Monday, November 7, 2016

Jesus will make your life better, eventually

photo via Unsplash, by Luke Pamer
Jesus will make your life better.

I've heard that claim. 

Maybe not exactly in those words. But this is an assumption behind the appeal of self-improvement forms of Christian spirituality.  

This assumption is mostly correct. Jesus will make your life better. 

Yet I often wonder: Better than what? And when?

I prefer to say that Jesus may or may not make your life better. But he will eradicate your death. 

The preamble for the collect for Proper 27 offers blessed clarity for this way of phrasing the offer. 

The prayer begins, "O God, whose blessed Son was manifested that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us the children of God and heirs of eternal life: . . ." (BCP 184). 

Jesus came to eliminate the known causes of eternal dying, the devil and his works--notably, unbelief and sin--and to supply the necessary conditions for eternal living--membership in God's family and a trust fund of eternal life. 

Even so, this project creates some difficulties for people who live in a world inhabited by and infatuated with the devil and his works. 

This is why I avoid saying that Jesus will make your life better. 

In the absence of ease, I have discovered that he will give grace to deal with the consequences of learning to live life by him, with him, and in him. In addition, he may also give you companions to offer compassion and continuing motivation in the struggle of faith, hope, and love. 

I've found Flannery O'Connor and Dallas Willard to be wise, understanding, and realistic companions in this struggle.

Here are two, brief quotations that provide comfort in the form of sober reflections on the pain of a plunge into reality and the challenge of conversion.

Writing a novel is a terrible experience, during which the hair often falls out and the teeth decay. I’m always highly irritated by people who imply that writing fiction is an escape from reality. It is a plunge into reality and it’s very shocking to the system. If the novelist is not sustained by a hope of money, then he must be sustained by a hope of salvation, or he simply won’t survive the ordeal.
-Flannery O’Connor, “The Nature and Aim of Fiction, Mystery and Manners, pp. 77-78

To change governing ideas, whether in the individual or the group, is one of the most difficult and painful things in human life. Genuine “conversion” is a wrenching experience. It rarely happens to the individual or group except in the form of divine intervention, revolution, or something very like a mental breakdown. It can cause deep and permanent damage to the most intimate relationships, as Jesus forewarned (Luke 12:51-53). At a group level, the sixties illustrate this in the recent past of American and much of Western Society. And in many parts of the world, Christians are persecuted and killed today because they threaten the idea systems of others in their country.
-Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart, p. 98

So take heart, Jesus will give you life, life that is far better than death. But things might get a little more challenging for a time.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Take the Cross and Pick Up Joy

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"The 'cross' we must take is laid upon all obsessive and partial desires, so that the broad reach of agape love can integrate for us a whole and eternal life with God and man. Jesus was not some harsh ascetic who practiced or imposed pain for its own sake. He did not choose death because it was good in itself, but 'for the joy set before him, he endured the cross and despised the shame' (Hebrews 12:2, par).

"To take him as our master means that we trust his way is right and, as he himself did, always look to the larger good under God. Like him we keep on entrusting ourselves to the One who judges righteously (1 Peter 2:23). This is 'losing our life and thereby saving it' in the manner Jesus taught.

"In Chapter 8 of The Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi, Francis gives his friend Leo a teaching about what 'perfect joy' is. They are trudging through the snow from Perugia to the home of their group at St. Mary of the Angeles. For their brotherhood to give a great example of holiness and edification in all lands would not be perfect joy, Francis says. Nor would a great ministry of healing and raising the dead. Nor would possession of all languages and all science, nor all understanding or prophecy of Scripture, and insight into the secrets of every soul. Nor would even the conversion of all unbelievers to faith in Christ!

