Monday, October 21, 2013

Prisons, Banjoes, and Chinese Philosophy

The 22nd Sunday after Pentecost, 20 Oct 2013
Christian Hawley
Jer 31:27-34
Psalm 119:97-104
2Tim 3:14-4:5
Luke 18:1-8

Our psalmist today declares: “Oh how I love your law! How sweet are your words to my taste! They are sweeter than honey to my mouth.”

Now I can understand justice being sweet or loving mercy or thinking forgiveness tastes better than honey, but I've always had a tough time wrapping my head around what the psalmist was thinking when he talked about loving God's law. I can get on board with respecting God's law, or honoring God's law, or being obedient to God's law, but the psalmist uses love here in the sense of enjoyment and exhilaration – he finds it sweeter than honey!1

How can we come to love God's law like this psalmist?

After consulting prisons, banjoes, and Chinese philosophy I think we come to love God's law by knowing God's law and then by practicing God's law.

So let's begin with prisons. A couple of weeks ago you all sent me up to the Northeast Correctional Complex with 1200 cookies to be part of a Kairos team that spent a long weekend talking with inmates about their faith and the love of God. Think of Kairos as a kind of Cursillo that takes place in jail.

Now a prison is not the kind of place where one would expect to find much love for the law, and for the most part that's correct. Lots of inmates will tell you how they got wronged by the justice system. They'll tell you about prosecution scare tactics and plea bargain politics. They'll tell you about dirty cops, incompetent lawyers, and a system where the war on drugs looks more like a war on the poor.

And when they've finished hating on the law that exists outside of the prison walls, they'll start talking about the evils of the law that exists inside the walls. They'll talk about having to fight for their meals, or having to run errands for gangs to keep from getting beat up, or having to declare a racial identity to find friends, or even having to turn to drugs to find any kind of relief. Inmates pretty much hate any kind of law they've ever come in contact with.

Which is exactly what makes God's law so sweet to them. For these inmates the justice system is an impersonal machine that consumes their humanity. According to human law they are just a number serving time. When a kairos member calls them by name, gives them a dozen cookies, and tells them God's law is about reconciliation and healing, many of those inmates are overwhelmed by such a personal connection.

Likewise, the law of the jungle that exists on the inside, is based upon the power to control harm and manipulate death. When an inmate hears that God's law is based on love and promises life beyond death, again they are overwhelmed by the idea that a life could be built around something other than fear.

I sat with a prisoner named Jeff on this last visit, who at the beginning of the weekend talked at length about his loathing for the law. He talked about how he killed a man he found sleeping with his wife. How he had given the man an out but was forced to kill him in self-defense. How the legal system wronged him and how the penal system made him an addict to drugs.

But as the weekend went on Jeff started talking more and more about how his life was changing through the Kairos program (it's important to note here that the Kairos program also offers regular weekly worship services and small group sessions up at the prison and many of the inmates that attend the weekend retreat have also been attending these weekly meetings for some time).

So Jeff talked about how studying scriptures and talking with other Christians was showing him a whole new world. Jeff said he started to see another way forward. A way not bounded by an impersonal justice system or a fear-based penal system, but a way bounded by the law and the love of Christ. I suspect this is the same contrast the widow saw in her pleas to the unjust judge from our gospel reading today.

My prison friend, Jeff and that widow from Luke, really thought God's law was sweeter than honey because God's statutes and God's edicts and God's love offered them a justice and a way forward they never knew at the hands of earthly powers.

To love God's law, we have to know God's law, and know how it's different from all the other laws that surround us. But we can't stop at just knowing God's law, we also have to practice it.

If we look closer at the widow from Luke, I think we can also see how God's law manifests as holy action. Jesus uses the widow as an example of steadfast prayer and active perseverance. We also come to love God's law because of the habits it instills in our life. Which brings me to the banjo.

I have a rather curious relationship with my banjo instructor, in that we meet weekly to practice banjo, but we often end up in discussing philosophy, theology, or in the case of this last week, moral formation.

I'm still in the process of learning what are called “licks.” These licks are the basic building blocks for banjo music, and there are all kinds of rules that go into making up a lick; which finger to fret with, which finger or thumb to pick with, when to slide, or when to hammer on a string. Learning licks is a really frustrating and a tedious process, and sitting at home playing until my hand cramps seems to be the only way to get better. To be honest, I thought learning to play the banjo would be a lot more fun, but I've kept on in the faith that these exercises will pay off.

