Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Morality without religion?

One of my favorite Bible verses will be the Gospel reading this Sunday.  It is one that has really stuck with me over the years and I still, to this day wear a symbol that reminds me of this verse.

It is also the verse that I thought of this past Sunday when our youth gathered during the Formation hour in Sunday School.  They were posed a question.

After many of the events that have occurred, not just in the world but even just in Memphis…it often times leads to us ask questions of why these things happen.

 What would lead someone to do these things? What moral guidelines do people follow when they don’t believe in God?

Can morality exist without religion?

This was the topic that our high school students discussed this past week.  At first it may sound that there should be a fairly simple answer, however, the more you think about it the more complicated it becomes. 

My initial response is “Man, I hope so…I would hope that it does not take religion for people to be able to be nice to each other.”

In some of the conversations that I have had with people, there really has not been much of a consistent response but it seemed that one point came up more often than others. 

As Christians, we do good because the Bible tells us so…and in some cases it can even come across as, do good or we go to Hell.

And for me…that is where I start to struggle with that response.

When I hear that it seems that it is merely taking all of the teachings of God and all of the teachings of Jesus and the Bible and simplifying it down to a set of rules.  Basically I was uncomfortable with such a simplified version.  A Gospel of “Do’s” and “Don’ts”…There had to be more to it than that.

That, to me, seemed that people are innately bad unless they believe in God…which would be a belief that would make me struggle.

As a Christian, we believe that we were created in the image of God and after being created, God looked at what he had created and indeed, it was very good.

As an Episcopalian, we believe in Incarnation Theology which in a sermon given By the Rev. Dan Matthews at Holy Communion in 2012 summed it up as anything of God is good, that everything can be good in moderation, even moderation.

But, again I struggle… what if you don’t believe in God?  If you don’t believe in God, then you wouldn’t believe that people are innately good and therefore where do morals come from?

The answer…I do not know.  But if I had to give an answer…I would say yes, morals do exist outside of religion.  I do not think you have to be a Christian or that you have to believe in God in order to be morally good or to be a good person.  But if that is the case, then this Gospel of “Do’s” and “Don’ts” cannot be a good way to look religion, can it?

Sure, when we are younger we may have learned the 10 Commandments and it may have been explained to us in a way that seemed that it was merely a do this and don’t do that type of situation.  But as we grow up and we mature and our intelligence matures and our understanding of the world matures…our faith must mature as well.  We must grow past this simplified version of the Gospel.

So again, I saw yes, morality can exist without God and without religion…but then what does that mean for our understanding of the Gospel…

What then makes it different?

That is where the Gospel reading for this upcoming Sunday comes into play.  If you didn’t stop to look it up when I first mentioned it comes to us from Matthew…such a good name, Matthew…

Here is a segment of the upcoming Gospel reading:

When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?" He said to him, "`You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: `You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
-Matthew 22:34-39

In Exodus we have God summarizing hundreds of laws into the 10 Commandments.  Here we have Jesus taking those and simplifying them into this.

Nowhere in this passage does it say do this and don’t do that or you will go to Hell.

It simply says to live in love, not to just be nice to others.  You can be nice to people but still not really like them. 

Having morals exist within religion but there has to be a greater meaning to being Christian than just being good.

If you take the time to fully think and process how differently you would live your life if instead of following a checklist of do’s and don’ts you followed this list…

I will LOVE God with all of my heart.

I will LOVE God with all of my soul.

I will LOVE God with all my mind.

I will LOVE myself and care for myself.

I will LOVE others and care for them just as would for myself.

I will walk in LOVE.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Perspective is Everything

My, my!  What yucky weather today!  There is only one thing I can think of on a day like this…

Rain, rain, go away,
Come again another day…

I hope that some of you sang along to that…because I did while I typed it.

I think when it is rainy outside we have a natural tendency to focus on the fact that the weather is bad and therefore start our day off in the worst way possible…with a gloomy outlook.

I normally have one message to many of the youth that come to some of our youth events; you will get out of it what you put into it.  I think this message can apply to just about any situation in your life.

