It shall not be so among you

It’s election season. Again. Sigh. In spite of the posturing, imprecations, dissemination and generally bad behavior, I did vote in the primary election. For whom and in which party’s primary is known to God, to me and to my wife. I wasn’t happy about a couple of votes cast, but you go with the options you are given. What depresses me most about election season is neither the flawed candidates (for I am as flawed in my own way as any of them are in theirs), nor the flawed platforms of the parties (I know many of both parties who object to elements of their own party’s platforms). What disturbs me most is the “Christian” component of the political struggles.

I have no objection to people of faith or issues of faith in the public square. Indeed, without that voice much justice and much mercy might never have been seen in our society. On the other hand, our present day cacophony so often invokes the word Christian in support of disparate causes and people that we are faced with a terrible communication problem. That is to say that the word “Christian” can mean so many things that it almost means nothing at all.

The term Christian appears only three times in the New Testament and each use refers to followers of Jesus, people who believed that Jesus was the God-anointed messiah (Christ) and therefore rightful Lord of the world. These early Christians, known as followers of “The Way” had a wealth of material in oral tradition about what Jesus said about himself and about how his disciples were supposed to live. These traditions were compiled in four different accounts, the four Gospels, and can offer us some insight into how Jesus viewed the politics of the world in which he lived and what he expected of his disciples in that context. Two episodes in particular offer a measuring rod in assessing the competing claims of Christians in our political climate. I’ve written about both in the past, but want to look at them again in the light of the current political context.

The episodes are out of sequence and the first of the two I wrote about last November in A Tale of Two Kingdoms. That article started with examining kosmos, the word in the NT most often translated as world. Briefly, kosmos refers to an orderly arrangement, whether that arrangement is physical, social or moral. The NT uses the term in a variety of ways, but in the first episode it refers to the values and assumptions in human society, the values and assumptions from which our world is ordered. Here then is an extract from that entry:

In John’s Gospel there is a recounting of a conversation between Jesus and the Roman Procurator, Pontius Pilate. When Pilate challenges Jesus about the accusations the Jewish authorities have lodged against him, the most common translation of Jesus’ reply goes like this: Jesus answered, “My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world.” (John 18:36) But taking the term kosmos as orderly arrangement, a paraphrase called the Complete Jewish Bible gives this rendition: Yeshua answered, “My kingship does not derive its authority from this world’s order of things. If it did, my men would have fought to keep me from being arrested by the Judeans. But my kingship does not come from here.”

The paraphrase contrasts the divine order from which Jesus operates and from which his authority is derived with the human order in which Pilate operates and from which his authority is derived. In short, this scene is a confrontation between Caesar’s kosmos and Christ’s kosmos. Within Jesus’ statement is a prime example of that contrast. Jesus notes that if he operated in Caesar’s world then his followers would have fought to prevent his arrest. That is, after all, standard operating procedure for Caesar’s world: meet force with force, threat with threat, power with power, manipulation with manipulation. Authority in Caesar’s world comes from being in charge, gaining control. Whether it is by election or coup or conquest, whether it is motivated by a desire to build and bless or a desire to conserve and protect or a desire to hold power and control, the methods are ultimately Caesar’s methods. And that methodology Jesus rejects by observing that his authority isn’t derived from that S.O.P.

So if Jesus rejects the one universal human methodology of gaining leadership, does he offer an alternative? That brings me to the second episode which occurs shortly before the conversation with Pilate. In this case, Jesus is headed towards Jerusalem and for his final confrontation. He has warned his disciples that rejection, arrest, mocking and execution await him at the end of the journey. Then the brothers, James and John, come to Jesus, jockeying for position when he comes to power. Jesus rebuffs their attempt, telling them that such exalted positions they desire are not his to grant. Needless to say, when the other 10 disciples find out about this bit of power politics, they are furious. Then Jesus calls them all together and gives them the methodology of the Kingdom of God.

And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45)

Try selling that to a political consultant! However, if that is Jesus’ criteria for leadership, does that exclude Christians from seeking leadership roles in human society? Not necessarily. Assuming the earliest meaning of the term “Christian,” a disciple of Jesus is excluded from the normal methods of pursuing paths to power in our world. A disciple of Jesus may indeed apply for appointment or even run for office. It is how that disciple treats those in the campaign – supporters, staff or opposition – that reflects the Jesus world or Caesar’s world. Nor is it enough that the disciple in such circumstances personally refrain from treating others like so much road kill on the path to power. To comply with Jesus’ rejection of the methods of the gentiles, the disciple will also have to repudiate the tactics of purported supporters and allies who resort to Caesar’s methods.

