Saturday, November 20, 2010

Confusion, Clarity and Somewhere in Between

I am confused in my thoughts about my experience in court these past couple of weeks. I am confused in my thoughts about my experience in church the past couple of weeks as well. Having been away from both court and church for most of three weeks, neither one seems to make as much sense to me as it did before I took a vacation from both for a while.

One thing is clear: I am noticing what is going on and feeling what is going on more clearly than I was previously. This presents me with a situation related to legal cases and to church in which I need to take certain actions because of what I have noticed going on. So, I am not sure I am that confused, but just not sure yet what actions to take. I am in the process of seeking understanding of my situation at church and in court. Instead of just going along from one work day to the next, I am looking at the whole of it to assess what is going and how effective I am being in my work as a minister and a lawyer. My conclusion is that I am not being as effective as I would like to be, and perhaps, I am not being as effective as I used to be. But, that is hard to tell, since it is hard to compare one time period to another.

But, what exactly have I noticed that has bothered me and caused me to rethink how I am going about my work? In court, I have felt the deep need of clients to be listened to and to have their legal situation plainly explained to them. And, I have felt the real burden on my conscience when I am unable to provide any real help to someone the government wants to punish, especially in cases where the punishment just doesn’t fit the crime at all. When I can’t really stop my client from getting “run-over,” I begin to feel like just another part of a system that is crushing certain people. At church, I feel like I am trying to figure out how to preach for the first time, which is strange after having preached for over 20 years. Over 1,000 sermons, and now I am wondering what preaching is all about. And, I have really appreciated the formal, solemn parts of our worship service, and am not appreciating the informal parts of the service, and I include preaching in this. I like the scripture readings very much. Though I have never been too much on ritual, I am taking some comfort in ritual. I particularly like the times of music and no words being said in our service. On some days, I complain about traditional religious language, but often I find great comfort in tradition. I really think that I am uncomfortable about religious language, whether traditional or contemporary. I want to speak about God and faith and people in a way that is closer to where I live and move and have my being. And, I can speak in this way around a few friends, but not too well in church.

My religious speech these days is full of questioning and wondering. I did try a little of this out at Bible Study two weeks ago, when I said: “I was thinking about the great distance between my intelligence and God’s intelligence as I was talking to my dog. Because, it occurred to me that my dog’s understanding and my understanding are not so far from each other, whereas my understanding and God’s understanding are worlds apart. Of course, there is the fact that God is able to think from within my human frame of reference, as Jesus is part of God’s being, whereas I cannot think from within my dog’s frame of reference, since I have never been incarnate as a dog. “ Now, a few people looked at me like: “what have you been smoking?” but others seemed really interested in this line of thought, and appreciative of it as we went on discussing in a new way. And, that sends me out on a different train of thought: “Just think what it would be like to be incarnate as a dog?” You have to fit in and submit to a creature that doesn’t think like you think. And, then, you have to live among dogs, who will kill you over a piece of meat, and whom you will fight to the death against for a piece of meat. And, there are leashes to be walked on, and if you get loose, there are cars to be hit by or big dogs to be attacked by. It would be very scary to take a couple of steps down the chain of being. Life is a little wilder and scary down on the lower levels of existence. I guess that’s what God went through in his son when he took an almost infinite step down the chain of being to humanity. It reminds me of the song by Joan Jett: “What if God was one of us, just a slob like one of us, just a stranger on a bus trying to find his way home . . . “ Maybe Ms. Jett was not too far from what it was really like for Jesus who while in human flesh shared the very being of God. Sharing the being of humanity and the being of God – that would have been enough to drive someone crazy, but somehow it didn’t. Somehow he was the sanest of all. That is something to think on. It has normally made Christians think that we humans are very close to God in the chain of being, ‘the image of God,’ as it says in Genesis. And, although we may be quite “high” up the chain of being in creation, it seems to be that we are quite close to our fellow creatures as far as intelligence goes, and an almost infinite distance away as far as God goes.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Thinking on a Sunday Evening

Sometimes on Sunday afternoons and evenings, I start thinking a little more clearly. And, this evening, I am thinking about church and realizing that I feel very different about church than I have in the past. I feel no anxiety about church matters, and about church in general, I feel somewhat confused in a fairly positive way.

Since I was gone from "church" for a few weeks, I feel like an alien at church. I just don't feel like I am "back" yet, and I don't feel much compulsion to worry over that feeling. Preaching has been a strange experience the past couple of weeks. I enjoyed the preparation this week, but the preaching - well, I think I'd rather sit down and talk with people these days. I don't have much to preach about, but a lot to discuss with people these days.

I enjoyed one of our hymns very much today: "Now Thank We All our God," # 555 in the PCUSA Blue Hymnal. That is a great song. "Now thank we all our God, with hearts and hands and voices."

I liked hearing Keith recall the plight of the Hebrews in Egypt and celebrate God's deliverance of the Hebrews from slavery to freedom. And, then the reading of the Ten Commandments with our responses in between:"Lord have mercy upon us. Christ, have mercy upon us. Lord, have mercy upon us" and at the end.

I particularly liked these two parts of the service. My sermon - well, it would have been better to talk about than preach. It was about memory and rewriting our pasts from the perspective of faith. It was probably a fairly interesting sermon if you wanted to think of things in new way. Probably a little disappointing if you were looking for a good, solid expository or doctrinal sermon. I hope it was helpful to some people. I think it might have been, but it appears from what a couple of people said to have been a little disturbing as well.

Memory and memories are pretty tough things to deal with. And, I did talk about Paul's difficult memory of his cruel treatment of early Christians, and how that memory was something he had to make sense of from the perspective of a new commitment to the way of Jesus, the Christ.

Well, I have to say that my two post-vacation sermons have been a little different. I am not sure whether to give them a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down. I am going to revise my sermon notes from today on memory, and post them in the next couple of days on this blog. These days it seems that some of my sermons are more fit for posting on the blog than preaching from the pulpit.