Monday, February 29, 2016

WBTRBW Chapter 29: Your Secret Life

In this week's reading from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:1-21), Jesus encourages us to practice our faith in secret. Jesus speaks of three faith practices that were central in his day: almsgiving (sharing with/caring for the poor), prayer, and fasting. These practices are still significant markers of people of faith today; but what other practices are significant to your faith?

Our first church covenant statement that we adopted last year says, "As a member of Broadneck Baptist Church, I commit myself to growing personally in the ways of Christ. I am committed to pursuing discipleship, continually and intentionally seeking deeper relationship with God, fellow seekers, and the world around me, even when I struggle on the journey." How are you seeking deeper relationship? What are the things that you do as a habit, regularly, in secret to deepen and express your faith? To help you think through this question, I thought I'd link you with some resources this week--some of my favorite websites and materials on spiritual practices. If you're trying to figure out what it means for you to practice your faith, or ways you can grow deeper in Christ, these are websites I would invite you to explore!

Faith Practices is a UCC curriculum I did some writing for--they have some nice activities you could incorporate into your own daily life.

Practicing Our Faith has some wonderful articles as well as links to a great series of books on spiritual practices.

Spirituality and Practice is not exclusively Christian but looks at many practices from various traditions that Christians can use to go deeper in faith.

Explore and enjoy--and if you find something particularly meaningful, share it in the comments below!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

WMTRBW Chapter 28: A New Path

Throughout Lent, many of us have been reading a different translation of the Sermon on the Mount each day (there's still time for you! Let me know if you want to be added to the email list). It is amazing to me how I hear different things each time I read, especially in the interpretations of different translators, each uncovering a different wrinkle in the original text.

On Sunday, I only really got to deal with the last of Jesus' statements in Matthew 5:17-48--the one about loving enemies. So, to help us sort through what Jesus is saying in this complex section of teaching, I thought I'd offer a translation of my own. Not from the original Greek (my three semesters of that blessed language are lost somewhere in the grey matter of my brain), but from all my study work on the passage over the past week. So this is a paraphrase more than a translation, I guess. But here's an offering--the Abby Standard Version, if you will--of some of what I hear in Jesus' teachings:

 Don't stop with where the law has already taken you--keep following the road to see what new places it might lead.

For instance, you've heard the command to not murder, and I’m not discounting this.  But carrying around your anger, insulting others, devaluing them by calling them names—that will land you in a place that’s just as bad as where murder gets you.  The outcome is the same:  destruction. Innocent lives destroyed, your community reduced to a trash heap. Go beyond this and do the hard work of reconciliation. This matters as much as the more visible work of physical restraint. Be those who act first to sustain relationship and restore it—not those who harbor grudges or pride.

What about adultery?  Take the command further and look at the attitudes that drive such an act—the ways you constantly treat each other as objects, the ways you want things at the expense of others.  If you are going to nurture such lust, you not only reduce the other person to their body parts, you maim yourself—that right eye that looks is cut off, that hand that wants to touch is cut off, because your relationship with that person has lost all its perspective, has lost its intended form.  Your punishment will fit your crime as you, too, find yourself disfigured and dehumanized.  You’ll be changed from a beautiful body of Christ into a horror movie, a collection of dismembered people who, again, are more likely to be found in that trash heap than in my beloved community.

And what about divorce? Yes, the law says it’s legal—but do you see what husbands being able to just sign a sheet of paper and throw out their wives does?  That’s how you all do divorce, with the stroke of a pen, and it reduces covenant to convenience; it leaves my children—those women—without voices, without anyone to care for them, exposed to society’s mercy—which is most often merciless.  It turns some of my children into less-than-human objects, just as adultery does.  This is not the life God has intended for you.  The way you divorce strips people of their safety, their sustenance, their honor—you cannot do this to one another and expect to flourish yourself.

And you know how the law says you must stand by your words if you have promised God that you will do so?  That’s just surface obedience—mere infant’s milk. You must live more deeply than this.  You must honor every word you speak, not just certain ones—truthful speech will be the foundation of this new community.  If you cannot be trusted to speak with integrity to one another in all times and places, how can this community ever thrive?  What will it be able to depend on?

I'd challenge you to try this this week--take just one section of Jesus' teaching, one of these six "You have heard it said...but I say to you..." and seek to put it in your own words. Do some research if you want, learn the cultural context behind it ( is a great resource I use weekly). Read Brian McLaren's chapter, too. Then consider the title of the chapter: with these words, how is Jesus encouraging us to walk God's path in a new way, extending it into territory we have never dared enter before?

