Archive for March, 2009

posted by Amy on Mar 17

Working for economic justice means taking on oppressive structures and entrenched interests. While individuals should not be demonized, among the worst enemies of the poor are “conservative religious figures who cannot wean themselves from Reaganite free-market ideology, and who cannot distinguish change from charity.” Read the article here.

posted by Amy on Mar 17

There is now a growing movement to revive evangelicalism by reclaiming parts of Roman Catholic tradition – including monasticism. Some 100 groups that describe themselves as both evangelical and monastic have sprung up in North America, many within the last 5 years. They are transforming Christian religious life in surprising ways. See the article here.

posted by Amy on Mar 17

Eleven years ago, six white kids, fresh out of college, decided to live communally in the hood, with the poor —not just among the poor, but with the poor and for the poor. They would open their hearts, their wallets and their front door to the neighborhood. In short, they planned to live as they thought Jesus wants–loving God and loving neighbor. They were graduates of Eastern University, whose seminary I am attending. See the article here.

posted by Amy on Mar 14

Early this year I got the idea (from a book) to start drinking raw milk. I got online to find a place to buy it, and I found the Selene Whole Foods Co-op, in Media, PA. It’s less than 10 miles from where I live. By Colorado standards, that’s quite close, but here they think it’s remarkable that I drive “that far.” Media is a very charming town, and I’m glad I found it. It reminds me of Boulder.

I joined the Co-op. They do sell a delicious, grass fed, organic milk from a heritage breed of milk cows. The cream comes up to the top of the bottle, and you have to shake it to get the cream distributed. The last time I bought some, I pasteurized it myself, but that’s another story. They have a lot of other things I like to buy, including bulk grains, beans, and flours.

I am a “working member” of the Co-op, which means I get amazing discounts in exchange for donating four hours of my time every month. In February I noticed they were looking for new board members. I have experience on nonprofit boards, and I thought that might be a more valuable contribution than sweeping floors and rearranging displays, so I threw my hat in the ring.

That’s how I met Maura. She was the head of the nominating committee. I later decided to “un-nominate” myself to the board, but Maura and I hit it off, and she invited me to go to Media this afternoon to hang out with her, along with another co-op board member and longtime supporter, whose name is also Amy.

We went to a kids’ play in which the daughter of one of the other board members was performing. That reminded me of many such performances by my own children, and I had fun. Then Maura took me to browse through books that had been donated to the Media library. Some of them had come from a retired (or deceased?) pastor, and she thought I might especially like to see them. I love browsing through old books, and I had a wonderful time. Then we went to her place for a meal.

At the table, Maura and Amy asked me if I had ever heard of Karen Armstrong. I hadn’t. They told me a bit about her, and said she had done an interesting interview with Bill Moyers. We had a very nice visit, and I returned to my apartment, and got on the internet to browse stories.

In reading the comments to a story about the role of the press in exposing the duplicity and lies of major public figures (in the context of the current financial crisis) I found a link to that Bill Moyers/Karen Anderson interview. It’s quite fascinating, it has to do with religion, and I think it’s quite remarkable that it just popped up into my consciousness today. You can watch it here.

Karen Armstrong says that compassion is at the core of every major religion, and that we must all practice compassion as a discipline, “all day and every day.” Compassion is nothing more or less than adhering to the Golden Rule. She says that people who think this is simple, or simplistic, have never actually tried it.

posted by Amy on Mar 4

Today I preached my first “official” sermon. (Ask my kids–I’ve been preaching for years.) The theme for Lent at Arch Street UMC in Philadelphia is “God is Calling.” Here’s what I said:

Today’s scripture (Matthew 4:18-22) reads as follows:

“As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.”

You can almost imagine this little story as a clip on YouTube. Four men, two sets of brothers, are working. Two are out fishing in their boat, and two are helping their father mend nets. Jesus comes along and says, “Come with me, and I will make you fish for people.” So they drop everything and follow him.

That’s all the video clip would show—a sudden call from a stranger, and an equally sudden decision to go. I ask you, does this seem plausible? Maybe. But can you relate to it? No! Neither can I!

I’d be willing to bet that there was more buildup than that. Let’s imagine what might have preceded that moment. I think they had all met before, perhaps many times. At the very least, I think Peter had met Jesus and had seen some of his signs and wonders, and had heard him preach to the crowds. Peter would have talked about him to the other three, and would have gotten them thinking about this new thing that was happening in the world. The more they talked, the more they wanted to get involved, to become a part of it. Maybe Peter was in Nazareth the day Jesus went to the synagogue and read this from the scroll: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,” and then he sat down and said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” What if you had been there, and had seen that happen? What would you think? Would you go back to your normal business? Yeah, you probably would. But would you keep thinking about it in the days and weeks that followed, while you were following your usual routine? Would it get under your skin, and make you start seeing things differently? Would you talk to other people about it, and to God? I think so. Then one day Jesus would come by and say, “Come with me,” and you’d go. I think it was more like that.

