upper room daily devotions

Monday, August 11, 2008

"Crappath" - When Sabbath Goes South

For the past couple of months I have been trying to faithfully keep Sabbath. Every Sunday evening I light a candle, turn off the computer, and begin a day of remembering God's day of rest. While I know that the Sabbath is properly from Friday evening to Saturday evening, I observe from Sunday evening to Monday evening, and I have tried to stay clear and mindful about how I spend that time. That is, until this week.

One of the things that I do every Sunday is call my mom. I am, after all, a good Southern reared girl with a deep sense of family. I touch base with my sister and my mom. When I was growing up I remember my parents calling their parents on Sunday. It is a Sunday ritual in my life. Sunday when I picked up the phone to call my mom I saw that I had an email. For, you see, I have a Blackberry, which is a completely evil tool. I couldn't resist checking the message. It was a reply to an email that I had send previously in the day. And it was an upsetting email. For the past day I have been unable to stop thinking about it, about work, and about my shortcomings at work. In checking that email I tossed this week's Sabbath time right into the crapper.

I have really enjoyed the past couple of months Sabbaths. After demarcating Sabbath time from the rest of the week by lighting a candle and saying a prayer, I read fun books - nothing about work. I sit on my deck, listen to the trees rustle in the breeze, make dinner and eat with family, sleep well, and spend time with friends. I turn off the computer, leave work stuff alone, and don't spend money. It's true that I have struggled to find a rhythm and a set of rituals that feel authentic and right. Being a Christian doesn't bring with it easy to use observance related activities! I enjoy the celebration of the Lord's Day, but I also have been craving that sense of relief that I have discovered in observing Sabbath.

Today was a disappointment. My actions were a disappointment. Why didn't I just leave the email alone? My refusal to do so underscores how far I have to go in remembering that my work is not the most important work; God's work is. The world will wait one day for me to check email. And perhaps if I can learn this lesson then I can get back to observing "Sabbath" and not "Crappath."

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Neil Young's Hymn and Cultural Relevance in Worship

Churches can easily be caught up in culture wars. I don't just mean cultural issues like abortion or homosexuality, either. Rather, the cultures of many congregations are stuck solidly in the 1950 (or possibly the 1960s if you have lots of Boomers in the congregation). Culture wars reveal themselves in a number of places, most pointedly in the music we use. If faithfulness is the most important aspect of worship, it is vital for us to honor the power of cultural contexts without becoming divided by culture. We become sidetracked from our purpose: to honor and praise God, to be inspired by the proclamation of the Word, and to be transformed by God's holy sacraments. True worship isn't about us, it is about God and for God. The joy is that when worship is oriented in a God-cetered way, we receive the benefits - our souls are comforted, our spirits lifted, our hearts touched, and our lives transformed.

Several years ago Neil Young wrote a hymn called "When God Made Me." Is this a song that could be sung in your church? Or is it too human-centric and too musically dated for a postmodern congregation?

I've been wondering about how to maintain the integrity and power of traditional liturgy while presenting a culturally relevant worship service. Are there worship services equally comfortable with gospel, hymns from the 1600s, music from the 80s, and music written today? Every now and then I run across a worship service that deeply moves me. Usually this occurs when I find some kind of familiarity in the liturgy, a lot of honesty in the liturgy, comfort with silence in the service, a joyful expression of the sacraments, and music that is indigenous and intentional - intentional in its place in the service, its theology, and its musicality.

So, is Neil welcome in your service. If not, who is? And how does the overall liturgy include a variety of musical expressions that are found in our culture today?

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Gorillas and More Gorillas

It's been a while since I've made a proper posting...and it will be a little while longer before I am able to sit down and write about topics directly related to progressive Christianity, or, as I would prefer to call what I'm interested in, deep Christianity.

For now, let me highlight an article that is receiving wide attention. According to a recent census, the number of lowland gorillas appears to be almost twice the population size that scientists have been estimating.

This is excellent news, but it also raises concerns for the continued protection of and care for these animals. We now run the risk of people feeling more free to kill (I would say murder) them for bush meat. It is also possible that the strong laws protecting these animals may come under threat. Let us hope not. This is one of those rare times when we have learned, without caveat, some good ecological news. So, I'll just try and receive it as such.

People have asked me why I post about gorillas (usually the mountain gorillas of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, and Rwanda) on a progressive Christian website. I will admit the decision to post articles here is a bit arbitrary. However, the plight of the gorilla, especially the mountain gorilla, is a living example of the interrelatedness of life, the power of politics, and the consequences of actions taken every day taken by everyday people. I find this deeply connected to my faith and my understanding of God.

Life is radically interrelated. It is folly for me to believe that my search for cheap goods doesn't connect to slave labor, deforestation, or oppressive politics. It is important for me, for you, for all of us to realize that as the world's most active consumers, we have a power to affect the rest of the world in ways never known in the history of the world. This becomes, to use a Christian term, a question of stewardship. The plight of the gorilla raises for me real life questions of stewardship: Do I need a new cell phone that uses Coltan when my old one works just fine? When I buy patio furniture, where does that cheap wood come from? How much packaging should the West be exporting to Africa where they have even fewer options for disposing of plastic? What are we going to do about clean drinking water, waste water management, and the politics of water? Can't we make more progress on alternative fuels so people simply trying to subsist don't cut down trees for charcoal, thus destroying the habitat of gorillas?

The mountain gorilla serves as a symbol for me of how I am called to live as a follower of Christ. It reminds me of the covenant between God and humankind and our commission to tend all of creation. I could just as easily see a wolf, a sea turtle, a Western pond turtle, a sea lion, a whale, or a polar bear. These are all fighting for survival amid the press of human consumption.

I am glad to hear this news about the lowland gorilla and I hope for good things to come for the mountain gorilla. It would help me believe that humans can be good stewards of God's precious creation.

For more on the article, go here.

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