- Having some worship and fellowship this evening with some non-Episcopal brothers and sisters in Christ—connecting to God in a way that doesn’t remind me of my job or the Episcopal Church (a practice I recommend other clergy try occasionally);
- Re-reading The Lord of the Rings, which I read for the first time 39 years ago this month and have re-read at least once every five years since. It has a lot to say about courage in the face of unexpected dangers and unsought conflict;
- Leaving in a few days for a beautiful place with green fields, wooded hills and sweeping vistas of the Mississippi River valley—back to the good earth and far from civilization and the ways we have screwed things up.
It is later Saturday evening, and the first of the things I mentioned is behind me. Here's how it worked out:
I showed up and found they were having a ten-week series called 10 Words for LIFE—a study of the Ten Commandments. This was Week 7, so the topic was "Do Not Commit Adultery."
We sang a few songs from Australia's Hillsong fellowship, including: Mighty to Save:
and From the Inside Out,
and Chris Tomlin's version of Amazing Grace/My Chains Are Gone (Embedding for this video was disabled, so you'll have to follow the link.) If you are inclined toward contemporary Christian music, you may enjoy these videos. If not, skip them.
Then we heard a message about:
- God's gift of sex
- God's purpose for sex in marriage
- Avoiding the temptations that are so prevalent in our culture
- The importance of purity and holiness in our relationship with Christ.
I am reminded of the tag line for the television series The X Files: "The Truth is Out There." There are Christians out there who know the truth—about the Incarnation, the Cross, the Resurrection, the uniqueness of Jesus, the way of salvation, the purpose of the sexes, the sanctity of marriage, the sanctity of life, and the whole range of Christian doctrines. They may be Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, or Evangelical Christians. Along with faithful Anglicans around the globe, these Christians dwarf the dwindling "mainline" denominations of the West. Those of us who are a minority in the Episcopal Church can draw comfort from that fact.
It is also true that Anglicans and Episcopalians aren't necessarily called to run from our problems to join these other traditions. (They all have their problems too--they're just different problems.) We can be nourished by sound teaching and strengthened by fellowship with other Christians in a way that helps us to proclaim the truth in the places where God has planted us.
Where God has planted us—that is the key. Some people may question why I am still in the Episcopal Church, especially after the decisions of this General Convention. Yes, it would be preferable in a number of respects to be in a Christian body where there were fewer theological tensions. But God has planted me where I am. He has given me a calling that I must obey and a community for which I am responsible, and I cannot abandon my post unless and until God gives me leave to do so.
(To be clear: I am not saying that all those who have left the Episcopal Church have abandoned their posts. God may have called them to leave in the same way that he has called others to stay. And I believe we need to head off any acrimony between the "leavers" and the "stayers," recognize that God may have different callings for each of us, and learn how to support each other in the different, but related, callings God has given us.)
God may lead many to move to a purer fellowship or a "safer" place. But there is also the example of Joseph, who was sold into slavery in Egypt. When he was freed, he could have gone home to be with his family and those who worshiped the true and living God anytime he wanted. But God had planted him in Egypt, and he remained until he died, in order that good might come of it and that God's people would be blessed.
Then there is Hosea, to whom God said, "Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness, because the land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the LORD" (Hosea 1:2). Hosea was called to be a prophet and a witness (at great pain and cost to himself). The history of the prophets is full of those who were called to preach among a rebellious people and who suffered as a result.
Discerning where God has planted us is not the same thing as discerning where the pasture is greener. God may plant us in a desert if that is what is needed to accomplish his purposes. "The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight" (Matt. 3:3). But if we are planted in the desert, we must put down deep roots to secure the nourishment we need to live.
If you are in this situation, let me encourage you to do the following:
(1) Renew the habit of daily Bible reading. Read the Bible not merely for information but for inspiration. Read it slowly, deeply, reflectively—asking God to speak to you about your life, your relationship with him, your priorities, your relationships with others, and anything else about which God needs to speak to you.
(2) In addition to daily Bible reading, find a regular source of biblical teaching or preaching that speaks to your spiritual needs. This may involve attending a bible study or listening to or reading sermons. Christian radio and the internet are full of choices. (Some are very good, some are not—so be selective.)
(3) As you read Scripture reflectively, cultivate a life of conversation with God. Learn to pray in a way that goes beyond formality and attains intimacy. (See Brother Lawrence, Practicing the Presence of God for a classic example of what I mean.)
WOW! coincidence: As I am typing these words, I have a service from Saddleback Church playing in a different window. The preacher (not Rick Warren, it's one of the associate pastors today) just said: "The object of a life of prayer is obtaining a character that is fit for eternity." Amen.
When I speak to clergy retreats, which I do fairly often, I sometimes tell them:
1. If the only time you read the Bible is when you are preparing your sermons (and saying the Daily Office), you are in trouble.
2. If the only sermons you ever hear are your own, you are in trouble.
3. If the only time you pray is in church (or in the Daily Offices or the Eucharist, i.e., liturgical prayer), you are in trouble.
If our spiritual roots don't go any deeper than this, we will not do well even in the green pastures, much less survive in the desert.
Decompressing after General Convention or any spiritual trial requires that we touch base with the bedrock of our spiritual foundation. This is step one. God willing, I will have more to say in a future post.