SpiritStirrer

sojourner, hearer, & follower of Jesus

Category: Incarnation

And With Your Spirit

Ritual is the way we (learn to) believe with our bodies.
James K.A. Smith in Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works

There were no announcements, no instructions, no words of welcome, and no introductions. We gathered, called by the melodious sounds of music. We settled into our places, hushed, by a few chords on the instrument. Before we knew it, we were worshipping.

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Abbey Church at St. Joseph’s Abbey in Benedict, Louisiana

I’ve been to mass many times. Parishioner’s family funeral, weddings, and the occasional “stop” to worship. I love the worship rhythms of this ancient tradition, its sensuality, earthiness, and aesthetic. I love how those around me know by heart the movements, gestures, and words. I love how you can “sneak in” and still feel part of what is happening, even if you don’t know the choreography.

I am not saying that it is perfect. Sitting in Mass reminded me how thankful I am that our tradition includes women as leaders. I also longed to partake of the Eucharist alongside my brothers and sisters. For the un-initiated it could be intimidating: with its movement, responses, and gesturing. And there are a series of other important theological differences that make Wesleyan Christianity my home.

In the end I’ll have to say that from the moment I entered the space — with its smell of incense, the baptismal waters, the gathered community kneeling as they prayed — I began to be transported into God’s presence.

I wish those of us in the protestant tradition would lean more towards this kind of kinetic aesthetic. I think at times we are too “chatty,” explaining too much, acknowledging too much, and moving too fast. We leave little room for silence and we certainly struggle with using our bodies.

It is our bodies that open the door for the holy to shape us into a sanctified people. It is our bodies that move us into a life of discipleship. Theologian James K.A. Smith tells us:

[P]ractices — communal, embodied rhythms, rituals, and routines that over time quietly and unconsciously prime and shape our desires and most fundamental longings.

We need these movements, silence, and common language to fully experience God’s transformative presence. Our ministry of hospitality should extend in worship as we “teach” each other what it means to worship in this place, at this time.

Our Christian tradition is rich with ritual, movement, and embodied practices. Our Wesleyan heritage is rooted in an experienced grace, through sacrament, through looking over one another in love, through study and reflection on God’s word, and through worship on the Lord’s Day.

My prayer is that we find ways to move, to bow, to kneel, to raise our hands, to pray together, to hear God in the silence, to allow the smells and sounds to call our bodies to a posture of prayer. Our bodies becoming visible temples of the Holy Spirit.

On the Fourth Day of Christmas

20111228-142159.jpgThis season I’ve been doing some serious reflection on what it might look like to recover the season of Christmas in my life and in the life of my family. What if Christmas Day was truly the beginning? What if our feasting and merry making built up to Epiphany?

As a family we are actually seriously considering this. As a Puerto Rican with a rich tradition of Epiphany we have been gift giving at this time since our first child was born. But we are now thinking about a serious realignment of our practice to match our theological and liturgical understanding.

Christmas Day would be our first day of feasting, gathering, service, and celebration with prayers, songs, and a daily lectionary helping us mark the days. On Epiphany we would exchange simple gifts to remind us of the gifts that the wise men shared that manifested who Jesus was, that would remind us of who Jesus is for us today.

I wonder how all of this would connect to a community of faith? Daily prayer at the church? Twelve days of service in the community? Twelve days of making the kingdom physically evident in our local communities? I am still thinking how this would look like in the congregation I pastor and if it is even possible to change our long North American practices.

I know that Shannon and I want something different for ourselves and our family. We want our children to be filled with mystery and awe but not from a folk hero but from the Word made flesh (and yes, no matter what anyone says I do believe and have observed our over emphasis of Santa Claus in the church). We want our children to receive the gift of Jesus but not from a saturated tree bottom. We want to remember the story not for nostalgia but for it’s power to still change the world.

I know that we are not alone so we hope to find conversation partners to join us in our desire to make Christmas an important part of our formation in the way of the kingdom.

I wonder if any of you would want to join us in this journey?

The Incarnation: God’s Work of Interpretation – A Christmas Day Homily

"Nativity" mid 12th century mosaic in the Cappella Palatina de Palermo

In an interview on National Public Radio a few years ago Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, director of the movie Babel, spoke of the difficulty with language. He said: “the points of view of life, what means something for you; there is no translation for that.”

Language is complex. We speak every day, sending all sorts of signals to those around us. We take language for granted, not giving it much thought or attention. The words we use and how we use them carry with them not just the information we are trying to convey but also our feelings, attitudes and stories. All of these come through in our everyday, even if we do not realize it.