My banjo instructor kept telling me the day would come when I would stop thinking my way through the licks and just let the muscle memory take over. I got a glimpse of that phenomenon the other day while I played Cripple Creek for the hundreth time. Finally some of those rules became so ingrained that I no longer had to think about them, and what followed was a wonderfully enjoyable eleven seconds.

The practice parallel to moral formation was not lost on my banjo guru. Imagine, he said, if we treated God's law like licks. Imagine if we practiced for an hour a day actively loving our neighbor, and reading the scriptures, and praying honestly with our fellow Christians. In many ways my banjo instructor sounded a lot like Paul talking to Timothy in our readings today.

Instead of building up a muscle memory, we are to build up a moral memory that will allow us to enjoy serving God, not just out of duty, but out of a joy and a love for God's law. I think it is those kinds of habits that give rise to Mother Teresas, Dorothy Days, and all those people who stuck around last sunday to help clean up after the Pig Roast. Those kind of moral habits, those kinds of godly lives, and those kinds of licks are truly sweeter than honey.

To love God's law we have to know God's law and then we have to practice God's law.

But how do we cultivate these holy licks in our own lives? The short answer is to spend time in prison. Every one of Jesus' disciples was incarcerated at some point, and some of the holiest people I know today are behind bars where they turn their love of Christ into some very powerful habits. However, if prison isn't your thing, then I think we have to turn to Chinese philosophy for this answer.

I read an article this week about how Chinese philosophy is now the third most popular class on the Harvard campus.2 The general premise of the article was that Chinese philosophy gave undergraduates “concrete, counter-intuitive, and even revolutionary ideas, which taught them how to live a better life.” The professor showed his students that the smallest of daily actions can have profoundest of consequences. He challenged them at the end of every class to undertake daily little activities and notice how they felt when they did things like smile at stranger, or hold a door for someone, or let another car into traffic. (I guess this is a big deal for New Englanders). In any case, these practices were apparently life changing for many of these students.

When I was discussing this article with the lectionary ladies, I was lamenting how the church went wrong in conveying Christ's message, and how frustrated I was that so many of our young people had to turn to Chinese philosophy to find “concrete, counter-intuitive, and even revolutionary ideas, which teach them how to live a better life.” And then one of the lectionary ladies said that she didn't think the church missed the boat on sharing Christ's revolutionary, life-giving message. She was pretty sure we preached that every time two or three of us gathered together.

After thinking about it for a while I came to the conclusion that she was right. I also realized that we do a pretty good job of encouraging people in monthly and weekly activities like Bible Studies or fellowship dinners or outreach projects. Which means if there is a disconnect with the Church's message that Chinese philosophy is filling for these kids, then it is in the small daily things.

So I thought I would take a page out of the Analects of Confucius and encourage us all to try a couple of daily practices popular with the prison Christians.

The first practice is to read scripture every morning. To love God's law we need to know God's law as revealed in the scriptures. If you already have a Bible reading practice then carry on, but if you're looking for one maybe this is a good week to start. Luke Chapter 18, which we're reading from for the next two weeks, has 5 subdivisions set off by headings, the technical name for these subdivisions are pericopes, which, as the healing service folks know, is a word I love to say. So we could start our Monday by rereading the pericope about the widow and the unjust judge, and then on tuesday read the pericope about the pharisee and the tax collector and on and on until friday and the pericope of jesus and the blind beggar near jericho. These readings shouldn't take more than a couple of minutes max, and it may be a nice activity to do while the coffee brews.

The second practice is to give thanks in prayer at the end of the day. To love God's law we need to practice gratitude. And this being the stewardship week for gratitude for creation , I suggest we practice by walking every evening in search of some part of creation we are thankful for and then offer a prayer over it. This walking prayer is especially popular with inmates. You can't believe how thankful prisoners are to be out under the sky and amongst the trees.

To love God's law we must know God's law and we must practice God's law. May the Holy Spirit be with us all this week as we try to love a little more in all the small parts of our lives. Amen.