This is obviously no solution to the toxicity of our electoral politics. But it is an alternative. If a disciple is called by God to run for office, then that campaign is to be waged by Jesus’ methods. If the disciple is defeated in the election, he or she will still have preserved their soul and honored their Lord. Jesus did not promise us victory in every battle, only that he has won the final victory. Or as an old Pentecostal preacher cried: “I took a peek in the back of the book – and Jesus wins!”

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The End of Lent

I wrote the article below for our March newsletter in the parish. The title referred to Easter as either merely the end of Lent or the beginning of new creation. After publication it did occur to me that “The End of Lent” had one other level of meaning, i.e., the purpose or destiny of Lent. After all, we need constant reminder that the disciplines of the spiritual life are not for making us feel better about ourselves or to make us more religious persons. Instead they are to connect us so deeply with God that our deeds of mercy become more than human good intentions but rather channels through which God’s healing grace and justice enter our broken and benighted world.

All of the month of March falls in the season of Lent, including all of Holy Week. Our focus for Lent 2018 has been on a congregational challenge to practice spiritual disciplines in a program called 10 Brave Christians. Response has been heartening as we have distributed nearly 100 of the program booklets. The real test for us is how many of us persevere through the program.

In the meantime, the society in which we live and move continues with its disturbing behavior in mass slayings, sexual harassment and exploitation, angry squawking, finger pointing, fake news and outright lies. Given the inundation of bad news it can certainly seem that a church like Trinity running a program like 10 Brave Christians, is living in denial or “so heavenly minded that it is of no earthly good.”

Part of the problem in understanding how our program addresses the crying needs of our world springs from a misunderstanding of what the Resurrection of Jesus means. As we prepare to celebrate the Feast of His Resurrection on April 1st it might be helpful to change the way we think of that Feast from being a glorious conclusion to the end of Lent to seeing it as a glorious beginning to a season of new life and new hope.

First of all, we need to grasp that the Resurrection of Jesus was not the mere resuscitation of a corpse. Had that been the case, while it might have provided some comfort to the disciples, it would have left the human situation exactly as it was before the crucifixion. Resurrection is the beginning of a new creation built of the same material involved in the first creation. Jesus appears suddenly in the midst of a locked room, but invites Thomas to touch his substantial body. He has, according to Paul a soma pneumatikon, a spiritual body, yet he eats substantial food in the presence of his disciples. This Resurrected person is something new in human history, something that the evolutionary history of humankind cannot account for. The Resurrected Jesus does not come up through human history, he breaks into human history to launch a new humanity.

But the real misunderstanding we Christians have about the Resurrection is that the effect of the Resurrection is only vertical. That is to say, because Jesus died for us and rose again we can have our sins forgiven and be with him in heaven when we die. That much may be true, but it is distorted by the omission of the horizontal effect of the Resurrection. Because of our baptism and through the indwelling of God’s Spirit in us, the new creation is at work in and through us in our benighted world, in all our works and words done in Christ. Those last two words, in Christ, are essential to the new creation working through us. Any Christian, no matter how sincere, who operates solely by his or her own good will and effort makes as much or as little impact as the operations of any person of good will, of any faith or of none. When we acknowledge our own powerlessness to effect substantial change and, with empty hands, invite the Spirit of God to work through us, then the power of the new creation is let loose in otherwise ordinary deeds and words.

Thus, the Risen Life of Jesus moves through us to affect all that we do in our world. Our cooperative work with God’s good purposes is honed and enhanced through our intentional connection with the Risen Lord in regular disciplines like 10 Brave Christians and our Trinity Way of Life. The work God enables us to do and the words God gives us to speak do much to thwart evil in our times, even though we may not know what might have otherwise happened. That work and those words also release much good and healing in our world though we may not directly see the results.

This may all seem a bit much to keep in mind as we struggle to keep Lent in an arrhythmic and frantic culture. But it makes all the difference in whether Easter Day is merely the end of Lent or a launching of God’s redemption in the normal spheres of our lives. This year, April 1st may be a day when the foolishness of God again proves wiser than human wisdom. Or it could be just another April Fool’s Day. That’s pretty much up to us.

