Learning to talk about God

One of the things I have noticed while taking Clinical Pastoral Education is how difficult it is for so many people talk about their faith and about God.

I’m not sure if people lack the vocabulary, the experience, or the comfort needed to converse about matters of the spirit, but for so many people the awkwardness of it all is profound.

Ask them about family and the words come easily. As them about work, and no problem. Ask them about their illness and they can give you details about their symptoms, their diagnosis, their treatment, and their hopes.

Ask about God, and most people are reduced to babbling cliches or sitting in silence.

It makes me see the value of those class meetings where people not only were invited each week to talk about their spiritual life but were able to hear others do the same. It must have built up a vocabulary. It meant that people could answer the question, “Do you know Jesus?” without stammering.

Recovering this ability to talk about the life of the spirit without empty cliches or stammering silence would help bring life to the church.

What are some ways we can do that?

Flee from the coming ________?

From an interesting Seedbed post on the wrath of God:

For several years I taught at a historically United Methodist conference center where thousands gather every summer. Despite the majority of participants being active in local churches for decades, I was saddened by how many did not know basic teachings from Scripture or basic teachings out of the Wesleyan corpus. In one of the Bible studies I taught involving a large number of people, I asked participants to complete the following sentence: “Do you desire to flee the coming _____________?” Silence followed. No one knew the answer. No one even knew the question was ever asked in Methodism. When I began to explain the origins and the biblical reasoning for the question, many sat in stunned silence.

A definition of ‘conservative’

An interesting quote in an interview about Rudy Rasmus’s latest book:

I think I mentioned in the book that my friend Jonathan Gregory defined conservative as a person who feels as though they have something to conserve. It transcends political party, religious agenda, socio-economic status. Anyone can be a conservative who feels as though – whatever the possession is that is in their care – it is more important than their relationship with the person in front of them.

I wonder how to read this statement in light of story of Uzzah and the Ark or even Jesus’ words in the June 22 gospel reading about being a sword that divides families and friends.

How does the value of “relationship” weigh in the biblical witness against other commands of God? Does God sometimes call for forsaking “relationship” for the sake of other things? When? Can we discern a pattern or principle?

Agony among the olives #LukeActs2014

“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42, NIV)

That night in the garden has always been a powerful moment for me. This week I stood in the Church of Christ’s Agony on the Mount of Olives. They have a stone there that tradition says is the place where Jesus prayed this prayer and bled. I have to confess, visiting Jerusalem was a curious experience. I felt at times a bit like Luther as people knelt and wept over stones, and yet being in places I had only read about in the Bible was compelling.

Church of Christ's Agony

We often talk about the particularity of the incarnation. Jesus was a man who lived in a certain place at a certain time. He is not a general principle or ever-recurring story. Somewhere on that hill he knelt to the ground among the olive trees and prayed “not my will, but yours be done.”

As hundreds of commentators have noted, he could have easily escaped the passion. He could have climbed the Mount of Olives and headed east away from Jerusalem. But he remained. In other points in his ministry he withdrew or avoided the hostile crowds. Now he would give himself over to the agents of death.

Jesus died because it was the will of God that he do so. He died for us. This night was not a Jean Valjean “Who Am I?” moment. It was not an identity crisis. It was the final act of his ministry, one toward which all else he said and did had been inclining.

If we would be his followers, he told us, we must follow him through the dark night of this prayer. We will encounter moments when our choice is between our desire to live and the will of God. In our culture, we are told that we deserve comfort and a life without pain, that we should strive always for these things. Gethsemane stands in start opposition to that message. I am reminded of the old hymn:

“I’ll go with Him thro’ the garden,
I’ll go with Him through the garden,
I’ll go with Him thro’ the garden,
I’ll go with Him, with Him all the way.

Where He leads me I will follow,
Where He leads me I will follow,
Where He leads me I will follow,
I’ll go with Him, with Him all the way.