Advent Field Guide (Week 3)

Advent Week Three     December 15-21, 2019        JOY: The Weary World Rejoices

Advent is a time to examine our faith and then put feet to it.

Mark Twain said: “Comparison is the death of joy.” Our participation in the world of social media gives us an open invitation into comparison. It allows us to compare our lives/jobs/spouses/kids/finances/etc. to others. We can see how many vacations our friends are going on or perhaps the latest gadget someone we know has bought. We see someone we know seemingly rock at parenting and it feels like we can’t get our stuff together. It’s easy to see what folks post (and folks rarely post the hard things) and compare our lives. The danger here is that more often than not, our conclusion is that we are not enough… we must be doing something wrong. Not working hard enough, not worthy of love, not intelligent enough in business decisions, not beautiful enough, not far enough along in life…. and the list goes on. Maybe you could fill in the blank here. “If only I….” Pretty soon, we get comparison fatigue, and we aren’t able to see the goodness and beauty of the lives we have in front of us because we are stuck in a rut of comparing ourselves to others. Our joy is robbed from us.

Joy is a precious gift and is something we must protect. One of the best ways to protect joy is to practice gratitude. What or who are you deeply grateful for? What would your life look like without this person/ thing? What are you grateful for about your spiritual journey? Consider these things and by doing so, you may nurture joy.IMG_5751

Another way to nurture joy is to serve others. Serving others takes you out of your world and into the needs of someone else’s. When you care about if someone has had enough water or if the water they have had is lead-free, then you cannot at the same time, hate that person. If you care about someone having enough clothing to keep warm, then you find that you care less about needing more clothing yourself. When we live as if our well-being is tied to our neighbor’s well-bring, it is a spirit changer.

Scripture:

Luke 2:10  “But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people…’”

Matthew 25:34-39: 34 “Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who will receive good things from my Father. Inherit the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world began. I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.’ “Then those who are righteous will reply to him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger and welcome you, or naked and give you clothes to wear? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

Readings:

“Be joyful as though you have considered all the facts.”-Wendall Berry from “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front”

“Joy is always a surprise and often a decision. Joy is portable. Joy is a habit, and these days it can be a radical act. Buffy Sainte-Marie said, ‘keep your nose to the joy trail’”-Anne Lamott in Almost Everything: Notes on Hope

“Being generous of spirit is a wonderful way to live.”-Pete Seeger

“Love casts out fear, but we have to get over the fear in order to get close enough to love [people]…I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least…”

“We cannot love God unless we love each other, and to love we must know each other. We know [God] in the breaking of bread, and we know each other in the breaking of bread, and we are not alone anymore.” -Selected quotes from Dorothy Day, The Long Loneliness: The Autobiography of the Legendary Catholic Social Activist

Prayer: Center this thought in prayer this week:

O God the Light of the World, prepare our hearts, for Emmanuel is coming.

Teach us joy in our waiting. Amen.

Questions to consider: How is joy distinct from happiness? What does deep joy feel like in your body; what does deep joy feel like in your spirit; what does deep joy feel like in your mind/emotions? Do you have harsh expectations of yourself that preclude you from joy?

Spiritual Practices: This week, try keeping a gratitude journal/list. It can be written in your journal, as an email draft, or even on the back of a grocery receipt. Begin with considering the most obvious things or people that you are grateful for. And then keep going, what are the smaller things that you are grateful for? These are easier to take for granted. What would your life look like without these things or these people? What would your life look like without being in a personal relationship with your Creator? Cultivate gratitude and you will uncover deep joy.

Advent Field Guide (Week 2)

Advent Week Two          December 8-14, 2019           PEACE

Advent is a time to slow down and remember who you are. Frederick Buechner writes this about Advent: “In the silence of a midwinter dusk, there is a sound so faint that for all you can tell it may be only the sound of the silence itself. You hold your breath to listen. You are aware of the beating of your heart. The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment.”

Jesus will say many things in his 33 years of life, but one of the most poignant phrases he leaves us with before he endures death on a Roman cross is this: “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Creator will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:25-27)

What troubles your heart? What keeps it afraid? How do you guard it against those things which would paralyze you and keep you trying to be invulnerable?

Jesus said you are the light of the world! Don’t hide under a bushel basket! There are so many bushel baskets that we could hide under: I’m not worthy of love. I do not belong here. I am bad. I am wrong. I am a mistake. I am not worth being known. I do not matter. I am ugly. I am worthless. I am unlovable. I am the summation of all the pain I feel. I am just not good enough. I was born wrong. I did a thing that I can never receive forgiveness for because I am just a really bad person. Shame is a very effective and very terrible bushel basket.