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The Two Kingdoms and the Problem with Kings

After writing about the two kingdoms our church celebrated the feast of Christ the King – the last Sunday before the beginning of Advent. The problem with the concept of the two kingdoms is that we are so far removed from kings and realms that it often seems unreal, almost mythical. But the bigger problem is that the kingdom of which Jesus is king makes no sense to our concepts of sovereignty and power – and it didn’t make sense to Jesus’ contemporaries either.

The images of Christ as King don’t really work for a group of 21st century American disciples.  There are two primary reasons for this and the first is that kingship, at least as the ancient world understood it, is something we rejected 240 years ago and is now relegated to quaint European customs or fairy tales. We may know something of the absolute monarchs of history but very few of our modern dictators come close to the atmosphere and authority of kingship as it was known long ago. To proclaim Christ as king therefore, seems a bit unreal, divorced from the substance of our daily life. We might call today the feast of Christ the benevolent dictator but aside from its awkwardness we only move from unreal to unpleasant. But even if we could grasp the ancient view of kingship and present Christ as king in a way that might appeal to our desire for order and for justice, we run into a second and more difficult problem.

The way that Jesus is presented as king in the Gospels made as little sense to the people of the first century as it does to the people of the 21st. For instance, let’s look at the three presentations of Jesus as king that is used in the three year cycles of the Revised Common Lectionary. On November 26 of this year we completed the first cycle, Year A, so I’ll push that one off until the end. If we jump ahead to the third year, Year C, we have a story of Jesus suffering a public and humiliating execution. Crucifixion was known for its cruelty, a slow tortuous death.

The Roman’s didn’t mess about. They had nailed a piece of wood to the cross that read, contemptuously, “This is the King of the Jews.” In doing this they mocked not only the one they were executing but the whole Jewish people. “Here is your king,” the Roman’s proclaimed, “and see what we can do to him.” Since it was more efficient to do multiple executions the Romans also crucified two criminals. In their agony one criminal calls out “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

And that’s it for Year C. Jesus is nailed to a cross with a sign proclaiming “This is the king of the Jews.” The Roman soldiers mock him saying “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself.” A criminal pleads for Jesus to remember him when he comes into his kingdom.” None of this makes the slightest bit of sense to any person of that time with any idea of what being king means, particularly for any Jew hoping that God will send them a king to deliver them from Roman occupation.

Year B, the second cycle that began on December 3, doesn’t improve the situation. Here in John’s Gospel we come in on Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, interrogating Jesus. Without going into detail, Pilate despises the Jews and particularly the Jewish leadership. He suspects he is being used by these leaders to get rid of someone who is threatening their authority. However, the charge is that Jesus is claiming to be the king of the Jews and that, from a Roman point of view, is treason. His conversation with Jesus is a study in failure to communicate.

When asked point blank whether he is King, Jesus answers that “My kingship does not derive its authority from this world’s order of things. If it did, my men would have fought to keep me from being arrested by the Judeans. But my kingship does not come from here.”[1]

In this response there are echoes of a rebuke that Jesus gave to his disciples when they were debating about what important positions they would hold when Jesus became king and restored nationhood to Israel: Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”[2]

This brings us back to the reading from Year A of the cycle where we have something at last that sounds like kingship as we and the people of the first century might imagine it. Though all is not as it appears.

Take that opening phrase: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne.” To us this theme is familiar only because we’ve heard the story before. But those who heard it for the first time also found it familiar. For any Jew who had hopes for liberation and vindication of Israel, this was a favorite scene from the Book of Daniel when the God of Israel overthrows the Gentile kingdoms. But the vision continues: “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”[3]

So when Jesus begins his story his audience immediately connects with an image of final triumph. But his story takes a turn. There is indeed judgment and vindication. But the vindication is of the hungry and thirsty, the foreigner and the destitute, the sick and the prisoner. And the judgment is on those who failed to see that in serving those they would have been serving their king. It seems at last, that even the king-like story that Jesus tells is inextricably tied to his rebuke to his ambitious disciples.

We are faced then with a hard challenge. Our culture – our economic culture, our political culture, our entertainment culture, our social culture – the ocean of human values in which we all swim is a culture that has everything to do with Caesar’s approach to power and almost nothing to do with the kingdom that Jesus inaugurates. For 20 centuries Christians have tried to control it or use it only to find ourselves subverted by it and becoming what we were meant to heal. The only way to heal our culture is not to go to war with it but to subvert it by refusing dominance and instead offering service, to return blessing wherever we encounter cursing, care for those whom Jesus identifies in his story.