Today, I was thinking about a few events of this past week.  Yesterday I had the opportunity to do something that I have not done in a while…paint.

Probably not what you thought I was going to say.  A little known fact about me is, yes, I am an artist.  In high school and through college I studied studio art.  I have spent countless number of nights not sleeping but staying up to finish a painting or project, or compiling my portfolio for a show.  For the longest time my dining room table was a drawing desk and the room was used as a studio space instead of a living room.  Art consumed my life.

One thing is bound to happen if you study art long enough…you will have a teacher that you truly and genuinely disagree with on just about everything.  If you have ever taken an art class, you know what I am talking about.

I was lucky enough to have this teacher on two separate occasions.  Even though I combined the styles of art that I knew she hated to make one of my projects, we did get along rather well.  One class we made to do this exercise that I still remember and hate to this day.

First, every student in the class was called up one at a time to put their stool in the middle of the room.  This served two purposes…1. We were not allowed to sit during class anyway and 2. We were making a still life so that we could draw it.

So once even in the class had made this massive scattered pile of uncomfortable metal seats, we made a circle around the display with our desks and began to draw.  I studied the stools for a bit to see where I wanted to start and to lay out my composition, started making a few marks on my paper, made a few outlines…then finally began drawing.  We had been going for maybe 30 minutes when the teacher made an announcement… “Everyone move one desk to left.”

“Uh…ok,” as we all began gathering up our supplies and paper to change locations, but then we were stopped. 

“Leave your supplies and your paper.  Continue drawing on the other person’s paper with the charcoal they were using.”

Uh, oh heck no lady, you must be crazy!

I can’t even begin to describe how much this irked me.  We all slowly shuffle over to the desk next to us and stare down on this foreign piece of paper and try to figure out what to do with it…

I had left my future master piece, that I had just spent 30 minutes using vine charcoal outlining and preparing to go into detail and now I was stuck using dark stick charcoal on a piece that already had covered in dark, inerasable lines that were not where I wanted them.  So we all begin to dive in and try to fix what was already there and to make that piece look more like something we would do.

About 10 minutes later, “Move again.”


This continued until we had gone all the way around the circle and ended up back at our original desk.  The only metaphor I can think of to describe the feeling would be to imagine that you started writing a paper.  You had solid outline and knew what you wanted to do with it, you had a really good introduction…and then you step away from it.  When you return to it 20 other people had finished writing it…but each person wrote in a different language.

By the time I returned, I did not recognize my own work.  I couldn’t even see many of the original lines that I had so carefully and thoughtfully sketched out. 

For some reason, this was what I thought of today.  A combination of the weather and painting again…this is where my mind went.

It also made me think of a line in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. 

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8)

Especially on gloomy rainy days like today, it is so easy to just see the negative and become upset or irked.  And just like I tell my youth, you will get out of it what you put into it.

If you start your day off thinking it is going to be bad…chances are, you will have a bad day.

Instead he is what I propose…

Just like my teacher made us do while trying to draw those stools…change your perspective.

Maybe by looking at it in a different light we will be able to see the truth in it.  The honor in it.  How it is just or how it is pure.  You can see how it is pleasing or commendable or excellent.  Or even if there is anything, even the smallest thing, that is worthy of praise…then think of these things.

Keep on doing these things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:9)

Thursday, October 9, 2014

#TBT to when we were in this room with no heating or air #CHCEYC

via Instagram http://ift.tt/1vROfdt

What is Love?

Reflection given at WoW on October 8, 2014 by Elgin.

