My Personal Theology

I was asked once to write out exactly where I come from doctrinally. Now that I have studied Theology at the masters level, I feel I can explain what I believe with extreme detail. Here is my “Personal Theology.” Please bear in mind that I love ancient writing styles. If this feels cold and heady to you, your concern is well-taken. I borrowed extensively from the style of the second Nicean Creed. I gravitate to it because it is rich in meaning and its ancientness reinforces to me how eternal the Christian Hope really is.

For those who are interested, here is a personal statement of faith. This should help make clear where I come from theologically.

I believe in one God: the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth

The one who was, who is and who is to come; the one who has always been; to whom there was no beginning; the one who always will be; to whom there will be no ending; the Alpha and the Omega

I believe in one God: Jesus Christ, His only son, our Lord; God from God, Light from Light, eternally begotten of the Father, begotten, not made. Through Him, God created all things. He is at once the living word of God, the eternal Son of the triune God, and a man of flesh and blood. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin, Mary, was betrayed and deserted by his friends, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried. He descended into hell and on the third day rose again from the grave. He ascended into Heaven where he sits at the right-hand of God the Father. From thence he shall come to judge all people with equity, justice, righteousness and grace

I believe in one God: the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, the giver of comfort, the eternal wisdom, who dwells within and journeys with the children of God, the giver of spiritual gifts; the one who bestows true revelation and understanding of God; the one through whom the scriptures are revealed and understood; the breath of life to all things; the one who speaks unspeakable prayers to the Father; our defense against the assaults of the evil one

I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church, one baptism for the remission of sins, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the reconciliation of the estranged, the redemption of all creation, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting

One day all things will be made new and every tear will be wiped away.

Good Friday

Every year on Good Friday, I can’t help but feel very sad. This is the part of the human story that hurts. Today in a day of pain. But I also remember that today is NOT a day of guilt. Guilt was slain on the cross with Jesus. While I am sad and sorry that this day had to happen all those years ago, I also know that today’s word is the next-to-final word, not the final word itself. The sorrow and grief of today, and the confusion of tomorrow make the final word of Easter Sunday all the sweeter. Just as a cure is more appreciated after a diagnosis of illness, so also resurrection life is far more beautiful when we remember that one had to die in order to rise again. For creation to be redeemed, a price had to be paid. We would do well to remember that Easter is worthless without Good Friday, just as Good Friday is worthless without Easter.

Messiah

My most favorite piece of Christian Art is George Frederick Handel’s Messiah. As an audio-visual learner, I engage with things I hear at a deep level and I remember things I hear exceptionally well.

I love Messiah because it fits well into more than one season in the Christian year. It’s most popular to hear Messiah around Christmas time, which is very fitting. But Messiah is a very powerful work for Easter time as well. I have always, even as a small child been attracted to how this work speaks into both events. Considering it theologically, Messiah makes a claim that Christmas and Easter are closely linked. I agree with that. As Ross Douthat wrote in the New York Times in response to the events in Newtown, CT, the cross looms over the stable. This is a good word for right now, and I think it’s a generally good way to remember Christmas. That this babe in cloths came into the world to redeem all creation, and that task will cost him his life. But the fact that the “Halleluiah” Chorus reminds us is that Christ didn’t stay dead. Christ rose again!

My two favorite parts are the beginning tenor piece from Isaiah 40:1-5. “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people sayeth your God, sayeth your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem and cry unto her that her warfare, her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned.” This is my favorite passage in the whole bible and the melody that Handel puts this powerful scripture to makes it perfect.

My second favorite is the ending, where for nearly 5 minutes the whole choir sings only one word, “Amen.” Not only is this artistically brilliant for an ending to any oratorio, but it creates an emotional vibe that confirms and supports what John writes many times earlier in Revelation, that these words are trustworthy and true.

Mostly, I love this work by Handel because to the emotional effect it has on me and so many other people. It is said that when this was first performed, the “Halleluiah” chorus came and the king of England jumped to his feet and stood at attention like he was a private in the army. Therefore, we all stand when this part comes. Any work of art that moves one who is arrogant as a human king to stand in pure respect is truly powerful and range and power of the feelings it wells up in me and my friends pared with the simple beauty of the music moves me more than any visual art.

Binding Wounds

I don’t mean to get overly political. This blog is not intended to be a political debate zone per se. But in the wake of two senseless shootings and the murders of numerous innocent people, especially kindergarteners in Connecticut, I feel like something needs to be said.

As I observe news outlets and my facebook news feed, I’ve seen the question come up about how do we contain such deadly violence. As is reasonable, many of my liberal friends bring up gun control. As is to be expected, my conservative friends express concern that the 2nd Amendment will get trampled under foot in an emotional response to tragedies like these.

