Monthly Archives: February 2013

Christian Eldership

It is part of the way of God ordering creation – authority, leadership, sacrifice;  it is not about representing constituencies.

We are representatives but we are representatives of Christ.

In looking at anti-authority sentiments – look at the way the Bible looks at this (Philippians 1 – many other places, elders and deacons), these are the gifts of Christ and to deny this is to deny a gift.

Merton’s Palace of Nowhere – Part 6 – Identity of True Self

 

We should not look for a “method” or “system”, but cultivate an “attitude”, an “outlook” : faith, openness, attention, reverence, expectation, supplication, trust, joy.  All these finally permeate our being with love in so far as our living faith tells us we are in the presence of God, that we live in Christ, that in the Spirit of God, that we live in Christ, that in the Spirit of God we “see” God our Father without “seeing”.  We know him in “unknowing”.  Faith is the bond that unites us to him in the Spirit who gives us light and love. (page 93)

 

In faith we find ourselves in darkness, but a darkness in which God clasps our hand.  We hear his silent breathing, one with our own, and in dark luminosity feel his eyes penetrating to the depths of our soul. (page 93)

 

Of faith and its importance in our life, Merton writes:

Even if everything else goes … provided you have your Faith, and are united with others in Faith in a Christian community of some sort, you have everything.  Nothing can take it away.  Nothing can take away what you are.  You have to develop it yourself with God’s grace.  What you have to work at is your prayer… What you have to do is simple.  It centres around Faith.  Develop your Faith. (pave 94)

 

The more perfect faith is, the darker it becomes… Our certainty increases with this obscurity, yet not without anguish and even material doubt, because we do not find it easy to subsist in a void in which our natural powers have nothing of their own to rely on.  And it is in the deepest darkness that we most fully possess God on earth, because it is then that our minds are most truly liberated… it is then we are filled with His infinite Light which is pure darkness to our reason (page 94)

 

Merton once remarked that at night our vision is reversed from what it is during the day.  During the day the things that are close to us are clear and visible.  But at night, while we stumble about over things that are near us, the stars (invisible during the day) shine in the heavens with a clear and delicate clarity.  Faith is like this.  In the dark night of faith we find our ego-self stumbling about over itself, lost to all that was reassuring and familiar.  And yet the ultimate self, the self we are destined to become, the true self in God, finds a clarity that is discovered this side of death only by faith.  In faith we are given an obscure vision of the secret of our own deepest self made one with God through Christ. (page 95)

Merton’s Palace of Nowhere – Part 4 – True Self Seeking God

 

Jesus is God’s answer to our cry. (page 64)

 

A helpful image in understanding the monastic notion of solitude and union with others is that of a large group of people formed in a circle.  As each individual in the circle simultaneously begins to walk slowly toward the centre of the circle, he or she discovers that all are inevitably drawing closer to one another.  Physically it is impossible for them all to stand at once in the precise centre.  But in prayer this is possible.  (page 66)

 

From Father Daniel Marsh: “Most are called to salvation primarily through witnessing to God in man by loving service to others.  The contemplative, while in now way exempt from loving service, finds salvation primarily through witnessing man in God by a life of fidelity to contemplative prayer.” (page 67)

 

Of course one of the procedural principles is that God is everything and we are nothing.  But they define what this means.  They mark off those who properly grasp it from those who do not.  Thus, while maintaining that they are nothing, they turn their nothing into a nothing that defines itself and thereby make that nothingness into a  kind of everything to which all who wish to know the truth must listen…. It is the false self expressing its futile, odious outcry against the Creative sovereignty of the divine freedom. (page 69)

 

The idea that you can choose yourself, approve yourself and then offer yourself (fully “chosen” and “approved”) to God, applies the assertion of yourself over against God. (page 69)

 

The notion of worthiness is often prominent in this expression of religion.  And the motivating force behind much of the principle making is, that of having the security of knowing one is worthy of God.  This knowledge is possible because God here is the God who does not go beyond our definitions (page 71)

 

Phrased differently, we can say that God cannot hear the prayer of someone who does not exist. (page 74)

 

Mertons Palace of Nowhere – Part 3 – True Self In Contemplation

 

What the solitude renounces is not his union with other men, but rather the deceptive fictions and inadequate symbols which tend to take the place of genuine social unity …. He (the solitary) realises that he is one with them in the peril and anguish of their common solitude: not the solitude of the individual only, but the radical and essential solitude of man – a solitude which was assumed by Christ and which, in Christ, becomes mysteriously identified with the solitude of God. (page 50)

 

We withdraw within not to retreat from life but to retreat from the constant evasion, the constant fearsome retreat from that is real in the eyes of God. (page 51)