Monday, February 15, 2016

WMTRBW 27: A New Identity

With the beginning of Lent, we have started a new section in We Make the Road by Walking. We are past the halfway point in our journey and have now moved into a quarter of imagining what it means to be "Alive in a Global Uprising." As Brian McLaren writes in the introduction to this session,

Joining the adventure of Jesus is a starting line, not a finish line. It leads us into a lifetime of learning and action. It challenges us to stand up against the way things have been and the way things are, to help create new possibilities for the way things can and should be. It enlists us as contemplative activists in an ongoing uprising of peace, freedom, justice, and compassion. In Part III, we focus on what it means for us to join in his adventure. 

The first part of this journey will be five weeks spent in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus' longest recorded block of teaching in the Bible. Many of us are striving to read the Sermon on the Mount daily through the season of Lent. Many of the words in Matthew 5-7 are among the most familiar Jesus spoke--how can we strive to hear them with fresh ears?

I would encourage you as your read each week's chapter on the Sermon--starting with this week's, which focuses on Matthew 5:1-16--asking yourself these questions prompted by McLaren's intro:

  • How do these words of Jesus challenge me to stand up against the way things have been and the way things are?
  • How do these words of Jesus help create new possibilities for the way things can and should be? 
  • How might I live differently if I take these words to heart?
If we read Jesus' sermon with these questions in mind, I think Lent has the potential to be a transformative time for all of us. Read the first part and share your reflections in the comments section!

Monday, February 8, 2016

WMTRBW 26: Making It Real

Again, this week we will have to read two chapters to complete section 2, "Alive in the Adventure of Jesus," in order to begin section 3, "Alive in a Global Uprising" with the start of the season of Lent this coming week. So, read chapters 25 and 26; this blog will focus on chapter 26 since chapter 25 was focused on in worship yesterday!

As Brian McLaren was writing this chapter, he says in his additional commentary on the book,

"I wondered if we might need a fresh definition of faith. As it stands, faith often means conviction that some things happened in the past. I wonder if faith is even more truly a conviction that something can, must, and will happen in the future, and by its very existence, it helps those things come to be."

This chapter also offers a new perspective not just on faith, but on another loaded word: "belief." In the chapter, imagined as a dialogue between Mary Magdalene and two inquirers about Jesus, Mary says,

“What about you? Are you beginning to believe in him? Do you trust him?” That question has a peculiar power, doesn’t it? “Do you trust him?” is not the same as “Do you believe he existed?” or “Do you believe certain doctrines about him?” It’s a question about commitment, about confidence.

If you had to define "faith" and "believe," how would you define them? Are your definitions closer to the "traditional" ones (faith as conviction about past events, belief about concrete existence or doctrines) or to the ones put forth in this chapter (faith as about the future and action, belief as about trust, commitment, and relationship)? How could expanding or refreshing your definition of these words change the way you think about and follow Jesus?

Monday, February 1, 2016

WMTRBW Chapter 24: Jesus and Hell

Rich Man and Lazarus by Bonifazio Veronese
Note: Since Lent begins so early this year, we will be doubling up on our chapters from We Make the Road by Walking the next two weeks to get on the right schedule. This week, please take time to read both "Jesus and the Multitudes" (Ch. 23) and "Jesus and Hell" (Ch. 24). Since I preached on Chapter 23 this week, our blog will focus on Chapter 24.

"Hell" holds a more prominent place in many modern forms of Christianity than it does in the pages of Scripture. Jesus does occasionally talk about a fiery place of punishment, but as our chapter this week points out, when he does he says some surprising things about it. Consider this central passage from our chapter this week:

"Jesus clearly agreed that there was an afterlife. Death was not the end for Jesus. But one of the most striking facets of his life and ministry was the way he took popular understandings of the afterlife and turned them upside down. Who was going to hell? Rich and successful people who lived in fancy houses and stepped over their destitute neighbors who slept in the gutters outside their gates. Proud people who judged, insulted, excluded, avoided, and accused others. Fastidious hypocrites who strained out gnats and swallowed camels. The condemnation that the religious elite so freely pronounced on the marginalized, Jesus turned back on them. And who, according to Jesus, was going to heaven? The very people whom the religious elite despised, deprived, avoided, excluded, and condemned. Heaven’s gates opened wide for the poor and destitute who shared in few of life’s blessings; the sinners, the sick, and the homeless who felt superior to nobody and who therefore appreciated God’s grace and forgiveness all the more; even the prostitutes and tax collectors...Again and again, Jesus took conventional language and imagery for hell and reversed it. We might say he wasn’t so much teaching about hell as he was un-teaching about hell." (Brian McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking pp. 112-113, emphasis mine)

Consider how this teaching compares to what you were taught, have heard in the media, or think is generally believed about hell. Some questions to reflect on:
Who do we popularly hear is going to hell? 
Who do we popularly hear is going to heaven? 
How might Jesus want to take our conventional imagery and language for hell today and un-teach it, turning our preconceptions upside down?