1There are significant ties to CS Lewis's commentary entitled “Sweeter than Honey” on this same psalm.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

20th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C          October 6, 2013   
Episcopal Church of the Ascension           The Reverend Dr. Howard J. Hess
Faith Received, Nurtured, and Lived Out in Relationship

I. Introduction. The parable of the mustard seed is one of the best known of Jesus’ teachings. The Apostles had just asked Jesus to “increase their faith.” In response, he told them that if they had just a small amount of faith, as represented by the tiny mustard seed, they could move mountains. His exact words are that by merely speaking in faith they could uproot a mulberry tree, with all its deep roots, and plant it in the sea. Jesus used the example of a very small seed from the mustard plant, which was actually considered a weed, to exemplify his point about the power of faith. A wonderful image. Jesus was saying to them, and is saying to us, don’t worry about getting more faith, take action, relying upon the faith you already have. That’s all I’m going to say about the mustard seed now. Instead, by drawing on today’s reading from 2 Timothy, I want to come at this idea of faith in a slightly different way.

II. Paul’s story. It is believed that Paul had a very close relationship with Timothy and was writing this epistle from prison where he was alone and clearly cognizant that he was likely to be executed soon. He was certain that he would never see Timothy face to face again in this life. Paul had great affection for Timothy and clearly wanted to encourage him in his faith, thus preparing him for the time when he, Timothy’s mentor, would be gone. This story is poignant and personal. Because there was very little time left, we can assume that Paul’s final words carried a great deal of weight and meaning to Timothy. One of the first things Paul does in this letter is to affirm the sincere faith that he believes Timothy has. Now I want you to notice something in this letter that I believe is powerfully important. Timothy’s faith had “first lived in his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice.” Timothy’s faith obviously had not developed in a vacuum. It was a natural outcome of the faithful examples set by two generations of women in his family. How many generations of faithful women have blessed you in your life?

Like Timothy, I can also personally count two generations of faithful women. And it was the women in my life who often had my back. One of my grandfathers died before I was born, and the other abandoned his family. But, I can clearly remember the faith of both of my grandmothers, rooted in the tradition of the Methodist Church and never wavering. I know what each of their favorite hymns was, and I know that they prayed for me constantly. I also had a mother who loved me for years in spite of myself and always saw the good possibilities rather than the negative patterns. I’ll share a humorous but telling moment with you – at my mother’s viewing, two friends of hers came up to the casket and quietly said, “I heard she had a really tough time with her son.” Parenthetically, she had only one son – me! The second woman said in response, “Yes, I heard that too, he was quite a bad boy, but I think he turned out OK. Not sure about that, but I think so.” I smiled because they had no idea that I was close by – and because they were right –about almost everything but whether I would turn out OK. The jury is still out on that. But here’s the key idea I want to stress this morning. Mothers and grandmothers, never give up, never stop praying; always remember that it is the faith in you that the Holy Spirit can use to bring your children and grandchildren to faith. 

III. One generation to another. Also notice in the text that Timothy’s faith grew from another source and that was his relationship with Paul, a man one generation older than himself. “For this reason,” Paul writes, “I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you by the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us (notice that the word Paul used is us, not you) – God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. The faith that Timothy first saw in his mother and grandmother was re-enforced in his spiritual experiences with Paul. This is so very important for us to comprehend as a community. We have tremendous cross-generational resources here at Church of the Ascension. We have men and women from every living generation right here this morning, worshipping together and listening to the words of the Holy Spirit. 

Some of you might remember Sr. Rosina, who preached at my installation service. She has since returned to her home in Ghana to continue her ministry by mentoring women preparing for ordination and starting new churches. One of her observations about Ascension was the large number of middle-aged and older men in this congregation, men who worked together on so many projects, and how rare that was in other churches. She was very impressed with the resource we have in these men at Ascension. And she was right. I would emphasize that there is a similar resource in our women, also are involved in many projects, prayer, and study groups. Why is this important? Because when we remind one another to “rekindle” our faith, we teach, affirm, and model our faith relationally across generations. By sharing the gift of faith that God has given us with others, we become an empowered faith community. 

IV. Power, love, and self-discipline.  I truly believe that trying to cultivate the power of the Spirit alone is very difficult, if not downright impossible. It has to be done in relationships within families and communities. Herein, I believe, lies the exciting cutting edge for us at Church of the Ascension. My observation is that we are quite good at relationship building and sustaining. By and large we really like each other and get alone very well. Our next step is to become even more intentional about how together we grow in spiritual power, love, and self-discipline. Can we become more and more intentional about “rekindling” the spiritual power in our community? This is far less intimidating than many of us imagine. I would suggest that we pray for the power of the Holy Spirit to further energize Ascension. This church can move mountain after mountain if we really take hold of the power of our faith in Christ.

