A New Bible, A New Voice, A New Compass

A couple of weeks ago I received a new bible from the publishers Thomas Nelson. It is the Compass Study Bible which uses The Voice translation. This is a translation I was not familiar with and I am thoroughly enjoying its contemporary language and “contextual equivalence” translation – which means it seeks to convey the original language accurately while rendering the literary structures and character of a text in readable and meaningful contemporary language.

The Compass edition provides interesting In-text notes that include cultural, historical, theological and devotional thoughts as well as introductions to each book and topical guides to each day of the year. However the bias of some of the comments did concern me a little.  like this note on 1 Corinthians 10 :In the midst of radical economic and technological advances, some within the church are embracing new or contemporary practices and regarding them as somehow superior to ancient and historic practices. Maybe I am a little sensitive here as I love to experiment and encourage others to try new practices, that may be more contextually appropriate for their lifestyles and for our contemporary culture. I don’t regard these as superior to ancient practices but do think this type of expression is important.

The format in The Compass is an engaging narrative approach which took me a while to get used to after so many years of reading in the usual text format but I am now thoroughly enjoying the change and plan to use this new bible for the next couple of years. I think it would provide a great introduction for young Christians or for those who find the usual bible format a little overwhelming.

I appreciate the “God’s Promises guide at the beginning of the book, and the 40 day retreat with Jesus (a little like lectio divina for 40 days) but was disappointed with the reading plan for every day of the year. All it does is go through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation in day sized bites. I suppose I have been spoiled by the richness of the daily lectionary readings which give Old and New Testament readings each day in keeping with the liturgical season. I have learned so much about the relationship between the Old and New Testament stories in this way, gaining fresh insights about what Jesus meant as I read the OT scriptures he was quoting.

This bible is currently only available through Walmart which also disappoints me, but I still think it is worth a look for anyone who wants to try a new contemporary translation or a new approach to bible study.

Are All Christians Hedonists?

Art by Emmanuel Garibay Used with permission

Art by Emmanuel Garibay Used with permission

Last week I shared this quote from Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks:

It is as though the materialism that has a death grip on this culture has taken our spirituality as well. Most of what’s called spiritual is actually humanistic if you think about it. People don’t want the adventure of God on his own terms or for his own sake. They want a better world, a happier life, better relationships and all the trimmings that go along with it….. We’re urged to seek God because this human good will come of it. People don’t realize “because” implies that the end is the human good and Truth (God) merely the means” (19)

It keeps coming back to my mind. How often do I pray because I want something from God, rather than because my heart aches for deeper intimacy with God? How often do I use God as the excuse for my own self centred agendas?

Some prayers are so obviously hedonistic they make us squirm when we hear others talk about them – praying for a parking place, or going on a Jesus spending spree where we expect Jesus to guide us to great bargains. But others are more subtle. Even desiring healing of loved ones can have a self centred purpose, after all illness and death disrupt our lives physically, emotionally and sometimes spiritually. If God healed more frequently life would be so much easier.

Or perhaps we want to see people in Africa fed and freed from starvation. We hate those images of starving children, their pain and suffering disrupts our lives. Yes, some of our response comes from the compassion of God welling up from within, but for many the uppermost emotion is: If God would just do something I would not have to respond and I could get rid of my guilt and once more feel at easy in my comfortable materialistic lifestyle. Sometimes these emotions reside in our subconscious rather than conscious minds, and as long as we are too busy to reflect on why we want something to change we are never aware of our self centred motives.

One of the commonest excuses I use and that I hear others use for not taking adequate time for God or with others is: but I enjoy what I am doing. I love my work. Unconsciously what we are saying is – My personal need for satisfaction in my work takes priority over my need to spend time with God.

Sometimes we even rope God into the equation – there is so much need God must intend me to burn myself out by responding to that need. The underlying subconscious thought – without me God cannot answer this need. 