Jesus says you are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Be no less than who you are. Don’t hide. Don’t dilute. Be who I created, which is to say, be you.

God first created light and said it was good. And then Jesus shared that with us and said, YOU, YOU, YOU are the light of the world. You are good too. Let your light so shine, that it brings glory to God. That means be you. Be your fabulous self… be your best self… be at peace.

Scripture:

Matthew 5:14-16  You are the light of the world. A city on top of a hill can’t be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they put it on top of a lampstand, and it shines on all who are in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Creator who is in heaven.

Luke 1:78-79 By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Readings:

“Peace is not the product of terror or fear. Peace is not the silence of cemeteries. Peace is not the silent result of violent repression. Peace is the generous,tranquil contribution of all to the good of all. Peace is dynamism. Peace is generosity. It is right and it is duty.” Archbishop and now Saint Oscar A. Romero, The Violence of Love

Prayer: Center this thought in prayer this week:

O God the Light of the World, prepare our hearts, for Emmanuel is coming.

Teach us peace in our waiting. Amen.

Questions to consider: Is peace the absence or presence of something? What do hearts stayed and steadied in peace look like? What does it look like to be at peace with who we are?

Spiritual Practices: Let contemplation be your guide through this second week of Advent. Anglican systematic theologian Sarah Coakley describes contemplation as an ascetic discipline and one which should be a serious endeavor in a Christian’s life. Coakley defines contemplation as particular kind of prayer, wherein one repeatedly waits on God in silence. This practice cultivates the work of the Spirit, the third person of the Triune, who is often reduced to fluff, but who is actually a fierce subverter of powerful and evil institutions. Coakley writes: “Contemplation makes great ethical demands– to lose one’s life in order to gain it, to turn the other cheek, to love one’s enemies. It is not a form of disengagement, but of passionate reordered engagement.”1

Further, contemplation is a vulnerable act as one sits and receives the divine gifts that God gives, but in this process, the self is expanded. When one is quiet and open, one can see much more about oneself and the world than one could in the midst of performing a series of tasks.

Sit. Be quiet. Be still. Let God come to you, come in you, come behind you, come before you. Let God bring you into a deeper knowledge of Godself. You may find that you get to know yourself better, because, after all, you are made in the image and likeness of God.

The practice of silent contemplation (along with the removal of activities which preclude one from contemplation), can be a dear companion through the journey of Advent. We want God. We want to be opened, filled, humbled, and challenged by the Creator who first prepared this journey for us. May it be so for us this Advent.

1. Sarah Coakley, God, Sexuality, and the Self: An Essay ‘On the Trinity,’ (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 340-344.

Field Guide for the Advent Journey (1)

Advent Week One                     HOPE                 December 1-7, 2019

Spiritual writer, Jan Richardson says of Advent: “The season of Advent means there is something on the horizon the likes of which we have never seen before … What is possible is to not see it, to miss it, to turn just as it brushes past you. And you begin to grasp what it was you missed, like Moses in the cleft of the rock, watching God’s [back] fade in the distance. So stay. Sit. Linger. Tarry. Ponder. Wait. Behold. Wonder. There will be time enough for running. For rushing. For worrying. For pushing. For now, stay. Wait. Something is on the horizon.”

Advent begins four Sundays before December 24th each year, and for us liturgical types, it begins the church year, hence the name Advent, which means “beginning” or “coming.” In Advent, we wait with longing for the arrival of the Christ child. We know that this glorious day is coming, but it has not yet arrived. We wait and we are nourished with the hope of what is to come, but is not here yet.IMG_2270-1

As the days become shorter and the nights become longer, we wait for the Light of the World. Our culture and the marketing of it leaves little space for waiting. It’s a minute-to-win-it, Amazon Prime existence where the possibilities of getting what one wants quickly are endless. But if we lose waiting, do we also lose a critical understanding of what it means to hope for the light that will come?

Hope is too precious a thing, too necessary, too powerful to let slip through your fingers. Sit, wait, and become friends with what it means to hope again. The light is coming, but it is not here yet. There is a sense of waiting in Luke’s gospel: “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.”

Scripture:

Luke 6:20-21: (NRSV) Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.”

Readings:

“‘Hope is the thing with feathers – That perches in the soul -And sings the tune without the words – And never stops – at all.”   -Emily Dickenson

From the sorrow of having just lost his wife and child in August of 1932 from his Chicago home, Thomas Dorsey wrote:  “Precious Lord, take my hand, Lead me on, let me stand; I am tired, I am weak, I am worn; Through the storm, through the night, Lead me on to the light, Take my hand, precious Lord, Lead me home.”

