Monthly Archives: November 2013

An ending and beginning

Only a few days left until the end of the year – the end of the liturgical year, that is.  This coming Sunday marks the final Sunday of the ecumenical church calendar and is followed by the beginning of Advent, a rebooted cycle in the life of the church.

Although I did not grow up with it, I have come to love the lectionary and liturgical cycle.  The current lectionary is organized as a three year cycle and was created in the early 90’s by Catholic and Protestant groups.  The practice of weekly scripture readings on an annual cycle, a lectionary, may very well go back to Jewish practices preceding the birth of Christ.  There have been various lectionaries in church history and the current Revised Common Lectionary offers a gospel, epistle, Old Testament, and Psalm reading for each week.

Mennonites are late joiners to the lectionary party, but it is catching on.  Since we are a ‘free church’ tradition we have more…freedom…to choose whether we wish to follow the lectionary on any given week or focus on another theme.  Worship at CMC is often shaped by the lectionary.

What is especially wonderful/formative/valuable/beautiful about the lectionary is that it gives us a particular way of experiencing time.  A sacred calendar overlays our mundane lives and takes us, every year, through the cycle of expectation and awakening of Advent, the celebrated birth of Christmas, the light and radiance of Epiphany, the wilderness and loss of Lent, the resurrected hope and energy of Easter, the universal gifting of the Spirit at Pentecost, and the steady, faithful calling of Ordinary Time.  Go through that cycle enough years and it starts to get in you.  Or at least that’s the idea.  We are a story-shaped community, and the lectionary keeps that story of birth, death, and redemption in front of our faces on a weekly basis.

This Sunday will be both contemplative and celebrative.  The lectionary Psalm is Psalm 46, with verse ten saying: “Be still and know that I am God” – an invitation into a kind of knowing only possible through a stilling of the body and mind.  We will also celebrate the dedication of Natalie King and share in the Bountiful Table.  It will be our end of the church year pause, and party.  And then we start something new with Advent.

 

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BREAD rises

Last evening I attended the annual assembly of BREAD – Building Responsibility, Equality, And Dignity.  Many of you know this better than I, but in case not: BREAD is a county wide interfaith organization that selects one pressing social issue per year on which to try and make a significant positive impact.  Issues of past years include immigration, pay day lending, housing, and restorative justice in the juvenile courts.  One of the (many) speakers at last evening’s assembly was Judge Elizabeth Gill who has been helping form Community Restorative Circles which work with first time offending juveniles to help them repair the harm they have done to their victim and the community – a restorative rather than purely punitive approach.  Good theology.

The annual assembly is the gathering in which the issue for the coming year is chosen.  Columbus Mennonite is one fifty-ish BREAD congregations – Protestant and Catholic; Jew and Gentile; black, brown, and white.  The opening speaker reflected on the need for the faith community to claim its power – not the power of money influence, but its power of people influence – and, I would add, moral power.  The speaker emphasized our need for power to do the work of justice.  Micah 6:8 is a favorite of the organization: “What does the Lord require of you? To do justice, to love mercy, to walk humbly with God.”   A common cheer throughout the evening involved the speaker saying “BREAD,” and everyone else saying “Rises.”

I have been participating in some BREAD clergy gatherings, but this was my first larger gathering to attend and, as a first timer, I was impressed.  Having a group like this all in the same room, a large sanctuary in this case, a little over 500 people last night, is certainly powerful.  Unitarians, Catholics, Jews, and Baptists do not often do this together. 

The three issues being voted on last night were crime/violence/drugs, mental health, and education.  Mental health got the most votes and will be the focus for the next year, with a research committee and others looking at specific ways that BREAD can advocate for positive changes in this community. 

The big event for BREAD is in the spring – Monday, May 12, at 7pm, to be precise.  This is when the work of the year culminates with each congregation attempting to turn out the largest number of people possible to the Nehemiah Action night.  Elected officials and policy makers are also invited.  Last year over 3000 people came to Nehemiah, and BREAD has the goal of a 7000 person turnout in two years.  To achieve the goal, each congregation is supposed to bring as many people as worship on an average Sunday morning.  That’s 150+ for Columbus Menno.

BREAD is one of the very concrete and local ways CMC is involved in justice making and I’m excited for us to be involved in its work.   

 

Heresy

Today I came across a quote attributed to Thomas Merton: “If the you of five years ago doesn’t consider the you of today a heretic, you are not growing spiritually.”  I’m a little leery to pass it along because it doesn’t have a specific reference to one of Merton’s writings.  It wouldn’t be the first time someone came up with a provocative quote and attributed it to a spiritual giant to give it more punch.  It certainly seems like something Merton could have written, or said.  A devout Trappist monk, he was one of the leading 20th century figures who pioneered integrating Eastern religions and philosophy into Christian thought and practice.

Authenticity of the quote aside, it’s something worth pondering.

The thing about one approach to orthodoxy is that it draws a boundary around what is good and true and sacred.  Everything outside of that boundary is considered dangerous, unholy, evil, wrong – heresy.

So what happens when those boundaries get pushed outward, and what was previously considered heretical or wrong is now seen as part of the good?  What happens when those boundaries dissolve altogether and one perceives the holiness of the whole?

What I think Merton (or whoever) is suggesting here is a reversal of what we mean by heresy.  Rather than seeing heresy as something too broad, heresy becomes that which is too narrow.  That which leaves out something, or someone, who ought to be included.  Expanding the circle becomes akin to spiritual growth, and the wideness of what that circle might be five years from now might seem a whole lot like heresy (too broad) at this point.

The beautiful thing about this, and something that Merton himself lived out, is that growth is not a leaving behind of one thing for another – Merton remained a committed Catholic even has he became more Buddhist.  The previous perspective is always included in the present.  Language that previously held one meaning to us is not discarded (e.g. “Jesus is Lord”), but takes on a deeper and richer meaning.  This connects in some ways to the conversation that got started last Sunday about what it means to be “saved.”