Find the Good News

About two weeks ago, I had a terrific conversation with Oran Parker, who publishes a podcast series titled Find the Good News, which, as he describes it, aims to focus on “good people doing good works.”

Oran, who lives in southwest Louisiana, found my podcasts while looking for people who might be discussing the works of Thomas Merton, about whom I have written and spoken frequently (including in yesterday’s post).  I was happy to accept Oran’s gracious invitation to be part of his podcast series.

You can listen to our conversation, which covers a range of topics related to both Christianity and Buddhism, here.

I also encourage you to check out some of the other Find the Good News podcasts.

 

A Dynamic Participation in a Great Cycle of Actions

On this day in 1968, Thomas Merton died.  It is a date I always remember because Merton is one of the people whose writings were enormously helpful to me at a time when I was struggling with where I was with God.

Merton once wrote, “The Church’s belief in Christ is not a mere static assent to His historical existence, but a dynamic participation in the great cycle of actions which manifest in the world the love of the Father for the ones He has called to union with Himself, in his beloved Son.”

It is a great thought to keep in mind in these last two weeks before our celebration of Christmas.

We can all call to mind the image of a young couple who cannot find room in an inn as the woman’s pregnancy. nears its end.  We listen to the prophesies of the coming of the Messiah.  And we hear stories about a star, and shepherds and wise men.

And it is right that we celebrate the birth of Jesus into the world. But, even as we do, we need to keep in mind that our faith is about more than the historical existence of a man named Jesus.

Ultimately, it is about the love of God – a God who longs for nothing less than our total union with Him. A God who chooses to become human out of love – to show us what it means to be fully human – and fully divine.

And, as the Merton quote suggests, our realization of this reality demands a response. Not mere a passive enjoyment of that love, but our commitment to “manifest in the world” that love.

As we move through these days of Advent, days in which our world is groaning in suffering, we might ask how we might more fully manifest God’s love in the world.

We are Not Alone; We Live in God’s World

When we were visiting our daughter and her husband for Thanksgiving, we attended services at the church at which she sings.  I was moved by the Creed recited in the service, which comes from the United Church of Christ Canada.

The Creed was recited that morning in a call and response fashion as follows:

Leader: We are not alone, we live in God’s world.  We believe in God: who has created and is creating, who has come in Jesus, the Word made flesh.

People: We are not alone, we live in God’s world.

Leader: Jesus has come to reconcile and make us new, to work in us and others through God’s Spirit.

People: We are not alone, we live in God’s world.

Leader:  We trust in God.  We are called to be the Church: to celebrate God’s presence, and to live with respect in Creation.

People: We trust in God.

Leader:  We are called  to love and serve others, to seek justice and resist evil.

People: We trust in God.

Leader: We are called  to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen, our judge and our hope.

All: In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us.  We are not alone.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

There is a lot to chew on in those lines, a lot worthy of being in a creed, a lot by which to orient our lives as Christians.

But what I remember thinking at the time the creed was recited during the service was: If we could only remember the first line, even only that would make an enormous difference:

We are not alone; we live in God’s world.

Ready or Not: Advent is Here!

Today marks the beginning of the Advent season, perhaps my favorite time of the liturgical calendar.

As we begin our preparation for our celebration of the Incarnation, as we ready ourselves to welcome anew the Christ child into our hearts, a good prayer is Mary Oliver’s Making the House Ready for the Lord.  Here it is:

Dear Lord, I have swept and I have washed but
still nothing is as shining as it should be
for you.  Under the sink, for example, is an
uproar of mice – it is the season of their
many children.  What shall I do?  And under the eaves
and through the walls the squirrels
have gnawed their ragged entrances – but it is the season
when they need shelter, so what shall I do?  And
the raccoon limps into the kitchen and opens the cupboard
while the dog snores, the cat hugs the pillow;
what shall I do?  Beautiful is the new snow falling
in the yard and the fox who is staring boldly
up the path, to the door. And I still believe you will
come, Lord: you will, when I speak to the fox,
the sparrow, the lost dog, the shivering sea-goose, know
that really I am speaking to you whenever I say,
as I do all morning and afternoon: Come in, Come in.

