December 14, 2017

Practices that help keep Jesus in the center

Ghent Altarpiece, van Eyck

Ghent Altarpiece, van Eyck

We here at Internet Monk are committed to continuing Michael Spencer’s legacy of what he called “Jesus-shaped spirituality.” I am always happy to shore up our understanding and practice in this area, as one of our commenters suggested in last week’s post about what conversations we should be having in 2015. If you follow the link above, you will arrive at Michael’s classic post on the subject, which includes a list of characteristics of what he means by the term.

Today, I’d like to take a different tack. I am assuming that Jesus is to be the center and focus of our faith. Also, that the goal of spiritual formation for us as individuals and congregations is to be shaped in heart, mind, character, and action so that we resemble and represent Jesus among our neighbors in the affairs of daily life. Given that, today I would like to share eight practices that have helped me keep Jesus in the center. I’m not saying I am consistently faithful engaging in these practices. But they have become part of my devotional DNA, and I find Jesus in them.

Practices that help me keep Jesus in the center:

1. Observing the Christian calendar. In its basic character, the Christian faith means living in a Story which reaches its dramatic pivot point in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. Exalted to the Father’s right hand, he poured out the Holy Spirit and formed the new covenant people of God who are called to embrace the Story and tell it to all nations. The Christian calendar enables us to walk in that story in a way we all can grasp. Few things form us like the calendars we keep, the seasons we go through, the special occasions we enjoy, the celebrations we keep, the commemorations we mark. During the first part of the year, from Advent to Pentecost, we trace the earthly career of Christ. During the second part of the year, deemed “ordinary time,” we learn to live as the redeemed, renewed, Spirit-filled people of God in our vocations and as participants in the Missio Dei throughout the world. There are endless possibilities for creative engagement with keeping the Year, from simply participating in Sunday worship at a church that marks the seasons to any number of individual, family, and group activities that help us focus on the Story of Jesus.

2. Participating in liturgical worship. Traditional liturgical worship reenacts the drama of Christ week after week after week. The lectionary readings take us through the Story, complemented by music, hymns, prayers, the Creed, and responses. The Sacrament brings each week’s service to its full intended focus — the finished work of Christ, who died, rose again, ascended to the Father, and will come again. Throughout the year, people enter the Story through Baptism, and following the various seasons of the Christian calendar keeps us continually coming back to Jesus.

3. Keeping the Gospels primary. I believe there is a “canon within the canon.” This was true for the Jewish people and the way they viewed the Hebrew Bible. Though they held all scripture in high regard, their identity was primarily bound up with the Torah (the Pentateuch, the “law” of Moses). This was the story that described how they became the people of God. God chose them by grace, provided for their ancestors, redeemed them out of slavery in Egypt, entered into a covenant with them at Mt. Sinai, cared for them in the wilderness, and led them to the Promised Land. I believe we will keep Jesus front and center best when we view the New Testament in similar fashion. The four Gospels (and Acts) are the story of Jesus and what he did to redeem us, make us his people, and inaugurate his Kingdom in the world. This story is “the Good News.” On the other hand, it has been my experience in “Bible-shaped” evangelicalism that the epistles were the primary focus of teaching and practice, and that this led to a “Bible-shaped” or a “doctrine-shaped” Christianity. As believers in Jesus Christ, as followers of Jesus Christ, as those called to represent Jesus Christ in the world, the stories we ought to know best, the scriptures we ought to memorize, meditate upon, and know by heart are the stories of Jesus.

4. Reciting the Apostles’ Creed. Not only in gathered worship, but in my personal prayers, I have learned the value of reciting the Creed. I like the Apostles’ Creed because it is brief and its focus (once more) is on the Story of Jesus. Confessing my faith this way regularly helps me keep my focus on the main thing and reminds me that my unity with the church catholic is in our embrace of the Christ whose narrative is summarized in the Creed.