"By this point brother Leo is amazed, and he begs Francis to teach him 'wherein is perfect joy.' The reply is that if, when they come to their quartersdirty, wet, and exhausted from hungerthey are rejected, repeatedly rebuffed, and finally driven away by force, then 'if we accept such injustice, such cruelty, and such contempt with patience, without being ruffled and without murmuring,' and 'if we bear all these injuries with patience and joy, thinking of the sufferings of our Blessed Lord, which we would share out of love for Him, write, O Brother Leo, that here, finally, is perfect joy.'"

Monday, May 23, 2016

Fitness and Function 2 (Church Rehabilitation, pt. 3b)

Fitness. Not a word readily associated with a local parish church. Maybe the health club or the Y. But church?

Fit how and for what? To be tied?

Fit for life with God. That's something good to be fit for. And fit simply means, "To be suitable to or adapted to," as in, "let the punishment fit the crime."

I'm on the subject of fitness because I'm on the subject of rehabilitation. Rehabilitation is what happens when something or someone is rehabilitated or made fit again.

If something or someone is fit then it is fully what it is and can accomplish what it is meant to accomplish. That is my thinking for linking fitness with function. One more item of clarification. I consider fitness synonymous with theory and function with practice. If a parish is fit, then it is what is supposed to be. If one if functional, then it can do what it is supposed to do.

I recently quoted a contemporary reflection on parish fitness and function. Now I'll quote a few reflections from the 1st century.

What is a fit parish? What is a parish supposed to be?

Two texts quickly come to mind: Ephesians 1:22-23 and 1 Peter 2:9-10

And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. (Eph. 1:22-23)

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Pt 2:9-10)

The 1 Peter text includes a reference to function. "That you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light."

Paul agrees with Peter, but with different words: "to the praise of his glory." That's the function of a fit church. "So that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, would be to the praise of his glory."

Here is the text in context.

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Eph. 1:11-14)

I have a few things to write about this. But what Peter and Paul wrote is far more important. So this is enough for now.


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Fitness and Function (Church Rehabilitation, pt. 3a)



Previously, on Gregorian Slant:

"Restoration to fitness and function is the goal of church rehabilitation. Parish church fitness and parish church function are good ideas to clarify for this project. So I will turn to those next."

Next is now so here goes.

This is a picture, a word picture, of what I hope to cultivate as I rehabilitate.

It's William C. Martin's picture. Thought 80 in his text, The Art of Pastoring: Contemplative Reflections.


A church wisely centered in the Word
produces great contentment for the people.
The activities of the church keep them
just busy enough to gain satisfaction,
but do not detract from their loved ones.
They enjoy their pastor
because they do not expect him to be
other than what he is.
Their spirits are nurtured gently
by quiet and solitude and room to be.
They care for one another
without needing certain responses in return.
They share food and song,
sorrow and joy,
and become more and more free from fear.
And when they die they think,
"It was good, is good and will be good."


Martin offers these related observations: "Keep this image of the church in your mind. Let is serve as a touchstone whenever you become tempted to build another monument to pride and ego. We don't need any more monuments. We need a great many more Sanctuaries of the Holy Spirit."

Monday, May 16, 2016

Leadership: A Provocative Reflection & Reflective Provocation

I'm in favor of leadership and leadership studies. I'm a learning practitioner of the same.

Here's a provocation on the subject that I'm mulling. You may mull with me if you would be edified.

Perhaps the greatest spiritual temptation facing a pastor is the pressure to provide "leadership." 
People love to see buildings built and pews packed. The dynamic and forceful leader can accomplish these things and more. Everyone is pleased. Denominational leaders are pleased, parishioners are proud of their "leader," and the pastor has the world by the tail. 
And hundreds of souls wither for lack of exercise. 
William Martin, "The Art of Pastoring: Contemplative Reflections."

This provocation has a logical fallacy. The conclusion doesn't necessarily follow the premise.

But this isn't a syllogism. It's a provocation.

It provokes this question of me from myself.

Am I learning leadership that increases the number of Jesus's disciples--students following his leadership--rather than maintaining or increasing interest in something or someone other than him?

