Archive for the ‘reflections’ Category

The Church Universal   Leave a comment

When I took a tour of diverse churches recently, I was blessed in ways I did not expect.

I didn’t set out to complete this outing, but when my home church renovated the sanctuary and the chemical odors coming off the new carpet and chairs were enough to flatten me, I decided on the spot that now would be a good time to worship with friends.  I’d promised I’d attend with them someday, and now was the time.

So, over the course of four Sundays, which I figured would be enough to let the fumes dissipate, I went with friends or family to an Eastern Orthodox service, a Catholic mass, a Lutheran service and a United Methodist one.  I thought it would be fun, for lack of a better word, to enjoy the liturgy, the music and the beauty of the churches, as well as giving my body a break.

But I also got these outcomes.

I learned to trust that the smallest of prayers is heard.

And I learned that we are not alone.

Yes, it was really neat to worship in other buildings, to let the beauty of the art in the Orthodox Church and the smell of the incense speak peace to my heart.  It was wonderful to see the carving in the Catholic cathedral and to study the stained glass in the Methodist church.  And the candles everywhere, reminding me of the light of the world!  The liturgy in all four, but especially the Lutheran church, made me feel that I had approached God and met with him, and that I had fully participated in that meeting.

And that was good.

But what struck me were the prayers for specific needs, specific people, specific outcomes, especially at the Orthodox church.  They prayed at length for leaders of the church and the world.  And I thought, these aren’t in vain.  People are praying for these people all over the world, every single Sunday, and probably more often.  God hears every single one and he upholds life all over the universe.  The faithful prayers of his people are an essential part of his goodness and his plan.

And the prayers and the refrains after prayer were much more similar in these churches than they were dissimilar.  Everywhere it was, “Lord, hear our prayer.”  To think.  All around the planet as we, spinning, make our daily journey, people are praying as the light touches them.  We are united in faith, in hope, in baptism.  One church; we’re not alone.

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Posted October 6, 2018 by swanatbagend in reflections, the church

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Unsettling   1 comment

My reading over the past several months has brought me to a question.  I read about the Equal Justice Initiative, a non-profit that legally defends those who have been sentenced to prison without the benefit of a just trial.  Most of them are minorities, many have disabilities, and some are children.  See more on their work here: https://eji.org, or read Just Mercy, written by the founder, Bryan Stephenson.

My reading has also included coverage of world news in The Economist.  Over time, the catalog of acts of injustice, of persecution of minority groups within countries, of country after country led by immoral strongmen adds up.

Then I picked up Generous Justice by Tim Keller.  It’s an exploration of what the Bible teaches and what the Christian church’s understanding should be about the relationship between mercy and justice.  In the course of the book, Keller explores the church’s lack of understanding of what situations individuals face in difficult environments.

For example, Keller describes a situation where a young woman who lived in a housing project was being harassed by a local gang to become a prostitute for suburban white men.  The believer who was meeting with her didn’t comprehend the full situation until she explained that her father was beaten in order to get her compliance.  When he asked why she didn’t involve the police, she responded that the police were those wealthy suburban white males.  She perceived that she was unlikely to get justice from that quarter.

These are just a few specific books I have read recently that have caused me to think new and uncomfortable ideas.

I’ve had a really good life.  I’m not saying nothing bad or unjust has ever happened to me–it has, because that is the nature of life in this world.  But I look at the sheer volume of despair out there that is endured by those who don’t have power, and I wonder.

What if some of the circumstances of my life that I have taken to be answered prayer are just class or race privilege?

Posted August 14, 2018 by swanatbagend in justice, reflections

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What is Born Again and Why is it so Scary?   Leave a comment

Why is “born again” so scary?  In some circles, it’s the thing to be, but in others, it’s anathema.

I didn’t grow up comfortably with this expression, and there are certain risks to be taken when defining it.  The phrase has gotten a bad rap because of televangelists, bigots and hateful people.  Words that have been tarnished by misuse may be disliked, but that doesn’t mean they have lost their power.

Jesus used this phrase to explain a change the Spirit makes happen.

