What’s with the Sin, All the Time?

Christians talk about sin a lot. Google or tag surf the word “Sin”. Lots to read.

That’s a frequent criticism of the church. “What’s with the sin! You talk about sin all the time!”

We do, and we always have. The Philokalia, a collection of spiritual readings intended for Orthodox monks, has pages of lists of sins. I was raised in a Calvinist Baptist Church where the constant theme was “Avoid sinning.”  And we were told how to avoid sinning, mostly by staying away from the opposite sex. My logical little mind soon realized that staying away from the opposite sex did nothing to check gossip, lying, and envy among teenaged girls. Also, staying away completely from the opposite sex meant that the reason we stayed “pure’ – marriage – wasn’t going to happen. I knew a number of elderly spinsters in that Baptist Church.

Sexual immorality, of course, is the Big Sin for most evangelicals and fundamentalists. They see it (in a theological sense) as misplaced love, love that is owed to God and expressed in the basic relationship of a man and a woman loving each other and loving God together. Sex then becomes a mystery of the divine order rather than a physical human need. At that theological level, to misuse sex is the same as dishonouring a sacrament. (Please note that what I mean here by “sacrament” is theologically technical – not the sacraments of the church, but an action and a physicality that are sacred.)

The modern problem with emphasizing sexuality is that it becomes the focus of the definition of sin. It is so interesting! Prurience itself is a sin, when to hear about sex while being shocked by it becomes stimulating. Of course, sin is much more than sexual immorality.

Sin is anything that separates us from our love for God. Sin is always an idolatry of the self. We are more interested in pleasing ourselves than in pleasing God.

And isn’t it easy to excuse it, even as Christians? “It’s not vanity, I’m just trying to look nice for my husband.” “It’s not greed, I just think it’s okay for Christians to have nice things.” “It’s not envy, it’s just that she really doesn’t deserve that.” “It’s not pride, I just think I did a good job and should have some recognition.”

So the Church has talked about sin a lot, in order to alert us to its dangers. If I don’t tell you about the jagged rocks under the water ahead, your boat will probably hit them. Forewarned, you can steer around, or turn back if you must.

We can’t avoid sin in this world. It is a fallen world. Christ waits to restore it in the last days, with the saints in heaven asking, “How long, O Lord? How long?” We wait, but we wait amongst our own fallenness and the accumulated sin. We see it everyday – in broken lives, in hurt people, in hearts that may never mend from the injury done them in the name of human love. We see a polluted and damaged creation. Like cleaning up the tar balls on beaches after this latest oil spill, we can only mop up on the surface. The real damage goes much deeper. The real damage of an environmental disaster goes beyond ruined beaches, dead wildlife, and a crippled ecology. It goes down into our hearts, where luxury, greed, and desire pollute and corrupt us.

Our world is based on lies, the child of the father of lies. We are told daily that we need to look and act young, that we should be spending money on things and experiences, that the past is a dead and ugly thing. All of this leads to sins of the heart.

Why do we want to be young as we grow older? Is not grey hair the wisdom and glory of age? We must have been brainwashed, to think that being young is a good thing. Although I remember the carefree days, I also remember the overweening self-esteem that led me into some bad situations. I got in well over my head at times. I’m glad that’s all past.

Vanity is encouraged by those who want us to buy their products. Fifty-plus-year-old women don’t have lustrous dark hair, at least not many of them. Telling us that we need to look young (to get partners) is just a way to sell us a poisonous product to turn our hair a different colour. Make-up is the same thing, as well as face creams, foundation garments and figure-enhancing clothes. If you look like the middle-aged grandmother that you are, who is going to want to be your partner? Look, I figure that while I am married in middle-age, my husband is also middle-aged, and I dont’ need to look elsewhere or win anyone else’s admiration. If I wasn’t married, I don’t think I would look for a new partner. If God sent someone my way, he’d better be interested in a  grey-haired, Plain-dressed grandmother or keep on moving.

Vanity is a waste of money and time. Get used to yourself. Start young, and avoid the silly products, the waste of money and all the anxiety around dressing and looking like an advertisement.

Greed is subtle. We measure success in this world by money and possessions – the most fleeting of things. Beyond meeting our basic needs, why are we concerned about having ornaments and luxuries? So we can impress others? Be more concerned with the state of your heart before the Lord than with the state of your goods before the world! Keep possessions to a minimum, be easy to move if the Lord calls you elsewhere. You are only a pilgrim here.