Because language is complex translation is difficult. Many times I find myself trying to find the appropriate word when translating. In the end translation is always interpretation – the choice of words and phrases have as much to do with the feelings and attitudes, as they have to do with the actual word or phrase themselves. Many times there is no translation/interpretation that can communicate what the other person is trying to say.

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews tells us:

In the past, God spoke through the prophets to our ancestors in many times and many ways. In these final days, though, he spoke to us through a Son. God made his Son the heir of everything and created the world through him.  The Son is the light of God’s glory and the imprint of God’s being. He maintains everything with his powerful message.

Hebrews 1:1-3a (CEB)

It turns out that the incarnation was God’s solution to the problem of communication. God sent the word, the logos, the active, creative, aspect of God-self, in human form. God did this so that we could finally understand the magnitude of his love. This was the only way that humanity could know that we mean something to God. That at the core of God’s identity is creation, so as a creator, God wanted to initiate a renewed relationship with us.

The story of divine-human relationship found in the scriptures is a story of misunderstanding. Humanity being constantly fooled into thinking that God did not care, that God did not know. In the incarnation God showed the extremes that God was willing to go in order to reach each one of us; God taking on our language, our point of view, and our identity.

St. Athanasius in his On the Incarnation, tells us that “it was our sorry case that caused the Word to come down, our transgression that called out His love for us, so that He made haste to help us and to appear among us.” (29) Our sorry case, our constant miscommunication, our refusal to understand the language of love!

The Christmas season is the celebration of God’s incarnation in the person of Jesus Christ. We celebrate that God broke the barriers of communication and became one of us in order to redeem us. We are made new because God made God-self new. We are able to understand because God went beyond translation and instead transformed God-self into human form – God speaking the language of the created order. In this gracious act God made clear God’s “points of view” and “what meant something” to God.

It turns out that the world still needs to hear about this divine activity. Many in our world still cannot imagine a God who speaks their language. Many faithful followers of Jesus still struggle to recognize their need to become incarnate too, to learn the language of those in need, to practice meaning-making in our world, to become themselves the bearers of God’s being in the world.

Incarnation means that the world is God’s language also, it makes sense that it is for it is God’s own creation. Sometimes in an effort to be set apart the Christian church proclaims a gospel that does not celebrate the beauty of what it means to be human and the gift of the created order. We then settle for a disembodied word, a “spiritual” world, and intangible grace.

The incarnation reminds us that the language of God is embodied, earthy, tangible, accessible and at the same time, Spiritual, mysterious, wonder-full, and awesome!

During this season of Christmas may we become bearers of God’s grace-full language, bearers of the holy, faithful interpreters of the Good News of Jesus, not just what it says but its point of view, what it means for each of us, for

 The Word became flesh
and made his home among us.
We have seen his glory,
glory like that of a father’s only son,
full of grace and truth. John 1:14 (CEB)

We Are A Thought in God: A Christmas Eve Reflection

This is the Christian’s joy:
I know that I am a thought in God,
no matter how insignificant I may be –
the most abandoned of beings,
one no one thinks of.

Today, when we think of Christmas gifts,
how many outcasts no one thinks of!
Think to yourselves, you that are outcasts,
you that feel you are nothing in history:

“I know that I am a thought in God.”
Would that my voice might reach the imprisoned

like a ray of light, of Christmas hope –
might say also to you, the sick,
the elderly in the home for the aged,
the hospital patients,
you that live in shacks and shantytowns,
you coffee harvesters trying to garner your only wage
for the whole year,
you that are tortured:

God’s eternal purpose has thought of all of you.
He loves you, and, like Mary,
incarnates that thought in his womb.

Archbishop Oscar Romero from The Violence of Love

Nativity with Mary, Joseph and the New-Born Christ by J. Le Breton 1933

As a pastor I have the honor and privilege to walk alongside people at different times of their life. There are times of celebration – baby’s being born, the news of a promotion, graduations, and weddings. Then there are the difficult times, when life seems to be going downhill, when it turns on us and our hearts are broken, when illness takes over, despair comes near, sin and death knock at the door . . .

It is at those times that the good news is most needed.

Christmas in the Christian tradition is the answer to the good news needed in our broken world. It reminds us year after year that sin and death is no longer our inevitable path, the child born in Bethlehem becoming the sign and symbol of God’s purposes for the created order.

Gift giving becomes the reminder of God’s gift of his Son. At its best it should become a catalyst for our difference making in the world. Like God gave us his Son, we then give of one another to the work of salvation, to the world of justice, peace, and hope.

