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Archive for March, 2013


The prophet Anna appears in only three verses of New Testament scripture, in the story of Joseph and Mary presenting the baby Jesus in the Temple. She and the prophet Simeon were two seriously patient lovers of God, waiting as they did their whole lives in and around the Temple for the moment when the child of destiny would be sent to them for their blessings.

Think about that. Some of us can’t even wait for dinner and drinks on a Friday night–or for football season; or for the President or GOP’s minority leader to be gone from elective offices; or for the porn fest of ultra-violence with little or no redeeming social or spiritual value coming soon to a theater near you.

Anna and Simeon waited, and waited, patiently, prayerfully, for something that mattered.

Does anything matter anymore in Western culture?

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Get out your Holy Bible, if you will, and read Luke 2: 21-40. Then, for today’s step in our continuing Lenten journey, mull on this excerpted profile of Anna from The Life with God Bible (NRSV), which was previously published as The Renovare Spiritual Formation Bible.

See here for more on Richard J. Foster and Renovare.

And God bless the women of the world who have made such a difference in this broken world in what is International Women’s Month (March).

The prophet Anna (along with the prophet Simeon) waited with extreme patience for the big day that finally came when Joseph and Mary presented the baby Jesus to the Lord in the Temple.

The prophet Anna (along with the prophet Simeon) waited with extreme patience for the big day that finally came when Joseph and Mary presented the baby Jesus to the Lord in the Temple.

Anna, a prophet of the tribe of Asher, had married and lived with her husband seven years before becoming a widow. She never remarried, choosing instead to take up residence in the Temple. Luke tells us she ‘worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day’ (2:37). Her love for God and worship of him filled all her waking moments. When Mary and Joseph came to present Jesus, eighty-four-year-old Anna gave thanks to God and spoke to them about their miraculous baby, the promised Redeemer.

We may not identify with Anna’s call to prophecy or her living situation, yet her commitment to the Spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting and worship–a life focused in mind, body, and activity on engaging with God–is a commitment we all can pursue.

Brother Lawrence, a seventeenth-century monk, informs us in his writings that we can pray and worship both in times of focused quiet and spiritual activity and in times of work and routine daily life. Brother Lawrence served in the monastery’s kitchen, performing mundane work familiar to most of us, yet he developed a way of focusing on God’s presence throughout all his days. In his timeless work Practicing the Presence of God, he reveals his focused perspective: “Applying my mind to these thoughts in the morning and then spending the rest of the day, even in the midst of my work, in the presence of God, I considered that he was always with me, that he was even within me.

The disciplines of prayer, fasting and worship are powerful tools that allow us to practice God’s presence through all facets of our being, to live daily and hourly as a dwelling place of God. As Anna rejoiced at the coming of Jesus, our Immanuel, we too can experience the thrill of Jesus, “God with us,” in increasing measure as we make prayer, fasting and worship central in our lives.

Personal Reflection
— How often during the course of a typical day are you attentive to God’s presence with you? Is your prayer limited to mealtimes and formal devotional times, or do you often turn to God in the activity of your day?

— Have you tried fasting, either from food or from some other habitual activity in your life (TV, radio, newspaper, e-mail, Internet), in order to engage in greater worship of God? What kind of difference would, or could, or does, the practice of fasting make in your life with God?

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Now that I’m sinking back into the Belizean hammock after a two-week magical mystery tour back in the Texas homeland I thought I’d get back to our Lenten postings here by sharing a few thoughts with you, dear reader, about our Christian cross.

At poor Joel Osteen’s expense.

God bless him.

He’s a nice guy, I’m sure.

Crossofashes

I spent a lot of time and way too many budget-busting dollars prowling around American bookstores back home and loading up my suitcases with books. I found that some things in American bookstores never change.

Take Joel Osteen. Please.

Book stores–secular and Christian book stores–love this guy.

Can you say sales?

Can you say $$$$$?

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I’m not a big fan of Osteen and what is often described–and rightfully so–as his “Theology Lite.”