We are brought up to be competitive, on the theory that good-natured competition encourages excellence. But it more likely encourages working for praise, and that leads to envy. We can’t seem to rejoice in another’s blessings without wondering why we didn’t get the preferment. Competition, along with the anxiety generated in us by an inundation of advertising meant to weaken our self-confidence, ruins our joy. Someone else can get the prize, or get the preferment, or get the promotion: The Lord has work for you that may not include any of those things. Be happy in the work of the Lord!

And when we do get the envied prize, the coveted preferment, the gainful promotion, then we are proud. We won! We are better! Have you ever noticed that the only personal trait in Jesus that is described to us is His sinlessness? It isn’t His skill in His trade, His athleticism, His rugged good looks. None of the usual traits that lead to fame are there. It is His willingness to do the work of the Father. Certainly, we must strive to be competent at our work, for we owe that to God who gives us our talents. But to desire and then gloat in worldly success because of them displaces them from heaven and drops them in the muck.

While we know we will not achieve sinlessness here in this world – for we are drawn into it not only by our own desires, but by the ways of the world that we cannot change – The Lord desires to forgive our sins and lead us in righteousness. All we need to do is walk in His light.

Pinball Wizards and the Church, But Mostly about Hospitality

Mother Kay and I watched an old episode of the reality show “Ace of Cakes” last night. (We are cake voyeurs.) Duff, the owner and head chef at Charm City Cakes, brought a pinball machine to the bakery to inspire a commissioned cake.  (Which was really a set display piece and not a cake, which must have been very disappointing to people who saw Duff deliver the cake at the pinball convention.)  Then the Stanley Cup came for a visit. The bakers play with light swords and helmets when they make Stars Wars cakes. They really get into their work.

I’m not a culture junkie, but let’s face the facts – we all want to have some fun at work. We all want to laugh a bit. We all like some games and a modicum of silliness. The great saints weren’t dead serious all the the time. They had a glass of wine with the monks, told jokes and ridiculous stories, and even Mother Teresa laughed and joked and hugged and partied a bit, in the midst of the tragedies that surrounded her in Calcutta. Fun and laughter engender creativity, which is part of our holy image.

I encourage churches to plant gardens. There’s a great deal of God-partnering creativity there, and who doesn’t laugh and smile when they see a garden growing and blooming? I used to have my confirmation students take on craft and art projects – big paper banners to hang in the church on special occasions. It wasn’t expensive, it wasn’t anything to last forever, but they got to contribute to the liturgy and the church environment. They had fun doing it.

I think the church hall could use a pinball machine. The hall could use a glass of wine and some music, too. Our hospitality to others and to ourselves is so weak. Don’t just serve lemonade on the lawn, serve it on the sidewalk! Have a meal after church service, a good meal, not a cheap meal, and put up signs all over the town “Join us at NOON Sunday for a celebration of joy!” If people know we are joyous and a fun bunch of people, who are that way because we love God and each other, they may join us at 11 am on Sunday. And if they don’t, well, they got to see a group of Christians who care.

All those meetings we have in the church – oh, lots of them, too many to count – they need to involve some fun components. Serve good coffee and snacks, creative snacks, not just the box of Tim’s doughnuts or the fruit tray. Bowls of yummy home-made granola. Fresh-baked bread and good cheese. Chocolate dipped strawberries.  (As an aside, seminarians learn to find the free food, usually laid on for the higher-ups like board members. And the skill persists. Nicholas and I were at someone else’s seminary a couple of years ago, working in their library. This wasn’t even our denomination; I was cataloguing a unique collection and he was reading John Howard Yoder. Their local clergy had sponsored a seminar and they left an unattended coffee buffet outside the auditorium. A quick glance up and down the corridor, and several muffins and a couple of cups of coffee walked away. At university, we theology students found that the business department that bordered our wing sponsored occasional buffet brunches.  They had chandeliers and couches in their lounge. We had plastic chairs out in the hall. We paid as much in tuition, so we felt no qualms about walking through the adjoining door and helping ourselves to the Friday fruit salad and danish.)

I’m not sure why we make people sit through church before we reward them with coffee and stale mini-donuts. Shouldn’t we set up a coffee and tea service in the narthex so people can refresh themselves through the sermon and the choir anthem?

