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For Advent this year our Advent Series was entitled “Hope Rising”, because we believe that in the darkest of times whether it be historical, spiritual, emotional, or mental – Hope Rises with the belief that with the Advent of Jesus he brought hope with Him. Hope of a new way to live that leads to the best possible life. This is the final sermon of our series that wraps up the series and introduces our new series for 2008. Click on the link to listen it might take a few seconds please be patient We’ve Only Just Begun

This morning for church I read this letter and said that I would put it here.  Enjoy the read.

by Rabbi Michael Lerner      Editor, Tikkun

Every year, Americans spend billions of dollars on holiday gifts that will quickly be discarded or put into a closet where it will be little used. Many will end up in a junk pile sometime in the next few years, further polluting our environment.
Meanwhile, the production of these goods will use up natural resources that could be used to help provide housing, furniture and clothing for the poor of the earth, or which could be preserved for future generations.
For years I’ve run “holiday stress” groups and heard first hand about the depression and despair that afflicts tens of millions of Americans, either because they can’t afford to purchase the goods that are advertised in the media and set a standard of consumption beyond their means, or because they purchase and deepen their personal debts, or because they don’t receive the quality or quantity of gifts that they’ve come to believe reflects how much they are really loved. But there are better ways to show love besides giving things.
The shopping frenzy between Thanksgiving and Christmas  effects everyone—I’ve seen it undermine Chanukah as well as Christmas, and afflict those whose only connection to the holidays is the purchasing of material things.
Ironically, buying things has never been part of the essence of this season
The central message of both Chanukah and Christmas is the affirmation of hope for a renewal of goodness in the midst of a world that is increasingly dark and fearful. For the ancients, that was expressed through holidays of light—burning the yule log or lighting candles as a sign that even while the days had grown shorter and the sun seemed to be less available, we believed that it would return.  Chanukah taught the world that a small group of people (the Maccabbees) could fight the overwhelming power of the Hellenistic empire, and triumph. Christmas brought the message that a little child, always a symbol of hope, could bring love and kindness to the world, with tidings of peace and generosity.
This year, we need to get back to those messages of hope. In a world in which our Senate has just signaled, through the confirmation of an attorney general who couldn’t muster the courage to acknowledge that waterboarding is torture, that the Bush Administration need not respect international law, and in which our Congress keeps spending hundreds of billions of dollars to fund a war that the vast majority oppose, and in which our presidential candidates are unable to commit to bringing all the troops and advisors out of Iraq before 2013, there is a desparate need for ordinary citizens to experience of hope for a world of peace, generosity, and ecological sanity.
Unfortunately, that spiritual message gets lost when our attention gets submerged in the frenetic buying that our consumer culture mandates.
Generosity and gift giving is a terrific thing. The Network of Spiritual Progressives has proposed that as a society we ought to try a strategy of generosity for ending terrorism and providing homeland security– by launching a Global Marshall Plan. Lets dedicate 1-2% of the Gross Domestic Product of the U.S. each year for the next twenty to ending domestic and global poverty, homelessness, hunger, inadequate education, inadequate health care, and repairing the global physical environment.  That will do far more to provide us with security than dumping trillions of dollars into militaristic adventures like the war in Iraq and the proposed assault on Iran that only further inflame hatred toward the U.S. and promote more terrorism.  We should be insisting that anyone who wants our political support endorse that kind of a plan for societal generosity.
And in our own lives, we could commit to spending not more than $100 on gifts for the children in our lives who may have been so overwhelmed by media expectations that we can’t yet wean them from societal materialism. But for everyone else, give a gift of time. Send your entire guest list a copy of this article and then offer them four hours of your time—to provide childcare so they can go out for an afternoon or evening, to paint their apartment or house, to shovel their snow or help them with gardening, to teach them or their children some skill of yours, to do shopping or errands for them, to help them clean their garage or arrange their papers or books, and you can think of much more.
Time is more scarce and more precious than goods—so this is a gift that shows real generosity.  And not using up more of the earth’s resources is a gift to the earth’s environment that will yield fruit in the years ahead.

