Laudato Si’- Living a Life of Praise

Laudato Si’- Living a Life of Praise

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise (Psalm 51:17).

Laudato Si’ is about climate change, about the environment, and about our culture. The temperament of mankind is manifesting itself in profound brokenness and alienation as evidenced by abortion and how we tend not to esteem marriage, the well being of all children, our elderly, and certainly a whole host of vulnerable peoples. These are issues that the scriptures themselves would take us to task over, especially given that some of the main drivers of global influence and culture are coming from nations that in some way lay claim to Christian heritage, or even if they don’t at present have certainly been heavily influenced by Christianity. Even in our land, the United States we dare not forget the work of God through many people within our midst.

So what sort of life and faith is necessary for these times? Here’s Laudato Si’ addressing a portion of that question:

We are convinced that ‘man is the source, the focus and the aim of all economic and social life’.[100] Nonetheless, once our human capacity for contemplation and reverence is impaired, it becomes easy for the meaning of work to be misunderstood.[101]We need to remember that men and women have ‘the capacity to improve their lot, to further their moral growth and to develop their spiritual endowments.’ [102] Work should be the setting for this rich personal growth, where many aspects of life enter into play: creativity, planning for the future, developing our talents, living out our values, relating to others, giving glory to God (127).

Our capacity for contemplation and reverence is impaired, our spiritual vision has narrowed. In the words of scripture:

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness;  and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble,  and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:5-11)

We have become near sighted in our faith. We have very much lost the divine love that ought to animate our works of mission and our care for one another not to mention our family life and our life with those we are closest with. Not love of abstract ideas or zeal for salvation without transformation, but real rooted and anchored love that banishes sin from our lives and brings us into a holiness and wholeness of life. The sort of faith that in the words of Laudato Si': “[that dares] to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it” (19).

So what do we do to return to a life of praise? What can we learn from the examples of St. Sergius of Radonezh, St. Seraphim of Sarov, St. Francis of Assisi, or even Brother William J. Seymour of the Azusa Street Revival.  Divine love was made manifest and so real in each of their lives that creation itself changed. The grace of God was so real and present and holiness so manifest that they each showed us the way to be Christ in their time and place.

Think of what happened in Los Angeles in April 1906 almost 100 years ago. America was still going to go through Civil Rights and years of needing to work through the sins of racism and indifference of other kinds of people that still plagues us to this day. And yet the Lord broke down barriers and brought heavenly unity, a foretaste of what Martin Luther King Jr. saw in his I Have a Dream speech. A reality not brought about by legislation or clever ways to curb sin, but a radical heart transformation that allowed what was true in heaven to be true on earth.

Think of what happened with St. Seraphim of Sarov. On the eve of the great wickedness that would break out in Russia in the 20th century, the Lord sent this living example of humility, faith, and holiness to strengthen the church and God’s people for the times ahead. This account by Nicholas Motovilov is well worth the time.

Think of what happened with St. Francis of Assisi who was bothered and grieved by what he saw around him in his time, that the Lord used that and his purity of heart to bring something totally new back into the life of the church.

The example of being radical for Christ is at heart of these great saints and this is just a sampling of what God has done through many kinds of people and movements of his people to bring a sense of restoration and wholeness to times of crisis.

Let us not be self-deceived, we are in a time of crisis. The crisis as of yet is not manifesting itself in the same violence of the 20th century, but the crisis in some ways is more severe because the doors and clear teaching on how to become fully Christ like are quickly closing or vanishing from the earth. Think of what is happening to ancient Christian communities around the world, let alone the sort of veiled gospel that is too often preached in this land. We are failing to remember what it means to be God’s people and without that the gates of hell won’t be too far behind. Even today we are seeing the first fruits of this distancing from God in our midst. It is possible that as man tries to live further and further apart from God and each other that the worst days of human nature are just ahead, manifested in an imperial narcissism and indifference to the suffering and frailty that we all experience apart from God.

If we don’t know where we are in our cultural moment we can’t possibly rouse ourselves enough to wake up and turn. To repent and grieve to what’s become of the pursuit of God in each of our own personal lives and than more broadly in the lives around us. This is not for a form of arrogance, as the scripture rightly reminds us we need to look to the sin and log in our own eyes before we attend to our neighbors. But as we look, we ought to grieve, we ought to lament and cleanse ourselves of our own deep defilement before God.

