the most contentious mid-term election in memory, the political strands of this nation remain bitterly divided.

The prayerful experience Brooks had on the darkened streets of Bethlehem on Christmas Eve in 1865 ultimately led him to pen the poetic, and prophetic, words of one of the season’s most beloved carols, “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”

Truly, the hopes and fears of all the years are met in the singular event that is Jesus Christ. Yet, amid the fear and uncertainty of the day, let us cling to the hope present in the Everlasting Light, hear those Christmas Angels, and together proclaim the good news that in Christ there is peace on earth.
O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.
For Christ is born of Mary, and gathered all above,
While mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wondering love.
O morning stars together, proclaim the holy birth,
And praises sing to God the King, and peace to men on earth!
How silently, how silently, the wondrous Gift is giv’n;
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His Heav’n.
No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.
Where children pure and happy pray to the blessèd Child,
Where misery cries out to Thee, Son of the mother mild;
Where charity stands watching and faith holds wide the door,
The dark night wakes, the glory breaks, and Christmas comes once more.
O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!
“O Little Town of Bethlehem” by Phillips Brook, 1868. Traditionally sung to the tune of ST. LOUIS ( byt Lewis H. Redner, 1868.