As TV preachers go, he’s certainly a “success” in that he has millions upon millions of faithful TV viewers, not to mention kazillions of buyers of his books and tapes and such. Every bookstore I tramped around in back home had his books and tapes and stuff prominently displayed in the Christian and Religion sections.

But my many issues with Osteen start with the issue of his gargantuan Houston church not having a cross anywhere to be found in it or outside of it. It seems to me that a Christian church with no cross is like a football field with no goal lines or goal posts and, for that matter, no out-of-bounds.

This omission of a cross, however, fits with Osteen’s “prosperity theology,” where the message essentially is that if you just do good and positive Christian kinda stuff, God will richly bless you not only spiritually but materially. You’ll be blessed with a good job, nice car and teeth that never need cleaning or whitening.

God is that good.

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Look at Osteen himself–he’s such a good guy and preaches such happy gospel love that God has blessed him and the Mrs. with kazillions of dollars and possessions. They have prospered like nobody from prosperity theology.

What is left out of the Osteen message, however, is that bad and horrible things happen to even good people who worship at the altar of the church of Osteen. I think it was Jesus–or was it beer lover Martin Luther–who said that the rain falls on the good and the righteous alike.

Forgive me for being critical here, you legions of Osteen fans and admirers. I’m sure he’s a genuinely nice guy, just like the guy he presents himself to be to all those kazillions of fans and admirers who watch his TV show and buy his books and tapes and stuff.

But here’s one hitch: Jesus wasn’t always a nice guy. Had he been as nice as Joel Osteen seems to be–and had he preached the kind of really nice guy, “prosperity gospel” that Osteen preaches, he never would have been tortured and nailed to a cross to die a horrible death.

So maybe it’s fitting, after all, that Osteen’s “church” has no sign of a cross.

I just have to say that I think Joel Osteen is a great salesman who is selling a sweet self-improvement message that no doubt makes people feel good about life and themselves–at least until something really, really and really bad happens to such good people.

Osteen is not a preacher nor even a teacher of the true gospel of our Lord and savior Christ Jesus who in referencing Psalm 22 cried out like a very human being from the cross, with blood trickling down from head to toe, “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?”

Pastor Angus at First Methodist Church in the capital city of Belmopan, Belize, making the sign of the ashes at the church's evening Ash Wednesday service I attended.

Pastor Angus at First Methodist Church in the capital city of Belmopan, Belize, making the sign of the ashes at the church’s evening Ash Wednesday service I attended.

The official religion in the time of Jesus taught that the Messiah would be a heroic figure of the sort who would ride into town on a big white steed wielding a sword and doing the Superman thing on oppressive religious authorities, not to mention the Romans who held power over the religious authorities and everybody else.

The disciples themselves were conditioned to expect this sort of Messianic savior, which is why Peter reacted strongly against the cross. The gospel according to Mark says this in chapter 8:

“[Jesus] then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.”

Someone condemned to die on the cross was considered “cursed by God” according to the law of God as spelled out in Deuteronomy 21: 22-23. Get out your bible and look that one up, you who yearn to be students of the cross that is nowhere to be found in a famous Houston megachurch.

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The Lenten journey to glory is through the cross. There’s just no two ways–horizontal or vertical–around the importance and significance of the Christian cross, which, by the way, is not so much costume jewelry to be worn with your Easter bonnet.

Not that I have a serious issue with Christian crosses worn as jewelry and I love women in Easter bonnets.

But Christian crosses missing from buildings supposedly sanctified as churches–and Christian theology without the cross–with that I have bones to pick.

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No one loved pleasure more than Francis; he had a ready wit, sang merrily, delighted in fine clothes and showy display. Handsome, gay, gallant, and courteous, he soon became the prime favourite among the young nobles of Assisi, the foremost in every feat of arms, the leader of the civil revels, the very king of frolic. But even at this time Francis showed an instinctive sympathy with the poor, and though he spent money lavishly, it still flowed in such channels as to attest a princely magnanimity of spirit.”