Once we have repented, our eyes can more clearly see what is right around us, and we begin to take steps through small acts of justice and wholeness beginning with our families and than working outwards to our communities.

God has not abandoned us, but we must turn and strive with all our might to achieve another, more heavenly quality of life. That’s what I see as being essential for Laudato Si’ to take hold in the life of the church. We need to be reminded as Pope Francis himself is embodying, mainly what Christ looks like when he is fully present in our lives. What sort of generosity of spirit should characterize our living and being, and than with what patience and creativity we can than use for the life of the world and the life of God’s people and indeed all people on the face of the earth.

Come Lord Jesus, do a work in us that is necessary for the times we face.

On Forgiveness

On Forgiveness

If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven. (John 20:23)

These are words of life. Not just words that express some ideal, these are words to put the nature of sin in oneself to death by. We are to be marked by mercy, by grace, by our forgiveness.

When we begin to delve deeply into this passage on forgiveness we begin to feel the weight of our obligation before God and each other. As we dig into this passage, we can no longer carry the words that we are more prone to carry. Words of indifference. The indifference that characterized the grave act of sin between Cain and Abel, when Cain murdered his brother, ‘am I my brother’s keeper?’

We realize that in the new reality, the new covenant, the life that starts and finishes with the author of life,  forgiveness is not a concept to just be past over. Left for the unskilled and the uninterested parts of our life to attend to.

When Jesus says to ‘seek first the kingdom of God,’ he means seek first, make it of primary importance. The first thing you think about when you rise, the last thing when you sleep, and in the countless moments throughout the day orient your lives towards God and God’s ways. If you try you’ll find how hard it is to live this life, and it will drive you to repentance and from repentance and mourning into the grace of his forgiveness. When we experience that kind of forgiveness we dare not hold the debts against those who have sinned against us. We forgive and repent so that no root of bitterness might take root. There is no time for merriment apart from God, taking a break from his ways and only returning to them for prayer. There is no full way of being human apart from the life of faith.

Seek first the kingdom, means to be deeply inwardly changed. To have the wellspring of life transform you. Not to change yourself, but to have God do work that only He can do. It’s not simply the absence of sin and evil but the presence of Life and even Life evermore.

Before the Children of God are sent off to the wilderness there is this interesting promise in the Book of Exodus:

“He said, ‘If you listen carefully to the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you’ (Exodus 15:26).

The healer, the great physician, the God who does not change his character, his love or his nature. For in him we live in light ineffable.

Forgiveness removes us and our hurts from the center of the brokenness that we experience in our lives. Our need for forgiveness from God, reorients our experience of others. We are no longer the center of our own pain and wrongs committed on us, but instead we see ourselves as a fellow beggar in need of daily manna from heaven. It’s a type of humility that says if I were in the situation of another, I know that my character apart from God is of such a quality where I may have very well done the same. It makes us live into the reality that the only good things in this life are truly gifts from above, that apart from God we can do nothing.

So instead of things to be consumed, relationships become the gift of a good God. The maintenance and commitment of such a relationship depends on the Lord working in the relationship itself. If we are others oriented the Lord can use that to bring some remarkable and family like dynamics with those we love and are in relationship with. Apart from that we can still practice peace, patience, kindness, and the heavenly and holy fruits in all our relating, even if it is simply for a season.

Forgiveness is a balm that brings us into the reality of the frailty of others and our own frailty. True forgiveness frees us from ourselves and orients us back to the well-spring of Life which is Jesus.

 

Second Take on ‘Laudato Si’

Second Take on ‘Laudato Si’

My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them (John 14:23)

The Trinity has something very profound to teach us about relationships. Have you ever thought about that? Ever been on the same page with someone so much so, where there is so much love, care, deference, trust, dependence, that you can act in concert together? Sometimes we see this in a particular friendship, certainly it’s how marriage was designed. When we live into these possibilities as Christians we are experiencing a reflection of the Trinity itself, and as the verse from the Gospel of John states we are invited to do so as we grow in our love and trust of the God who comes to heal and to save.

Can you imagine just for a moment when Jesus went away to pray during his ministry what things He, and the Father, and the Holy Spirit talked about. Knowing the problem of the separation between God and man so well, knowing the history of God’s people so well, knowing their rescue out of Egypt, their wanderings in the wilderness, their rejection of the prophets, can you imagine the creativity, the love, and intimacy that marked their fellowship as they discussed and discerned what to say, what to embody, how to set us on a new path of new life and new creation.