I could say something here about food charity. Okay, I will. When buying for the food bank, don’t be stingy. There are just pennies difference between the cheap soup and the good soup, between oatie-o’s and the Gen’ral Mills brand that rhymes with Tear-ios. Poor people are always having to buy the cheaper brand. Buy them the good one! (And please stop donating the cans of black olives. You don’t like them, either.)

As for distant hospitality – why aren’t we fighting harder for food and water aid in places that have neither? Are we keeping it for ourselves, as if we needed all of it? We don’t. There are surpluses. Maybe I’ve said this before. If the U.S. Army can move entire military bases thousands of miles and set them up in hostile territory, why can’t they set up aid bases where they are needed? The “local corruption and war lords” argument is not working for me. There’s no money in it for oil companies, armament suppliers and the Pentagon overlords, so it doesn’t get done. Fight for it, out there! Write letters, email your bishop, throw some good demonstrations when and where they count. Forget the G8/G20 conferences. They never see the protesters, who now are known as thugs and troublemakers. (Fair or not, that’s how they are viewed.) How about a big sit-down protest at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC? Or in front of Westminster Abbey, or Notre Dame? Lots of signs saying “Feed the world now,” some speeches by celebrities, and don’t move for three or four days.

Hospitality is more than coffee after church; it is everything from a cup of cold water given in love to massive movements of rice and medicine in the name of the Lord. Are we stingy? Are we cheap?

If it were Jesus asking for bread, would you give Him a stale crust, or reach for the freshly baked whole wheat loaf?

Moving Away from Materialism

I don’t know if materialism as I mean it here is a philosophy. If it were, it would simply mean that one believes that things are real – have substance and “thingness,”  and don’t possibly disappear when we can’t see them, as poor old Barclay hypothesized. So that’s not what I mean.

What I mean is not just consumerism – which is part of materialism – that drive to buy and consume and accumulate – but a belief that possessions are good, and that one gains “good” from them beyond their functionality. We can’t deny that we use things, or that we need a certain number of things. We are tool-users, and there’s a reason for that. It makes our lives productive and safer. No one is proposing here that we go back to a paleolithic lifestyle, following herds of wild animals, dressed in who knows what, guarding our campfires carefully because we don’t have flint. I’m acknowledging that we need objects more sophisticated than a heavy rock.

The problem as I see it is that we have endued things with personality. Objects are not just objects – tools and conveniences – but have inherency, a status. “Valuable” is a word we attach to objects. It has value beyond utility. Its mere possession makes someone a “better” person, more worthy of admiration and flattery. (I’m going to avoid including ‘status” experiences here, a a somewhat different topic.) A person derives status from the object rather than the other way around.

Advertising creates a false status – this famous person uses this product, therefore his or her status is transferred to it; a consumer of the product can then derive some status from the product, presumably by some osmosis. In a way there is a logic to it. Tiger Woods is an excellent golf player. He chooses to use a certain kind of nine-iron because he knows what a good nine-iron is; if the consumer buys the same nine-iron, he will be using a better tool than the one he is using now. This is logical within its own little closed loop, but doesn’t take into account the facts outside the loop: Tiger Woods is paid to use that nine-iron and perhaps has not considered its full utility. Or the advertising shows him using it, but the one he uses in tournaments is different. Or it is a perfectly good and usable nine-iron, but without the inborn athletic ability and years of practice Mr. Woods has, the buyer will never realize maximum potential from the nine-iron, and may play no better than he did before.

Derived status just doesn’t work, does it?

So carrying a Coach or Gucci handbag, using l’Oreal hair dye and driving a Lexus do not confer status. They might excite envy in someone who is status-conscious, but the products themselves will not gain status for the one buying them. The Gucci bag will not get you the best table at Le Cirque. (If that is still around – I don’t know – although I just googled it and yes it is, with a huge five star boast. For those who don’t know, it is a restaurant in New York, once the hotspot for all the glitterati. A meal there would cost us a week’s wages.)

Status is illusory. I’m going to just make the bold statement – status is a lie. Advertising lies to you.

