Practicing Christian…believing Christian?

I was recently at a retreat where our presenter, Jane Vennard, talked about the way she described herself in the forward to her book Fully Awake and Truly Alive. Her description intrigued me, and I’ve been thinking about the meanings of the descriptions she used.

She describes herself as a “practicing Christian” rather than a “believing Christian.” A first response might well be, “Then how can she describe herself as a Christian?” But as I’ve thought about those words, the more sense they make…and are words that I want to claim as my own descriptors.

While others might have different reactions to the choice of words, here’s how they strike me.

Describing oneself as a “believing Christian” has been the default for many of us for many years–and is perhaps the simplest way of defining oneself. That means that there’s a specific list of beliefs that we agree with. It doesn’t necessarily require anything other than saying, “Yes, I believe that…I agree with that.” It allows me to sit comfortably in my pew (or chair) on Sunday morning, nodding my head in agreement, and then going back home until the next time the church doors are open.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing to identify as a believing Christian…but I think it’s incomplete.

To be a “practicing Christian” is harder. It’s not that there is a specific list of beliefs that I have to agree with. Rather, my focus is on trying to emulate the example of the one we call the Christ…being with people…listening to them…bringing healing when possible…sharing good news…and all the other things that Jesus did when he walked on this earth. Beliefs may (or may not) grow out of these actions–but if I am working at being a practicing Christian, then my relationships with the people I meet will certainly have more in common with the kinds of ministry Jesus brought.

Ideally I can be both a practicing and a believing Christian…if my beliefs call me to actions that emulate the One whose name I claim. But if it comes down to a choice between them, I will choose to be a practicing Christian because I think that is much more in line with the challenge given to us in Matthew 25:31-46 (this is The Message version):

When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.

Then the King will say to those on his right, “Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.”

Then those “sheep” are going to say, “Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?” Then the King will say, “I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.”

Then he will turn to the ‘goats,’ the ones on his left, and say, “Get out, worthless goats! You’re good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because—

I was hungry and you gave me no meal,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
I was homeless and you gave me no bed,
I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,
Sick and in prison, and you never visited.”

Then those “goats” are going to say, “Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn’t help?”

He will answer them, “I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.”

Sounds of silence…

When I was in college, I loved a song by Simon and Garfunkle–“The Sounds of Silence.” In it, silence was presented in a negative way…as a cancer that grows…as something that separates people.

But silence can also be a profoundly powerful experience.

I just returned from a weekend contemplative retreat…an opportunity to use silence as a way of “going deeper” in a community that is taking a spiritual journey together.

We had opportunity to come together and share with each other verbally–but we also had significant time to choose not to have to speak. That didn’t mean we ignored each other…far from it! We discovered there are other ways of communicating, ways that often say more than our words do.

When we did talk, we discovered that taking time to intentionally consider our words meant that what we did say had the opportunity of being more meaningful.

But perhaps more importantly, we had the opportunity in the silence to listen for the voice of God…a voice too often drowned out in the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

And we heard that voice in many ways…in the songs of the birds…in the gentle breeze…in the smiles and hugs we shared with each other…and yes, even in the words that came to our minds as we intentionally listened for them.

 

Easter Monday prayer

Risen God–
We have just celebrated a day of new life…new hope…
of love…unconditional love.

And yet…
around us we see hate…
fear of “the other”
that says it is fair and right
to murder and destroy.

The risen Christ
says that life conquers death…
that love conquers hate.

Give us strength
to live that way…
to be living examples…
to bring comfort to those who mourn…
and peace to a war-torn world.

Help us be Easter people.
Amen.

Easter blessings

Easter cartoon

I saw this cartoon on Facebook and thought it was a fun way to think about Easter. For those of you who may not be familiar with Schrodinger, he was an Austrian physicist who created a hypothetical thought experiment. It involved placing a living cat into a chamber with a hammer, a vial of acid, and a small amount of a radioactive substance. If there was any decay of the radioactive substance, a relay mechanism will trip the hammer which will break the vial of acid and cause the cat to die. The observer doesn’t know whether that decay has happened and so doesn’t know whether the cat is alive or dead…so, the cat is both alive and dead until someone looks in the box.

So…what about Jesus? Dead or alive? or dead and alive? or …?

We know he died. And we also know he is alive–whether that is a physical life, a spiritual life, or life in us. And so that’s why I am amused at this cartoon…I hope you are, too.

But regardless…I wish you Easter blessings of peace and joy…and hope!