And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
       -Colossians 3:14

            What is love? Baby, don't hurt me. Don't hurt me no more. Baby don't hurt me. Don't hurt me no more. What is love? Yeah. Those lyrics I just lavishly sung for you belong to the song, you guessed it, "What is love" sung by Haddaway. At first, the song seems to be about some vocally gifted guy who is confused on why his woman of lust does not reciprocate upon his forthcoming love and affection for her. If you look at the music video and actually listen to the song you can tell by his "vest without a shirt outfit” why he has zero chance with this chick. The repetitious lyrics on the rhetorical question "what is love" suggests that someone has told him exactly what love is and that his definition has failed him in this scenario. Some definitions of love may read: A deep feeling of affection, or romantic attachment to someone/thing , or a socially accepted form of addiction. Regardless of what other people have said about it in the past, it is nothing more than influential to what is really means to the individual. This word that man has applied to an immortal concept is an empty shell. Now I'm not only referring to the kind of love that Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams painfully stretch out over the whole course of "The Notebook", I am also talking about the word you hear almost every day. "Oh my gosh I love that sweater" "Oh my gosh I love those earrings! where did you get them? Oh my gosh I love pumpkin spice lattes. You like that new snow cone machine Matthew? Yeah I love it, *gasp* OH MY GOSH I LOVE YOU HAHA. This empty shell of a word can be easily molded by tone, by context, by person receiving or giving.

            From my perspective, the word has a close relation to a social belonging not only in pairs but in groups of friends, in family. According to" mom", love is applicable to ALL of your relatives, even the ones you see only at Christmas or Thanksgiving. It binds people into a relationship that one may not always appreciate or be fully aware of. Today, Max was the one who was scheduled to give this talk, rather than myself. Just yesterday, I got to spend time with Max and we spent the day doing ridiculous stuff and talking about what we've been up to since the last time we were able to see each other. He told me about his ups his downs, and how life was treating him recently. A lot of the things he was saying made me feel like I have it pretty good in the macro scope of things, even with the heavy entity of college squeezing the life out of me. So, on a whim, I offered to speak to you today in his place to erase one item from the whitebeard hanging on his bedroom wall. When I said I'd take it I didn't go through a flash of memories that Max and I made throughout the countless years we've known each other. I didn't sit and think about it at all. He opened the door to Chick-Fil-A and before it closed behind us, I said I'd gladly do it. If anyone else asked me to do something of the same magnitude, questions would have definitely arisen. Why? Can't you? What's in it for me? What about my work? His well being was more important than my immediate wants or judgments.   Another quick example is one where Patrick, Xavier and I were on our way to visit Auburn and the end of summer break. We were just on the road about an hour in and we received a text from Adam about his condition. Right then and there we told Adam that we were going to shave for him. Right then and there, without thinking of future consequences. Even if I still have yet to complete my vow because of senior pictures which is a totally different story, we were all into the idea to support out friend and even with the idea of judgment, many gave up a part of themselves for one they loved. Why do we give unconditional acknowledgement and care to friends and family? Why do we create these bonds with others and place our emotions, thoughts, and entirety into something else?

To reiterate:
And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
       -Colossians 3:14

In my opinion the verse explains to us the importance of unity. How together we can remain united through each other and God’s grace. Even when times are dark or solemn we can rely on the love though God. Specifically speaking to the seniors in high school, life does not stop for the way you feel. It is dynamic like water. Together in your boat you have your friends and family, those who love you. When the water of life washes overboard, the ones you love are there to hold you and keep you secure, regardless of how mighty the storm.  Look around, you are surrounded by those of whom you know through God’s church. This is your boat. In the nave  we stand here today united though a minister in a place that several of us can call home. We come back to this place every week for a reason. That reason is unique to each and every one of us. Amen.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Ring, Ring...

What should I be doing that I am not?

What shouldn’t I be doing that I am?

Am I living my life the right way?

What do the choices I make in my life say about me as a person?

Am I living out what God is calling me to do?

These are some very serious, uncomfortable questions that I feel we sometimes ask ourselves as Christians.    I ask myself these question almost every Sunday during the Confession of Sins.

Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. 
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. 
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your Name. Amen.

When I read through this… like really read through this…it is some very powerful stuff.  Not as powerful as some of the Rite I stuff…
…We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness,
Which we from time to time most grievously have committed…

 I mean…wow…

Ok, Matthew, I get it, we are sinners…where are you going with this?

One thing you hear many people say is that you are your own biggest critic.  This is something that I both gladly and regretfully claim as being very true.

I say gladly and regretfully because I feel that it is both a blessing and a curse. 

While this quality does drive me to be the best I can be it also keeps me from seeing the good work I sometimes do.  For example, this past weekend I installed hardwood flooring in my mother’s living room.  Just another standard Saturday… 

Now for anyone who has ever laid flooring, you may know where I am going with this; if you haven’t…let me try to explain.