And then there is the excuse – But I have to feed and house my family. Again a very true statement and one that has many of us up at night consumed with anxiety. This believe it or not is one of those legitimate prayers. In the Lord’s prayer we regularly say Give us this day our daily bread. The problem is that we don’t expect God to provide bread for today we expect provision for the next 10, 15 or 20 years and we want to see where it is coming from NOW.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting that we don’t save for the future, though that is a way of life that some are called to, but sitting in the place of discernment, trusting that God will show us what we need to know now in order to provide, does not come easily to us. And we get uncomfortable because God might make it very clear that some of what we want for the future – like second homes, bigger cars and expensive vacations – may not be in God’s best plan for us. Even our desire for a bigger church, better paying job or higher profile ministry may not be in God’s plan – especially not if it takes time away from our number one priority – seeking God not for what we want but for what God wants – intimacy with us in every moment of the day.

What would our lives look like if we spent more time seeking God for God’s sake alone? How would it change our priorities, our time management, our use of resources? How would it affect our friendships? These are some of the questions I continue to grapple with. I hope you will take time to grapple with them too.

Reclaiming a Sacred Space – Cheasty Greenspace: A Place of Goodness and Grace by Mary De Jong

This morning’s post in the series Creating Sacred Space comes from Mary De Jong. Mary leads personal discernment pilgrimages/retreats to Iona, Scotland and locally in the Great Pacific Northwest. She is also, slowly, pursuing graduate studies with a focus in ecotheology.  She is a Green Seattle Partnership Forest Steward, and is co-founder and co-chair of Friends of Cheasty Greenspace at Mt. View. She lives in the Columbia City neighborhood of Seattle, WA (USA) with her husband and three children. It sacred space than what I talked about was first published on Waymakers the blog.

 

Ed beats out the rhythm

Ed beats out the rhythm

The detective called inquiring after whether or not we had found “anything” in the woods since the fatal shooting that occurred near Cheasty Greenspace/Mt.View on February 4, 2013.  While we have certainly unearthed some curious, and somewhat disturbing, artifacts during our forest restoration work parties (lined up pairs of shoes next to an axe, dismembered dolls, rosaries, and large singular bones to name a few), no, we had not found the weapon involved in this fatal incident.  He went on to inform us that a team of officers with metal detectors and a K-9 unit would be canvassing the area the following day.  Mind you, just a few months ago, there was the horrendous reality check that came along with 40 search and rescue volunteers and cadaver K-9 units looking for the remainsof a young women in Cheasty/North, so I was already edgy about the resurfacing street-cred of our Rainier Valley forest.  However, I don’t think I was prepared for the potential emotional unraveling the impact of this dynamic in our beloved forest would have on me.

You see, we have been faithfully involved in the reclamation and restoration of this urban forest for the past six years.  We have hosted over 80 community work parties dedicated to the vision of reimagining this landscape as a safe and welcoming resource for our neighborhood.  We have written for, and received, grants that have funded our hope to build trails within this 10 acre woods that would connect neighbors, encourage walking to public transit, and provide local access to nature.  And the beauty that has resulted from this grand grassroots effort is as real and glorious as the noon-day sun!

What used to be a landscape filled with invasive plants, such as English ivy and Himalayan Blackberry,  and illicit behaviors, such as prostitution rings and illegal drug trades, has been replaced with the balance that true restoration brings.  Our native Northwest understory is thriving due to the absence of ivy.  Children now play in the forest, and their laughter mixes with the chatter of songbirds and the cries of our resident Red Tail Hawks.  The trails are a resource to neighboring youth organizations who now can bring their students into their own backyards to study, learn and just be in nature.  Our neighbors, who have worked literally shoulder to shoulder for years to see the effects of this hope-filled vision, have become a networked community of friends and families.  These woods have become apart of the vibrant, social fabric of our neighborhood.

And so my heart was heavy when I saw dozens of marked and unmarked police vehicles lined up against our trees.  My spirit sunk when I witnessed uniformed men, shoulder to shoulder, working their way through freshly budded Indian Plum, Trillium and Sword Fern.  Their presence conjured up the spirit of negativity that brooded over this place for so many years, the very spirit that we have worked so hard to drive away from this place.  I felt my repose unravel and give way to the erosive work of despair and hopelessness.  ”You can never change these woods,” the line-up of police cars seemed to sneer. “These woods will always be the cover for dark deeds!  No vision for hope and help can changethat!”