Prayer: Center this thought in prayer this week, O God the Light of the World, prepare my heart, for Emmanuel is coming. Teach me hope in the waiting. Amen.

Questions to consider: As you find a quiet place to sincerely reflect on this season of your life:  who is your hope in? What is your hope in? Is hope perched in your soul? What will you wait and long for this Advent?

Spiritual Practices: Invite prayer into your week; more specifically, consider centering prayer wherein you choose a word and you walk with it all day. You think about it, you say it aloud, you center it in prayer all the day long, as you do dishes, drive, and even as you are falling asleep. Consider choosing a word that stems from hope. It could be: anticipation, glory, the present and coming kin-dom, passion, comfort, light, waiting, etc. Let the word take different forms throughout the day. Wonder about it, use it in inner conversation, use it in a conversation with your loved one. Let it become a part of the dialogue of your day. Make it your prayer. Be intentional with it so that you don’t go into autopilot mode.

Field Guide for the Advent Journey (Intro)

Beloved, this Advent guide is for you. Advent can be one of the most centering and sacred times for our individual and congregational faith journeys. Advent demands that we slow down, which is absolutely counter-cultural to the hype and bustle of Christmas.

Do not give into the hustle this year; stop and lean into the discomfort of silence and waiting. We will get to a place where we know the way forward— the next step, but it is not now. Right now, we just hope. We will get to a place where we have something to celebrate, but it is not right now. Right now, we sit with joy in the waiting. We will get to a time where peace will prevail, but it is not right now. Right now, we sit in a world of mass shootings, hyper polarization, a cradle to prison pipeline, and contemplate our role in saying “this stops here”. We will get to a place where we live into the reality that because of the resurrection, love wins. But right now, we are awaiting the birth of the baby who will make that happen.

Do not celebrate yet. Sit and wait. Remember what it feels like to long for something that you know will come but is not here yet. There is no instant gratification in Advent; to have it is to rob this season of the blessing and life-change that only wading through it will bring.

In the very worst or hardest moments of life, it is not what you have heard preached or what your parents believed that you remember, it is what you believe that comes forth. It is what you have practiced over and over and over and over that comes up and holds you in those dark nights. May this Advent 2019 be a time where you practice, you wait, and you do the work of hope, for in the days ahead, you will need to have much practice living into what you believe.

It is a joy to wait and long through this power-filled season with you.

We watch and wait for God’s coming. Prepare the way of the Lord!

Maranâ thâ’— Come Lord Jesus, come!

Creative Living in a Consumer World (Final – Week 6)

Field Guide Home Study

Creative Living in a Consumer World

“When I Look Up”

Have you ever gone to a restaurant, looked over at another table, and saw the occupants of that table each on their phones? It could beg the question: why go out for a family dinner anyway if we aren’t going to pay attention to one another? Maybe we don’t know the whole story there and it would not be fair to assume what it is, but it is good to think and talk about. In today’s society, the blessings of technological connectedness are many as they allow us to communicate more frequently and in larger quantities than ever before. IMG_1649In many ways, technology enables our staff at Belmont to keep us all connected! Even this Field Guide would be much more difficult to produce if we did not have the blessing of blogging!

Still yet, too much of anything can produce problems. Our phones can become our lords as we find ourselves more curious about or stressed over what is on them than the relationship(s) in front of us. Even on our days of sabbath, we may break sabbath to check our work email. This is acceptable given the expectations of the culture of high productivity that many of us operate within. But what are we missing when we are married to our phones? What emotions of pain or elation in our spouse or best friend or child do we miss when we quickly interact and then get back to our phones? What moments do we miss while we get away to take a call? Do our phones replace the time we could be spending in silence or prayer? It is good to think about these things and step back to observe our rhythms of technological use as we try to live creatively in this consumerist world.

Scripture Readings: Luke 19:1-6

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through town. A man there named Zacchaeus, a ruler among tax collectors, was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but, being a short man, he couldn’t because of the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed up a sycamore tree so he could see Jesus, who was about to pass that way. When Jesus came to that spot, he looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, come down at once. I must stay in your home today.” So Zacchaeus came down at once, happy to welcome Jesus.

Luke 21:1-2: Looking up, Jesus saw rich people throwing their gifts into the collection box for the temple treasury. 2 He also saw a poor widow throw in two small copper coins worth a penny.

Questions to Consider: 

+What does a rhythm of balance regarding technology look like in your life? How is technology a blessing to you? How is it a hinderance?

+What boundaries do you have around leaving work at work? What boundaries do you need to create or edit?