The most important part is that first row.  It must be perfect because everything builds off of that.  From there it is simply a tongue and groove joint you glue and then snap together.  The trouble comes when either one board is not placed perfect level or a board is even the slightest bit warped.  Once that happens, the joints do not fit and you start to get gaps between your boards.

Now, when you are installing flooring, you are looking at it from a perspective that you most people never really look at it…laying on the ground from 3 inches away examining every single joint.  From that close, and being such a big critic of my own work…there were many times when I would just roll over in frustration…grunting in anger because two boards did not fit together perfectly.  A few times I would even remove entire sections to redo them because I was not happy with what I had just done.

In the long run…those tiny little imperfections won’t make any difference in the world.  Most likely, no one will ever lie down to examine the joints of the floor.  They will probably just see it from a normal perspective or will just walk across it and not even give it a second look.  As a whole, the floor looks just fine and will serve its purpose.

When I think back to the Confession of Sins and to the questions posed at the beginning of this post…I try to imagine how we are like the floor.

My first thought is the floor was made with a purpose.  All types of flooring is different yet each one serves a different purpose.  Just as we are all different, but we all serve a purpose.  We may not always know it or see it, but we have one.

We are all called to do something.  Not a literal phone call when you mom calls to tell you to come do your homework, but a calling from God.  What are we called to do?  What are our gifts and how can we share them others?

Then I thought more about this, and just like the floor, even though we may be able to serve our purpose, we are not perfect.  When you look closely we all fall short and have our flaws.  But that is also what makes us who we are.  And in how we respond to those flaws and mistakes is also what will truly make us who we are.

In the 39 Articles which outlines the doctrines of the Anglican Church, article 9 states that original sin is “… not in the following of Adam, but it is the fault and corruption of the Nature of every man…”

We know we are not perfect and that is just fine.  But how do we respond to that? 

When we make a mistake are we truly sorry?  Do we humbly repent?

If we aren’t then why do we say them?

While reflecting on this topic today, I was moved strongly by a section from the letter of Paul to the Ephesians. 

What are we called to do? 

How do we go about doing that?

 I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called,  with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,  making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling,  one Lord, one faith, one baptism,  one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
 But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.  Therefore it is said,
“When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive;
    he gave gifts to his people.”
 (When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended[a] into the lower parts of the earth?  He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.)  The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,  until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.  We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.  But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,  from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

-Ephesians 4:1-16

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Let's go THROUGH the roof!

A few weeks ago, we began with our new set up for Worship on Wednesday (WoW).  Every Wednesday after dinner, we gather in Quilling Chapel at Church of the Holy Communion for Compline.  Each week we alternate with clergy, lay leaders and volunteers and youth of the church giving a reflection of a Bible verse that speaks to them.  Each Wednesday, I will begin posting these reflection here to share the stories and memories we are creating here at Holy Communion in Memphis, TN!

2 When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home.So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. Then some peoplea came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’? 10 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— 11 “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” 12 And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”
-Mark 2:2-12

            I imagine this group of friends living in this two-bit town, hearing the news that Jesus is coming. How excited they’d have been! They’d all heard of Jesus, of course, and they’re big fans. But maybe they never thought they’d get the chance to see him in person. What wonderful news! But there was an obstacle—one of these friends was paralyzed. He was incapable of making even the short trip across town to where Jesus was. And I imagine the sick friend saying to his companions, “Go on and see him. I’ll be fine. You can tell me how it was. It’s really alright.”

            Well, these friends were just not going to accept that. So they carried him. Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to carry a friend of yours for more than a few seconds, but it is not light work. Imagine how much work it would be to carry your best friend for several miles, even with help. But to these friends, the extra labor seemed well worth it. They brought their sick friend to the house where Jesus stayed.