Let’s remember that  Jesus said that his words were the words the Father gave him to say. Sometimes in the gospels we get visual manifestations of the Trinity in relationship, as in the Baptism of Jesus, or on the Mount of Transfiguration, but those realities were all present to our Lord Jesus.

Healing and full fellowship. That’s the aim of the Trinity for us. My thoughts go to love and peace, life and contentment, or in other words the glory to glory of sanctification as I continue to reflect on ‘Laudato Si.

Here’s what I believe is one of the central points to ‘Laudato Si’ which is about the environment, but it’s as much about us, human nature, the challenges facing the church, and the grave challenges facing humanity:

The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation (48)

The causes aren’t just structural they are internal. Both St. Francis of Assisi and St. Sergius of Radonezh experienced a profound healing in their relationship with mankind, with God, and God’s creation. As Orthodox and Catholic commentators will say, they both experienced some return to the original state with God with some earthly manifestation of that reality. That’s incredible! A healing and love and intimacy so profound between God and man, in relationships that they had with other people, that it inevitably spilled over to the relationship with God’s creation.

Charles Spurgeon says something very similar on reflecting on these dynamics. He says when we look at why there is so much enmity between man and creation that really what we are seeing is God’s creatures take up their masters quarrel with us.

Well if we have ceased to quarrel with the master, if we have ceased to quarrel with each other, then naturally God’s creation will cease quarreling with us.

As many of you know, I was recently at the Vatican for several different reasons. During my trip I had up to 5 meetings with various senior officials.

A bit of background. Evangelicals have long exercised a degree of leadership on climate change and the environment. Also the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has done much to bring leadership and the full richness of Orthodox thought to our contemporary environmental challenges. I have many friends and colleagues who have done the same in the Roman Catholic world. Now the Papal encyclical offers fresh and compelling leadership. The encyclical itself opens the door for dialogue and action.

This is a unique time to build our heart muscles with each other. As Christians divided by human nature and sin, we have a unique opportunity for new dialogue and encounter. Who knows what God will do with these fruits? We do know that they can be in accord with the profound prayer for unity found in John 17.

I have been invited to go back in August and I covet your prayers. The official dialogue between evangelicals and the Vatican is not as developed as it is between the Vatican and the Orthodox Church. Please pray for good relating and if you are so moved please consider a contribution to help me raise funds for the flight and some incidental expenses for this trip. I’ll have a site dedicated to this work up before too long where you can receive updates, pray, and give as the Lord moves you. For now if you want to do something immediately please click here to donate. I estimate it’s about $1700 for the flight and another $1200 for incidentals. Obviously raising more would give me more bandwidth to do more, but I trust God for all things.

Thankful for each of your prayers! This is a big time in the life of the church and God needs all our gifts and talents, our repentance and humility, and most of all that we would open up more of our lives so that the Trinity could truly dwell with us and transform us more deeply in the ways we live day in and day out.

First Take on Laudato Si ‘Praised Be’

First Take on Laudato Si ‘Praised Be’

Laudato Si ‘Praised Be  as a teaching does more than I would have imagined. I am not surprised by the treatment of climate change, water, species care, GMOs, and/or consumption. A very solid take on all of the many environmental challenges facing God’s creation and human life, and a very clear course of action: “We know that technology based on the use of highly pollution fossil fuels- especially coal, but also oil and to a lesser degree gas- needs to be progressively replaced without delay.”

What was most hopeful to me was this line “We still lack the culture needed to confront this crisis” and the treatment of Christian spiritual tradition and spiritual life. “The rich heritage of Christian spirituality, the fruit of twenty centuries of personal and communal experiences, has a precious contribution to make to the renewal of humanity.” It goes on to say that “A certain way of understanding human life and activity has gone awry, to the serious detriment of the world around us.”

That’s the crux of our times for the Christian.

St. Francis of Assisi and St. Sergius of Radonezh 

Earlier this year I visited Rome, Assisi, and the Ecumenical Patriarch in Istanbul, two years prior I visited Rome and Moscow. I have been engaged with evangelical leaders for the better part of a decade and one thing stands out more than others. Whether we are Roman Catholic, Orthodox, evangelical, or Pentecostal, we are all facing very similar types of cultural challenge. A certain way of understanding human life and I would add Christian life has gone awry.