Spiritual Practices:

+Center this thought in prayer, and post it on the fridge, phone or mirror:*

We worship the God who inhabits our world and indwells our lives.

We need not look up to find God, we need only to look around: within ourselves, beyond ourselves, into the eyes of another.

We need not listen for a distant thunder to find God, we need only listen to the music of life, the words of children, the questions of the curious, the rhythm of a heartbeat.

We worship the God who inhabits our world and who indwells our lives.

~ posted on the Presbyterian Church USA website. https://www.pcusa.org/site_media/media/uploads/peacemaking/pdf/mlk-resources.pdf

+Consider a “technology fast” wherein turn off the gadgets for a designated amount of time. Maybe you can only afford to do this for 30 minutes or maybe you have a day planned with your friends and family and you can commit to turning off your gadgets for that length of time. Whatever the length of time, reflect that evening on your experience. Did it stress you out to not be near your phone, or was it refreshing, or both?

+ Continue this week to make a space for solitude, away from your email and phone. Sit in silence and center on a word about God. For example, center your thoughts and prayer around the word “faithful” or another word that is meaningful to you- see what comes up when you do this.

Prayer for the Week:

God, we admit that there are times when we act wrongly, concentrating on the ‘bottom line’ and our survival, building up our own resources, and exercising inappropriate power.

Forgive us of putting our own comfort first, when the church becomes the center of our world and we fail to see beyond its walls.

Forgive us, O God, if our eyes have been so fixed on priorities of our own making, that we have failed to look for Jesus in the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, those in prison and those awaiting the death penalty.

Forgive us, O God, of all the times we fail to touch people’s lives with acts of loving and caring, justice and mercy. Make our way, O God. We want to follow You.

*Adapted from a prayer written by Moira Laidlaw, posted on her Liturgies Online website.

 

 

Creative Living in a Consumer World (Week 5)

***Happy Halloween! May your day be filled with good memories of all the people who have come in and out of this season of your life!***

Field Guide Home Study: Week 5

Creative Living in a Consumer World

Sabbath 

Mercy, life can be busy, can’t it? There are so many good things to be a part of… so many places that we can put feet to our faith and be love in this world. Thanks be to God for the chance to learn to make room for others, to step back away from the power and control in a situation and share it instead. May we not tire in the work of love, or making space for others to be their best selves!

Still yet, busyness can really get to be a hum-dinger! The perpetual to-do list can often times be relentless. Sometimes the busyness of our lives can also hold part of our identity. If the busyness dicates some of our worth, then staying busy is necessary for us to feel important. IMG_5751

In our fast-paced, minute-to-win-it culture, the idea of longing for something can be a bit foreign. Everything has got to happen now. Pronto! We don’t long for things nearly as much because, well… we can have them right now. We speed up acquiring possessions. We speed up worship services. We speed up conversations. And by doing so, we can forget what it means to yearn… to long… to ache. Something that is surely coming but is not here yet.

It is odd to have to actually plan to slow down, to set a date on the calendar in which you block out time to stop and turn off the gizmos and gadgets. To be quiet. To just be. But without this time, we, as creatures of busyness, become unsettled. Where is the space to reflect, pray, and sit to listen to where God is leading our spirits? Where is a contemplative time which is required for us to arrive at thoughts that will be necessary for our future?

Taking a sabbath/ resting requires us to slow down, to stop: stop consuming, stop talking, stop worrying, stop making idols, stop running around… a time to stop. This, in all senses of the phrase, is an act of resistance.

Sabbath is resistance from a culture that attaches worth to productivity.

Scripture Readings: Genesis 1:14-15 (CEB Bible)

14 God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night. They will mark events, sacred seasons, days, and years. 15 They will be lights in the dome of the sky to shine on the earth.” And that’s what happened.

Genesis 2:1-3

The heavens and the earth and all who live in them were completed. 2 On the sixth  day God completed all the work that God had done, and on the seventh day God rested from all the work that God had done. 3 God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all the work of creation.

Luke 22:39

Jesus left and made his way to the Mount of Olives, as was his custom, and the disciples followed him.

Questions to Consider: 

+As you read this, what tasks are on your mind to get done? How can you slow your mind and let it settle into a brief respite?

+Which persons in your life can you rest with?

+Will the world keep turning if you do not complete your to-do list?

+What are you trying to prove or who are you trying to prove yourself to?

Spiritual Practices:

+Center this thought in prayer, and post it on the fridge, phone or mirror:*

O God, it is hard for me to let go most times,

the squeeze I exert harms me and harms others.