            Now imagine the scene when they arrive. The house is so packed that they can’t even see the door or any windows. Maybe as individuals they could squeeze through the crowd and find a path inside, but as a group of four carrying a fifth person on a mat? Not going to happen. And I imagine the disappointment each one felt when they saw that crowd, and thought that all the effort to carry their sick friend had been for nothing. And I imagine the sick one saying, “It’s all right. You go on and find a way inside. Thank you for what you tried to do, but it’s okay. I’ll wait here and you can tell me what it was like.”

            But again these friends refused to leave him behind. And I imagine they remembered things their sick friend had done for them before. Maybe before he was sick he used to get them up early to do something fun. Maybe even after his sickness came he inspired them to care for each other. Maybe he always made them laugh, or gave great advice, or listened. And these friends stayed on the lawn with the one who was sick while they thought about what to do.

            And at this point, the crazy one—I think every group of friends has a crazy one in it—said, “I’ve got an idea.” And the others, based on experience, were not expecting to hear a good idea come out of his mouth. “We climb up on the roof, dig a hole through, and lower him in that way.” Well, the others were right. That was a terrible idea.

            “Are you serious? That house is packed to the gills with Pharisees, and rabbis, and lawyers—you know, adults!” And they all agreed that they would get in a ridiculous amount of trouble for destroying someone’s roof in full view of the crowd, let alone Jesus himself. But another ten minutes went by, and no one had a good idea. …And if it worked, and they got through to where Jesus was, maybe it’d be worth the price they’d pay. Finally, they all agreed to take the risk. If digging through the roof was their sick friend’s way into Jesus’s presence, then the roof had to come down.

            So they climbed the walls of the building, and hoisted their paralyzed friend up to the roof. Of course, the paralyzed friend can do almost nothing to help them lift his body weight a dozen feet or more. But the difficulty did not deter them. And then they started pulling up mud and straw, or maybe kicking holes in clay, destroying whatever barrier was left between them, their friend, and Jesus. And finally they created a way through, and lowered their friend down.

            Down in the house of course, people had begun to notice flecks of dirt settling on their noses during Jesus’s teaching. And they really wanted to pay attention, but the flecks became clods, and then shafts of sunlight started poking through the ceiling, and soon every eye was on the widening hole and the man being lowered into the room on a mat. And all were too stunned to speak, except for Jesus, who said, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

            And that might have been the end of the story. Notice that Jesus did not immediately heal the man. What the sick friend had come for, and received, was forgiveness and reunion with God. And having received that gift, he could have been carried from the house in want of nothing more. The reason the story goes on is not because the sick man wanted something else from Jesus, but because everyone else did. They were angry with this man and his friends for their intrusion, and their reckless vandalism. What right did Jesus have to forgive them? It wasn’t Jesus’s house that got ruined! And so their anger turned on Jesus for overstepping his bounds. At this point, to silence their arguments and prove that the man was truly forgiven, Jesus healed him. And he got up and walked out. Imagine the celebration of that group of friends with the one who was healed back out on the lawn. The work they had done and the risks they had taken had paid off more than they ever dreamed! Their friend, whom they had carried in brokenness, would walk home beside them, forgiven.

            I’ve never had a major illness. I’ve never broken a major bone. My younger brother, on the other hand, was diagnosed with diabetes when I was sixteen. My mom got breast cancer when I was eighteen. And friends of mine had divorced parents, or struggled with depression, or faced all kinds of problems that I didn’t. And it bothered me. It seemed unfair to them that I should get to live without such burdens. I thought I needed to suffer more to be a true Christian, to be like the paralyzed one that Jesus forgives and heals. But I’ve since realized that the friends who bring their sick pal to Jesus are also heroes in that story. Without their labor and daring and love for their friend, he would not have reached Jesus.

            Sometimes we identify with the paralyzed man, but most of the time, we have the opportunity to be like his or her friends. Am I saying you ought to literally dig a hole in someone’s roof? Well, if through that roof is the only available path to the presence of God, then yes! Dig it up! Probably, it won’t be a roof. There are all kinds of obstacles that make it hard for those who are suffering to experience God’s love. If you find one, do everything you can to remove it. Be the friends who are willing to do hard work and risk rejection from the crowd in order to open someone’s path to the Holy Spirit. It might not heal them, but it may make them whole.

-Adam Nelson