Christmas is most understood by those who long, hunger, and desire for a better day. What a gift it will be to them if something changed, if there was hope after all, if justice would come; as Romero reminds us “God’s eternal purpose” thinking of them.

As we gather in our churches tonight, as we gather with family, around trees and gifts, may we not forget the message of salvation to us and to the world. And may that message become incarnate in us; incarnate – an essential aspect of our identity – so that we can become difference makers in our world.

We are a thought in God so the savior we have been expecting is here!

Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:10-11 (CEB)

Advent: No End to His Kingdom

"Annunciation" by Lawrence OP

We have been waiting, we’ve been preparing, and we’ve been counting the days. Now we are drawing near, salvation around the corner, I wonder if we are ready.

I don’t mean to be a cynic but I have a love/hate relationship with Christmas. I guess to be more specific I struggle with our cultural celebration of Christmas and how, in the lives and practices of Christian people, it has taken over our religious commemoration. I know I am not alone in all of this, and I don’t want to be another religious leader complaining about our cultural Christmas celebration. But I do struggle and I approach these Sundays of Advent with much reverence and care, hoping to hold the space for preparation, reflection, and realization.

Now we enter a final week. After hearing about an end that becomes a beginning, about one who prepares the way, about us not being the light, now we hear how salvation will be made possible:

‘Look! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and he will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father. He will rule over Jacob’s house forever, and there will be no end to his kingdom.’ Luke 1:31-33 (CEB)

Salvation made possible by one like us and unlike us. By one holy, promised, and whose kingdom will have not end. I needed to hear that this season. God’s kingdom still unfolding, Christ still making all things new, the Spirit . . .

. . . who made Christ’s body in Mary’s womb and keeps re-making the church…is a Spirit that is hovering – in the words of Genesis – over a new creation. –Archbishop Romero

A new creation is dawning: justice, peace, reconciliation, and love still unfolding, still available in the world, no matter how difficult, how distant it seems. Year after year, season after season, celebration after celebration, it keeps on dawning.

And it just so happens that this new creation is birthed through each of us. Each of us transformed by the Spirit, each of us ready to become agents of Christ’s in-braking in the world as we become the incarnation of Christ to our struggling world.

As I prepare for this last week of Advent I recognize more than ever our need for a savior. I am more thankful than ever for Jesus Christ and for Christ’s body the church. I am also deeply aware that there is little that I can do with the cultural celebration, but that I can continue to hold the space in my congregation, in my family, and in my own heart, for the return of the one who will make all things right.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

Till then I’ll continue to proclaim God’s kingdom, to call God’s people to the way of Jesus, and will remind myself of the words of Archbishop Romero,  that God’s Spirit is still “re-making the Church . . . hovering over a new creation.”

“No end to his kingdom” indeed!

Biblical Erotica: Bi90 Special Edition

Your stately form is like the palm,
Your breast are like clusters.
I say: Let me climb the palm,
Let me take hold of its branches;
Let your breasts be like clusters of grapes,
Your breath like the fragrance of apples,
And your mouth like the choicest wine.
‘Let it flow to my beloved as new wine
Gliding over the lips of sleepers.’

The Song of Songs 7:8-10 (TANAKH)

Some say that we live in a sexualized society. Sex is used to sell everything from auto parts to cleaning products. Movies make it or break it on scenes that leave little to the imagination. Stars make headlines with the dresses they wear, politicians for the pictures they take of themselves.

I don’t think we live in a sexualized society I think we live in a objectified one. We “use” sexuality,” better yet a dis-ordered type of sexuality that becomes a tool not of relationship but another commodity to be exploited. This expression of sexuality really gives sex a bad name.

There is nothing wrong with sexuality. It is part of what makes us human, the ability to share our bodies with another, to connect, bond, and make love incarnate, is really a gift. We were made this way, our bodies are wired to desire connection, touch, and intimacy. Unlike animals whose sexuality is strictly reproductive, humanity’s sexual expression is primarily about bonding, connecting, to another.

Christianity has a difficult track record with this part of being human. From Paul, who basically said engage in it if you must (although he rather you not) to today where many of the culture wars center around issues of sexuality, we struggle with what to say about it. Most of the time we try to control it as if it was some kind of created flaw in us.

I long for a Christian ethic that celebrates our sexuality and helps people of faith live into its fullness. After all we know that sexuality is powerful, its bonding hard to break, its consequences (positive or negative) can last a lifetime. We also that know that it can easily be abused, objectified, and misdirected.