5. Praying the Psalms. The Book of Psalms contains the prayers of the king and the kingdom. The first part of the book is filled with the psalms of David, the king, whose prayers represent the laments and praises of the ideal King (Messiah) introduced to the reader in Psalm 2. Want to know Jesus intimately, to use a common evangelical meme? The psalms of David expose us to the heart, mind, and spirit of our King. Want to know more about his plan to restore God’s divine Kingdom in the world, so that all nations and all creation will be renewed? It’s there in the psalms. Praying the psalms has been the habit of the Church for centuries, and this is why — it is one of the places in the Bible where Jesus is most apparent in all his divine-human glory.

6. Praying the Lord’s Prayer. This is simple and logical — Jesus taught us to pray this prayer. So let’s pray it! What better way to keep him at the center of our faith?

7. Serving those in need. My work as a hospice chaplain has given me the privilege of walking among the needy and suffering every day. Like Jesus did. I didn’t ask for this, but the opportunity came to me and it helps me keep him at the center of my attention throughout each workday. Few will have this opportunity. But you might consider making regular visits to the hospital or nursing home as a volunteer, working in the inner city, assisting at risk children, or participating in any number of activities that will get you out of the saltshaker and into the world, as Rebecca Pippert famously said. For I have found that this is where Jesus is. I won’t go so far as to say that he’s not in the church — of course he is — but I have an inkling that he actually prefers other venues in which to do his best work.

8. Participating in cross-cultural missions and relationships. Ever since I took my first trip to India about twenty years ago, I have come to think that it is hard for me to know Jesus fully without being exposed to people, worlds, and experiences that stretch me beyond the comfortable culture in which I dwell. Jesus made a point to challenge his parochial listeners to expand their vision of God’s love and learn to accept that it included people like Samaritans and Gentiles. The global society in which we live provides many opportunities to expand our boundaries without even having to travel. The world is at our doorstep. As we intentionally develop relationships with those of other cultures, even in small ways, we may glimpse whole new perspectives on Jesus.

Comments

  1. Re 1&2 I’ve never really understood why people think this is necessary – a calendar isn’t necessary for me to remember Jesus work on my behalf, neither do I understand the repititive nature of “liturgical worship”, what makes it so much better than any other type of worship? I’m happy to accept what is called “The Apostles Creed” but who knows whether it was? Same with the Lord’s Prayer although it can lose it’s impact with mindless repititon. Praying the Psalms and serving the poor are the only claims that I think most people could ascribe to, these at least are not bound by “traditionalism”.

    • The problem is, non-liturgical worship is just as bound by tradition and repetition. And it doesn’t tell the Story nearly as well, if at all.

    • turnsalso says:

      I don’t think Chaplain Mike said he felt any of these things were “necessary” to be focused on Christ. Rather, he tells us that these are ways that have worked for him (and which also have the recommendation of our Christian forefathers). He then proceeds to discuss their merits.

      Let’s continue this discussion… do you sense some major weaknesses with CM’s recommendations which bear mentioning?

      • +1. No practices are “necessary” in an absolute sense. But one thing that has always been discussed on Internet Monk is the paucity of resources and imagination regarding spiritual formation in evangelicalism, and the riches that are available in the historic traditions. I have found this to be so.

    • I would point out the theological basis for keeping the liturgical calendar- that the nature of the Christian life, and of Scripture reading/knowledge, is that we find ourselves swept into a greater story. Something that is bigger than ourselves, something that is we are “within.”

      Contrast this with the more common view of theology today- that Christianity is about something being “in me.” This is not untrue, but the overwhelming majority of the Bible’s cues about how we interact with it, and with Christ, point us to the fact that WE are in IT/HIM. “In Christ” is a far more common phrase in the Bible than “Christ in you.”

      The liturgical calendar helps us keep this dynamic straightened out, instead of collapsing it into “Jesus my personal butler-therapist in my heart” theology.

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      Regarding the liturgy, Luther wrote that Christian worship consists of Word and Sacrament. The advantage of the traditional liturgy is that it has these built in. Even if the sermon is terrible (and it often is), it is surrounded by the congregation hearing and speaking and singing scripture. And even if the sermon is terrible, the Eucharist is not. Non-liturgical traditions reduce or eliminate the Sacramental part, and often don’t have a whole lot of Word either. Everything hangs on the sermon, and if the sermon is terrible (and it often is) then you got nothing.

