Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The painful work of gratitude

From Toledo, IA
"Lead me not into..."
It's Thanksgiving week here in the U.S., and last month I agreed to speak on the topic to our local Kiwanis club meeting/lunch, which was today. For a simple, fairly informal 15-20 min. talk, I agonized over it since first receiving the invitation.

It is difficult for me to think and speak about - much less practice - being thankful in the context of our national Thanksgiving holiday. It is difficult for a range of reasons, many of which have to do with the triumph of consumerism in American life in general, but especially for the months of November and December. This relates not only to shopping but also our food system and practices. All this consumption, all this excess, all this waste, all in the name of it being "good for the economy" - and none of which makes anyone happier, healthier, or better people. To the contrary...

So my critical brain goes into overdrive during this season, quickly and easily sprinting down the paths of critique and lament. Capital-T Thanksgiving, for me, then, always has scare quotes around it.

But as a minister of the Christian faith, and the gospel/good news that Jesus announced, enacted, and invited us into - I know that (small-t) thanksgiving is a concrete expression of gratitude and should be the first thing to escape our lips when we pray to God. I also know that joy is a fruit/gift of the Holy Spirit, and one that Christians can and should embrace and embody. So yes, Lord, I am grateful; help my ungratefulness!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

'Round and 'round it goes: The turnstiles of trinity, church, and world

From Toledo, IA
Photo by Tim Green/Flickr/CC-BY-2.0
This post is part of an ongoing series on the book Christianity, Democracy, and the Radical Ordinary, by Stanley Hauerwas & Romand Coles. This series is being authored by Jonathan McRay, Jonathan Swartz, & Brian Gumm. This post reflects on chapter 7, "The Pregnant Reticence of Rowan Williams" by Coles.

First off, it seems right that a bit of an update is in order. In addition to the slower pace of our posts, our e-mail chatter about this book has died down over the past month and a half, and I'm certain that has mostly to do with more "life happening" for each of us. I know Jon's been deep in studies recently, on top of his family and work commitments, all of which add up to quite a load this time of year. He was originally going to write the reflection for this chapter, but sensing his heavy load, I volunteered to take it on for him...which was two weeks ago.

And John's been busy with work, planning for some upcoming transitions, and also dusting off a few of his grad school papers and getting them posted in some cool online places:
For my part I've been juggling my work for EMU, local ministry, a writing project, and a church-planting proposal that needs to be done this week - oh and watching a lot of the show Parenthood with my wife in the evenings. So yeah, things have been a bit hectic but our reading continues and is, at least for me, still stimulating some good thoughts for my local context and work.

While it does take some wild patience to follow Coles' writing at times (and being somewhat snarky, it kind of reminds me of this) - this chapter succeeded in further convincing me that Rowan Williams is someone I should pay a lot more attention to. (Good timing since he's now giving the Gifford Lectures at University of Edinburgh over the next week.) So here are a few scattered thoughts on this chapter...