I propose this bit of additional context because of how I experienced my call to ministry. It seemed sudden at the time, but it really wasn’t. There could be a YouTube video of me waking up one morning in March a year ago, in my house in Colorado, with the conviction that I should go to seminary. The video would show me at my computer on a normal, everyday morning, except that instead of answering emails from clients, or looking over a contract I’m working on, I’m online looking at the website for Eastern University, because I had picked up some literature about Eastern at a conference. I find out that they have a joint degree program. In four years I can earn both a Master of Divinity and an MBA in urban economic development. That’s what I need to do. I’m sure of it.

Almost as soon as I had that idea, I started backpedalling. This is not uncommon with those who are called. Jeremiah told God he was too young. Moses told God he wasn’t a good public speaker. Jonah told God he’d rather not go to Nineveh. (And it’s another reason I think the first four disciples may have taken more convincing than Matthew depicts.) My way of backpedalling was perhaps typical of a lawyer. I decided the best way to prove that I was being foolish and delusional was to apply to both programs and be rejected. Then I could get back to my own plan for my life.

It didn’t work. Palmer Theological Seminary accepted me, and gave me a scholarship, and then I realized I wanted MY plan for my life to be whatever GOD’s plan for my life is. So here I am, one year later, standing in front of you during Lent to talk about how God is calling all of us. I’m here to tell you that Jesus is calling every one of us to be his disciples and to do with him what those first four people did. I believe each of us has a divine purpose and has a responsibility, as a Christian, to discern our calling and to follow it.

On my own journey, many messengers, teachers, and experiences pointed the way. One was the first Sojourners and Center for Action and Contemplation conference on politics and spirituality in Washington, D.C. in January of 2006. One night during the conference Jim Wallis preached about Moses and the burning bush. He said people needed to personally take a stand, to bet their lives on changing the world. I knew he meant that literally, and I felt like he was talking directly to me. It made me very uncomfortable.

A year and a half later I found myself at the annual Sojourners Pentecost Conference in Washington, D.C. learning about Christian social justice work of all kinds. Four months later I went to the Christian Community Development Association Conference in St. Louis. While I was there, several people asked me if I was a pastor or worked for a church. I told them I was a lawyer in private practice and had no idea what I was doing there. They all got this little smile on their faces and said they were sure God would let me in on it soon.

I no sooner got back from the conference in St. Louis than I heard about a United Methodist social justice conference in Fort Worth less than a month later. I signed up. Right before I left for that, a friend said to me, “Amy, have you considered the possibility that you are being called to ministry?” No, I hadn’t, but now that I was hearing it from him, it made perfect sense. I said yes, I guess maybe I was. Then I put it out of my mind, seemingly, until that morning four months later.

We don’t all have to go to seminary, but I am convinced that God is calling all of us to build God’s kingdom. Jesus is calling all of us to be his disciples. What does that mean? It means to put Jesus first in your life. It means to make a concerted, disciplined effort to be like Jesus.

What was Christ like? He healed the sick and fed the hungry. He personally did that—he didn’t write checks. He didn’t depend on the synagogue to do it. He also prayed and fasted, and he preached and taught. And he worked inside a community of friends and disciples. When he said to make disciples of everyone, he was saying that people need to be like him, to do as he did: Heal the sick, feed the hungry, pray, fast, preach, teach, and live in a community of believers.

There are many distractions, diversions, and life circumstances that intervene to prevent people who call themselves Christians from actually being followers of Christ, but there’s nothing that’s more important. Discipleship is not an overnight thing, it’s a process. But it doesn’t happen accidentally or randomly. We can’t stay physically healthy without observing certain disciplines of rest, exercise and nutrition. If we want to be musicians or athletes or artists we have to practice, persistently. And we can’t be spiritually well, or grow spiritually, without making a deliberate effort to care for our souls.

Lent is a perfect time to get serious about discipleship. There are numerous traditional spiritual disciplines that have been followed for millennia to help people grow spiritually and strengthen their relationships with God, and therefore make it possible for them to hear God calling. I highly recommend to you that you pick one thing that you are going to start doing in imitation of Christ, put it on your “do list” or appointment calendar, and begin doing it. Start with something attainable. If you think you should spend a half hour every morning studying scripture, cut it back to 15 minutes—but be sure you do that, and make a habit of it. Then, when that habit is firmly established, add something else. If you want to start fasting, don’t start with skipping three whole meals—start with fasting during the daylight hours, one day a week. You could learn (and practice) a new way of reading scripture, such as lectio divina, or a new way of praying, such as breath prayer or centering prayer. Or do as John Wesley did, and start visiting the poor, the sick, or the imprisoned. Form or join a prayer chain, a Bible study, or a Christian service group. But do something, and do it regularly.

Do as Jesus did. Take time to talk to God, and listen, and then obey. Ask every day to know God’s will for you, and for the power to carry it out. Be sensitive to all the ways that God answers that question. Let the Holy Spirit lead you. Pay attention to what God is saying. Do this intentionally, prayerfully, faithfully, and your life will change, and so will the lives of those around you. God is calling. There’s nothing more important for you to do than to listen, and heed the call. It will make you whole. It will make you happy. And it will make you a blessing to others.

I’ll close with a quote from John Wesley: “O, Begin! Fix some part of every day for private exercises. . . . Whether you like it or not, read and pray daily. It is for your life; there is no other way: else you will be a trifler all your days. . . . Do justice to your own soul; give it time and means to grow. Do not starve yourself any longer.”

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