In the United States you can see this in a growing conversation about the ‘Benedict Option,’ which is a take on what should we do given what we see in the culture and the world around us.

Several years ago I got to ask Oliver O’Donovan what he thought about the current pressures facing the church and he said “it’s to each generation to find a particular way of carrying forth the heart and truth of the faith to the current cultural moment.”

What struck  me about two great saints St. Sergius of Radonezh (the patron saint of the Russian people) and St. Francis of Assisi was the similarities in their lives. Both saints faced uncertain times, both men were men of prayer and peace, both men had a special concern for God’s creation, but most of all they had a deep concern for the life and renewal of the Church, that the bride of Christ would truly be the bride, pure and spotless, holy and right before the Lord.

There’s a famous painting by Giotto (below) that depicts the dream that Pope Innocent III had when he was in the midst of his decision on whether to approve the Rule of St. Francis and legitimize St. Francis and the Franciscans. He had a dream that the church of St. John Lateran was collapsing on itself and that a small man appeared, stopped the church from falling and straightened it again. That man was St. Francis.

254578_950096232504_1855605377_n

 

A Church Obscuring its Identity 

That’s the heart of what Christians around the world are facing, a church that could easily hide its nature and identity to the world and even to Christians themselves. For many different types of reasons and stresses, but for one more than all the others, the church around the world is slowly masking the gospel and the heart of what it means to be Christian to itself and the world around it.

Here’s a timely line from the encyclical about our tendency: “This is the way human beings contrive to feed their self-destructive vices: trying not to see them, trying not to acknowledge them, delaying the important decision, and pretending that nothing will happen.”

We are losing our sense of what it means to be deeply human (technology helps obscure this in part, our participation in sin to a greater part) and that the tendency towards a false narrative of ourselves in almost all of our relationships. You see this tendency most acutely in the culture where words are being used to hide and obscure sin so that pain, divorce, and disaster just happens, there is no reason for it; but without a reason you cannot have repentance, forgiveness, and healing. No reconciliation is possible without repentance for actual sins.

The church has been so far behind the times on questions like the environment and race because the culture inside the church can’t reflect that sort of holiness and wholeness of life needed to engage with power and authority, truth and grace. The culture in the church doesn’t match the vision the Lord has given it to live towards.

The church is supposed to be a place unlike any other. People gather at the local church for Christlikeness, for growth, for sanctification, but we don’t treat our gatherings like this. We don’t have space for this transformation to easily occur, and without this change we cannot equip the saints to be transformative agents in the marketplace, we can’t do the hard work that points to another way of engaging in the problems that are common to us all (i.e. abortion, pollution, the collapse of marriage, inequality, etc.). At the heart of all of those major civic issues is sin of various kinds and shapes, but if we don’t deal with sin and transformation in the inner life we cannot find a full way forward.

Towards a Wholeness Culture 

At the end we need to aim towards a wholeness culture, one that does kingdom living more than it does kingdom ethics. For without the living, the ethics and transformation cannot take place.

We need prayer, dialogue, but most of all love. Love lived out in real relationships, care and creativity that matches the culture of the moment, not a retreat from our neighbors, but a real understanding that our neighbors are worthy to be understood and engaged with. That’s where Laudato Si culminates to, mainly that the church offers the world a ‘civilization of love’ and that we as Christians all need to take steps to plumb the deeps of our common Christian spiritual heritage to live into that vision. 

Now this isn’t a vision of life that is meant for everyone, it’s meant for the church so that it might regain its ability to be salt and light in the midst of the culture. The church has to model a wholeness culture, so that it can easily love its enemies and have ideas and solutions that match what’s actually going within our cultureUltimately  we inhabit a moment in time where greater unity in the church is possible, greater works in the kingdom are possible, and greater transformation is possible as long as the church itself is living into its truest self and truest vision of the kingdom of God made incarnate among us. In short the answer is to follow Jesus more closely and fully. To repent and seek first the kingdom of God.

 

Charleston Shooting Points to a Culture in Crisis 

Charleston Shooting Points to a Culture in Crisis 

On the day Dr. Martin Luther King gave the “I Have a Dream” speech, Mahalia Jackson was said to have shouted at him “Tell them about the dream, Martin!”

Mahalia Jackson saw something. Something that Dr. King articulated and in a different way something that Pope Francis sees today. Can we see it?