I want to pose a different observation. I think there is a much deeper problem in our nation than too many guns being too easily available. I think the root of these horrible acts is a malady in our culture.

Studies have shown that as we become more and more connected through technology, ordinary Americans are also feeling more and more lonely. Feelings of isolation and and loneliness are at all-time highs. Our culture is creating a paradigm in which people are increasingly depressed, and carrying immense emotional pain, and have no community or avenue to work through their issues in a way that leads to health and wholeness.

I don’t want to say that restricting guns would not have prevented these awful events. No one will ever really know. What I do want to say is that we are a broken and hurting nation, and despite our many gadgets to keep in touch, we are living in increased isolation. I think this creates a rich environment for emotional and spiritual and psychological problems to grow worse and worse until they manifest themselves in very destructive ways.

In light of this, I have a question. We Christians say that God is in the business of binding up wounds, healing hearts and minds and restoring life. That’s very true. But what if God, in His wisdom has decided to use us as a means for accomplishing that business? God’s triune nature makes God naturally community-driven. What if God wants to use community in peoples’ lives to heal and bring wholeness?

What are we, God’s church doing to speak counter-culturally an invitation to intimate community?

What can we do to answer God’s call to bind the wounds of a hurting nation? How can we assist God in breathing new life into places of death? How can we reflect God’s Light into places of profound darkness?

When was the last time you asked someone how their doing and actually stayed long enough to hear their reply? How many of us actually know our neighbors?

Just some food for thought.

My God, the redeemer of all things, redeem these tragedies. May we, God’s beloved find and do our part in the consoling and healing of a wounded people. Come Lord, Jesus! Save your people!

Falling

A very dear friend recently wrote a blog post about their journey through a desert place. As I read and reread their post, my heart hurt for them. The feelings they share are similar to feelings I’ve had recently. They cause me to pause and think about where God is when we suffer.

Right now I am preparing to preach next Sunday. In the church year, this day is called “Christ the King Sunday” or “Reign of Christ Sunday.”

My friend’s post has caused me to ask, “How do we allow Christ to reign in our suffering? How does Christ’s kingly reign grow in us when we are thoroughly beaten down?”

One theme that keeps coming back to me the more I ponder this is Hope. Christ reigns in our hearts and in our lives when we have hope in a better time to come. Theologians call this Eschatological Hope. To me, this is claiming the promise that one day God will make all things new, put all things right and betting your life on it.

But where does hope come from in the bitter watches of the night? Where do we find hope when the world is so dark in our eyes that we cannot even see the hand in front of our face? How can we hope when the pain of our soul is blinding and despair’s talons close around us in a strangle hold?

The psalmist once wrote, “I will remember the Lord and his marvelous deeds of old.” (Psalm 77). The memory of God’s past good works on our behalf is where thankfulness begins, and thankfulness is where hope is born. When we actively remember God’s faithfulness in the past, we can look forward into the future, trusting God to make good on his promises because our hope for that is supported my our memories of God making good on promises in the past. Often this is an active conscious choice we have to make. Sometimes we need to choose on purpose to remember and give thanks.

But what if we can’t summon the thankfulness to bring forth hope?

I think it’s for times like these that God gives us friends and community. There are times when we try as hard as we can and just can’t find or choose hope on our own. The weight of our pain is too great. We long to hope again. We want more than anything to praise God; but we just can’t. In these times we must depend on our community to bear us up. Just like an injured hiker must be carried off the mountain by Search & Rescue, so the wounded Christian must be carried by their friends and lowered through the ceiling on ropes into the presence of Jesus. When our faith is weak and we cannot pray or sing, our friends must lift us up on their praises, songs and prayers. In these times, we must let our friends drag us to church and “fireman’s carry” us to the Lord’s Table.

We don’t need our friends to try and defend God to us when we argue with him or yell at him. That’s not helpful. God doesn’t need anyone’s defending and really all we want is for someone to sit with us in our darkness, put their arm around us and agree that it hurts.

This can be very difficult to do. Especially for “Fixers” like me. I want to suggest scriptures and doctrines. “Here, read this book! Pray this prayer! Listen to this song! Try this spiritual exercise!” As nice as those things are, what is far more effective and loving in a time of profound grief takes much more patience. What is most helpful is to just be present and caring. Unfortunately, grieving takes a long time. A person’s grieving process will not end quickly. Grief also comes in waves. A person will be in the dumps for a time and will seem to be feeling better, and then at some point days, weeks or months later, they’ll crash back into depression again. The best thing a friend can do is to pray for the griever and tell them regularly that they are praying. They can be physically present and willing to listen. And if the grief is profound and deep, they can encourage their friend to see a grief counselor. Deep grief is not the same as clinical depression and seeing a counselor is not saying there’s something “Wrong” with the person. They’re not crazy.

