Using the T Word

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There is always a reason behind our actions.
Whether or not we realize it, the way we view God affects what we do and how we do it.
theology
Even if we never explore the beliefs behind our actions, we all believe something about God and the world and it is this belief that comes out in our behavior.
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It is precisely because our beliefs dictate what we do that makes it so vital to explore those convictions.
Part of loving God with all of our mind, after all, means being deliberate about what we believe, knowing why we believe it. We all want our actions to be based on truth.
theology
theology
Enter theology.
It is a dirty word in some Christian circles. Some believe that it takes away the joy or emotion of loving God. Others think that theology does nothing but stir up trouble and break up churches. Still others suppose that theology moves away from Scripture, that it creates something that wasn’t there before.
Yet you already have a theology. You have already read Scripture and interpreted it and let what you believe it teaches you about God influence the way you live.
Wouldn’t you rather your theology be one you have prayerfully and thoughtfully considered rather than one that just evolved without conscious decision in your mind over time?
theology
Paul, I believe, was the first theologian. He used his knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures along with his knowledge of Jesus to write some of the first doctrines of the Church. Certainly no one would have accused him of not knowing what he believed or why he believed it.
Theology is what brought us the teaching of the Trinity. The word Trinity is not found anywhere in the Bible, yet by taking such Scriptures as the Shema, Christ’s own claims, and the teachings on the Spirit in the epistles, Church theologians have come up with the doctrine of the Trinity that we all know.
We all want to love God the best we can. We all want our actions to be based on truth. To do this, we all need to evaluate our own beliefs about God with the help of Scripture and what historically the Church has confessed.
Make sure that what comes out in your life, your words and thoughts and actions, is based on well-thought-out theology, not just-what-I-grew-up-thinking theology.
Let’s do our best to know why we do the things we do. Let’s do our best to be sure our actions are based on truth.
Let us love God with all of our mind.

credit: Thanks to Todd Daly for many of the ideas contained in this post.

 

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Who Am I?

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I recently stopped nursing our last little one, and it was harder on my emotions than I expected.
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I expected that I would be grateful to have a little extra freedom. I expected that I would be glad to hand over some of the nighttime routine to my husband. I expected that I would be happy to have my body belong only to me again.
I did feel all of those, but only a little.
Overwhelmingly, rather, was a sense of loss. A loss of part of myself, of who I am.
It took me by surprise until I realized that for over nine years I have been either pregnant or nursing. No breaks at all.
Of course that would become a major part of my identity! Nine years is a long time. Almost a decade of being identified as a pregnant or nursing mommy is certainly enough to cement that into who I am as a person.
All of those big emotions (and I am normally not an overly emotional sort of person) made me pause and think hard about who I think I am compared to who I want to be.
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As a mom of four children, eight years and younger, it is so easy for that one piece of me to become my entire identity. I’m a mom. It’s what I do twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Even when I am away from my babies, my thoughts are still full of them.
Yet I recognize that I must be careful. Of course being a mom is and always will be a large part of who I am, but I need to guard carefully against it becoming all that I am.
Someday, after all, these babies will not be babies anymore, and being a mom will not fill up quite so much of my time. Or my house.
I must be careful to keep my heart close to God, to make sure that my primary identity is as His child. He is, ultimately, the most important piece of me, the One who is with me always.
I must take care to remain close to my husband. He will, Lord willing, be my dearest companion still when the children have homes of their own.
I must be mindful of my own self. I need to continue reading, continue learning, continue making my art, continue cultivating deep friendships.
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I believe wholeheartedly that if I lose myself in my children, I and they will be the poorer for it.
Yet that piece of who I am is so consuming that I cannot just drift along and expect to hold on to the rest of my self.
I must be deliberate about caring for the other pieces of me. The more I cultivate all of the fragments of me, the richer and deeper the whole of them will become.
Those of you with children, what do you do, or for those whose children are older, what have you done to keep yourself from getting lost in your identity as a parent? I am still a mother of little ones, and I need your ideas.
I don’t often write about parenting issues, but I supposed that this particular struggle was one that was common to many. I pray that my written thoughts will spark your own heart-searching.
Peace.
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It All Began with a Lamb