It is about accepting something you don’t understand and can’t control.  The wind blows where it wishes.  You don’t know where it comes from or where it is going, but you hear it and you decide you are going with it.

Being born again is what God starts doing in you when you acknowledge that you are not aligned with him, but that you want to be.

Born again is aligning yourself with his reality.  It is acknowledging that you are not with him and not where he is, and telling him that you want that to be different.

Born again simply starts with acknowledgment.  It’s what the son said to the prodigal father, who never stopped loving the son and longing for the day when he would come back home: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”

The father immediately brings the son in, clothes him in the best robe, applies the jewels, slips the sandals on, and starts the preparations for the biggest feast ever.  There’s no ritual washing.  There’s no list of promises the son must make to be allowed admittance.  As far as I can tell, this gracious father doesn’t even take time to reply to the son’s apology!

Notice the prodigal nature of the love that the father has.  Imagine what power the love of that father has in the life of the son.  Imagine what power the love of that father has in your life.

Born again is seeing what will happen.

 

 

 

Posted May 15, 2018 by swanatbagend in reality, reflections

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Generations   1 comment

Like waves overlapping as they wash in to the shore, so one generation is mingled with the next. It shares genetics, life experiences, a home, a past, and a last name. It’s difficult to separate one wave from the next when you watch the water at the beach. You can’t escape the waves by waiting for the gap between them because there isn’t really a gap. There’s just a low spot, and there is still always water around your ankles.

Like these waves, one generation is blended with the next.

Then, at the right moment, it must advance alone.

Posted August 30, 2017 by swanatbagend in reflections

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Live Now   Leave a comment

Live.

Live your life the best way you can.

Don’t spend most of your mental energy fixing it, making it conform to what you’ve been told it’s supposed to be.  Don’t always look to the future when you will have more energy or more time, after you get that promotion or get through that protocol or spend six months on that diet.

If you always look ahead to the goal, before you know it, you’ll be looking back on the last thirty years and wondering what happened.

Don’t wait to live it, because–

This is it.

Posted July 28, 2017 by swanatbagend in reflections

Stopping Time   Leave a comment

If only we could, we think.

If only we had the power to pause things right here, now, in this golden moment, when everything is perfect.

Haven’t you had moments like that?

I feel like, if I could just concentrate hard enough, just enjoy an afternoon fully enough, it would at least slow time down.  Or if I laugh louder when with friends, which is not hard to do, maybe that would make the evening be ten hours instead of just three.

It seems like it should be possible, but it never is.

I’ve tried a hundred times–but I never can.  Time only stops for a few seconds at a time, and it’s never me who stops it.  It always resumes and flows on toward the future.

What would it be like to be outside of time?

I guess, soon enough, we’ll know.

Posted July 11, 2017 by swanatbagend in reflections

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Unsettled   Leave a comment

Is it just me or does everyone feel unsettled right now?

It is easy to feel that life will go on as usual indefinitely.  Indeed, it’s not possible to live assuming or predicting major change around every corner.  We are creatures of habit who thrive on routine–even those of us who score high on the Myers Briggs as adventurous need to know there is a home to come back to.

Right now, it just feels like the world is ready to turn upside down.

There are more refugees and displaced people than at any time since post-World War II.  I think of WWII as the epitome of displaced and unsettled.  It’s unsettling to hear that for 65 million people (as of June 2016, almost 1% of the world’s population) it is just like that, right now.

The political climate is uncertain.  It’s unknown what details of our lives in the US will be changed.  Will prices go up because of treaty and tariff wars?  Is the cost of health care going to go up or down?  One thing’s certain: I really hope the cost of prescription medications does not go any higher.

Life transitions are looming on the horizon for a couple of my children who either are adults or really close.  Major life transitions for me are only a few years away, as well.

Other long-term unknowns are making me realize that this life I live right here, right now, did not come with a guarantee.  Usually it rolls along in the expected manner.  But there was never any promise it would be safe.

I know I’m not alone in this sensation.

I just don’t like it.

 

Posted February 23, 2017 by swanatbagend in reflections

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