Retirement

Yesterday was a significant day in the life of our parish — our priest has retired. Fr. John has served here for thirty-one years; we’ve been blessed to take part in the last ten months.

Our choir, plus a few extra voices.

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Elevation of the chalice during the Eucharist.

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At the retirement celebration in the parish house.

At the retirement open house.

It was a musical day full of Fr. John’s favorite hymns and anthems, plus the choir sang new settings of Sanctus and Agnus Dei that I composed as a retirement gift, and the first half of the retirement party included dulcimer music.

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Avarice, part i

Today’s sermon in Father John’s ongoing series on the seven deadlies addressed avarice. It won’t be posted to the church website until later in the week; perhaps there will be a part ii when I get a chance to re-read it.

Meanwhile, I had a few thoughts.

First of all, it was good that he took the opportunity to remind us why we are doing this series, or why we would study sin. It is not because we must always feel as awful as possible about ourselves and our wickedness. Nor is it in order to judge the wickedness of others and feel superior. It is because we are made for life — and because sin sneaks in and disrupts life. If we learn more about how sin works, we might sooner see the signs of it and take action — repent, seek forgiveness, make use of spiritual disciplines, and so on.

Years ago Steve Camp made a song with this chorus:

Oh, to gladly risk it all
Oh, to be faithful to His call
Abandoned to grace yet anchored in His love
Living dangerously in the hands of God

Partly the song is about devotion and commitment and obedience and service.

Partly, though, it is about walking in faith without fear. Continue reading

Acedia

This week we heard about acedia and sloth.

Fr. John defines sloth as a “morbid inertia” — a state in which it seems hopelessly impossible to do or even to want to do anything good that requires any effort at all. Is it the same as depression — which would imply that it is right to exhort the depressed to get over it, get up, and get back to life? No; no one chooses or wants depression, and that kind of exhortation is therefore cruel. In fact, depression is often a rational response given the circumstances, and therapy (with or without medication) is the best help for resolving depression and coming to better terms with the circumstances.

Not everyone in the church takes such care to make this distinction. In my experience, depressed Christians often find it hard to believe their own intuition that they did not, in fact, deliberately choose to disobey by getting or staying depressed. It can be hard for us to understand anything true about sin at all, but especially about sin that looks a lot like depression.

Acedia means “lack of care.” It is a spiritual boredom or depression, that either does nothing or runs after emptiness in an attempt to hide or avoid emptiness. It finds the work of loving God, becoming the true self, and loving our neighbor too pointless or boring or difficult, and withdraws into distraction, emptiness, the false self, instead. Full-blown acedia is sloth, in which you not only don’t care, but don’t desire to care, don’t feel the pain of not caring — life is full of disconnection from self and God and others, and you are indifferent.
Continue reading

Anger

The sermon series continues with anger.

An angry person — not a person who happens to be angry at this moment, but a habitually angry person — is volatile, unreasonable, and suspicious. Hand in Hand and other gentle parenting resources say the same thing. When someone (child or adult) is in the grip of strong feelings such as anger, he is not able to access the rational part of his brain. There is no point, then, in trying to use reason to approach such a person. However, most of us have been raised to try to use reason — to “use our words” — when we negotiate with one another — we mostly haven’t learned other ways to deal with the angry, the tantrumming, the deeply sad or fearful.

Malice is a companion of anger — the desire to hurt, to exact revenge, to strike back, to lash out. One danger of anger, even anger that seems at first legitimate, against some injustice, for example, is that it can grow and solidify into a generalized rage that no longer has anything to do with problems and solutions but is only malice directed at anything that represents the enemy in any way. In the same way, anger can develop into contempt, in which the angry person no longer sees others as real and valuable people; there is no longer any possibility of love or ethics.

If we were, as Jesus taught, created to love one another, have patience for each other’s flaws, forgiving even imagined wounds — wait a minute. Is it useful to divide wounds and injustices into “real” and “imagined” categories? Is there perhaps a more useful way to think of the different kinds of wounds and injustices? I would venture to say that no one deliberately imagines a wound or injustice. Maybe they misinterpret something — maybe something about their past experience colors their perceptions — but that’s not exactly imagining. Perhaps a wound can occur that is a real wound to the one experiencing it, even though the one who seems to have inflicted it had no malicious intention?

But back to the idea that we were created to love and bear with one another and forgive wounds — if that is the case, where has all this anger come from that seems to have largely displaced love in the world?

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Sin

When I was in therapy with Joe Bauserman, from time to time we would get talking about sin. (Joe was one of the most integrated people I’ve known — not just a psychologist who happened to be a Christian, or vice versa; not just plastering psychology with Christian jargon, nor just applying Bible verses as psychological band-aids.) Sometimes he would tell me I wasn’t yet ready to talk about sin — too many misconceptions and too much baggage getting in the way of understanding. Sometimes he would talk about how, fundamentally, sin is about waywardness — as in Jeremiah 2:

5 Thus says the Lord,

“What injustice did your fathers find in Me,
That they went far from Me
And walked after emptiness and became empty?
6 “They did not say, ‘Where is the Lord?’…

13 My people have committed two evils:
They have forsaken Me,
The fountain of living waters,
To hew for themselves cisterns,
Broken cisterns
That can hold no water.

In my parenting journey, I have come to think of sin in children quite differently than I used to, which has led to questioning the doctrine of sin in general. Continue reading