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They ate their lamb standing up, their robes tucked into their belts.
They stood as they ate, trusting that God would keep his promise, ready to leave at a moment’s notice to head toward freedom.
They trusted and obeyed, and so they remained standing up, their staffs in their hands, as they ate their lamb.
That lamb who had saved their oldest child, that lamb whose blood was painted around their doors, that lamb whose life was substituted for a human life,
that same lamb would now give them what they needed for their journey.
That lamb, as they ate, gave them sustenance for their journey. That lamb was their food at the start of their decades-long journey across a wilderness. They partook of that lamb before they took a first step, a first step of obedience toward a Promised Land.
That lamb which gave them life also gave them strength, and courage, perhaps, too, as they stood ready to take the first steps toward a Land they could not yet see.
Life, sustenance, strength, courage.
And it all began with a lamb.
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We eat our Lamb every week, gathered together with family.
We gather with family, trusting that God will keep his promises, ready to serve and care for each other at a moment’s notice, ready to love.
We trust and we obey, and so we gather together and eat of the Lamb each week.
That Lamb who saved us, that Lamb whose blood was shed for us, that Lamb whose life was substituted for ours,
that same Lamb now gives us what we need for our journey.
This Lamb, as we eat, gives us sustenance for our journey. This Lamb is our food and drink at the beginning of each week in our decades-long journey across the wilderness of our life here on earth. We partake of this Lamb before we take a first step into our week, a first step of obedience through our life toward a Promised Land.
This Lamb who gives us life also gives us supernatural power, and courage, perhaps, too, as we take Him into ourselves and abide in Him, as He through His Spirit abides in us, as we stand ready to take the first steps toward a Land we cannot yet see.
Life, sustenance, power, courage.
And it all began with a lamb.

Art credits: stained glass in Saint Peter and Paul parish church; Eucharist photo by John Snyder

 

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Our Prayer for the New Year

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We live in a weary world.
Our world searches for light, searches for hope.
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We who have the light and hope to offer…
…do we?
Our world behaves foolishly as it clutches after joy, looks frantically for peace.
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We who have knowledge to share of joy and peace in desperate circumstances…
…do we?
Do we shine out the light of the world in rejoicing or shutter it in fear?
Why would we do that? How selfish must we be to withhold life from a dying friend out of fear for ourselves?
Yet we do.
I do.
As we begin a new year, as we close out the old, could we who are light bearers join together in prayer?
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Could we pray together that God would give us boldness and courage, that He would give us words to say and opportunities to say them, that He would help us to behave wisely and to love well?
Oh, Lord, our God. We are yours. We say to you along with Mary, Behold, we are the servants of the Lord. Do with us what you will.
Amen.
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A Carol for You

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to all of you. I am so grateful that you are here, sharing this quiet space with me. May God bless you and those you love today. Enjoy the beauty of this poem and song as you rejoice over the birth of Christ and all of the hope this brings to our weary world. Peace.

Carol Of Joy
by Eileen Berry

Green leaves all fallen, withered and dry;
Brief sunset fading, dim winter sky.
Lengthening shadows,
Dark closing in…
Then, through the stillness, carols begin!
Oh fallen world, to you is the song–
Death holds you fast and night tarries long.
Jesus is born, your curse to destroy!
Sweet to your ears, a carol of Joy!
Pale moon ascending, solemn and slow;
Cold barren hillside, shrouded in snow;
Deep, empty valley veiled by the night;
Hear angel music–hopeful and bright!
Oh fearful world, to you is the song–
Peace with your God, and pardon for wrong!
Tidings for sinners, burdened and bound–
A carol of joy!
A Saviour is found!
Earth wrapped in sorrow, lift up your eyes!
Thrill to the chorus filling the skies!
Look up sad hearted–witness God’s love!
Join in the carol swelling above!
Oh friendless world, to you is the song!
All Heaven’s joy to you may belong!
You who are lonelyladenforlorn
Oh fallen world!
Oh friendless world!
To you,
A Saviour is born!

(If you are viewing this in an email or reader, click here to view the video of this song)