It is true that Jesus will indeed return and establish finally what he has begun in his apprentices. But it is also true that Jesus is already king and is even now subverting Caesar’s dominance by agents like us who heal, feed, protect and bless. Our goal is not to overthrow those in power but by our words and deeds, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to show them a more excellent way.

[1] The quote of John 18:36 is taken from the paraphrase, The Complete Jewish Bible. Though a paraphrase it is an accurate reflection of the meaning of the text.
[2] Mark 10:42-45
[3] Daniel 7:13-14
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A Tale of Two Kingdoms

Pretty much all I write about in this forum has a fundamental assumption that can tie a number of disparate musings into a connected thread. One might call it my way of looking at the world. In fact, it is the troublesome word “world” that strikes near the heart of the matter.

In the New Testament the use of the word world most often translates a Greek term: kosmos. Although kosmos has come into our language as cosmos, its original meaning referred to an orderly arrangement, even a decoration. By implication it could refer to the whole created order, but that included the inhabitants of the world and the way those inhabitants organized life, including moral organization which could encompass politics, business or the whole value system of human societies. Because of the breadth of possible meaning, the New Testament is ambiguous in its application of the term. In the letter of James, we read that “friendship with the world is enmity with God.” But, famously, the Gospel of John tells us that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…” There is one other use of the term world that further illustrates the ambiguity.

In John’s Gospel there is a recounting of a conversation between Jesus and the Roman Procurator, Pontius Pilate. When Pilate challenges Jesus about the accusations the Jewish authorities have lodged against him, the most common translation of Jesus’ reply goes like this: Jesus answered, “My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world.” (John 18:36) But taking the term kosmos as orderly arrangement, a paraphrase called the Complete Jewish Bible gives this rendition: Yeshua answered, “My kingship does not derive its authority from this world’s order of things. If it did, my men would have fought to keep me from being arrested by the Judeans. But my kingship does not come from here.”

Thus, the reply of Jesus draws an immediate contrast between the order of things that Pilate knows and a different arrangement from which Jesus draws his authority. The example Jesus uses is the example of armed resistance. That is the behavior Pilate (and Caesar) recognizes. That is why Pilate cannot seem to grasp what Jesus is saying. In Caesar’s kingdom, Jesus simply doesn’t make sense.

And there we have the two kingdoms face to face. On the one hand, there is Caesar’s kingdom. We know that kingdom well. It is the arrangement of things that governs human life across the globe. It is the system of government, business, education, politics and social groups of all sizes in all cultures. If you have ever had the pleasure of engaging in church politics whether in a congregation or a convention, it is painfully obvious that churches more often than not, order themselves according to the rules of Caesar’s kingdom.

Some time ago a wise priest discouraged me from invoking Robert’s Rules of Order to govern church meetings. He pointed out that the origin of that protocol was to handle conflict. It assumes conflict. And when there is none, invoking those rules can occasionally create conflict. Robert’s Rules of Order are tailor made for Caesar’s kingdom.

The alternative to Caesar’s kingdom is, of course, the kingdom of God, even though God’s church all too often can’t seem to tell the difference. This second kingdom is the one that Jesus announces as he begins his ministry. Jesus announces that this kingdom is near, is at hand, is in our midst. This last comment (Luke 17:21) is often translated as the kingdom being within or among, but in your midst is a reading more consistent with Jesus’ other teachings on the kingdom. One commentator notes that: “The whole language of the kingdom of heaven being within men, rather than men being within the kingdom, is modern”

Perhaps there is no other clearer passage about the orderly arrangement (kosmos) of God’s kingdom than Jesus’ rebuke to his disciples as they were arguing who would be the highest officials in the kingdom Jesus was proclaiming. It is best to take the whole passage which gives the setting:

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to [Jesus], “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:35-45)

I have neither the qualifications nor the capacity to do a thorough exegesis of the contrast of the two kingdoms. Instead I want to underline that there are two kingdoms, that one of them, God’s kingdom, is at work in the midst of Caesar’s both undercutting its legitimacy and healing the wounds it causes. All else I write about blessing, priesthood or any other aspect of spiritual formation flows from my understanding of that reality.