On the same day as we are learning about the Charleston, SC act of domestic terrorism, Pope Francis said, “This is the way human beings contrive to feed their self-destructive vices: trying not to see them, trying not to acknowledge them, delaying the important decisions and pretending nothing will happen.”

The false prophets of the Old Testament preach peace when there is no peace. Jesus preaches life where we ourselves need to change.

If you look at South Carolina and we learn about the details of a young man who sits in a prayer service and murders the saints of God we can only say that our culture does not have the tools to deal with the crisis we face today. Let me put it more clearly, Christians are not using the right tools for what we face today.

Emmanuel AME is our church, pastor Clementa Pinckney is our pastor, and the prayer group that meet that night is our prayer group.

We cannot afford to be indifferent. We need a ‘conversion’ moment from our Jesus Christ that helps give meaning to the world around us.

We cannot heal without righteous action from the saints of God.

Lord, Dr. King saw a vision, help us see the vision. Dr. King saw a future for a people who without you, have no future. Our future is being our Brother’s Keeper. Our future is in love, empowerment, and hope. Help each of us see one another as the ‘beloved other.’ Bring your kingdom into our hearts, we pray. Amen.

Quotable Laudato Si ‘Praised Be’

Quotable Laudato Si ‘Praised Be’

Click below for the full teaching: 

http://m.vatican.va/content/francescomobile/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html

  • “The destruction of the human environment is extremely serious, not only because God has entrusted the world to us, men and women, but because human life is itself a gift which must be defended from various forms of debasement.”
  • “Outside the Catholic Church, other Churches and Christian communities- and other religions as well- have expressed deep concern and offered valuable reflections on issues which all of us find disturbing.”
  • “He [St. Francis] shows us just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace.”
  • “The world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise.”
  • “to become painfully aware, to dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it.”
  • “the climate is a common good.”
  • “It [climate change] represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.”
  • “The warming caused by huge consumption of the world, especially Africa, where a rise in temperature, together with drought, has proved devastating to farmers.”
  • “As the United States Bishops have said, greater attention must be given to ‘the needs of the poor, the weak, and the vulnerable in a debate often dominated by powerful interests.’”
  • “Still less is there room for the globalization of indifference.”
  • “We still lack the culture needed to confront this crisis.”
  • “Many people will deny doing anything wrong because distractions dull our consciousness of just how limited and finite our world really is.”
  • “For all of our limitations, gestures of generosity, solidarity, and care cannot but well up within us, since we were made for love.”
  • “This is the way human beings contrive to feed their self-destructive vices: trying not to see them, trying not to acknowledge them, delaying the important decision, and pretending that nothing will happen.”
  • “Rather, all creatures are moving forward with us and through us towards a common point of arrival, which is God, in that transcendent fullness where the Risen Christ embraces and illuminates all things.”
  • “Jesus lived in full harmony with creation and others were amazed: What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him! (Mt 8:27)”
  • “A certain way of understanding human life and activity has gone awry, to the serious detriment of the world around us.”
  • “Never has humanity had such power over itself, yet nothing ensures that it will be used wisely, particularly when we consider how it is currently being used.”
  • “In conjunction with the omnipresent technocratic paradigm and the cult of unlimited human power, the rise of a relativism, which sees everything as irrelevant unless it serves one’s own immediate interests.”
  • “Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving our world.”
  • “We urgently need a humanism capable of bringing together the different fields of knowledge, including economics, in the service of a more integral and integrated vision.”
  • “We know that technology based on the use of highly pollution fossil fuels- especially coal, but also oil and to a lesser degree gas- needs to be progressively replaced without delay.”
  • “Those who will have to suffer the consequences of what we are trying to hide (i.e. the need for global action on climate) will not forget this failure of conscience and responsibility.”
  • “Some economic sectors exercise more power than states themselves.”
  • “The rich heritage of Christian spirituality, the fruit of twenty centuries of personal and communal experiences, has a precious contribution to make to the renewal of humanity.”
  • “The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast.”
  • “They all need is an ‘ecological conversion’ whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident with the world around them.”
  • “No one can cultivate a sober and satisfying life without being at peace within him or herself.”
  • “Inner peace is closely related to care for ecology and for the common good, because lived out authentically, it is reflected in a balanced lifestyle together with a capacity for wonder which takes us to a deeper understanding of life.”
  • “That is why the church set before the world the idea of ‘a civilization of love.’”