 

We learn that to love Jerusalem is one thing: to prostitute ourselves to it another.  And deeper yet, we learn that we ourselves are Jerusalem.  We are Jerusalem redeemed.  With Christ we weep over ourselves in our failure to respond to his call.  And with Christ we find ourselves foreign and restored to life through the power of his cross. (page 51)

 

But the most I can do for the world is to transcend it so as to serve it as a person instead of a slave. (page 52)

 

The first map makers were known to have placed their own country at the centre of the world.  Each country still does the same today. (page 53)

 

We are called by the voice of God, by the voice of that ultimate being, to pierce through the irrelevance of our life, while accepting and admitting that our life is totally irrevelant, in order to find relevance in Him.  And this relevance in Him is not something we can grasp or possess.  It is something that can only be received as a gift. (page 55)

 

Merton said

A few years ago a man who was compiling a book on Success wrote and asked me to contribute a statement on how I got to be a success.  I replied indignantly that I was not able to consider myself a success in any terms that had a meaning to me.  I swore I had spent my life strenuously avoiding success.  If it had happened that I had once written a best-seller this was a pure accident, due to inattention and naivete, and I would take very good care never to do the same thing again.  If I had a message to my contemporaries, I said, it was surely this: be anything you like, be madmen, drunks, and bastards of every shape and form, but at all costs avoid one thing: success.  I heard no more from him, and I am not aware that my reply was published with the other testimonials. (page 57)

 

Both the craving for and the rejection of success are expressions of the false self which is false precisely because it fails to see things as they are. (page 58)

 

The cross is the great Christian answer to the world as a problem.  The cross is liberation.  The cross is the only liberation from the servitude to the illusions which are packaged and sold as the world… the cross transforms the world… and once the cross has been accepted fully in our life then we can begin to make sense about this whole entity, the world. (page 59)

 

Do we really choose between the world and Christ as between conflicting realities absolutely opposed?  Or do we choose Christ by choosing the world as it really is in him, that is to say created and redeemed by him, and encountered in the ground of our own personal freedom and of our love?  Do we really renounce ourselves and the world in order to find Christ, or doe we renounce our alienated and false selves in order to choose our own deepest truth in choosing beoh the world and Christ at the same time?  If the deepest ground of my being is love, then in that ery love itself and nowhere else will I find myself, and the world, and my brother in Christ.  It is not a question of either-or but all-in-one.. of wholeness, wholeheartedness and unity… which finds the same ground of love in everything.  (page 60)

 

There is no dualistic opposition of any kind.  We find that the world as an enemy disappears in an all-in-one wholeness in which we are recreated in the redeeming love of Christ.  Our prayer and our life become our yes to this saving wholeness. (page 60)

Merton’s Palace of Nowhere – Part 1 – Search for God

But in turning to pray such people confront the perplexity referred to above.  In solitary prayer we find ourselves facing the dilemma of having to do what we are incapable of doing.  It is like the situation created by the Zen master who tells the aspirant to “just sit.”  The aspirant quickly discovers that he or she can sit and do many things: sit and sleep, sit and think, sit and wonder, sit and wonder why one cannot stop wondering.  But to just sit is beyond us.  Our own ingrained complexity makes the simplest of acts the most difficult to achieve.  (page 18)

 

But at the fundamental level of prayer itself Merton has no solutions to the problems of prayer.  He tells us frankly that with prayer itself, “the only One who can teach me to find God is God Himself, Alone.”  (page 19)

 

Let no one hope to find in contemplation an escape from conflict, from anguish, or from doubt.  On the contrary, the deep inexpressible certitude of the contemplative experience awakens a tragic anguish and opens many questions in the depth of the heart like wounds that cannot stop bleeding. (page 19)

Merton’s Palace of Nowhere – Part 2 – False Self

 

The crux of the matter is, however, that we cannot be like God without God.  We cannot be like God by usurping God’s transcendant sovereignty in a spiritual coup that violates God’s will.  We cannot take our deepest self, which is a gift from God, and wrench it from God’s hands to claim it as a coveted possession. (page 34)

 

And yet it is this suicidal act that the brazen liar invites Adam to commit – and Adam accepts the offer!  In doing so, Adam, in effect, decapitates himself.  He tears out his own heart.  He gives birth to that sinister child of darkness and death that we are here referring to as the false self, the identity that Merton describes as “someone that I was never intended to be and therefore a denial of what I am suppose to be.” (page 35)

 

When we seem to possess and use our being and natural faculties in a completely autonomous manner, as if our individual ego were the pure source and end of our own acts, then we are in illusion and our acts, however spontaneous they may seem to be, lack spiritual meaning and authenticity. (page 36)