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Jail Time

On Tuesday, October 24, I went to jail. As a visitor. The purpose was to meet a long-time friend for lunch. He wasn’t an inmate. In fact, for the last year he’s been the chaplain at the Jefferson County Detention Facility. The story of how he ended up in the position and the events that led up to it is a remarkable testimony to God’s grace. However, that’s a story for another time. Quinn Wilhelm was senior warden of the parish I served before coming to Trinity. For months before I joined their staff the parish had been in great turmoil. All that held folks together was the faithful remaining priest on their staff, Fr. Phil Webb and Quinn. Quinn is one of the best people to have on your side in a crisis situation. This is not only because of his great leadership skill but because he is a man of deep faith and profound prayer.

We spent our lunch off site catching up on what God had been doing in our lives. Afterwards Quinn took me to jail. I got a tour of some of the units and noted the great respect both the deputies and the prisoners had for my friend. The most moving part of the tour was with a group of inmates who meet together a couple of times a day for Bible study and prayer. I’m told the prayer session once ran to five hours!

Quinn and I sat in the circle as the leader partly taught, partly preached and the enthusiasm was electric. After about 20 minutes we all stood and the group prayed for us both. Quinn then prayed for the men in the group. As I watched and shared in the prayers the thought occurred how few of these men grew up being blessed by their fathers or by much of anybody. I’m pretty sure the thought was God directed.

As we concluded I asked Quinn if I could bless the men in this group (about 16 in all). He was ok with that so we asked them and they were eager. Thanks to Russ Parker’s teaching on blessing in August, I was fairly confident I knew what God was asking of me. I recounted the Father’s words to Jesus at his baptism “You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Russ had pointed out that these words had been spoken before Jesus had done any mighty works, before he called his disciples, before he had done any teaching at all. In other words, the beloved status was based on being rather than doing.

So slowly around the circle I approached each man. They spoke their name and I anointed them and gave them this blessing: “[Name], I bless you to know that you are God’s beloved son.”

Yeah, it was a pretty emotional time for all of them (and us), but it reminded me of the power of blessing and the power it gives someone to know that they are still beloved, even after a life that has led them into jail.

I know this is not a call to prison ministry. That’s Quinn’s gift, not mine. But it is a renewed call to be a person of blessing.

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Preparing for the return

I got to spend some time in jail today. It was a really wonderful and blessed experience and I’ll tell you about it in a future post. However today my attention is shifting away from the sabbatical experience towards return to – and reintegrating with – Trinity Parish. The following will appear in our parish newsletter but I’m sharing it early with those of you who read this to give you some sense of what return means to me.


Last month I shared a reflection (in the parish newsletter) on how, even during a seven-week absence, I maintain connection with Trinity Parish. Now, as we are entering our last week away and beginning preparations to return to Greeley, it is time to reflect on reconnecting. Before I do that, there is a subject I’ve mentioned from time to time in the last couple of years, the question of when I might retire.

The answer to that question is that I have as yet no answer to that question. For the last nearly 20 years Dorie Ann and I have intentionally given over control of where we serve to God’s direction. Each time we have moved from one congregation to another it was because of two things. First, the work I was doing was completed. Second, the call to go another place was both unsolicited and unexpected. Beginning with the latter, we’ve had no invitation to go anywhere. And I believe there is more for me to do here. Please note, this is my intuition, not God’s revelation.

Each time God has moved us, we’ve had about three months’ notice before the move. The Church Pension Fund requires a six-month notice before drawing one’s pension so God & the Pension Fund will have to sort that out between them. In short, this means we’re returning from the sabbatical with no plans other than to keep on serving at Trinity pending further instructions from the Holy Spirit.

Now on to reconnecting: while I hope you’ve remembered me fondly while I’ve been on sabbatical, it will soon be time to be re-membered to our common life. We rarely remember that the word member has its origins in the human body. To use it in any other way was to use it analogically to describe profound and intimate connections between human beings. That was long ago. Today the word member has dropped in value. We can be a member of an organization or group with which our relationship is superficial and undemanding. However, there is still one use of the word member that carries the force of the original meaning: dismember.

On the one hand that seems an over-the-top image for being away for seven weeks. On the other, particularly because I continued to hold you all in daily prayer, it did feel a little like being “dismembered.” Even daily intercession is insufficient to maintain the full connection we are to have as one Body. And this sense of disconnect is caused in part by what God has done for us in Jesus.