I wish you all a blessed Advent.

A Blessing for You This Thanksgiving Day

I have shared before a blessing my former colleague Jennifer Wright once sent to me. I can’t think of a better prayer for this day; it expresses well my wish for all of you as we celebrate this Thanksgiving Day.

May you be with people you love.
May you eat tasty, satisfying food that has been prepared with love and with laughter.
May you reach out to someone outside your immediate circle to share your blessings.
May you be overwhelmed with gratitude for the bounty that you have received.
May you be aware of the depths of your roots in your family and your past and of the infinite potential of your future.
May you repose in utter trust in God’s love for you and God’s amazing, overflowing, creatively stunning intention for good for all of God’s creation.

As I prepare to celebrate this holiday with my family, I wish you and yours a blessed and happy Thanksgiving Day.

And, as you gather with family and friends, I hope you will take some time to revel in gratitude at all of the many gifts  that you have been given, and to remember the source of all you are and all you have.

How Will You Spend the Day After Thanksgiving?

There is a popular Thanksgiving meme that I have seen widely shared at about this time over the last couple of years.  It says:

Because only in America do we wait in line and trample others for sale items one day after giving thanks for what we already have.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day.  We will spend the day celebrating with our loved ones, giving thanks for all of our many blessings.

Why go from that to the insanity of Black Friday shopping?  Not only will some people line up before dawn on Friday, but some will rush out to the stores Thursday evening before they have even digested their pumpkin pie.

Relax! There are still many shopping days before Christmas!  There is nothing you need so badly that you need to make yourself crazy battling crowds in a shopping mall.

Why not let the celebration of that day spill over to the next day and abandon Black Friday in exchange for Fun Friday?

Our plans for the day includes cookie baking and playing games – and, of course, eating leftover turkey.  We will laugh, sing, and just enjoy being together.

How will you spend the day after Thanksgiving?

 

Will you Go for Broke?

Today’s Gospel is St. Luke’s version of the parable of the talents.  One interpretation of that parable – perhaps the most common one – is that the parable is a warning to those who do not use their gifts in life.  (Our understanding of the word “talent” in English contributes to that interpretation.)  And I think that is a good and useful interpretation – one I often speak about when talking about recognizing our giftedness and using our gifts on behalf of the building of God’s kingdom.

We are each given a unique set of gifts by God.  And not using those gifts is an act of real ingratitude.  So under this reading, this parable invites us to recognize our gifts, to own them, and to use them for the greater glory of God.

But it is worth considering whether the parable has more for us to reflect on.

John Donohue in The Gospel in Parable suggests that the real problem with the third servant was his timidity.  “It was timidity that spelled his downfall, which was not warranted by anything known directly about the master.”

Similarly, Gerhard Lohfink suggests that the parable means that the reign of God requires people who go for broke.

The master who goes away is now the exalted Christ.  When he returns he will demand a reckoning from each according to his or her abilities.  The accounting given by the slaves is thus the judgment of the world.  Whoever withstands the judgment receives a share in the eternal banquet of joy (“enter into the joy of your master”).  But those, like the third slave, who do not withstand the judgment, will lose everything and will be thrown into the outermost darkness….

Jesus is talking about the plan God has for the world.  He speaks of the new thing God wants to create in the midst of the old society.  This, God’s cause, Jesus says, will not succeed with cowardice, with people who are immovable, who are constantly trying to make themselves secure, who would rather delay than act.  God’s new society only succeeds with people who are ready to risk, who put everything on the table, who go for broke and become “perpetrators” with ultimate decisiveness.

In a related vein that broadens the lesson somewhat, John Buchanan suggests that “The greatest risk of all is not to risk anything, not to care deeply and profoundly enough about anything to invest deeply, to give your heart away and in the process risk everything.  The greatest risk of all, it turns out, is to play it safe, to live cautiously and prudently.”

As you pray with this parable, what is the lesson God hopes you will draw from it?