So, God, loosen my grip on the grudges I am holding,

that I may risk the vulnerability of forgiveness.

God, loosen my grip on holding things which just aren’t mine to hold any longer,

that I may take up what is mine to hold.

God, loosen my grip on the fears that paralyze me,

that I may find liberation.

God, loosen my grip from the shame I hold deep down,

that I may know that I am not a mistake, but beloved.

God, loosen my grip from crippling anxiety,

that I may breathe deeply of Your comfort.

God open my eyes to this wild and wondrous world.

*Adapted from “Loosen My Grip” within “Guerrillas of Grace: Prayers for the Battle” by Ted Loder

+Consider planning a day this week where you engage in morning lauds (praise) and evening vespers (prayer). As the days shorten and the darkness takes up more space, create time in your day to rest from the to-do list, to reflect and remember you are and what your calling is. Are you doing that which makes you come alive and working to create space for others to do the same?

+ Make space for solitude this week. Community is wonderful, beautiful, and needed for our spirits. But balance it this week with intentionally being alone with no other task than just to sit, be still, and see what comes along.

Prayer for the Week:*

O God, who is greater than the most powerful forces in this world,

enable us to be still and know that You are God.

O God who answers out of the whirlwind of everyday life,

breathe in us Your Holy Spirit to strengthen, comfort, and guide us in the midst of the storm.

O still, small voice, speak to us this hour

that we might become makers of Your peace

in our homes, in our communities, in our world.

We pray all this in the name of the One who calmed the raging sea. Amen.

*Adapted from a post on My Redeemer Lives website

 

 

Creative Living in a Consumer World (Week 4)

Field Guide Home Study: Week 4

Creative Living in a Consumer World

Vision and Division 

We are well on our way in a four week journey of Creative Living in a Consumer World. It is a joy to be able to study and practice together ways to live alternatively to the consumerist norms. We get to practice loving our bodies instead of comparing them to popular media’s perception of what we “should” look like. We get to practice creating rather than consuming so much. We get to practice service to others rather than trying to get ahead of them. We get to learn what it means to have grace for each other because we act imperfectly and let one another down. We get to practice forgiveness rather than spending so much energy holding bitterness and resentment. We get to practice what it means to have vision even within division.

As a congregation who is dedicated to an inclusive gospel which has no barriers for persons who identify as LGBTQIA+ but instead celebrates these beautiful identities, we find ourselves at odds with some fellow United Methodists. How, in this uncomfortable space, are we to continue to have a vision within division? How do we work towards a beloved community who mutually belongs to one another, while we are in a divisive denominational struggle? Where do we put our hope?

Scripture Readings: Romans 14:1-5, 10, 16-19 (CEB Bible)

Welcome the person who is weak in faith—but not in order to argue about differences of opinion. One person believes in eating everything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Those who eat must not look down on the ones who don’t, and the ones who don’t eat must not judge the ones who do, because God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servants? They stand or fall before their own Lord (and they will stand, because the Lord has the power to make them stand). One person considers some days to be more sacred than others, while another person considers all days to be the same. Each person must have their own convictions. But why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you look down on your brother or sister? We all will stand in front of the judgment seat of God. And don’t let something you consider to be good be criticized as wrong. God’s kingdom isn’t about eating food and drinking but about righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever serves Christ this way pleases God and gets human approval. So let’s strive for the things that bring peace and the things that build each other up.

Spiritual Practices

+Center this thought in prayer, and post it on the fridge, phone or mirror:

We will not find justice in our apathy;
we will not find peace by our arguing;
we will not find love in being controlled by fear.
But, we will find You in the brokenness of the Bread;
we will find you in the gift of the Cup;
we will find you when we squeeze closer together,
making room at the Table for all your people.
O God of Community, may we find You. Amen

+Consider writing a prayer for someone you don’t particularly like. It may be easier to start with someone you don’t really care for and then work your way up to writing a prayer for someone that has hurt you deeply.

+Breath Prayer: choose one word/phrase to inhale and one word/ phrase to exhale. For example: inhale: “I am enough”/ exhale: “So, I can rest” Or, inhale: “I am forgiven”/ exhale: “I must forgive”

Prayer for the Week:

O God, bless those who make peace,
who bring no other hope but to see us belong to one another.

Bless those who, when we run out of room at the table, make a bigger table.

Bless those who welcome their enemy to the Table because they know the Table is not theirs to control.

Bless those who value humans over death- dealing systems.

Bless those who make peace,

Strengthen them, give them salve for their tired hands, rest for sore backs, and hope in their hearts.

Guard them from despair, as they draw the circle wide.

Bless those who make peace, O God. Amen.