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Pastor, Writer, Contemplative

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Prayers For Racial Reconciliation

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Events in our nation and in this great state of TX are causing us to shout past each other, and not to hear nor listen. Prayer is the way forward; listening to the Other as we listen to ourselves, all before a Holy God. Here are some helpful prayers of Woven: Read the rest of this entry »

The Blessing Pipeline

A few Sundays ago I taught on something called “the Blessing Pipeline”. It was a conceptual crystallization for me after much reflection on the theological concepts of Blessing and Covenant. It all began for me with the experience universally shared by all sooner or later – the sense of being stuck in my life. That can be applied a number of ways; stuck in terms of career advancement, or progress in a relationship, or in some aspect of personal growth, or even stalled financial success. For our purposes we have been focusing on that last one, as we have been learning through a series on finances and stewardship at Woven. It appears to me — if I may cut straight to the point — that what we give is what we get; and that is the simple principle of blessing, that is to say, blessing is a two-way pipeline; we cannot just expect to get if we do not give. Here is a graphic illustrating our present sense of stuckness:

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Read the rest of this entry »

A French Monk On His Murder By Terrorists

After the Paris and Beirut attacks I found myself despairing a bit.

Not able to find my higher ground, the higher plane of confidence and hope in God, I floundered for a bit, until I read this: http://americamagazine.org/content/all-things/dom-christians-testament. Then a glimmer returned, pointing the way to the Ancient Path. I cannot imagine such a transition coming easy to those close to the attacks.

The story of Dom Christian de Chergé is not one to be read. It is to be meditated on. Chewed on. Mulled over. Internalized. I hope it brings you hope as it did me:

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A French monk on his murder by terrorists

source: http://americamagazine.org/content/all-things/dom-christians-testament

Dom Christian de Chergé was one of the Trappist monks killed by extremists at the Monastery of Notre Dame of Atlas in Tibhirine, Algeria, in 1996, by terrorists identifying themselves as the “Armed Islamic Groups.” (Their story was told in the film “Of Gods and Men.”)  Dom Christian and the other Trappist martyrs knew that by remaining in Tibhirine, in solidarity with their brothers and sisters in the country who also faced terrorism and violence, they might be called upon to offer their lives.  This is in stark contrast to the terrible plight of those who died in Paris yesterday, whose lives were taken from them forcibly.  But Dom Christian’s testament is a profound meditation on suffering, death and reconciliation, which may help as we reflect on the terrible murders in Paris,   May all those who were killed yesterday in Paris rest in peace.  May God console all those who mourn them.  And may Notre Dame de Lourdes and all the saints of France pray for their country.   (Le testament, en francais, est ici.)

Testament of Dom Christian de Chergé,      (Opened on Pentecost Sunday, May 26, 1996)

Facing a GOODBYE …

If it should happen one day–and it could be today–that I become a victim of the terrorism which now seems ready to engulf all the foreigners living in Algeria, I would like my community, my Church and my family to remember that my life was GIVEN to God and to this country.

I ask them to accept the fact that the One Master of all life was not a stranger to this brutal departure.

I would ask them to pray for me: for how could I be found worthy of such an offering?

I ask them to associate this death with so many other equally violent ones which are forgotten through indifference or anonymity.

My life has no more value than any other. Nor any less value. In any case, it has not the innocence of childhood.

I have lived long enough to know that I am an accomplice in the evil which seems to prevail so terribly in the world, even in the evil which might blindly strike me down.

I should like, when the time comes, to have a moment of spiritual clarity which would allow me to beg forgiveness of God and of my fellow human beings, and at the same time forgive with all my heart the one who would strike me down.

I could not desire such a death. It seems to me important to state this.

I do not see, in fact, how I could rejoice if the people I love were indiscriminately accused of my murder.

It would be too high a price to pay for what will perhaps be called, the “grace of martyrdom” to owe it to an Algerian, whoever he might be, especially if he says he is acting in fidelity to what he believes to be Islam.

I am aware of the scorn which can be heaped on the Algerians indiscriminately.

I am also aware of the caricatures of Islam which a certain Islamism fosters.

It is too easy to soothe one’s conscience by identifying this religious way with the fundamentalist ideology of its extremists.

For me, Algeria and Islam are something different: it is a body and a soul.

I have proclaimed this often enough, I think, in the light of what I have received from it.