— From the Catholic Encyclopedia (more, click here)

His Greatness St. Francis, the peacemaker and nature lover.

His Greatness St. Francis, the peacemaker and nature lover.

St. Clare: She always stopped and asked for directions when her spiritual partner St. Francis got them lost.

St. Clare: She always stopped and asked for directions when her spiritual partner St. Francis got them lost.

The so-called “Peace Prayer of St. Francis” doesn’t appear in any known writings of His Greatness Saint Francis, a military veteran and party boy who settled down and gave up a life of wealth and privilege for poverty; rebuilt a church that was in shambles on a divine command; dismounted from his trusty steed one day and kissed a leper on the lips; risked his life reaching out to some nasty enemies; and became one of world history’s greatest friends of animals and nature.

Francis is famous for, among other things, “The Peace Prayer of Saint Francis,” which is attributed to him. But there is no written record of his ever speaking or writing it, even though it certainly has the powerful theology and spirit of St. Francis in it.

It first appeared in a French magazine in 1912. It was often seen printed on a small card that had a picture of Francis on one side and the prayer on the other. It’s far and away my favorite prayer and there’s no time like the present for re-posting here, yet again.

And for a word about his spiritual partner St. Clare–this is a very nun-friendly blawg as longtime readers know–click here.

And may the peace of Christ and St. Francis, the sort of peace that surpasses all understanding, be with you in our continuing Lenten journey.

“O Lord, make me an instrument of Thy Peace!

Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.

Where there is discord, harmony.

Where there is doubt, faith.

Where there is despair, hope.

Where there is darkness, light.

Where there is sorrow, joy.

Oh Divine Master, grant that I may not
so much seek to be consoled as to console;

to be understood as to understand;

to be loved as to love;

for it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.”

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“Come to me, you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest,” Jesus said. The Pharisees that Christ Jesus so passionately opposed were all about laying burdens and hardships on people. Jesus came along and spoke of his light yoke and urged the people to come to him for rest. The last thing on God’s green earth he wanted to do was to burden people. He came to liberate people back then, and can liberate us now, from the suffering and misery and indignities imposed by control freaks and power brokers. Here’s a word on resting in the love and grace of Christ from the prolific, evangelical Christian writer Max Lucado, for your Lenten thought for the day:

Catholic Church in San Pedro on Ambergris Caye, Belize

Catholic Church in San Pedro on Ambergris Caye, Belize

We so fear failure that we create the image of perfection. The result? The weariest people on earth. Attempts at self-salvation guarantee nothing but exhaustion. We scamper and scurry, trying to please God, collecting merit badges, and scowling at anyone who questions our accomplishments.

Hebrews 13:9 says, “Your hearts should be strengthened by God’s grace, not by obeying rules.” Jesus doesn’t say, “Come to me, all you who are perfect and sinless.” Just the opposite. “Come to me all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”

Let grace happen, for heaven’s sake. No more performance for God, no more clamoring after God. Of all the things you must earn in life, God’s unending affection is not one of them. You have it. You can rest now!

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“What you did to the least person, you did to me.”

— Jesus, Matthew, 25:40

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“When we speak about wisdom, we are speaking of Christ.

“When we speak about virtue, we are speaking of Christ.

“When we speak about justice, we are speaking of Christ.

“When we speak about peace, we are speaking of Christ.

“When we speak about truth and life and redemption, we are speaking of Christ.”

—- St. Ambrose of Milan

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“If you are what you should be,

“you will set the whole world ablaze!”

–St. Catherine of Sienna

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“Pray as though everything depended on God.

“Work as though everything depended on you.”

–St. Augustine

St Teresa of Avila

St Teresa of Avila

“We always find that those who walked closest to Christ were those who had to bear the greatest trials.”

–St. Teresa of Avila

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“Earn all you can, give all you can, save all you can”
-― John Wesley

Mountainside "Church of the Burning Waters," Succotz Village, Belize

Mountainside “Church of the Burning Waters,” Succotz Village, Belize


“Our hearts were made for You, O Lord,

“and they are restless until they rest in you.”