Some new products will make your life easier. If you hate ironing, the no-wrinkle shirt will please you and relieve the load of guilt you might feel when you don’t iron – but you have to take it out of the dryer while it is still warm, and you can’t hang it on the clothesline and expect that it will be wrinkle-free. It will make you do some work, too, but that might be a good exchange for you. Those all in one mop devices (rhymes with sniffer) with the disposable cloths for sweeping and washing floors might satisfy your cleaning needs, and you are comfortable with throwing out the little expensive nylon reinforced nonwoven nonrecycable sheets. You are probably not going to derive status from them; they are conveniences and you know it. (Yes, at first convenience products can endow status – in my mother’s day it was cake mixes. Forty years ago, you said something about your socio-economic bracket and the amount of social time you indulged if you were “too busy to bake.” Now you can buy cake mixes at the dollar store, and many children have never had a scratch-baked cake.)

Our culture – that of North America and Europe and the other areas of the globe we influence, which is a lot – has gone status mad. A young friend went to New York City for the first time this spring. She’s a girl from the country, but raised with television and fashion magazines. She’s no hayseed, although she isn’t experienced in the world. She had many memorable experiences in the city, and truly enjoyed her trip to all the cultural sites, but one of her most vivid memories is the other women buying rip-off designer handbags on the street from vendors selling goods packed in a shopping cart. These women were going back to small town Canada with bags that said Prada and Gucci, to a place where some of them will have to drive a tractor and sort seed potatoes. Where the heck are they going to derive this status? No one, I hope, is realy fooled that they got an authentic bag from Paris. How does this lie about status improve their lives any?

This may be materialism at its worst. It is the tremendous waste of resources that goes into making status objects, and the continued deception (most of it self-deception) that these objects confer good. It wastes the materials it takes to make the object, the cost of transporting it, the human energy of crafting and selling it, and the brain cells of the purchaser or recipient who should be thinking of more productive things than owing a fake Gucci handbag.

So having laid out my premise and perhaps having defended it, it’s time to get to the core of this argument.

People are more important than objects. Relationships with people matter more than relationships with objects.

We laugh at edgy comedy where money fixation is used as the punchline – the character who pledges his mother’s house on a short sale in the stock market, hoping to flip a stock fast enough and for enough profit to buy a new Lexus. And what if he fails? (Short sales being a gamble.) Mom will have to go live with his sister. (Cymbal crash, we all laugh.)

There’s the plot of the drama I watched last night – a Johnny Depp movie. He’s a young man in the nineteen-sixties who falls into the drug smuggling business. Despite numerous busts, despite jail time, despite getting married and having a child, he keeps going back to the fast lane. He’s got good intentions for this one last deal, but it always falls apart. He goes from the Miami palace and the jet set lifestyle to prison. On the way he alienates his parents, his first love, his friends, his wife and finally his adoring little daughter. While it is a cautionary tale, a tragedy in the classic sense, it would be tempting to a young person who might think they were smarter than old George Jung, the character Depp plays. He’s got the girls, the looks, the clothes, the toys, the drugs and alcohol. It’s party life. Even if he had succeeded, and had escaped the law, where would that life get him eventually? The same alienation, the same poor health, the same lack of self-understanding. And death.

Maybe we aren’t interested in the fast lane. But we can be just as material, just as grubbing, to get the things we want.

The church often wants to marry culture. It’s a mismatch. Jesus told us it would be. Anyone who can read the gospel with an open mind can see that. Although we have to live in this world, we are not of this world.

I believe the only way to defeat this materialism is to live entirely in God, following the way of Christ, which is a way of realtive poverty and a way of self-denial. For some, that may mean the poverty of a dedicated life religious, with no possessions at all except the clothes they wear, and complete celibacy. For others, it may mean asettled family life, just enough shelter and possessions to be reasonably self-supporting, and in the chastity of marriage. There may be minor variations on these themes, but it all comes down to humbling ourselves before God and embodying that humility in our ways of earning money, our appearance, our public discourse. We need to get rid of our mirros – the glass reflecting kind and the advertising we see in print and video. Mirrors begat anxiety; we are unsure of what we offer the world. We start judging ourselves and then we judge others.

Christ lived in holy poverty and with the interdependence of His group of disciples, based on a village-agrarian culture. It is still a good model, even if our “garden” is a farmer’s market. God calls us to humility in Him because we need that humility to live with others. And although I am communciating with you via this electronic medium, it is not nearly as good as if we could live in real-time community. We ar all spending too much time bathed in the glow of plasma screens and not enough time under the sun God provided. Our words are silent on deaf ears. Although we are building productive virtual communities, we need to look to ways to make them face to face and hand to hand.