I so often find there that true strand of the Gospel which I learned at my mother’s knee, my very first Church, precisely in Algeria, and already inspired with respect for Muslim believers.

Obviously, my death will appear to confirm those who hastily judged me naive or idealistic:
“Let him tell us now what he thinks of his ideals!”

But these persons should know that finally my most avid curiosity will be set free.

This is what I shall be able to do, God willing: immerse my gaze in that of the Father to contemplate with him His children of Islam just as He sees them, all shining with the glory of Christ, the fruit of His Passion, filled with the Gift of the Spirit whose secret joy will always be to establish communion and restore the likeness, playing with the differences.

For this life lost, totally mine and totally theirs, I thank God, who seems to have willed it entirely for the sake of that JOY in everything and in spite of everything.

In this THANK YOU, which is said for everything in my life from now on, I certainly include you, friends of yesterday and today, and you, my friends of this place, along with my mother and father, my sisters and brothers and their families — you are the hundredfold granted as was promised!

And also you, my last-minute friend, who will not have known what you were doing:

Yes, I want this THANK YOU and this GOODBYE to be a “GOD BLESS” for you, too, because in God’s face I see yours.

May we meet again as happy thieves in Paradise, if it please God, the Father of us both.

AMEN! INCHALLAH!

Algiers, 1st December 1993 | Tibhirine, 1st January 1994 | Christian +

 

Church Planting for Atheists

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With the recent hoopla of the new phenomenon of “Atheist churches” popping up in Europe and America, and their very first apparent “schism”, I wanted to offer my (free) professional consulting on how this could be a prime opportunity for “Atheist Church Planting.”

We in the church know how schism can oftentimes be pre-empted or ratified by an intentional redirecting of congregational energies towards positive and constructive outcomes as opposed to negative and destructive ones; that “planting” (or establishing) new congregations is a good way out of such situations in staving off congregational discontent, funneling energies towards more constructive means, and ultimately producing more missional Christians – in your case I’m not sure what that would be – but your version of a people called & sent, who perceive a divine sense of vocation and mission.

So allow for a bit of advice from people who have been at it for 2000 years; you could use a little coaching:

First, you want to evaluate the nature of this “schism” – is it a difference in teaching or in values? Are you hard atheists, or soft atheists? Have agnostics infiltrated your ranks and polluted the minds of your flock? Is it over the need to have drums and guitars in your sing-alongs, or are there people who prefer the solemn liturgy of humanism? Or is the conflict less content-oriented and more about a breakdown in the emotional process / relationship system somewhere? Can you find the means to reconcile and if not, to forgive and to bless?

Second, you’ll need to come up with a plan. How many healthy people, couples, families do you have? You should have upwards of at least 30 to 50 people to produce a beginning critical mass, and it’s important not to plant with angry, bitter people. Can you do that? Because no one likes an angry church, and an angry church cannot retain people for long. It may be evidence of emotional carry-over from the previous congregation. For churches birthed in reaction stay plagued with the toxicity of unreconciled emotional processes. So if you can birth a new, non-reactive atheist church plant, then more power to you.

Third: How are you going to fund this thing? Do you have a way to motivate people to tithe in atheism? Perhaps an appeal that their contribution “goes to a worthy cause” – but the problem with this is we’ve often found such givings come with demands, i.e., “returns on their investment” and this makes for rather selfish giving. You see, the secret in the Christian church is we often preach giving as an antidote to selfishness, not as party to it. If you can find a way to prompt unselfish, generous, and consistent giving, then do it.

Fourth: Wait for the right time. A wise coach once told me, “It’s about the right pastor, in the right place, at the right time.” If those pieces are in place, it births synergy; are you the right shepherd for your people? Do they sense your care, patience, love, forbearance, long-suffering? Are you a forgiving person that can stay decades – 10, 20, 30 years with your congregation? Are you in the right place where you are recognized as prominent within the community, looked up to as a person with integrity, not only well-connected but well-respected and loved? Is the timing right, or will this new plant disrupt the stasis around you? Are there presently other projects you can partner with?

Fifth. If you’ve gotten this far, can you launch well? Methinks you can, from the catchy ad campaigns; it really gets a lot of attention. Once you launch, it should double or triple your critical mass, and you’ve got the beginnings of a church. But the longevity and the depth of the church really depends on how well you worked the first four steps above; because if you haven’t then, well, you’ll have yet another schism on your hands.

God-bless Self-bless and good luck.