I awoke the next day to clouds over my head and heart, hardly able to utter a morning prayer, but with the imperative to get out of bed and prepare for our monthly work party we host.  Begrudgingly, I set out shovels, buckets and First Aid kit.  Grumbling, I laid out our registration table materials and sign up sheets.  Demoralized, I wondered if this slow and steady, long term effort to affect change in our little corner of the world was even worth it anymore.  Yup.  My little pet dark cloud was beginning to rain on me.

However, contrary to Saturday’s Seattle forecast (and my attitude), sun began to beam on South East Seattle and neighbors began to convene at our home to gather up tools and gloves, and log their dedicated time towards making a tangible difference.  And then Ed approached, scuffed toe-shoes ambling down our sidewalk, threadbare coated-arms raised in greeting and dusty top hat ready to blow away with the wind.  I presumed he was on his way past our home to visit one of our neighbors, who are involved in some unsavory practices…but he stopped.  Right in front of me.  And smiled.  Turns out, he was here for our work party, but his car ran out of gas and stalled in the middle of the street, just up from our main trail head into the woods.  Can I help, he asked?  My heart softened towards Ed; of course, I can help, but give me a minute to kickstart the volunteers and get the work party going.

Lesson #1: It always amazes me what kind of help shows up in a minute. The momentary pause before immediately responding to a need that you know you can meet is almost an invitation to allow those around you to participate in an assistance that is easy to presume only you can do.  All that to say, when I was able to finally direct my attention back towards Ed, Neighbor Mike had already fixed him up with a five-gallon gas container and a Seattle Parks worker was ready in the wings to tow his truck to safety.  I felt a sun beam penetrate my hopeless haze.  This community that has been created through a hope for the common good, without question, took care of a stranger in our midst.  My heart tried to soar with the pride for my ‘hood, but quite honestly, I figured I would never see Ed again and that sense of being “had” was enough to tether my fragile mood.

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I followed the last volunteers up into the woods and was mentally making a game plan for the variety of ferns we would be planting (grown by spores from a forest friend), and how we would disperse the five cubic yards of mulch, when I was called out of my reverie by the beating of a drum.  The repeated rhythm was coming from the trail head where we would be working for the bulk of our work party.  I crested the trail into view of the forest’s entrance and there was Ed, top hat and all, sitting on a stone, surrounded by a medley of musical instruments and a growing number of children.  Ed smiled at me and proceeded to play music for the duration of our work party.  Trombones, clarinets, bongos, tamborines, all were enlisted to lift the spirits of the volunteers and provide a special joy for the children.  Oh, forgot to mention the unique detail that we were the host-site for a local preschool co-op parent group who wanted to participate in a local Earth Month volunteer opportunity.  We had dozens of preschoolers running around the woods on Saturday.  And it would be important to note, too, that the sun shone during our entire work party.  Sunshine.  Children.  Music.  Ed.  My heart was unfettered and finally flew.

Now, some who knew of these back to back unique and unplanned occurrences probably could just attribute it to the Wheel of Fortune, for that would explain such a social spectrum in Cheasty Greenspace.  However, I’m one who is always interested in the quiet cadences of God and what one would call a coincidence, I’m eager to see thesynchronicity.  Essentially, this means that when you really need something, and often when you really want something, it is there.  Furthermore, the ancient practice of pilgrimage maintains that help, and the divine answer, are most often found in the company of a stranger.  Pilgrimage is this radical practice that turns upside down the ways of the world; in each other and in the strays and strangers en route, pilgrims meet-not the paupers-but the princes.  In the gestures and greetings in gravely roadside places, prayers are answered, and what you are in need of is given.  In this nontraditional way of journey-living, the road taken to a better place is one where divisions are bridged: race, status, and gender are irrelevant.  I would further go on to say that this mode of being also exists in Nature.  For in the woods, all are recipients of the goodness and grace inherent in nature.  All are apart of the greater community of things.  And to a degree, all become Kings.