Paris is no longer burning…response?

The fire at Notre Dame is out and we are beginning to see pictures of the damage…which, while horrific, is not as severe as everyone feared. Some of the significant works of art and relics were saved, and the main organ appears to have survived. The smaller organ may not have been as fortunate, but that is yet to be determined. And it appears that what is left of the cathedral is structurally sound.

Praise God for the firefighters who battled for hours, sometimes risking their lives, to save as much as possible of the cultural, artistic, and spiritual symbol.

And I am grateful for the many people who have stepped up to donate for the rebuilding of Notre Dame.

But it also makes me wonder.

What is it about this building that has caused such an outpouring of financial support?

What about the many other needs? These are just a few:

  • The black churches in Georgia that were burned because of white nationalism?
  • The people of Puerto Rico who are still struggling to recover from their last hurricane?
  • The people of Flint, many of whom still do not have clean water?
  • The immigrants who are trying to find a better life for their families, but who instead have often found their families torn apart and still have not been reunited?

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t help Notre Dame. But if Notre Dame calls us to worship Christ, then that call is to

  • feed the hungry.
  • visit the sick and those in prison.
  • clothe the naked.
  • take in the stranger.

Buildings are important symbols…but they are just that. If their meaning is of value, then we need to live out what they call us to.

Paris is burning

The first time I ever heard those three words was in a slightly different order (Is Paris Burning?) when I picked up a book about Hitler’s determination to destroy the city during World War II. The city survived–and has flourished.

But today…

Notre Dame Cathedral

Today, the city…and the world…is in mourning. The beautiful historic symbol of faith and France–Notre Dame–is in flames, even as I type this. The spire has fallen, the roof has collapsed, evacuations are being ordered because of fears that the walls may collapse outward…

A building that has stood for 600 years as a testament to the power of faith…that has touched many with the art and music that has come from it…that has survived multiple wars and bombings…is now being lost to us.

It is ironic that the fire is occurring during Holy Week. Perhaps it is an irony that can cause those of us who claim Christianity to better understand the feelings of those early apostles during the first Holy Week.

Yesterday was a day of celebration…the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. Towards the end of the week, the faithful will be being reminded of the dark days when it seemed that everything Jesus stood for was lost…that there was no future. I am sure that is how many are feeling right now as they watch the flames.

And yet…something new arose from the ashes of that first Holy Week. And that same faith can continue to cause us to hope that something new will arise from these ashes. It’s far too early to know what that might be…but faith does not die because a building is lost.

Faith is a trust…a belief…in something that cannot be seen. It is more than hope. It is more than buildings. And so, even as we mourn this loss–just as the disciples mourned the death of Jesus–we trust that a new day will dawn…that something new will arise from the ashes.

Into the desert

Somehow it seems appropriate that during this season of Lent I feel at times like I am in the desert.

Last Sunday’s lectionary scripture was about Jesus going into the desert after his baptism for a time of preparation that included testing. His response to those tests helped him know whether he was ready to begin his ministry.

I’m not really sure why I feel like I’m in the desert. I don’t think I’m facing any specific tests…although perhaps I am. Just not the specific kinds of tests that Jesus faced.

Part of what I’m facing is the need to let go of the desire to “fix” people…to make them conform to my expectations. That’s not really a bad thing, if those expectations include decisions that would lead to healthy living…but I have to allow them to make their own decisions if they are going to become who they have the potential of becoming. I may cringe at some of those decisions (and I do), but it’s not my responsibility to “fix” them. I can guide and offer suggestions, but ultimately I have to let them go.

Another part of what I’m facing is my frustration with the gap I see at times between what people say they believe and what words and actions show. I’m guilty of this as well, I know–and so I need to offer grace. I think, though, the challenge I face is between giving grace–and calling out the gap when it is harmful to others.

And I know that there are still some tender places that need to continue to heal from past experiences. Being in the desert forces me to face them…forces me to consider my own role in those experiences. It’s not necessarily pleasant, but it’s important for me to acknowledge that fault in those situations is not one-sided.

I’ve been in the desert before, and I’ll probably be there again. So I know that I will emerge from this experience stronger than I was before…more prepared for ministry opportunities that may be coming my way.

But it still doesn’t mean that going into the desert is fun.

It’s not. But it’s an essential part of the spiritual journey.

woman wearing purple hooded jacket sitting on rock

Photo by Pete Johnson on Pexels.com