Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Strength to Go Into the Wilderness

“I have been asked many times
to take leaps I did not feel ready to do.
But when I’ve done that I’ve been held
And I have been an agent for God
In ways I never could have been
If I didn’t trust and take that leap.”
- Jean-Marie P. Barch 1998.

Who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to God “My refuge and my fortress; my God in whom I trust.” For God will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilences; God will cover you with pinions and under God’s wings you will find refuge. – Psalm 91:1-4.

About two years ago I attended FGC’s FLGBTQCC Mid-Winter Gathering. While there we were asked to consider several queries every day in our small group worship sharing. One of these queries was something along the lines of, “How do we tell the difference between acts of love and acts of fear?” In my worship sharing I felt moved to speak about this query and then again during worship. As the Spirit usually does I started out focusing on the query and then was led to speak to deeper questions. When considering the difference between acts of love and acts of fear I am led to believe that Friends generally have a hard time distinguishing between the two. Maybe not on a personal level, but as a group we tend to see praise as coming from a place of love and criticize more need for change as coming from a place of fear. In my own experience among Friends I have not found this to be the case. Instead, I have often found that we want to hear praise and only praise about our meetings and the Religious Society of Friends because we are afraid of what might happen if we begin to take criticism seriously and move to change the way things are. Often I have found praise alone comes from a place of fear of change, a fear that we will make things worse or break things beyond repair. Whereas often I have found those who offer criticism and ask for change are doing so out of love, love for their faith and a need that that faith should live up to what they know it is capable of being.

I have been moved to think that there is another image and another question behind this concept of acts of love and acts of fear. I am then called to the image of the wilderness as expressed many times in the Bible and the concept of Blessed Community. I believe that if we are truly a Blessed Community under God, guided by the Spirit, then we should have enough trust and love for each other that will allow us to know what cannot break what was not meant to be broken. I believe that when we act with love and faith in God and in each other we can never make things worse, only better. If some things break, or change, we must have faith that this is what God has meant to happen and all things will be made right and whole in the end. We as a community must not be afraid to go out into the wilderness. We must trust in one another, in ourselves that we might wander, and suffer, and it might be hard and our faith might be tested but in the end we will come out a community, whole and faithful. This ability to go out into the wilderness is not just an act of faith in one another but an act of faith in God. We must believe that God loves us enough that we can go into the dark, into the wilderness, to do things that we are afraid of doing, and God will bring us home. I believe that we are never truly lost, and that God will always bring us home, but we as a religious community must also believe this.

I gave this message in Meeting for Worship on Sunday. After Meeting I attended a Bible study session. The Friend who was leading the session told us the story of how she came to choose the passage we were going to read. She said she had written everything out after being told she was going to lead Bible study at the conference, but then one Firstday she had been sitting in Meeting and had gotten a leading for us to read Genesis 16 in Bible study. She said she had no idea why the Spirit was leading her to this passage but she trusted in the Spirit and changed her plans for the Bible study. Genesis 16 is the story of Hagar, who is a slave to Sarai, and conceives a child by Abram. She then looks with contempt on her mistress who cannot conceive, so Sarai deals harshly with her and Hagar runs away into the wilderness. There she sees an Angel of the Lord who tells her she will have a son and what to name him. Hagar then realizes she is talking to the Lord and names him El-roi or literally “God who sees.” She is the only Old Testament figure that I know of to directly name God.

Today as a Young Friend in Residence intern I think a lot about having faith. Hagar had faith, when she had no reason to, she trusted God when she was in the worst situation a person could be in and God found her important enough to come down and talk to face to face. I think about having the faith to make changes to go out into the wilderness even when it feels like we don’t know where God is leading us. I think about the faith it takes to come home again. To say “yes this is what God wants for us.” If YFIR has taught me nothing it is as friends it isn’t good enough to have faith in just yourself and your relationship with God. You need to have faith in each other and their relationship with God even if it looks nothing like your own. You have to say, “trust that you are Spirit led too, even if you use completely different language from me.” YFIR has taught me to say, “lets take a change and build something that’s never been there before.” Its also taught me to step back and acknowledge that sometimes you can’t invent the wheel twice and there are Friends out there who have done some of this work before.

Friends we need to have faith: faith in God, faith in ourselves, faith in each other. The faith to go our into the wilderness and meet God face to face and the faith to come home

Better Is One Day

Over the years my daily spiritual practice has been a combination of silent prayer and reading. Sometimes the amount I committed to daily would be different, and over time the reads would change. This combination though has always stayed the same.

This year however seems to have heralded a great deal of change of in my life. Different kind of job, different kind of social community, different part of the country. God has also called me to do things I have never done before and in some cases don’t consider myself particularly skilled at. My daily spiritual practice has also changed. Over the last couple months I have been listening to Christian rock as a spiritual practice. I listen to songs for about a hour or so and see where they lead me spiritually.

I have found it surpriseling fruitful. I have always had a strong connection with music and although I do not sing or play any kind of instrument, I find worship through music extremely moving. Often the Christian rock songs that I listen to are joyful, ecstatic expressions of praise. They help remind me that God is good, even when I feel frustrated and burned out. They are fun to listen to and often move me to a deeper understanding of how God is moving in my life. Some of the songs lyrics I disagree with on a theological level but they express such a strong belief in a Church that is bigger then our individual congregation and denomination it reminds me that the Kingdom is not made simply of theological like-minded individuals.

Most of all I think I am learning how diverse the community of young rock musicians who praise God through their music really is. Increasingly I am believing that it isn’t simply that we are all heading in the same direction but that we are in fact all on the same road heading in the same direction.

Christian Rock Songs I Particularly Like:
Undefeated by Audio Adrenaline
Only Grace by Matthew West
If We Are The Body by Casting Crowns
The Center by Matthew West
Better Is One Day by Kutless
We Could Be Brilliant by All Star United
Take You Back by Jeremy Camp
Stand Up by Fireflight
Next Thing You Know by Matthew West
Pray for Me by Plumb
The End by Matthew West
Everything Glorious by David Crowder Band
Praise You In the Storm by Casting Crowns
Kingdom Comes by Sara Groves
Point of Difference by Hillsong United
You Never Let Go by Matt Redman
Beautiful Stranger by Rebecca St. James