 

In our zeal to become the landlords of our own being, we cling to each achievement as a kind of verification of our self-proclaimed reality.  We become the centre and God somehow recedes to an invisible fringe.  Others become real to the extent they become significant others to the designs of our ego.  And in this process the ALL of God dies in us and the sterile nothingness of our desires becomes our God. (page 36)

 

This is the man I want to be but who cannot exist, because God does not know anything about him.  And to be unknown of God is altogether too much privacy. (page 36)

 

We are not very good at recognising illusions, least of all the ones we cherish about ourselves – the ones we are born with and which feed the roots of sin.  For most people in the world, there is not greater subjective reality than this false self of theirs, which cannot exist.  A life devoted to the cult of this shadow is what is called a life of sin. (page 37)

 

After Adam had passed through the centre of himself and emerge on the other side to escape from God by putting himself between himself and God, he had mentally reconstructed the whole universe in his own image and likeness.  That is the painful and useless labour which has been inherited by his descendants – the labour of science without wisdom, the mental toil that pieces together fragments that never manage to coalesce in one completely integrated whole; the labour of action without contemplation, that never ends in peace or satisfaction, since no task is finished without opening the way to ten more tasks that have to be done. (page 38)

Greed and need

Our neighbours and pastors admire us (but not usually our families).  We get promotions.  And nobody notices that we are sick, sick with the covet parasite.  The very people who ought to be taking us to the doctor are making us sicker than ever. (page 63)

If we keep the first commandment well and the last commandment well, all the commandments between are protected: love God, love your neighbour. (page 63)

The parable of the barn builder is an expose of greed: using what we have to get more instead of giving more away; using our position or good as a means for getting impersonal power rather than giving away love.  The story is a small pebble in our shoe that gets our attention the moment that our life of love of God and others begins to work itself into the manipulation of power over others.

All our wealth is grace-wealth.  We are never power wealthy, money-wealthy, influence-wealthy.  We are love wealthy. (page 63)

Poverty is the condition in which we do not have what we need to live adequately; to discover our urgent need for God, and so acquire energy to learn the language of prayer.  Wealth is the opposite condition: we have far more than enough, and in the process of building a barn that can handle the “more than enough” our language is emasculated of the personal and relational.  We lose our basic sense of neediness, God-neediness, and lose both interest and fluency in the language of prayer.  In our preoccupation with bigger barns we forget about asking for bread for our friend.  But as this story sinks into our imagination, making plans for building a huge barn suddenly seems like pretty small potatoes compared to tasking for three loaves of bread for a friend. (page 64)

Telling Stories and God Talk

We tell lies with the same words that we use to tell the truth.  Words not only can reveal; they can conceal.  Language is the way of revelation, unveiling reality; it is also a way of velation, veiling reality.  We can’t be too careful in these matters.  “Friend… take care!” is a cry for justice in fact a whine for a bigger slice of the pie?  Is a campaign against political corruption fueled mostly by anger?  Does a proposal for evangelism mask an idolatrous obeisance to King Number?  And that “vision statement” cobbled together at a late night committee meeting – examined under the light of day, might it turn out to be a blueprint for bloated ambition?  (page 59)

 

Several years ago I was conducting a seminar in the interpretation of Scripture in a theological seminary.  It was a graduate seminar.  Our topic that day was Jesus’ parables.  All of the participants were experienced pastors and priests.  One of the priests, Tony Byrnne, was a Jesuit missionary on sabbatical from twenty years at his post in Africa.  As we discussed the biblical parables, Father Tony told us of his experience with his Africans, who loved storytelling, who loved parables.  His Jesuit order didn’t have enough priests to handle all the conversions that were taking place, and he was put in charge of recruiting lay persons to carry out the basic teaching and diaconal work.

When he first began the work, whenever he would find men who were especially bright he would pull them out of their village and send them to Rome or Dublin or Boston or New York for training.  After a couple of years they would return and take up their tasks.  But the villagers hated them and would have nothing to do with them.  They called the returnee a “been-to” (pronounced bean-to): “He’s bean-to London, he’s bean-to Dublin, he’s bean-to New York, he’s bean-to Boston.”  They hated the bean-to because he no longer told stories.  He gave explanations.  He taught them doctrines.  He gave them directions.  He drew diagrams on a chalk-board.  The bean-to left all his stories in the waste-baskets of the libraries and lecture halls of Europe and America.  The intimate and dignifying process of telling a parable had been sold for a mess of academic pottage.  So, Father Byrnne told us, he quit the practice of sending the men off to these storyless schools.  (page 60-61)

Annie Dillard exclaims over “the creator’s exuberance… the extravagant landscape of the world, given, given with pizzazz, given in good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over.” (page 61)

With all this wealth in and around us, who needs God other than in a conventional way, a beneficent figure to whom we are taught to give thanks, like children receiving gifts from their grandparents, to make sure that the gifts will keep coming? (page 61)

Ortberg on Young People In Ministry

Notes from Ortberg on Young Ministry:

From here

There was a time when pastors were often recognized in their surrounding communities for their education and spiritual influence. Newspapers would sometimes print Sunday’s sermon. That is no longer the case.