I feel the world changing. Soon I believe we will be ready to move out into a real community of voices, smells, and the sights of  three-dimensional human faces. This virtual community can become a real community. The time is shifting fast. God is working in hearts, minds and through our hands.

Acceptance and the Church

As self-identified minorities have clamoured for a voice in government, education, culture and the church, I think some other voices got pushed to the edges and maybe even silenced. Traditional men have been complaining about this for a few years; they once held most of the influence and power, and now they are just a voice amongst many. That is a whole other issue. Should a group that has held power, and not always wisely, take a back seat (or backbench in parliament) and let others have a turn? Should they acknowledge that they need to make room? On the other side of that, they are often the best educated and most experienced, and still control most of the financial assets. How does all of that fit together in a changing world?

But another group that never had much power or influence directly still isn’t at the table. That is traditional women. Despite, in the Anglican Church, the influence and fund-raising ability of the Women’s Auxiliary and Anglican Church Women, traditional women have sat on the sidelines and pretty much still do. (And this despite the remarks about the Women’s Artillery and the Army of Church Women. The rectors of the past were right, that these were the only places where women did have power in the church, and often they wielded it with an iron fist, as far as they could reach.)

Even more than men in suits and ties, we traditional women are seen as archaic, an anachronism in a church and culture that prides itself on moving with the times. The elder women may still be in the parish kitchen in forty year old aprons, but we younger ones (though I am feeling older by the day) sit in the pews, but rarely do we sit on vestry or council. The church doesn’t know what to do with us. They don’t know how to help us find ministry. I am ordained and my traditional dress and manner still cause consternation and hesitation.

Partly the church has accepted the cultural perception of the Plain: that we have little education, are extremely shy, that we will be obstinate and immovable in making decisions. Traditional women are perceived as having no independent thought, and relying on their husband’s opinions for everything. This is despite the facts, that while some Plain people do not have advanced education, they are often self-educated, and Plain people outside the Old Orders may have university degrees; that a peaceful mind and a quiet voice are not necessarily signs of shyness; that we may come from many different backgrounds and have varying opinions from each other as well as from society. My independence and creativity are things my husband found attractive before we married, and he does not try to stifle that. He has always relied on my knowledge, experience and power of logic. While I may defer to him on many matters, (Shall we sell the car? Do we live in this town or the next one over?) he wouldn’t make a decision without taking into account what I think or want. This is just basic respect for another human being; it has nothing to do with power and authority, which are Christ’s.

The church doesn’t know what to do with us, and most don’t know how to begin to learn. Quite often, even though we have attended a church for a period of time, we find we never get to know the other members. They may exchange a few words at coffee hour, but we have never, in the last few years, been invited to a member’s home except as part of a church group. We can’t always invite others to our home, because of living arrangements, but it is indeed the burden on the older members to invite the new ones, not the other way around. This is just part of the general lack of hospitality rampant in the churches; once our strongest feature, we have completely lost a sense of building community. And thus we exclude others when Jesus called us to welcome them in, unconditionally.

So what should the church be doing, to welcome those who are on the edges, to encourage women to have a strong sense of who they are, to include those who just don’t fit the mold?

First, get rid of the mold. Stop being a shill for culture and be the body of Christ.

Second, look for wisdom first in scripture, and then in the traditions handed down from the Apostles. Stop trying to twist these into a modern shape.

Third, stop accomodating money and worldly power. Jesus had neither of these. He told us to stay away from them.

Foruth, stop looking at the outside of people and pray to the Holy Spirit to help us see what is inside.

Fifth, get away from programmes and workshops and books about how to be Church and just go do it. Look seriously at what Christ said, what Christ did, and how the Apostles lived that out. We are probably not going to put on sandals and walk everywhere, preaching the gospel in the marketplace, but it wouldn’t hurt if we did.

Traditional women, you will have to be supportive of each other. Plain or not, you be the welcoming ones: Hospitality is a traditional woman’s ministry. Live out your role in the body if Christ by doing what you do well. Bake, sew, nurse the sick, teach the children, grow produce for the hungry. In the work that is given to us we must be the leaders. Men in suits and women in high heels, no matter how much power and money they carry, will never see us as influenetial or even useful. Elders will have to shepherd the young. So the ACW will need to start recruiting traditional young women and making room for them. Worldly people may have to shut up and listen; insist in a Spirit-filled way that we are hear to be heard.