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Lesson #2: Rough, worn edges and the grime of a harder-than-mine-life under the fingernails are trumpets heralding the presence of a stranger who has the potential to deliver great gifts, should we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear.  Ed transformed my day and realigned my hope-filled vision for Cheasty Greenspace.  He was a vehicle of grace to me and his music was like incense, cleansing and purifying the bullet-weary woodland air.

Following the work party, volunteers (including Ed!) gathered under the large tent we had set up in our drive way.  As the expected rains began to pour down, we shared meager cookies and rich laughter together.  The rains were washing away the sundry steps of the officers and were watering our newly planted ferns.  And we, we were an intimate community of Kings, believing and working together, shoulder to shoulder, for a better place. 

Every Garden Needs A Sacred Space

Celtic cross in the garden

What is sacred space and how do we create it?

As many of you know I love to ask the question What makes you feel close to God? Interaction with nature is the commonest response I get. I believe there is a craving deep within all of us to connect to God in the midst of the created world. Gardening, hiking, bird watching, photographing nature and even petting the dog are all activities that can draw us into the presence of God with a sense of reverence and awe. These sacred spaces need to be recognized and nurtured as much as possible. 

It is the garden that most often draws me into the presence of God in this way and I delight in creating the spaces that nurture these encounters. There are many forms of sacred space within a garden and many ways to enhance it. Here are a few to consider, some of which I will expand on in the next couple of weeks.

1. A place to reflect: What invites you to sit, reflect and meditate? Perhaps it is a garden seat in a secluded corner of the garden or a water feature in which you can see your own reflection, or a collection of your favourite flowers. Consider ways that you could include these elements in your garden.

2. A place to pray. What stirs you to prayer when you go into your garden? Is it the sound of chimes blowing in the wind or that same reflective corner in which you sit to reflect? Is it a cross or garden statue, a plaque with a simple prayer or bible verse or a labyrinth, even an altar can be incorporated into a garden as invitation to prayer.

3. A place to rest. God invites us to slow down and rest in the divine presence. What in your garden already offers this special invitation? What else could you incorporate to further extend this invitation?

4. A place to celebrate. A the centre of gospel message is the invitation to enter the kingdom of God and join in the banquet feast of God. Incorporating places for hospitality in the garden can open your sacred space to friends and strangers near and far.

5. A place to remember. Memorial gardens are important in many cultures often reminding us of loved ones who have gone before. But gardens can stir memories in other ways too. Plants take on a special and often sacred significance when they are given to us by family and friends.

6. A Biblical garden. The practice of planting herbs, flowers and trees mentioned in the Bible is a longstanding tradition. I was delighted when discovered this website on biblical gardens.

7. A healing garden. A growing trend in hospitals, prisons and other institutions is the development of a garden that invites patients and inmates to wander, reduce their stress and relax. In the process many find and unexpected healing and wholeness.

So what makes a garden (wild or cultivated) sacred for you? What draws you into the presence of God in a special way? I would love to know. 

This post is the second in a series on creating sacred spaces. As I mentioned yesterday, I will focus on the creation of sacred space in gardens and other natural environments, but I look forward to contributions from others who create sacred space in other environments too.

 

Igniting the Divine Spark

Cindy Todd at Fledge welcome

Cindy Todd at Fledge welcome

Last night Tom and I attended the welcome for the new cohort of Fledge: A conscious company incubator. Up there on the stage was MSA’s own Cindy Todd.  We are so proud of Cindy and all she is doing.

“You are my hero” Tom told Cindy at our last MSA team training day. The launch of the Snohomish Soap Company, inspires us with a unique business model that is exciting the attention of many who like us think Cindy’s entrepreneurial approach is brilliant.  She has been featured in TED talks(fast forward to 1hour-4min. for Cindy’s part) and PCC’s promotional flyerand now the Fledge conscious company incubator. Her dedication to helping those at the margins by empowering them to develop small businesses, incentivizes all of us to apply our God given creativity to new entrepreneurial models that will sustain us in our volatile world.

The next event on the MSA calendar is Cindy Todd’s workshop, Igniting the Divine Spark. We are all looking forward to hearing more about what has ignited her divine spark and inspired the creativity that lay dormant for many years of her life.

