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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

God Gets Bigger

by Lauren Van Ham

Children…always say, Do it again; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough... It is possible that God says every morning, Do it again, to the sun; and every evening, Do it again, to the moon…  It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.- Gilbert Keith G. K. Chesterton

He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name.
Psalm147:4, NIV

As a seeker, and one who feels called to serve, I look forward to the moments when God gets bigger.  In my work as an Interfaith Minister, God expands most readily in my encounters with those who practice Faith Traditions that are different from my own.  A few weeks ago, I had the thrill of traveling, on an interfaith tour, to Turkey.  I must confess that in the 10 days we were there, my experience of God busted right outta da box.  Here are two ways - for me - that God got bigger:

Just before the trip, a friend of mine who is Sufi, had explained to me that in Arabic, “Al” is affirmative, translating to mean, “yes,” and “Lah,” is negative, or “no.”  Al-lah.  Yes-No.  Allah.  Yesno. 

Five times a day, the Muslim Call to Prayer resounds from the minarets and mosques
across all of Turkey.  Whether the Call found me walking with others in the daylight, or waking me from sleep at 4am, I was eager to add my own prayers, to the millions of others, petitioning, thanking, praising God, the One who is Both, the One who is Neither, the One who holds the Inbetween.  Al-lah!  Yes-No!

On a hot, windy afternoon, out beyond the nearest village’s Call to Prayer, God grew again.  It was when we visited the site of Mother Mary’s home.  Driving up the mountain, high above Ephesus, I loved being pushed to imagine for the first time, what had happened to Mary after the Resurrection.  Where did this mother, this woman whom Catholic Christians and others revere and entrust with their prayers, where did she go?  It was then that our Tour Guide used a word I wasn’t expecting.  It was innocent, I’m sure, when he said, “superstitious.”  He said it in reference to the fountains of holy water and the wall of prayers created by those who have come to Mother Mary’s home.  How many times, I wondered, have I limited God’s bigness by labeling certain practices as….superstitious.  Without hesitation, I went directly to the fountains, dipping my hands in the holy water, touching my cheeks and throat with the cool wetness.  I thought of how many times Jesus, Mary, Mohammad, had been equally grateful for water’s refreshment.  Rummaging through my bag, I wrote my prayer on a piece of scrap paper and tied it faithfully to the wall of prayers.  God grows….

Dizzying?  Disconcerting?  Wonderfully welcome?  Where, in your world, is God getting bigger?  And when God grows, what happens in you?

About Lauren: Lauren is an interfaith minister and lives in Berkeley, CA.  She serves as the Dean of Interfaith Studies at The Chaplaincy Institute and tends a private Spiritual Direction practice.  You can read Lauren’s blog at: http://www.laurenvanham.com/

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Worlds of Difference: Three Unrelated Stories Prove a Point

by Tom Pappas

For my sophomore year of college I moved out of the dorm and lived with families I had met at church.  Fall semester I stayed with the Dick family and then moved in with the Josts. Here’s what I learned (duh): Families do things differently. Neither the Dick’s nor the Josts’ were anything like my family or each other.

About five years ago I visited a remarkable church in Minneapolis.  The Church of All Nations has no ethnic majority. The bigger groups are Korean and Latin American. This was a church like no other in my experience but it’s the communion process that I will describe. When the time for communion was at hand, we were told that there were two stations for intinction on each side of the chancel. The inner stations were grape juice and on the outside we would find wine. Grape juice OR wine! That was a new one for me. I like new experiences and opportunities.

Three weeks ago I was in Turkey.  We were in Istanbul at the beginning of the protests but my observation is not about that and infinitely more mundane. During our nine days in Turkey I frequently lamented my audacious western mindset.  Even though I’m conditioned that way, who am I to say the way we do anything is the superior way and when they catch up they’ll be better off.

I include a picture of a trash system that I have never seen in the United States. Observe that the crane is attached to the only part of the receptacle that is above ground. When the collection bin is over the truck they open the flaps and a week’s (?) trash falls in and the unit is returned back into the ground. We don’t need to adopt that in America, but bravo to the Turks for teaching me that it doesn’t have to MY norm to be normal.

Mark Twain famously wrote, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness…”  Who can argue that God made a remarkably diverse world?  I am learning how much I am called to see creation, creatures and their creativity through God’s magnanimous eyes and not simply my parochial ones.

How about you?

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Prayer at the Start of Ordinary Time

by Angier Brock

Those who follow the Christian liturgical calendar will know that we recently entered “Ordinary Time,” that longest of liturgical seasons, beginning after Pentecost and lasting until Advent. I confess that I have sometimes referred to “Ordinary Time” (with its twenty-some-week run that is unbroken by any major liturgical feast or fast) disparagingly, calling it “the long green season” (green being the color used for altar hangings and priestly vestments during Ordinary Time).

“Not so fast,” someone recently challenged me when I told her that. She went on to point out that Ordinary Time is anything but ordinary if by “ordinary” we mean “uneventful” or “insignificant.” She suggested that a quick perusal of national news headlines, or the obituary pages and wedding sections of our local newspaper papers, are proof enough of that.   

Or we can simply turn to our own engagement calendars. This week, for example, I will take my car to the dealer for its 75,000-mile scheduled maintenance visit. I will go to bell choir practice. I have invited some friends for lunch, and we will eat fresh peas out of my back-yard garden. I will mail a graduation gift to a cousin’s child. I will visit my college roommate, spending a couple of days with and her two-year old grandson and ten-week old granddaughter who recently lost their young father to leukemia. I will purchase tickets to a local production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. And I will end the week with other family members celebrating my own younger son’s fortieth birthday.   

Some of that is routine, yes. But insignificant? No, not to those involved. Ordinary? Not if I consider the marvels of the combustion engine, for example, or of our modern roads and highway system (rush hour traffic notwithstanding)—things I often take for granted. Not if I think about how both the good old-fashioned postal system and our modern technology facilitate communication. Not when I remember the magic of music and theater or the grace that can come from being with those mourn. Not when I consider the wonder of photosynthesis or the miracles of birth and growth and change. My younger son. Forty! Imagine that! 

I am grateful for the reminder that “the long green season” is characterized by all the same lively and varied energies that are present in other liturgical seasons. Ordinary Time calls us to live as faithfully and as fully as we can. May it be so.