It is just a beginning. I believe the Lord is leading us to take a seat at the table, not just in the shadows. In our own way, with meekness and humility, we will need to be the voice of the past and the future. Plain has a lot to offer, and we are the ones who bear that tradition.

Post-Paschal Life

Those of us in the “Jerusalem” churches – those churches that derive their calendar and liturgy from the first practices of the church begun under St. James of Jerusalem – get very caught up in Lent, Holy Week and the Paschal celebrations. We get to Easter Week – the octave of Easter, the eight days beginning with Easter Sunday and ending the following Sunday – pretty much overstimulated and exhausted. We are stumbling pilgrims by the time we eat our paschal feast. Although I had no liturgical duties this year, I had many household duties and like the good cellarer I try to be, I felt run off my feet at times.

So the fast is over, the celebratory lamb roasted and the wine drunk; a rich desert tops it off and we finish up the leftovers over the next couple of days. Family gather, people call, it’s something like a wedding with the long church service and the feast after. We had a fair amount of poor health and stressful situations through the end of Lent and in Holy Week, but we made it through with peaceful hearts (mostly) and equanimity.

When I had a parish, I found Lent and Easter so tiring and stressful that I simply could not contemplate feasting on the Sunday. I collapsed after my last Paschal service, in no shape to cook or entertain. I would have some ready-made food and a bottle of wine, land on my couch, nibble and sip a bit through the afternoon, and probably fall asleep before ti was time to get up and feed the sheep.

One of the additional stresses was lambing, which wil fall between March and May, just like Easter. One might wonder why I kept at shepherding, but it was my ground. It kept me from becoming so esoteric and otherworldly that I would not have been able to relate to ordinary people. I tend to be ascetic, austere and intellectual, even though I love athletics and the outdoor life. But it is easier to just sit inside with a book, someone else bringing in the food and firewood. This is not real life – the ivory tower is not the world God created.

Even urban Christians need to get out in the fresh air sometimes. Even if it`s just a few tomato plants on a windowsill or balcony, for heaven`s sake and your own, grow something! Find a park and some free-flowing water and go there. Life is not a brightly lit square with images flashing across it.

The easier pace of the days after Easter remind me a little of the feast to come. Food is plentiful – in theory – since it is spring, things are growing, and we have food from the banquet still in the house. The daily grind lightens as we eat raw and barely cooked vegetables and herbs. (I know this may not apply to the temperate southern hemisphere, but you have your own seasons.) The anxiety of penance and discipline leaves us for a time; our readings and prayers are of thanksgiving and joy.

This will be heaven, and the restored Creation God has promised us. Our sin, our confession, our penance will be subsumed in the great forgiveness of the atonement of Christ. Death will no longer dog our footsteps. We will have nothing to fear – not loss, not famine, not illness and weakness. When He comes to His own, we will be as Him, perfected finally, the flaws burned away. It will always be the Paschal season.

Simplify, Simplify, Simplify

It’s a lot easier to simplify if you are Henry David Thoreau living in a little cabin at Walden Pond, unmarried, no children, a part-time job surveying or doing Dad’s accounting down at the pencil factory. It’s a lot harder to simplify if, like us, you have possessions you now need in another province, money to clear from another country, a two year old to potty-train and the one fully employed priest in the household has to have a wisdom tooth extracted in Holy Week. Oh, and the truck needs to be registered in this province, which means a new inspection certificate since the previous one has now expired.

Did I mention taxes? Yes, taxes.

Some things just have to be done.

They can’t be done simply, they can’t be eliminated. I, for one, am not going to tell Mother Kay that the wisdom tooth will simply have to wait. I’ve had an impacted wisdom tooth and it was so painful that it occupied all the space in the universe.

But, then, having already simplified so much I don’t have to: rearrange someone’s squash lesson, cancel a dinner party, reschedule vacation, or tell the contractor I won’t be available Tuesday for the consultation on the addition to the indoor pool. I won’t be missing any meetings, or disappointing the bridge club. I will simply drive Kay home from the dentist, and pick up the child from the babysitter. The husband will fend for himself. He can even make his own coffee if he must.

I can devote an hour or two to get the truck legalities sorted out, and I’ve already quite simply postponed the trip back East for a week. There are leftovers for supper at least one night this week.

In the meantime, husband will let in the repairman who needs to fix the leak under the sink, and the same repairman can simply handle the front step repair without any further guidance. He knows more about plumbing and masonry than I do, anyway.