And what about love? That is so much love here. I sensed it the first Sunday I walked into this chancel. But what if we stretched the limits of that love even further? What if each one of us reached out to someone near us in this service and connected more deeply than we usually do? What if we looked around and tried to think of the people who usually sit near us, but aren’t here today or perhaps haven’t been here for several weeks? Then what if we called them to see if they need us in some way.

And then, self-discipline. That’s the tough one for me. Tell me I have to do something and my motivation takes a nosedive. But you know what helps me pray and read Scripture regularly? When I’m doing it in relationship with others. It could be with Peg before I leave in the morning. It could be with other clergy. And it could be in small groups that are praying and studying Scripture. My self-discipline in spiritual practices is strengthened when I am engaging in those practices with others. 

V. Conclusion. We are blessed. We are loving, we have a range of ideas and outlooks across and within generations, and we have the sacrament of the Eucharist where Christ meets and empowers us each week. I will conclude by making an offer about which I’m very serious. I would welcome any one here who is searching for a place in this community where they can rekindle the gift of faith to come to see me or one of the other clergy. We will do everything that we can to help you make connections with others with whom your faith can be shared and supported. There are many more mountains that we can move together when our connections are strong and Christ-centered at Church of the Ascension. Amen.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Feast Day of Sir Wilfred Thomason Grenfell

Healing Service Wednesday, 9 October
Christian Hawley
2 Kings 2:19-22
Psalm 107:23-32
Mark 6:45-56

I've always loved to say the word pericope. A pericope is actually a small self contained portion of scripture, so I thought I'd work it into today's homily. Most Bibles identify pericopes by giving them a heading. For instance, in today's Gospel of Mark chapter 6 verses 45-52 have the heading Jesus Walks on the Water and then verses 53-56 have the heading Healing the Sick in Genneserat. The really interesting part, though, is that these headings are not part of the original texts of scripture1 – these nifty headings are usually added by a publisher. This may not seem like a big deal at first, but as we read scripture in a non-continuous fashion (like a lectionary schedule), I think these headings bias where we draw the lines around pericopes. So today it looks like we have two pericopes: Jesus walks on water and Jesus heals the sick in Genneserat. I think this separation does us a great harm, and I applaud the Holy Women, Holy Men folks for not stopping after Jesus calmed the storm. Our gospel today is not two pericopes about two different miracles; it is one story about one miracle.

The temptation here is to call Jesus' defying the usual laws of physics a miracle. We want to hold up walking on water as a stand alone miracle. But it's not. The Christian sense of a miracle isn't just a scientifically impossible event accomplished by God; it is an impossible display of love accomplished by God for the healing of creation. The miracle isn't that Jesus walked on water, the miracle is that Jesus would go to any length over land or sea to get to the people who needed his healing. The miracle is his love for the people in Genneserat and his willingness to cross a raging sea for them. We know this to be the case because verse 48 tell us that Jesus himself intended to pass the disciples by. Jesus didn't walk on water to prove his divinity, or to show the disciples a pretty cool party trick. Jesus walked on water because it was the quickest way he knew to get to the people that needed his healing.

Miracles are not God merely performing the scientifically impossible; miracles are God manifesting an impossible love for the sake of creation.

The miracle of the Incarnation is not the virgin birth, it is that God becomes human for the sake of humanity.  The miracle of the loaves and fishes is not the multiplication of foodstuffs, it is that Jesus nourishes all those who come to hear his Word (I think this is the part that the disciples didn't get in verse 52).  The miracle of water into wine is not the transmogrification (also a fun word) of liquids, it is that Jesus meets and exceeds the needs of those who invite him into their lives (remember he didn't just make wine, but really good wine).2

Miracles are not the suspension of the physical laws of nature; miracles are the seemingly impossible done for the sake of love.

Which brings us to Sir Wilfred Thomason Grenfell. A man born and educated in England as a medical doctor. During his medical training he was drawn closer to Christ by the American revivalist Dwight Moody, and upon completion of medical school he enlisted as a medical missionary for the Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fisherman (not kidding here, an actual organization). He served these poor fisherman from Iceland to the Bay of Biscay, and finally in 1892, he came to the Labrador coast of Canada. Upon seeing the near starvation, poverty, and ill-health of all the workers there, he financed, built, and manned a hospital for these people. Within a few years he also opened boarding schools, medical ships, and clothing distribution centers along the Labrador Coast.

Wilfred Thomason Grenfell, crossed a raging sea (the North Atlantic is not a cake walk), to get to a people who desperately needed his help and healing. This should sound familiar? Christ's miracles still happen among us in this modern age because the Spirit of an impossible love is still acting among us for the health of all of God's creatures.