The phrase “the dark night of the soul” is a powerful phrase, those words reach down ot the deepest sense of our being, the soul. When I attended the seminar titled “The Dark Night of the Soul” presented by Mark Yaconelli I was not sure what this dark night was really about.

According to Mark the dark night is not, misfortune, suffering, it is not restricted to holy people, being over taken by evil or even temptation. Is seems that according to these things, the things that lead us to this dark night of the soul are not things that come at the hand of our own decisions. Instead its almost as though it is just one of those things happen in the life of person. As we journey, it is almost as though in this process an inevitable stop is this dark night. That can at times last as long as a fortnight. But I think we could all agree that even if it lasts one night on one hundred nights, it is still one night to many (night is of course a metaphor).

Mark made a strong point about what happens during this period, of what I would call “spirathy” (my word, combining spirituality and apathy). He said that during this darkness nothing sounds good. Whether it is things that are to fufil any desires of the flesh or spirit. It is a numbing experience. As he discussed all of this, I recollected in my mind of times when I had felt this way.

As a sort of remedy, or perhaps antidote he led us in contemplative prayer. Where in the silence we would focus on one word, just one word. For me the word was Shalom, and all we did was focus on that one word. If our minds began to wander, shalom was my centering word. And we just did this for several minutes, but I found it to be a powerful prayer. You should try it.

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I just started reading Brian McLaren‘s newest book, Everything Must Change and I am loving it. For the past several months this blog has acted as more of a message board than anything that even resembles an actual attempt at a conversation. So in an attempt to write with more substance I am going to start writing about what I come across in Everything Must Change.

I thought the format for this discussion might have three sections: (1) Excerpt from book, (2) Dialogue, mostly with myself, (3) Questions. My hopes are that we can dialogue together.

EXCERPT (the following excerpt was spoken by Claude a peace activist from Burundi, to a group of other peace hungry citizens from around the region of East Africa, Rwanda is one of those places)

“Eventually I realized something. I had never heard a sermon that addressed these realities(i.e. death, hatred, distrust, poverty, suffering, corruption, injustice). Did God only care about our souls going to heaven after we died? Were our hungry bellies unimportant to God? Was God unconcerned about our crying sons and frightened daughters, our mothers hiding under beds, our fathers crouching by windows, unable to sleep because of gunfire? Or did God send Jesus to teach us how to avoid genocide by learning to love each other, how to overcome tribalism and poverty by following his path, how to deal with injustice and corruption, how to make a better life here on earth-here in East Africa.” (19)

DIALOGUE. When I read this I was using the stationary bike at a local gym, and I had to stop just so that I could process this. What I have observed of the Christianity of the Western World is that it has become nothing short of a self serving life philosophy. We look for churches that fill our needs, and when that church no longer meets our needs we move on to the next one (and sometimes as pastor’s because we have at times been fooled into thinking that numbers are important we keep trying to fill those needs and in doing so perpetuate the never ending cycle of self-serving Christianity). The thing is that if that is the case, that we are always looking for a church that meets our needs, or rather “feeds us spiritually” we will not have any time to look beyond ourselves, unless we are forced to. I think that it is only when we look beyond ourselves that Christianity becomes real and authentic. When I read the above section, and tried to put myself in that situation hearing the crys of children and the sight of mothers hiding it was terrifing to me. It wasn’t so much that the visual of this happening was terrifing, but rather that this was and is happening in the world, while I have for the past several years enjoyed my white chocolate lattes, supersized meals, entertainment on the silver screen just to be distracted from the hustle and bustle of our everyday.

I have a sneaking suspicion that if we were the ones experiencing the above mentioned, our first responses would be to pray. We read the narratives of scripture, like Daniel in the lions den, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and we read ourselves into those narratives because we believe that God cares. For them their prayers is a sign of hope and faith, but for us in the western world their prayers have become our permission to wash our hands of any responsibility to help. Because after all if they have prayed then God will handle it. The words, “What can I do about something happening half way around the world” become our non spoken motto. Our Christianity must be anything but that. I write about his because I see what is happening and I cannot help but feel helpless. What can I do, a pastor of two small parishes in the desert? What can we do? Seriously I could use some answers!

