Thursday, September 25, 2008

Credo in Unum Deum...

Today for theological study we had to compose a brief statement of our beliefs. We could format it like the Nicene Creed or like something else. I didn't get to finish it, but I thought I'd go ahead and do so:

I believe in God the Sovereign Creator of all, the Lover of all, and the One in whom all have their being. God the Lover burns with compassion and devotion for us even when we turn away. God the Lover's justice is powerful and calls us all to repentance and restoration, yet God the Lover's mercy is what restores us in repentance. We adore you, O Most Holy Lord God. Hear our prayer that you may abide with us!

I believe in Jesus Christ, God-among-us, the Eternal Word who joins humanity and all creation to God. Christ, called God the Beloved, is the source of all our hope and all our strength. For our salvation, the Eternal Word was born of the Blessed Virgin Mary and was named Jesus. He proclaimed the Reign of God, calling us to turn to God and to serve our neighbor. In Christ the weak are strong, the blind see, the poor are filled, and the imprisoned are set free. Because of his immense love for God and humanity and because of our human frailty, Jesus was crucified. He suffered and died. God the Beloved suffered and died. On the third day God overcame the powers of death, fear and destruction and was resurrected. God the Beloved walked among the disciples, eating with them and teaching them. God the Beloved then ascended into Heaven and awaits the day in which creation will be judged and purified. We adore you, O Christ. Hear our prayer that we may abide with you!

I believe in the Holy Spirit, God the breath that sustains and preserves us. The Holy Spirit is the source of love and is therefore called Love itself. God-who-is-Love sancitifies us and proclaims the truth to all generations. We adore you, O Holy Spirit. Hear our prayer that we may abide in you as you abide in us!

I believe that God has consecrated a pilgrim people to be the abiding witness to the Gospel in the world and that this people is the Church. The Church finds its being in the continued sustaining presence of the Holy Spirit. The One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church is the Body of Christ in creation: One, because it has one God, one Lord, one Shepherd; Holy, because it is continually consecrated to God in eternal union and brings the light of Christ to creation; Catholic, because God is sovereign over all the universe; Apostolic, because through the laying on of hands, through the Holy Eucharist and through baptism are the worship, faith and teachings entrusted to new generations since the time of the Apostles and because the Church is called to proclaim the Gospel. The Church awaits the resurrection of the dead and the eternal life in God's presence.


It's actually quite fascinating to write down what we would say is our own personal creed. What would you write?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The love of money...

... is the root of all evil in the church?

I had a fantastic discussion with my fellow interns last night about money. How much are we beholden to money in parish ministry? We worry about the building, the ministries of the church, the future of the community.

"It isn't money that's evil. When we love it, yeah, that's the problem, but money's a useful resource. Without it can we really do ministry?"

That's an unjust paraphrase of a friend's comment last night. On its face it seems absolutely reasonable. It's the reasonableness of it all that makes it that much more dangerous.

No, I'm not arguing that the church needs to sell all it has for the poor and oppressed. I think Jesus taught us that lesson in rebuking Judas for wanting to sell the ointment instead of 'wasting' it on Jesus. It's not a waste if it's done properly, 'properly' being an awfully vague and unhelpful modifier.

What concerns me is that we forget the real reason the Church can exist at all: the Holy Spirit. A friend of mine always says her favorite holiday is Pentecost since it's the birthday of the Church. The Church in Acts did not have endowments or capital campaigns, yet it survived. It flourished!

The same friend protested: "But the world has changed a lot since then. You can't seriously think that we should go back to that model?"

No, not at all. What concerns me is that our attachment to the status quo is what endangers our relationship with God. We all like having money saved up so the church lights can stay on. It's not an entirely ignoble want. I just wonder if people from the cathedral here could walk away from the stained glass, the beautiful altar, the sanctuary hallowed by a century of prayer and still feel God. And maybe even rejoice while walking away!

In our saving and building up of church finances, do we try to insulate ourselves from a desert fasting experience which could build up the church even more?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Accepting God into our lives

I have been absolutely blessed here at my new parish by their generosity. Admittedly, I am an intern for them, but their gifts of food and attention is remarkable.

In accepting their gifts I was sort of overwhelmed; how could I accept those gifts when I hadn't done much to earn them? I was just one of their new interns. I hadn't given a great sermon and neither had my fellow interns. I hadn't said a comforting word in a hard time. We hadn't been in town for more than two days when we were all introduced to the parish.

I wanted to stop them, to tell them to give me a few days to prove myself. Why would they want to give us stuff if we hadn't shown them we deserved it? We could be a bunch of annoying, self-centered young adults. We could be irresponsible or lack a robust spiritual grounding. We had to accept their gift, though, and accept it without anything to return.

God's grace is the same way; we do nothing to earn it, yet we must accept it. It is in those moments when we cannot give anything that we can learn the depth of God's love. We have nothing to give in return. We can't offer to mow God's lawn in exchange for a casserole or offer to drive an elderly God to the grocery store in return for a box of cookies.

God's grace is undeserved, yes. It's a story most of us hear at one time or another. We don't get to say the rosary daily for a month to get God's grace, and we can't really say a magic prayer to get forgiveness. We have to give up all hope of returning God's grace in order to really understand the real gift we have.

Some people, though, don't have that kind of a conversion story. They didn't have that moment when they were able to feel God's love in the depths of despair or anything of the sort. They never had to walk up to God, empty-handed, and open themselves to God's love so radically. God's always been there, and they've felt it.

But both kinds of people, those with radical conversion stories and those without, both have to recognize their own poverty before God. Those who knew despair have nothing to boast about. An impressive story, an inspiring tale of coming to God, yes, and those kinds of stories can be extraordinarily helpful to those looking for God.

On the other hand, we have a lot to learn from those who didn't have that kind of experience. They don't have that kind of inspiring story that can be sold in a book. They have the boring, prosaic kind of story we still need to hear. It's about growing in God's grace and about living after that conversion. That spiritual high is a great feeling right after conversion; I've converted to multiple faiths and have had that experience over and over. A few months down the road, how much more spiritual are we? Have we grown in religion, have we learned how to live what our religion teaches us? Can we live without the highs of religion after the novelty wears off?

THAT is what the non-converted can teach us. People who have always had God in their lives can teach us a lot about just living in grace. Now, of course, some people have just the trappings and not the substance of the faith just like some people don't truly convert from the depths of their souls but convert for the free toaster. We must sort out the truly inspiring stories of the saints from the dime store inspiration novels. But in listening to converts and cradle Christians we can learn a lot about God's presence in our lives.