 

This loss of status may not be altogether bad. Being a pastor shouldn’t be pursued because it’s high status work. God does not require educational credentials or high IQ’s to carry out the work of the kingdom. The New Testament records Jesus’ followers being “ordinary, unschooled men.” However, if the church becomes the kind of movement that people do not want to lead because it ceases to be a vital force of good, we have a legitimate leadership crisis. And we see signs of that on many fronts.

Writer David Briggs noted that the percentage of people in congregations led by someone age 50 or younger declined from 49 percent in 1998 to 42 percent in 2007, what researchers for the National Congregations Study called “a remarkable change in only nine years.”

 

The clergy age gap is particularly noticeable in mainline churches. In that same span of time, the average age of clergy in white, mainline Protestant denominations increased from 48 to 57, the congregations study found.

 

The United Methodist Church has over 16,000 clergy, but fewer than 1,000 are under 35. They are not the only such group. At current rates mainline churches are going to quit requiring an M.Div. and start mandating botox. Seminaries overall are experiencing decreasing enrollment and increasing financial problems.

What’s worse is that if church leaders age, churches age. The study noted above found that in the nine-year span, congregations went from having 25 percent of their attenders 60 and over to 30 percent of attenders 60 and over. The graying of the ministry means the graying of the church.

In his landmark study of social capital, Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam wrote that the number one reason people give when asked why they volunteer is: “Somebody asked me.” And the number one reason non-volunteers give when asked why they didn’t volunteer is: “Nobody asked me.”

Many studies around the clergy crisis focus on problems like low compensation. Pastoral salaries are an issue, but never the main issue. One of our young leaders just told our team this past week about his sense of God’s calling on his life to launch a new, innovative, bivocational, social enterprise/local church on a model that would allow 50 percent of all giving to go beyond the church. It will mean significant sacrifice for him and his wife and their young family. Most of us around the circle were older than him; all of us were challenged by his willingness to risk and sacrifice.

The juxtaposition of those two thoughts reflects both the urgency and the challenge of generational torch-passing. A refusal to let go of power, an inability to acknowledge aging, disappointment with how ministry has turned out, can all dilute the power of one generation to sound the trumpet for another.

Merton’s Palace of Nowhere – Part 5 – False Self Seeks God

On how the false self seeks God:

 

“Let them claim that the world has a definite meaning: but that they do not know what the meaning is.  Let them claim life has its obligations: but they do not want to find out what they may be.  They assert that the gods are all quite real, but they do not want to have anything to do, one way or another, with divinity.  Rightness, piety, justice, religion consist, for them, in the definition of various essences.” Page 74

 

Merton calls this group the “right thinking.” God never excites them, for they are only excited when one of their definitions is threatened or when they come up with a new definition that especially pleases them. (page 75)

 

On Promethean Theology (after Prometheus who attempted to steal fire from the gods)

 

“The Promethean instinct is as deep as man’s weakness.  That is to say, it is almost infinite.  It has its roots in the bottomless abyss of man’s own nothingness.  It is the despairing cry that rises out of the darkness of man’s metaphysical solitude – the inarticulate expression of a terror man will not admit to himself: his terror at having to be himself, at having to be a person.” (page 75)

 

One common expression of Promethean theology is the “save my soul” spirituality, which holds that the Christina life is an effort carried out against unbelievable odds.  Christian life is like the struggle of Sisyphus pushing his stone up the hill.  It is God who has made the hill steep.  It is God who sees to it that the stone is heavy.  It is God who makes sure that the stone never reaches the top of the hill.  The fires of God’s life merge with the fires of hell which God supposedly places like a flickering sphinx between himself and his creatures who dare to approach him.  Entrance into heaven is said to be gained by tricking the devil, “by getting into heaven a half hour before the devil knows you’re dead.”  In this system salvation is gained only by tricking God.  Our sinfulness places us on a greased pole going down into hell.  But, by a superhuman effort and a final barrage of highly efficacious prayers, we can manage to trick God into letting an unwanted sinner into his kingdom.” (page 76)