      As for its being repetitious, my personal experience with the texts is that the repetition is a feature, not a bug. Speak or hear a text the first time and it can be a struggle to just keep up with the surface meaning. Repeat it a few times and you get past that and can pay attention to what is going on beneath the surface. Keep repeating it and it seems pretty pointless. But keep going, and it becomes an act of contemplation. When I sing the Gloria or the Sanctus, my mouth is on autopilot. This frees my heart and mind to focus on the significance of what my mouth is singing. I think that those who only see vain repetition have never reached this point. It is like long distance runners’ reports of reaching a state of euphoria. Even in my youth I was not built for long distance running. It made me simply want to vomit. So I have to take their word for it.

      • David Cornwell says:

        Richard, thanks for your post. I like your calm and careful explanations. The second paragraph is very close to my own thoughts on these subjects.

        And as for the first paragraph: My own youth was spent in a fairly liturgical Methodist Church, which I’m sure would not compare favorably with a Lutheran Church, because in some ways it was sermon centric. But the repetition in worship from week to week made its mark on me and has served me well. This is true especially when I can’t get to church as often as in the past, because in my mind I am praying and reciting with the Church and surrounded by a cloud of witnesses from both the past and the present praying in like manner. Oh– I can’t remember any of those old sermons now; not even their titles.

        • Richard Hershberger says:

          “The second paragraph is very close to my own thoughts on these subjects.”

          Another vomiter! We should form a club.

      • My thoughts too, Richard. Since I joined a liturgical church (Episcopal) 20 years ago, I appreciate the liturgy just because it is repetitious, as is the church calendar.

      • “As for its being repetitious, my personal experience with the texts is that the repetition is a feature, not a bug.”

        You get all my daily plus points.

    • I’m happy to accept what is called “The Apostles Creed” but who knows whether it was?

      It wasn’t. We’re pretty sure it evolved from the “Old Roman Creed” which dates to the second century. But the name is catchy, so it sticks. It all from the New Testament anyways, so in a sense, it actually is their creed.

      Same with the Lord’s Prayer although it can lose it’s impact with mindless repetition.

      Seems like a pretty low opinion of God’s word you have there. How are you judging “impact?” I say it’s is powerful beyond understanding, working on us MOST when we are completely unaware of it in ways we don’t often notice.

      a calendar isn’t necessary for me to remember Jesus work on my behalf

      I hope so! But it is good, right, and salutary nonetheless to have a disciplined pattern of reflection on it. It’s one thing to know a fact that won’t escape you, it’s another thing to leverage it as the focal point of your meditation. After all, the Gospel IS the Christian’s life. It’s not something that we simply don’t forget, it’s the core of our identity as disciples, our life-altering paradigm. We should be happy for the chance to marvel continuously at the beauty of God’s self-giving in Christ. Such spirituality has the potential to stir up within us reflections of His generosity.

      • “I say it’s is powerful beyond understanding, working on us MOST when we are completely unaware of it in ways we don’t often notice.”

        In my life, for sure, the biggest changes for the better have happened completely without my noticing. Occasionally, thinking an issue through will result in an out-of-left-field, peace-inducing answer (which I would attribute to the Holy Spirit, not least because it’s always some variation of “don’t worry about it”), but what little progress I have made toward Christlikeness has happened entirely behind my back.

        • Yes! And I would add that, speaking from personal experience, all my best efforts to make myself more like Jesus have done nothing but make me miserable and a pain to those around me. We should still strive to persist in good works, but our striving must be rooted in the empowerment of a Jesus shaped spirituality. Otherwise we will quickly default to building ourselves up with a religious veneer, rather than expressing the joy and thankfulness that proceeds from faith in the Gospel.