We cannot remain silent or ignore it. We must find ways to dialogue as God’s people about what it means to be embodied beings, sensual, and communal. We must speak about what it means to live our sexual lives in ways that honor our being made in God’s image. In ways that honor God’s call for our continued growth in Christ-likeness.

Human Trafficking: A Latino View

Human Trafficking: Modern Day Slavery

In the opening chapter of Genesis we are told that God “created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them” (1:27, NRSV). This means that all people, in all places, at all times are people in whom God’s image resides, people that reflect God in the world.

As God’s people we have a responsibility to care for all of the created order. This includes the work of “resist[ing] evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.” (United Methodist Hymnal, 34) One of the growing forms that evil, injustice, and oppression presents itself is human trafficking.

According to Linda Bales, program director with the Board of Church an society:

After drug dealing, human trafficking is tied with the illegal arms industry as the second largest criminal industry in the world today. The International Labor Organization estimated that in 2005 more than 12 million people around the world have been forced to work against their will under threat of punishment.

The United Nations defines human trafficking as recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons, by means of threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.

(from “Human Trafficking: What is it and What can we Do?”)

Everyday Latino/a people are victims in human trafficking. Their desperate need to find a new life, their lack of resources, their hopelessness, make them prime targets for exploitation. This takes a variety of forms from abduction and slavery to coercion into indentured servitude Latino/a people get caught in this web that seems to have no end.

The Christian church cannot sit back and ignore this plight. Latinos in the United States cannot ignore the plight of our brothers and sisters who find themselves in these circumstances. We must speak out against this rising practice and also to begin to ask ourselves how our laws and immigration policies facilitate this evil in our midst.

Are we working paying living wages to those who do work for us? In our homes? In our churches? Do we demand that business owners in our congregations and in our communities do the same? Do we in our desperation to get our family members into the United States set them up to become victims of this heinous crime? Are we preaching/teaching/living a full gospel that includes liberation for all people in all places?

There is no question that as Latinos of faith in this country we need to speak out. This “speaking” begins by self-evaluation of our motives, dreams, and ethic. Only when we begin to recognize our own doings in the oppresion of our own people can we begin to find redemption for ourselves and for the victims of de-humanization in our communities.

We as Latinos of faith need to understand that as Christian we “believe in the paschal mystery: the cross and resurrection of Jesus as the culmination of life lived for the poor and for the victims” (Jon Sobrino in Where is God?: Earthquake, Terrorism, Barbarity, and Hope. Orbis, 150) Let us align ourselves with those who need it most. Let us proclaim loudly that all people are made in God’s image. Let us continue to resist evil in everyway. Let us become active participants in the promise of resurrection by being agents of transformation in every structure of society.

If we as God’s people do not liberate those in bondage, who will?

____________________________________________

This article originally appeared as “El Comercio de Seres Humanos” in the Spanish Portal of umc.org

Bible in 90 – Day 8 & 9: Holiness (a la Leviticus)

Now Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu each took his fire pan, put fire in it, and laid incense on it; and they offered before the Lord alien fire, which He had not enjoined upon them. And fire came forth from the Lord and consumed them; thus they died at the instance of the Lord. Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord meant when he said:

Through those near to Me I show Myself holy, And gain glory before all people.” And Aaron went silent.

Leviticus 10:1-3 (TANAKH)

Oh, Leviticus, Leviticus, how you give God a really bad name. This is the kind of stuff that give PR people nightmares at night. It gives me nightmares too, trying to explain why God would do these things.

If we were to use Leviticus alone as our source for knowing who God is, it really would not be a nice picture. When reading this book it seems that the holiness God asks for requires us to negate what it means to be human. God here is not happy with blemishes of any kinds, nor dead bodies, nor blood, nor sex, nor childbirth, nor skin rashes, nor bodily discharges of any kind (including menstruation), nor improperly cooked sacrifices, nor nakedness (unless one owns the nakedness, check out Lev. 18), nor an assortment of all sorts of other things.

I’m sure by now you know that something here really bothers me. In Genesis I read that all that God made was good. Later in the Gospel according to John I read that “[t]he Word became flesh and lived among us . . .” (John 1:14). God became flesh . . . the same flesh that gets skin rashes, has bodily discharges, prepares its dead, is born of a woman, who menstruates and goes into labor, comes into the world naked, and can easily forget how to make a sacrifice.

In coming into the world God reminded us that holiness was not situated in negating the created order but instead in honoring it by living a life of love towards self, others, & God.

So as people who take the story of faith seriously, what are we to do with Leviticus?  What do you think?

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