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Living in the Dark

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Christmas begins in the dark.
Dark
Advent, this season leading up to Christmas, is for us. It is for we who live in the dark.
This season seems to amplify pain. Those who are lonely feel more lonely, those who are grieving feel their grief more deeply, those who are hurting seem to suffer more.
And that’s okay.
It’s okay not to feel happy this time of year.
After all, Christmas doesn’t mean much if we don’t need it.
Mary
Mary understood. Her angel visitation led to a rift between her and her beloved, a painful journey on a donkey, and giving birth next to a chicken.
Even as she clutched her newborn son, she heard the prophecy of a sword piercing her heart and wondered.
Even after her Christmas, her beloved son grew farther and farther away from her, uttering such things as Why would you look for me? Don’t you know I must be about my Father’s business? and, when she came through the crowds to see him, My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.
Yet Mary stayed close. She trusted and held on to her faith in her son no matter how distant he seemed, even when he died. She stayed close. Everywhere we look in the gospels we see Mary, hovering on the outskirts, still showing up, still coming back to her son again and again.
Stay Close
Can we do the same?
Can we hold on to our faith in the Son no matter how distant He seems, even if He seems to be dead?
Light
This world is dark and we live in a continual Advent.
Don’t run away from the bitter-sweetness of this Advent season. You don’t have to pretend to feel joyful.
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Tinsel
Don’t hide behind the tinsel and lights. Neither should you ignore the colors completely.
Linger as you abide with the sorrow and the joy, the hurt and the hope that are woven together in this season. Stay close to the Son however far away He may seem.
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Settle into the knowing of how desperately we need Christmas, how desperately we need God-with-us.
Our Father promised that Christmas would come
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and it will be all the more beautiful for having lived through the darkness of Advent.

Art credit: Pieta by Michelangelo; all other photographs copyrighted by Elizabeth Giger

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Longing and Hoping He Will Come

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Advent is a time of waiting. A time of light and of dark, a holy season of expectancy.
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Come
Advent means arrival and we are waiting for your arrival, oh Light of the world.
We sing our beautiful songs of longing and of hope and we pray that you will come.
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Come
Kings and prophets of old prayed, Come!
All my life, I have prayed, Come!
Yet has humanity gotten any closer to you in these thousands of years of our existence?
Have I gotten any closer to you in my few decades of life?
Or is the distance to you always the same no matter how far we travel?
When our bleeding feet have apparently covered a part of the distance to your eternity, don’t you always retreat twice as far away from us, into the immense reaches filled only by your infinite being?
You tell us that you have already come, once upon a time, as a baby in the straw. You tell us that you have come, have settled in among us and shared our drab and ordinary lives, but to be honest, it is hard to see you in this place.
Come
Come
To be honest, your arrival often feels more like a departure.
You came as you promised, but you did not change our poor and finite sort of life as you lived it. Instead, you became like us in every regard.
You lived every moment carefully, not letting any sort of torment slip from your cupped hands. You felt deeply every drop of this life and suffered it all, right to the bleeding end.
You, too, felt death coming for you, steadily, relentlessly. You, too, when you looked up to the One who is called Father, begging for comfort in your pain and dread, were met with deafening silence.
Is this why you came? Is this birth in Bethlehem and death on Golgotha the coming that is to redeem all of us from our human misery? Are we to be comforted simply because you also wept and met your end?
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No, now I begin to understand that we sing and pray this Come of hope and longing because you are still in the process of your coming. Your appearance as part of the very dirt you created was only the beginning of your coming.
You chose to rescue us from our misery by taking on our very misery and bringing it to the triumphant ending we could not have found. You alone are able to take the cross we all bear and change it into a triumphant banner of victory.
It is said you will come again, but again is misleading. It is said that you will appear again, and perhaps this is a better way of understanding because you have never really gone away. In all of our human existence you have never left us.
Come
Behold, you come. Now it is still the one single hour of your Advent, at the end of which we too shall have found out that you have really come. O God who is to come, grant me the grace to live now, in the hour of your Advent, in such a way that I may merit to live in your forever, in the blissful hour of your eternity.

~ all quotes are from Karl Rahner (1904-1984), German Jesuit priest and theologian. Many of the ideas in this essay are also from him.

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Be Still

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Be still.
Be Still
Wait.
Wait
Be still and wait for God.
Wait for God
Be still and wait for God to come.
God will come
Advent is waiting and so we become still while we wait for Him to come down and rescue us.
We pause in our fighting and our striving, we rest from our grieving and our mourning, we stop to breathe in our busyness and our too much.
Just for a moment.
It doesn’t take any of it away. Yet.
But we become still like Moses with the Red Sea before and the Egyptian army after and we wait for God to fight for us.
We who have lived with the pain for far too long, we who have just received the phone call and sit at our kitchen table in stunned silence, we who can’t see how we will put one foot in front of the other much less get up from our beds in the morning, we who hide in our closets and weep our wracking sobs while we rock back and forth,
God comes
just for one moment we become still.
We remember that God is and that He is fighting for us.
God fights for us
It doesn’t solve or heal any of it. Yet.
But it will.
God will heal us
Oh, how it will.
We become still and we wait for Emmanuel. We wait for Emmanuel, God-with-us, to come down.
We wait in this season and we wait in this life for our Emmanuel to come down and fight and make it all okay again.
So for just a moment, take a breath and remember how He already did this once to show us that He will do it again.
He is with us
Be still.
Emmanuel
Wait.