I want to see the pews packed with fellow pilgrims feeding on Jesus for needed nourishment as we exercise unto godliness, learning to follow the Lamb wherever he leads.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Two Kinds of Churches (Church Rehabilitation, pt. 2)



 “There's two kinds of coaches, them that's fired and them that's gonna be fired.” -Bum Phillips

Bum knew coaching. His insight sheds light on parish health. There are two kinds of churches: those that need rehabilitation, and those that will.

I'm in the early stages of thinking of church revitalization as church rehabilitation. A brief rationale and some reflection for this turn of phrase is the purpose of this post.

In my introductory post on the concept I wrote, "Vitality is life. In a Christian parish, vitality that is life is connected with God who is love. Vitality and love go together."

The connection between vitality, life, and love prompted me to think of church revitalization as more organic than institutional, more therapeutic than managerial.

A favorite, astounding text for this approach is 1 Corinthians 6:15: "Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?"

Anthony C. Thistelton translates this text, "Do you not know that your bodies are Christ's limbs and organs?"

If our baptized bodies are members--limbs and organs--of Christ, then the church is a body of bodies who embody Jesus in the world for the world.

I should emphasize the words "baptized bodies." Grace is crucial. Church is something we become by repentance, faith, and the sacrament of Baptism. Baptism is the means of grace through which the believing penitent is incorporated into the manhood of Jesus and through him immersed into the Holy Trinity (Mt. 28:19).

When I speak of "the church" I am in intending to mean the church catholic, the whole and singular body of men, women, and children united to Christ. This is echoes the opening words of Article XIX, "The visible Church of Christ is a congregation . . . ." (This article doesn't make Anglicans congregationalists; it makes Anglicans catholic. The visible Church is one, a congregation.)

The local parish is the neighborhood address of the church catholic. A local parish is the most accessible instance of the congregation which is the one body of Christ.

Sometimes the local parish achieves distance, dangerous distance, from the health and vitality possessed and shared with the body by her head, Jesus Christ. And when the local parish ails, she needs a spiritual physician for rehabilitation in and into the love of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

In this respect, the word rehabilitation, may need some rehabilitation by way of further introduction.

According to etymonline.com, rehabilitation has roots from Medieval Latin rehabilitationem, from re- "again" (see re-) + habitare "make fit," from Latin habilis "easily managed, fit" (see able).

Rehabilitate: to make fit again, or easily managed.

I like that, "to make fit again." But the phrase "easily managed" makes me uneasy. It could too easily turn the idea of church rehabilitation into another version of getting people to do what I want.

Let me try it this way.

When I'm physically fit, I can easily manage walking the dog or ascending a staircase. If I'm mentally fit, I can easily manage thinking about a subject or learning something new. If a church is fit, she can easily manage her life in God. She has fullness of function and ease of use.

Revisiting Bum Phillips and riffing on his insight on coaching and coaches, there are two kinds of churches, those that are fit and can easily manage their life in God, and those that need restoration to their fitness and function.

Restoration to fitness and function is the goal of church rehabilitation. Parish church fitness and parish church function are good ideas to clarify for this project. So I will turn to those next.

photo credit: kwhi.com

Friday, May 6, 2016

St. John, St. Paul, St. Thomas Aquinas, and the Saint (i.e. the Baptized Christian)

By incorporation into the manhood of Christ, who is the eternal Son of the Father, the soul is given by adoption a real participation in the Sonship of Christ and so enters into the life of the Trinity. This is simply the other side of the indwelling of God in the soul to which the Johannine Gospel testifies--"If any man love me, my Father will love him and we will come unto him and make our abode with him." It is what St. Paul describes in the text, "Your life is hid with Christ in God." There is thus a fundamental continuity between the state of the ordinary Christian and that of the mystic, or even of the saint in heaven who rejoices in the Beatific Vision, for, as St. Thomas says, "Grace is nothing else than a beginning of glory in us."

-E. L. Mascall, He Who Is, p. 149