When our ideas about nature come primarily from Sierra Club calendars or selected snippets from Thoreau, an east coast earthquake and monster hurricane (in the same week) are powerful wake-up calls.
We modern urban dwellers and suburbanites like our nature contained and manageable: a nice hike in the woods; a pretty sunset on the drive home; a lush, green lawn (chemically-induced, alas)
Sometimes we like nature so much we decide to worship it -- or to make it the medium for our worship of God or the "higher power" we think might be up there, out there, presiding over it all. We've been wounded by organized religion, perhaps, disgusted by its hierarchies and hypocrisies. "I can worship God on a mountaintop," we decide. (Or -- conveniently, happily -- on the golf course).
[Editors' note: Below is a hymn written by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette to inspire churches to further support and pray for famine relief in Somalia.]
O God, You Love the Needy
184.108.40.206 D LLANGLOFFAN ("Rejoice, Rejoice, Believers")
O God, you love the needy and care for all the poor!
Today our hearts are heavy with news of drought and war.
When plantings yield no harvest, when hungry people die,
When families flee, defenseless -- Lord, hear your people's cry!
Earlier this summer I attended a church service where the pastor, a man struggling with what appears to be his final bout with cancer, preached about the hope that Jesus promises to those who trust in him. After describing the returning Jesus brandishing a sword and dripping with the blood of all our vanquished enemies, he invited the audience to share what they saw as the hope that this Jesus promises. The responses ranged from no cancer, to no pain, to no worries about paying the bills, to the promise of an upgraded body -- all of course in heaven someday after we die. The congregation was encouraged to find contentment in the present from the possibility of realizing these promises someday. Our souls are what matter; the body just has to endure until our souls reach heaven. No mention of help with how to pay this month's rent or what it means for a cancer-ridden body to be the temple of the Holy Spirit, just the spiritual promise that someday all will be well.
The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, 'Here I am, for you called me.' Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. 9Therefore Eli said to Samuel, 'Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening." (1 Samuel 3.8-9)
I am in a profession where the term "call" is used frequently. When used as a verb, "call" is about feeling that tug between you and God toward something that at first may not seem practical, desirable, or even expected. When used as a noun, "call" can be synonymous to a job, occupation, ministry, or church -- hence the term "seeking a call."
For me, "seeking a call" simply means trying to figure out what to do next. And lately this task has felt like an impossible mission. I have always admired -- or if I'm to be honest, jealous of -- those that seem to have a clear sense of their calling. Take my husband for example, he feels very called to be a pastor. Although there are times when he struggles with the type of church or ministry he feels called to serve, he has certainty that his call is that of a pastor. I wish that was the case for me. I have always felt called to a place, such as seminary or my current congregation, but I have never felt confirmation or an affinity to my call as a pastor. This may not make sense or may seem odd, but welcome to my life.
I have always loved the story of Samuel being called.
So let me suggest that this Labor Day, the church cannot afford to perpetuate the labor movement as an unexamined challenge in our society. Debates about the role of unions are everywhere, and demand thoughtful theological discussion, consideration, and action.
This Labor Day weekend, we are challenging every congregation and faith community in Ohio and around the nation to devote a portion of your worship service to exploring a biblically informed perspective on labor. This could include part of a homily, a testimony, a time of prayer for labor members in your parish, church, or faith community, or hosting a special conversation or panel on issues of faith and labor.
In recent days I've been thinking through with a friend one of the enduring challenges of pastoral and catechetical ministry: how to dispel the notion that worship should be entertaining. It's not as hard as it used to be -- there are books (and blogs) on the subject; it gets preached on fairly often these days. But it's not as easy as it ought to be. It seems we are a species ever in need of amusement.
One of the most compelling arguments against the persistent idea that worship ought to entertain, dazzle, distract, or otherwise charm us is found in James Alison's insight that true worship is "orchestrated detox."
Many people remember "O God, Our Words Cannot Express," a hymn written on the afternoon of September 11, 2001. The hymn was quickly shared by email and Web postings (it is still on over 10,000 websites); it was used by many churches on that evening and in the days that followed. The hymn was featured in newspaper stories, radio programs, twice on national PBS-TV, and on BBC-TV in the United Kingdom. YouTube has the Church World Service music video by Emmy winner Pete Staman of this hymn being sung by Noel Paul Stookey (of "Peter, Paul & Mary") with the Northfield Mount Herman School Choir.
The new posting of this interfaith hymn includes a revised version for the 10th anniversary. Also included is "God, We've Known Such Grief and Anger", a hymn lifting up Christian hope in the face of disaster that was written for the first year anniversary of 9/11. Last week I wrote a new hymn for the tenth anniversary of September 11 with an emphasis on working for peace and justice for all.
Lean and lanky, the 30-something teacher probed the congregation with a practiced eye as he wound down his presentation. Ezekiel, or "Zeke" (pseudonym), teaches at a secondary school in another country. Backed up by a carefully constructed PowerPoint presentation, Ezekiel shared his passion for sensitively pouring truth and grace into the lives of his students, particularly the girls. His blue eyes blazed as he asked if a woman in the Community Christian Church (not its real name) congregation would be willing to come forward and pray for the women of his host country.
No one moved.
When the Alabama legislature passed their infamous, anti-immigrant law (HB 56), the religious community in the state immediately cried foul. Jim Wallis and other national leaders condemned the law as unjust and immoral.
HB 56, which will go into effect September 1, attacks virtually every aspect of immigrants' lives. Among many punitive measures, it authorizes police to detain anyone they suspect is undocumented, mandates criminal penalties for those who transport undocumented migrants, and demands that public schools determine the immigration status of all students.