I have until the end of April to get the taxes done, and ours are simple. We live simple lives, so simple we don’t have much income.

A young couple we know are concerned about simplifying their lives. They would like to live in an intentional Christian community, having been taken with Shane Claiborne’s writing. I don’t blame them, I am too. But I’m a wee bit older (like older than their parents) and I have some experience in living intentionally.

“It means a change of lifestyle,” I wrote to them. “And everyone has to agree to rules, or it won’t work.”

The change of lifestyle for them will be the loss of recreational shopping, of friends who are not Christian and don’t want to be; and hardest of all, it will probably mean some shock and horror from immediate family. Why would you want to do all this?

Many of us have looked around at the world and we do not like what we see. We see that one cannot follow Christ and live in the world as a worldly person. We may move amongst the worldly, but we have to find ways to go trhough the masses without losing sight of the our Lord. It is not simple. Not at first. At first, when there is so much to give up, it is complex. Our emotions get in the way. Guilt over leaving so much behind can be overwhelming. People we love don’t help us; they judge and even try to hinder us. It would be simpler to give up and turn back.

But that doesn’t work. Turning back, giving up, putting on the three piece suit and tie or the heels and make-up again, will feel so false, so tiresome. We will long for the days of freedom, when we simply followed the way of Jesus Christ.

And how do we do that? Where is that way?

I can say this, simply: You’ll know when you are on the road. You may not know where you are going, but you will know when you get there that it was the right way. It looks different for everyone, even as it looks the same. Simply get started, and go.

How Long O Lord?

I probably put my foot in my mouth very recently, in a brief discussion about what to expect from a new parish.

“If they are not prepared to do mission,” I said, “then the rector is there just to start shutting it down.”

It sounds, now, as if I have no patience. This is true.

I certainly do not have patience with “keep the homefires burning” churches. They aren’t interested in fulfilling the Great Commisssion; they are interested in maintaining the status quo. And I am so not status quo. I am also so not take-it-easy, get-concensus. I’m not. Just know that.

But can it be changed? I think so; it’s happening all the time. The Holy Spirit is moving through the churches, lighting new fires. It will be up to ministers, priests, and church leaders to fan that flame and feed the fire.

I’ve said previously that the churches must take on mission. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned. The church is cool water in the desert, literally as well as figuratively.

Expect this, parish-to-be: I will change things. I will shake things up. I will challenge the status quo.

That doesn’t mean I’m going to give you some new liturgy, introduce a new hymnal or change the hour of worship. I might, but that is the least of my concerns. What I will do is redirect your energy, away from maintaining the building and the structure and into making change in the world, into feeding and healing and clothing and visiting. There’s only one reason for doing that, though.

Jesus told us to. He wasn’t polite about it. It was a commandment: If you follow Me, He said, this is what you will do.

How we do it depends on who we are, where we are and what we have. There’s no formula, no plan, no training course to do this.

We just must do it, and do it now.

If we don’t do these things, all the water of baptism and all the bread and wine on the altar is meaningless. “If you have a quarrel with your brother, leave your offering and go apologize. Then your offering will mean something.” The exploited world has a big quarrel with the exploiters; the have-nots have good reason to demand from the haves. Can we meet Our Lord’s expectations?

There’s no one answer to injustice. Each case is different. But here are my suggestions.

Reduce your consumption by the end of 2010. Sell a car, cut your driving, grow some food or shop locally. Buy nothing new unless you absolutely must. Stay out of shopping malls and big box stores. Dump your television. (Well, send it to recycling.) Don’t go on a travel vacation; stay home and volunteer at a shelter or food bank or training centre.

Set up a regular time for family and personal prayer and scripture study.

Talk to other Christians about how to change things. Organize a food drive or daycare at your church. Raise money for an orphanage in Asia, South America, or Africa. Go door to door collecting unwanted shoes and boots to donate to a homeless shelter. (I know this sounds weird and patronizing, but better that your old Nikes and Hush Puppies get some use before they are completely dried out. Homeless shelters can almost always use good recycled shoes; people without transportation go through them quickly. Call first and ask if they can use them.)

If you change your attitude and how you do things – if you draw closer to the Holy Spirit that Jesus Christ sent as our aid and comforter – if you live out the gospel – then many things will change around you. Your family will change. Your neighbours will change. Your church will change. It doesn’t take money, but it wil take prayer, effort and sacrifice.