QUESTIONS. If our Christianity doesn’t have an effect on the society around us, does it even matter? What is a Christianity that doesn’t affect society, really about? What is our personal hope for heaven at some point in the future, if people are experiencing hell every single day all around the world?

 

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Where do we go to find the Imago Dei (the image of God)?

I read an article in Sojourners Magazine titled “The Hungry Spirit”, thinking that it was going to be an article about the first beatitude “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3). It turns out that it was not directly written about the that particular text.

The article is about the photography of Sebastio Salgado, a photography that creates “a religious narrative of poor people across the world.” Salgado uses his camera to tell the story of the human condition. The poor. The displaced. The helpless. The hopeless. In his Exodus project he “traces the human face, the Imago Dei, against the background of time, livelihood, and continents.”

In Salgado’s current project Genesis he seeks “out places that are still as pristine as they were in primeval times, places that provide hope…” I wonder if the word ‘primeval’ here is used to indicate the time when everything in the world was pure, green, hopeful, without pain, without tears, without suffering, a time in which the Imago Dei could be seen without having to look through the muck of oppression that comes with the civilizing of humanity. Ironic isn’t it. The more civilized and advanced we become the more isolated, the more, that less is done to help those that need our help. Any help.

Commenting on his new project Genesis Salgado says, “We exploit the entire planet to live as isolated individuals.” He continues “It’s very complicated to have hope, but there are spots of hope around the world”. Genesis seeks to find these places of hope. What I might add are places of holiness.

Don’t we all look for places of hope in our lives. Or even realities of hope. Experiences of Hope. People of, and people that hope. A real kind of hope, and not a well wishing sentiment.

Perhaps places of hope are the places where the Imago Dei is found. Hope, through the human endeavor to end suffering (of all kinds). Hope, through fighting for the survival of our planet. Hope, through human relationships, even broken ones. Hope, through music. Hope, through art. Hope, through families. Hope, through friends. Hope, through communities of faith. Hope, through forgiveness. Hope, through grace. Hope, through revelation. Hope, through Yahweh.

Hope in that which is rooted in what the Imago Dei reflects and represents. Can it be that the Imago Dei is more accessible to us than we ever thought possible. Because maybe the Imago Dei is found in places of hope, places that provide hope.

I read Samir Selmanovic’s essay “The Sweet Problem of Inclusiveness: Finding Our God in the Other” from An Emergent Manifesto of Hope edited by Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones.

If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend it. It is not for the (religious) light at heart. What I mean is that if you have been a part of organized religion this book offers brave new insights into life in the Kingdom of God. These essay’s provide glimpses of hope of how life could be, how life is for missional communities all around the country.

In this essay Samir thinks aloud,

“The Chominas and the Marks(to really understand these references you need to read the essay) aroud us leave us wondering whether Christ can be more than Christianity. Or even other than Christianity(Pg. 192).”

Samir marks a distinction between those that “take the name of Christ” and those that accept Christ on a deeper level that lead them to be “Christlike”. The difference is a significant one. One with important ramifications.

“Can it be that the teachings of the gospel are embedded and can be found in reality itself rather than being exclusively isolated in sacred texts and our interpretations of these texts(Pg. 192)?”

The substance of what it means to live Christ rather than merely accept the name of Christ. The substance of a life that lives Christ is exhibited in their interactions with others, what they do for them, and live with them. Life together.

Which leads me to this. This past week a girl by the name of Samatha Brown passed away. She had just graduated from high school. I didn’t know her personally but some of the youth from my church in Brawley were friends with her. I received a text message telling me that Friday (yesterday) a big group of her friends and classmates put together a car wash to help raise money for funeral expenses and related costs. There are pictures below of this car wash. I showed up to get my car washed and support the fund. I stayed for a couple of hours helping with the washing of cars. I stood their looking around and thought, “Christlike” as I saw what these teenagers did. A car wash doesn’t seem like much. But to me it spoke volumes of the goodness in humanity. The Kingdom of God hard at work. The temperature that Friday was about 110 and humid. In the two hours I was there I was drenched in sweat. These teenagers were there from 9 Am to 7 Pm.

The words that come to mind are amen, amen, amen.

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