Miracles are happening all around us. Sometimes we are like the deep sea fisherman or the people of Genneserat being healed by a great physician or a loving neighbor. And Sometimes we are like Sir Wilfred Grenfell, acting as conduits for Christ's healing love. In either case, we can take heart in knowing that Christ is always, always working for our health and flourishing. Thanks be to God.

1Original texts here might be debatable. I'm referring to documents like codex Sinaiticus and codex Vaticanus.
2See the steward's reaction in the John 2:10.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Christ, the Buddha, and .38 Special

19th Sunday after Pentecost – 29 September 2013
Christian Hawley
Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16
1 Timothy 6:6-19
Luke 16:19-31

*Below you will find my sermon script, however the Spirit blows me off script from time to time. I think that wonderful third member of the Trinity blew me a little farther than usual this week, so I would encourage you to listen to the homily on the Ascension website.

In my very first semester of my very year of divinity school, I got booted from a class in the philosophy of religion. Apparently, they were looking for PhD students or at least people with undergraduate concentrations in philosophy or theology. My sorry engineering background didn't fit either criteria. As a result, I had to scramble at the last minute to find another class in order to carry a full time load. Anything that was even the least bit appealing to me was already full, and so in an act of desperation the registrar just put me in this class called Buddhist-Christian dialogue. Looking back, I can see the Holy Spirit moving in that moment, because engagement with the Buddhist tradition has done wonders for my Christian faith. Looking through the eyes of the Buddha has revealed some wonderful treasures in the Christian scriptures.

Take today's readings for instance. For a long time I read the story of the rich man and Lazarus as a cautionary tale to the rich. I thought the rich man was the villain in this story and poor lazarus was the victim. I thought Jesus was warning the rich to give to the poor or else burn in hell. I have always framed this text as one about divine preference for the materially poor and divine wrath for the materially wealthy. I thought this was a story about suffering and justice.

But that's not how a Buddhist would see this text. I've spent a fair bit of time with Buddhists both here in the US and over in Nepal, and I think I'm on solid ground in saying that a Buddhist would read this text as one about suffering and compassion. Most recently I finished Thich Nhat Hanh's book Living Buddha, Living Christ. In this book, the Vietnamese Buddhist author highlights the radical practice of compassion as a defining characteristic in the ministries of both the Buddha and the Christ.

Through this compassionate lens the story of the Rich man and Lazarus takes on a completely different tone. From a Buddhist perspective both men in the parable are suffering and both are in need of compassion and aid. I think we can all get on board with compassion for Lazarus, but I wanted to spend a few moments and walk through the rich man's suffering.

  • I want to start by highlighting the rich man's isolation. Just as much as the gate keeps Lazarus out, it keeps the rich man in. I picture the rich man in luxurious purple robes dining alone. And although he has a whole lamb in front of him on a giant marble table, he is miserable in his isolation. The torment the rich man faces in Hades is the same one he face inside his gated home – it is the torment of being separated from his fellow humans and God.
  • The rich man is also without relief. The hades imagery shows unrelief as flames that are literally unquenchable, but I imagine the rich man knew these flames in his earthly life as his unquenchable need for more material goods. No matter how nice his robes were, or how big his house was, or how many horsepower his chariot had, he could never feel satisfied. He could never have enough. He could find no fulfillment in all his stuff.
  • The rich man is also heap of broken relationships. It is admirable that he wants Abraham to send Lazarus to his dad's house, but it is also evident that the rich man contributed to his family's unhealthy, and quite literally, damnable lifestyle. Here I picture the six brothers in constant competition with one another, each one trying to out do the other in wealth and worldly prestige. I picture them all gathering for Passover at their parents house and gossiping over too many cups of Manishewitz about one another's unvirtuous successes or silently rejoicing in the others' failures. Even if some of the brothers were not as materialistic as their brother in Hades, they are still caught up in a system that values all the wrong things.

I don't think its that much of a leap to say we Americans are caught up in a similar system.
  • I see our isolation as we spend more time looking at our phone than at our neighbors.
  • I see our emptiness and un-fulfillment in every story of mid-life crisis. I think back to a time when I thought getting on a motorcycle and riding the open road would provide the meaning I could not find in my life as corporate professional.
  • I see our broken relationships in my cat's face when I come home late from the office for the third night in a row, or I skip prayer time to answer emails.
  • I see our paranoia as we lock everything from our cars to our homes to our wireless accounts because we're afraid someone is going to take what we have accumulated.