I do not speak here about reconciliation, salvation, forgiveness or any of the normal things we would list about what Jesus has accomplished. Instead my focus is on that one line in the Gospel of John: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14) There are two thing implied in the verse that have significance for reconnecting.

First, the Word becoming flesh is no accident. A wholly spiritual God has entered into a very physical, material world in Jesus. The ancient hymn The Exultet declares that “earth and heaven are joined and sin is washed away.” The late J.B. Phillips wrote: “We shall never know, in the depths of our being, the meaning of the crucifixion, or of the triumph of the resurrection, until we see that this man Jesus was God being a man, and not in any sense God pretending to be a man.” This means for us that community is built from our material interactions. It is important that we see one another face to face, hear one another’s voice. As I discovered many years ago from the initial and ongoing failure to create human community online, if it is not local, it is not real.

The second implication of John 1:14 is in the phrase “dwelt among us.” The word translated as “dwell” is more accurately rendered as “pitched his tent” or more awkwardly “tabernacled among us.” Whichever word we use the image is of someone moving with a mobile community. Wherever we go the Incarnate Word travels with us. To reconnect using this image means me tracking alongside the rest of the Trinity community in the directions God leads you and me.

On Wednesday, November 1 I restart my work among you most appropriately at the celebration of All Saints’ Day at 6:30a with Eucharist in the chapel. It is appropriate because the theme of the day is the communion of the saints or in less religious jargon, the connectedness of our community. I would love to see any of you who can make that early hour then. But in the days and weeks to follow I’d prefer to spend as much time as I can manage chatting with you, whether over coffee or a meal, and reconnect.

I look forward to being back in our common life.

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Having posted on Foundations I had intended more reflections on the third foundation, the foundation of the church. However, in working on that I realized that I need to work a great deal more on the 1st and 2nd foundations beforehand. Since that will take some time, and there are less than 2 weeks left on this sabbatical leave, I’ve turned my attention to the booklet I’ve been preparing on the Trinity Way of Life. Even that has gone in unexpected directions. The introduction has taken on a life of its own and I am posting it here to invite any comments and reflections.

How are you growing in your spiritual life?

  • Rapidly?
  • Moderately?
  • Slow and steady?
  • Contented?
  • Stalled?
  • Dissatisfied?
  • Never even thought about the question?

It’s a question worth considering. Spiritual growth for Trinity Parish is the process of discovering God in the “tiniest infinite detail” of our lives. It means the realization that our lives have eternal purpose and that we can make a difference in our world when we connect with others on the Jesus road. Spiritual growth moves us from being a collection of individuals who may gather from time to time on a Sunday morning to being the Body of Christ – the coherent and conscious presence of Jesus in that part of our world where we live and work and play.

It is obvious that Jesus himself is central to our concept of spiritual growth. But how do we relate to Jesus? We can be an admirer as many of his followers were. That doesn’t get us very far on the Jesus road. But many of his admirer’s became disciples, a common enough word in religious jargon. The word in the New Testament that we translate as disciple simply means student. The significance of that word only becomes apparent when we look at what a student did in those days. Rowan Williams, the former archbishop of Canterbury, described it this way:

In other words, what makes you a disciple is not turning up from time to time. Discipleship may literally mean ‘being a student,’ in the strict Greek sense of the word, but it doesn’t mean turning up once a week for a course (or even a sermon). It’s not an intermittent state; it’s a relationship that continues. The truth is that, in the ancient world, being a ‘student’ was rather more like that than it is these days. If you said to a modern prospective student that the essence of being a student was to hang on your teacher’s every word, to follow in his or her steps, to sleep outside their door in order not to miss any pearls of wisdom falling from their lips, to watch how they conduct themselves at the table, how they conduct themselves in the street, you might not get a very warm response. But in the ancient world, it was rather more like that. To be the student of a teacher was to commit yourself to living in the same atmosphere and breathing the same air; there was nothing intermittent about it.[1]

For this reason, we use the term apprentice rather than disciple.

The Trinity Way of Life is our peculiar way of intentional spiritual growth, of being apprentices. We do this not for our own personal benefit alone, but that we continue becoming a congregation that gives blessing to our community and through whom God releases healing to the wounded and freedom to the captive.

[1] Williams, Rowan. Being Disciples p. 2

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