Are You Ready For the Spiritual Discipline of Gratitude – Tom Sine

Today’s post in the series Return to Our Senses in Lent, is written by my husband Tom Sine.


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Last week we ask you: are you ready for the spiritual discipline of daily laughter? We encouraged you to join Ted and Company in learning to laugh at our own foibles every day so we could learn to live without taking ourselves too seriously.

This week we are urging you to consider adopting an attitude of gratitude.  It is all too easy for all of us to focus more on what’s going wrong than what we have to give thanks for. When I used to work for World Concern in Haiti in the early 80s I used return home to Seattle feeling very embarrassed about my petty complaints Sometimes I was able to go an entire week without complaining about the weather, driving conditions or some of my difficult friends. An amazing miracle!

As we enter the season of Lent I urge you not only to reflect on your shortcomings but to fast from verbalizing complaints for a whole week. Any time you are tempted to complain stop and give expression to something your grateful for. Research actually indicates that people who express more gratitude are significantly happier than those who are given to complaining about their situations.

I can still remember how proud I was of my dad during his repeated times in the hospital for several serious ailments during his final years. I never heard him complain once. Instead when I would ask him how he was he would say “I am always all right!”

As you can see from the picture Christine and I plus our dog Bonnie have a great deal to be grateful for. Friday we arrived at our 40 acre site on Camano Island for the Mustard Seed Village only to make a stunning discovery. As you can see our construction team has just poured the foundation and erected eight poles for the first building in the Mustard Seed Village.  As you can imagine we had little difficulty in expressing our genuine gratitude to God for all of those who contributed to this new beginning.

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But were also grateful for the opportunity to finish what we have started.  We are grateful for the opportunity to join with others in bringing a road and power to the site as well as constructing a sustainable septic system and putting a pump on our well. We are grateful that this new facility will enable us to start hosting gatherings on the land to help people learn to live more innovatively, sustainably and festively in these uncertain times.

Write me this week and let me know if you are able to replace words of complaint with words of gratitude for the entire first week of Lent. Also write me if you’d like to join many others who are helping us make the Mustard Seed Village a center for Christian imagination and celebration.

Clean Monday, Fat Tuesday, Ash Wednesday – What’s It All About?

Pancake celebration Salisbury Cathedral http://www.salisburycathedral.org.uk

Pancake celebration Salisbury Cathedral http://www.salisburycathedral.org.uk

Shrove Tuesday is the day before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent in the Western Church. “Shrove” is the past tense of the word “shrive,” which means to hear a confession, assign penance, and absolve from sin. Shrove Tuesday is a reminder that we are entering a season of penance.

Shrove Tuesday is also known as Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras (which is simply French for Fat Tuesday). In Italy, Fat Tuesday is known as carnevale-goodbye to meat-from which we get our English word carnival. Traditionally people held one last rich feast, using up perishables like eggs, butter and milk before the fast of Lent began. Now in some places, like New Orleans, this has become a huge celebration that really has nothing to do with the beginning of Lent.

For many however this is still a significant day. Many churches hold pancake suppers, often as a way to reach out to their neigbours. You can find a great collection of recipes and traditions from around the world for Shrove Tuesday in Fat Tuesday Recipes.

For Eastern Orthodox Christians the fast has already begun. Clean Monday, the Monday before Ash Wednesday, is the first day of Great Lent. It is a reminder that we should begin Lent with good intentions and a desire to clean our spiritual house. It is a day of strict fasting for Eastern Catholics and orthodox, including abstinence not only from meat but from eggs and dairy products as well.

The following prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian is a common prayer used during this season.

O Lord and Master of my life, keep from me the spirit of indifference and discouragement, lust of power and idle chatter. [kneel/prostration]

Instead, grant to me, Your servant, the spirit of wholeness of being, humble-mindedness, patience, and love. [kneel/prostration]

O Lord and King, grant me the grace to be aware of my sins and not to judge my brother; for You are blessed now and ever and forever. Amen. [kneel/prostration]