I see all of these symptoms; isolation, empty gratification, broken relationships, and paranoia and it dawns on me that the pursuit of wealth is an addiction. I smoked for ten years and I remember saying things like, “I can quit anytime I want.” And now I listen to my self saying things like, “I can own nice things just as long as they don't own me,” and I realize I might have a different kind of addiction. I tell myself I could give up my iphone anytime, and then I freak out about ios7.

I hope the Buddhists are right when they say the rich man does not deserve condemnation, but instead he needs compassion and aid. I hope this because I think a lot of us could use that same kind of compassion and aid in our own struggles with material abundance.

Listening to this parable now, I don't hear Jesus carrying out a stewardship campaign or passing judgment; I hear him performing an intervention.

Jesus is trying to tell us that material wealth clogs up the flow of the Holy Spirit through our lives, like tar clogs up lungs or cholesterol clogs up arteries. Therefore, giving up the pursuit of wealth is like quitting smoking or giving up fast food. Letting go of our material wealth is not a sacrifice or a duty; it is an exercise in healthy Christian discipleship.

The Buddhists are big on this concept of letting go, but I don't think it is absent from our tradition either. Thich Nhat Hanh points out that in both the Buddha and the Christ, their lives were their teachings. Along with radical compassion we see a radical simplicity in the life of Christ and his followers. Certain parts of the Christian tradition, especially in the monastic strains, interpret letting go as a call to poverty, and while I think that is a noble interpretation, I also think there is room for discipleship as a call to simplicity.

Take our Timothy reading today.
Read 1 Tim 6:6-8.

Upon consulting the lectionary ladies, I am pretty sure Paul is not using contentment here to refer to a lack of drive to create, work, or do good for the kingdom of God. I think he is using the word contentment in the sense of being satisfied, and even happy, about having our basic needs met, and in that sense, I think many of us have lost the ability to be content.

There are always faster cars, bigger houses, flatter TVs, more beautiful shoes, and the one that gets, me more intriguing books. I have a hard time imagining what it would be like to be content with my book collection. I have footlockers of books hidden throughout the country from my sister's basement to my mother's barn. This summer, when I moved yet again, I noticed I had more books than clothes and housewares combined, and I realized I had a problem.

I went to my spiritual advisor about this addiction. Luckily, he happens to be a third order Franciscan, a group highly skilled in simplifying a life for the love of Christ, and he has helped me work on my material contentment issues. No surprise, one of recommendations was to practice letting go. So for the last two months, I've been practicing something called zero-sum living, where for every nonperishable item I buy I must give one away. If I buy a new pair of running shoes I have to give an old pair away (not so bad). If I get a new pint glass from Aubrey's, I have to give a BBM one away (a little tougher). If I download a new movie, I have to give a DVD away. And most challenging of all, if I buy a new book, I have to give one away. It has been kind of a miserable two months. Detox is never easy, but I'm starting to see dividends. My life is becoming less cluttered, I impulse buy a lot less, I read the Bibles I have a lot more, and I'm starting to really appreciate the things I already have. I still have way more than I need, but at least I'm no longer accumulating out of control. Through this practice, Paul's idea of contentment is growing on me.

We all have our book addictions. For some of us its shoes, for others its technological gadgets, for still others of us it is jewelry, which makes our most recent Tennessee to Toliara event such a powerful exercise in discipleship.

By letting go of some precious stones or metals we were able to nourish the Kingdom of God. And while I know a number of us walked away with some great gifts, I suspect those of you who donated felt like you received an even greater gift. We know our possessions don't own us when we offer them freely to the service of God. Letting go is good for the soul. We don't have to wait for fundraisers or Lent to practice this kind of discipleship.

[Insert a big movement of the Holy Spirit here. I'm pretty sure I said something about Ann and John Nelson giving me a Greek New Testament, but I have no idea how that oration went.]

Finally, I'll leave you with a famous Buddhist saying, "the number one spiritual injury in the world is rope burn, and all we need to do to ease the suffering is let go of things that are pulling us away from our true life."1 As Christians, our true life resides in Christ, and being his disciples includes following his example in radical compassion and intentional letting go.

Namaste my friends and may the peace of the Lord be always with us.

1I really wanted to make a reference to .38 Special here...“Hold on loosely, and don't let go. If you cling to tightly, you're going to lose control.” Alas, though, I don't think my 80's hair metal voice would have been appropria­te.