Our emotions are so complex and so integral to our general health and our ability to think and process data, that when we are emotionally or spiritually wounded, it is often very helpful to have someone guide us through the unraveling of our feelings. Sometimes we know that something is broken, but we need another to help us find where the wound is and how to help it to heal.

In the words of my favorite hymn for seasons of grief: “Abide with me, fast falls the eventide; the darkness deepens, Lord with me abide; when other helpers fail and comforts flee, Help of the Helpless, oh, Abide with me.”

Hope is contagious. It takes time, but one person’s hope can leak into another. There are times when it’s impossible to see or feel God with us, but God is still there working. A day does come when the wounds we carry are healed enough that the small candle flame of hope can see seen again and it’s tiny warmth can be felt once more. Then little-by-little, day-by-day, our vision clears and we can once again say on our own, “Lord reign in me.” and the best part is often our Lord’s response will be, “I already am, beloved one. Come to the table, I’ve prepared a meal for you.”

Some Thoughts On Joy

Almost a year ago, I wrote about joy around Advent. I wrote about joy in the midst of interruption.

This summer I was a chaplain (Spiritual Care) intern at a hospital where I encountered an amazingly diverse collection of people; both patients and medical staff. I spent most of my time on a Cardiothoracic unit which included both an ICU and a standard unit. During my summer there I encountered patients suffering from a wide range of maladies in their hearts and lungs, most of which either were life-threatening and/or required a very long stay in the hospital for treatment.

One thing I discovered pretty quickly when I arrived, was that the patients and staff who handled grave health issues well were not the ones who were tough. Hospitals have a way of breaking one’s toughness down pretty fast. The people who rose up to meet these health problems well were people with joy. I could see it in their faces, hear it in their voices. I could almost smell it in the air. It was something like the force being strong with them, only much, much deeper and more profound. As a student of ministry, I was intrigued by what this joy was and why some had it and others didn’t. So I watched and listened and I learned something about joy that I hadn’t been able to articulate before.

One day one of the social workers and I hosted a tea and reflection time on the unit. A dearly beloved patient had recently pass away and morale was low, so the two of us came to be supportive to the medical staff. While we were gathered around the break room table, I asked one of the veteran nurses (they liked to be called RN’s) how they find the strength to be so professional and caring day-in and day-out. Their response took me by surprise. They said, “We keep our professional role faces on while we’re at work and then we go and cry in our cars.”

“So how do you keep coming back to work?” I asked.

“I can only speak for myself, but I know they (patients) aren’t in my hands ultimately. I give them my very best while I have them and I have to trust that they’re in God’s hands when they leave, either on their own or not.”

That’s what joy is.

I wouldn’t take back anything I wrote before about joy, but that RN showed me another part of joy that is so important. Joy is a deep gladness that rooted in the understanding that we are safe in God’s hands.

Joy is what enables us to endure the darkest of nights, the storms of life and face mortality in a state of grace, because we know in our hearts that we are safe. Joy grows when we actively remember that good news that in Christ Jesus we rest secure in the palm of God’s hand knowing that God will never ever let us go (Romans 8:31-39).

This is what makes St. John’s Revelation a vision of Joy rather than terror. The waves of horror that are described are themselves bound by the greater power of the lamb. As bad as they are, God has the final word. Christ is the only one who get to say, “It is finished!”

The RN knew when their beloved patient passed away, that event did not have the final word.

Joy that abides is the sure and certain knowledge that the final word belongs to one who created us, covenanted with us, died for us, was raised for us and now holds us in an everlasting embrace.

Wise Words

Mirror's Enigma:

A dear friend of mine wrote this today. I think she is hitting the nail on the head. So rather than paraphrase, I think I’ll let you all get it in her own words.

Originally posted on live your hopes:

I have been overwhelmed by the response to my previous blog post. I have been encouraged by the conversations that have already begun to flow from it. Because it seems like an important issue right now, I have decided to continue the conversation in this venue. Before I do, I want to remind readers that I don’t speak for all young adults, I speak merely from my experiences at UPC and what I have observed through my own ministry here and through some of the relationships I have formed.

There are a lot of stereotypes about the young adult age group that stand as a barrier to ministry and connection. To be fair, at times we have a hand in perpetuating them, but lets go ahead and lay some of them out on the table so that we can begin to move beyond them.

1. We only come to…

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