— Augustine

Remembering young son at family site, Santa Elena, BZ

Remembering young son at family site, Santa Elena, BZ

“Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort me and restore me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.”

–St. Patrick

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“Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”
-― John Wesley

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For our Lenten meditation today we might consider how to find silence and solitude and real quality quiet time with God in a world where you can’t pump gas in your car without being subjected to the “f bomb” being blasted out of some dude’s Batmobile at 120 decibels.

And then there’s the loud clowns shouting each other down at Fox News and MSNBC.

Lord help us all–we need quality, spiritual quiet time to cope with it all.

So let’s meditate on the importance of silence and solitude as spiritual tonics.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,

the holy habitation of the Most High.

God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved.

God will help it when the morning dawns. . . .

Be still, and know that I am God!”

— From Psalm 46

Jesus was always withdrawing from the noise and demands of the masses in order to find silence and solitude–and that in order to re-connect with the Father/Mother/Creator.

The world is noisier than ever and I’m ok with noise as long as I have some control over it. I like my rock and roll–this blog is called Jitterbugging for Jesus after all–and rock is made to be played loud.

But I never know when I dart into a Walgreens or CVS what kind of god-awful music might be inflicted on me, quite possibly at 90 decibels.

I never thought I’d miss “elevator music,” but at least it was soft and low and you weren’t necessarily aware of it even playing.

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And then there’s the guy who rumbles up to the gas pumps with the nastiest and most violent “music” imaginable blaring at ear-piercing volumes, with a thumping bass line that rattles the earth.

This is why I don’t own a gun; not that I would shoot the guy. I would just blow up his music box and get arrested and then would have to try to explain this not only to a judge, but worse than that, explain my less than pastoral behavior to the bishop.

"God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change , though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea. tough its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult." -- from Psalm 46

“God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change , though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea. tough its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.” — from Psalm 46

We don’t all have to be monks or monkish-like in our spiritual life, although we could do a lot worse than to practice something like Benedictine spiritual disciplines (click here).

But taking real, intentional, significant amounts of time for some silence and solitude in our prayer and meditation time is the spiritual tonic that empowers us to better cope with a noisy, demanding and often mad, mad, mad, mad world.

Even taking periodic breaks during a hectic and stressful day for a minute of five or ten minutes of silence and/or solitude and/or prayer, or scripture reading, and breathing real breaths of life, is doable, no matter how demanding and stressful and intense our life is.

And this is how to you take such breaks for periodic, spiritual withdrawal during even an overwhelming day when the world is just too much with you:

Just do it.

The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;

He utters his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord of hosts is with us;

the God of Jacob is our refuge.

Come behold the works of the Lord . . .

Be still, and know that I am God!!!!

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Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou

”There is a kind of strength that is almost frightening in black women. It’s as if a steel rod runs right through the head down to the feet.”

— Maya Angelou, interview broadcast, Nov. 21, 1973.
“A Conversation with Maya Angelou,”
Conversations with Maya Angelou (1989).

“Touched by an Angel”
Maya Angelou

We, unaccustomed to courage
exiles from delight
live coiled in shells of loneliness
until love leaves its high holy temple
and comes into our sight
to liberate us into life.

Love arrives
and in its train come ecstasies
old memories of pleasure
ancient histories of pain.
Yet if we are bold,
love strikes away the chains of fear
from our souls.

We are weaned from our timidity
In the flush of love’s light
we dare be brave
And suddenly we see
that love costs all we are
and will ever be.
Yet it is only love
which sets us free.
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“Two Lengths has every Day”
Emily Dickinson

Two Lengths has every Day —
Its absolute extent
And Area superior
By Hope or Horror lent —

Eternity will be
Velocity or Pause
At Fundamental Signals
From Fundamental Laws.

To die is not to go —
On Doom’s consummate Chart
No Territory new is staked —
Remain thou as thou art.

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