edited from the archives

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Finding the And

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What is this proclivity of ours to divide ourselves? What is this propensity to force a choice, to say it must be either-or rather than and?
Reading Others
The more I read and listen to church leaders in other countries, in other faith traditions, in other times, the more I see our especially American tendency to eschew the middle of a continuum for the outer reaches.
We do this in religion and we do this in politics. Fundamentalism vs Liberalism. Republican vs Democrat. Often we confuse the whole thing completely and mix both religion and politics all up together in an inseparable soup of extremes.
Why can’t it be and?
Why can’t some of what fundamentalists teach and some of what liberals teach both be true? Is there truly no middle ground, no and?
N. T. Wright
N.T. Wright, a bishop in the Church of England and a respected theologian/historian who specializes in studying and writing about Jesus and 1st century Judaism and Christianity, spoke at a conference in America of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.
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Wright described how the Roman Catholic church made the Lord’s Supper more and more mystical and ritual, almost turning it into something magical that had to be done with just exactly the proper rites in order for the bread and wine to become body and blood, and how the Protestant church reacted so strongly against this that they turned the Lord’s Supper into merely a symbol, a sign of something that happened a long time ago and nothing more.
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Wright suggested that perhaps it is both. Perhaps instead of either the Catholic view or the Protestant view, it is and.
The Lord’s Supper, as Jesus gave it to the disciples and instructed them to continue to practice it, was simple. There was no formula that had to be done in order to make it work correctly. Yet it also was  more than a symbol.
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In some mysterious way, when we take the bread and the wine, we are taking into ourselves the body and blood of the risen Jesus. We are taking into ourselves the presence of the living Lord which then gives us the power and strength we need to go out into our community and meet the needs of those around us.
This view harmonizes with the other things that Jesus did and said, such as his imagery of the vine and the branches, saying that we must abide in Him and He must abide in us, otherwise we can do nothing (John 15).
Of course, God can find other ways of giving us the power we need to bring His kingdom here on earth, but this is the primary, continuous way that Jesus gave us.
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If we open our hearts and minds, there are so many more and‘s to be found. There are many more ways in which the theology insisted upon by fundamentalism and the social justice insisted upon by liberalism are essential to each other rather than pressed up hard against one another.
If we find them, perhaps we can move one more step closer to the unity that Jesus prayed for us to have.
If we can only seek out the and.

 

Art credits: Eucharist relief; Catholic EucharistProtestant Eucharist; Eucharist tapestry; Eucharist in Prayer Book

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My Confession and Repentance

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I am prejudiced.
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Perhaps not overtly. I am not prejudiced in a way that anyone outside of my head would notice. I don’t consciously try to think poorly about those who are different than me or treat them badly.
The judgments, the assumptions, are there, though.
My own prejudice is not related to race. I am grateful to have had many friendships with people of other races. These friendships allow me to see similar people I do not know through the eyes of those friendships.
My particular prejudice is related to economic and educational status.
What is yours?
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When I see someone who speaks or writes as though they have not even made it through high school, I don’t treat them poorly, but I make assumptions. I make assumptions about their character, about the way they think, and therefore assumptions about what their future actions might be.
Some of the time I catch myself. I give myself a mental shake and try to see the person for who they really are.
I don’t always catch myself.
For this I repent.
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I will take responsibility for my own failings and take the first step towards making the Church a safer place for those who are not like me.
Repentance involves change. It is not simply apologizing and then continuing on. One must go in a different direction.
And so I repent.
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I repent for making assumptions about people based on their appearance.
I repent for judging people’s character based on the way they speak.
I repent for thinking myself better than someone who has not had as much education.
For truly? Truly, I am ashamed for valuing knowledge more than kindness. I sorrow over my valuing learning more than gentleness. I lament over my valuing schooling more than servanthood.
I confess and I repent.
Will you join me?
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May God have mercy and heal me of such things.
May Christ have mercy and heal the Church.
May the Spirit have mercy and heal our world.
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