          • Yep. My first time reading The Way of the Ascetics, I completely missed the point (taking it instead for a spiritual engineering manual), annoyed everyone around me, and generally became more of a sanctimonious jerk (already my default state, so that didn’t help). Was convinced that I was only lukewarm for a couple years after, and then I discovered what Luther was all about with that “grace alone” stuff. Since then, I’ve felt more peaceful, tolerant, and gracious towards other viewpoints than ever before. I even read The Way of the Ascetics again and found it so wonderful and free, and frankly simple in its advice, I wondered how I could have missed it the first time.

            The Wilderness has been very good to me over the years.

    • A Simple Hillbilly says:

      I am certainly no cheerleader for the Christian Calendar (though I find it useful), it is certainly better than the cycle of secular holidays you find in most churches. Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Labor Day, Memorial Day, July 4th, Thanksgiving all get more attention than they deserve within the church service. Growing up, we said the pledge of allegiance more often than a creed or the Lord’s Prayer.

      • That is weird, isn’t it? I only learned what a creed was (besides a lame 90’s band) thanks to a Rich Mullins album my mom listened to all the time, but pledges in honor of the Stars and Stripes, the Christian Flag, and the Bible were said every day of VBS in my childhood church, and intermittently on Sunday morning. Their meanings were never explained to us (how’s THAT for “vain repetition!”), but I still remember every last one of them.

        That being said, I never thought of it till now, but the pledge-of-allegiance model might be a good way to introduce the Creeds into the Evangelical environment again. Anyone ever try this?

        • A Simple Hillbilly says:

          I also have Rich Mullins to thank for that. It also helped me make a good impression at my girlfriend’s (now wife’s) home Presbyterian Church to not be one of those people who don’t have it memorized yet.

    • David Cornwell says:

      “Same with the Lord’s Prayer although it can lose it’s impact with mindless repititon.”

      CB, I understand what you are saying to an extent, because when I was a kid I heard similar thoughts expressed by my dad. But I have found just the opposite to be true in my own experience, especially over time.

      As for the authenticity of the Prayer: It’s beauty, simplicity, and staying power are all I need to believe that this originated in the prayer life of Jesus.

      • turnsalso says:

        I notice that the stereotype of the insincere Christian, the one who just shows up, goes through the song and dance, and goes home again, might really be an issue of catechesis. Those of us here who find nothing but life in liturgies that others see as dead shows that it’s not an issue of the form itself so much as a lack of appreciation for it. Once we have learned to appreciate what we’ve inherited, we can engage it and it might start to work on us.

        I know I adopted and endorsed liturgical forms before appreciating the structure of it all, and still get dumbstruck when I am asked about something that I’ve never thought to ask myself before, because Tradition. For example, why is there a lectern AND a pulpit? “Because that’s how it’s always been” isn’t usually a very moving reply. Does anyone else have this “problem,” or am I the only one who can’t articulate why I prefer high churchmanship?

      • “But I have found just the opposite to be true in my own experience, especially over time.”

        Same here. And by “over time” I mean decades. Words often said seem to have cycles of meaning of there own, with seasons of meaninglessness, then they come back like spring after winter, with more power than before. It has taken me decades to really understand that.

        Younger me was strong with the “meaningless repetition” meme. Younger me was very wrong.

    • In the Orthodox Church, we believe that when the Second Person became incarnate, he sanctified all that had to do with human life (and that this became visible, in a sense, at his baptism). This included time. In living in the liturgical year, we are living in Time Sanctified.

      Dana

      • David Cornwell says:

        “In living in the liturgical year, we are living in Time Sanctified.”

        Love this.

    • Obviously Chaplain Mike doesn’t need defending here, and he can defend himself, but let’s look at his lead-in to his points:

      “I’m not saying I am consistently faithful engaging in these practices. But they have become part of my devotional DNA, and I find Jesus in them. Practices that help me keep Jesus in the center.”

      This says, “This is how *I* find Jesus.” He’s sharing how HE shapes his spirituality around Jesus. You can take them or leave them. For me, I never have followed the Church Calendar much, nor am I in a church that has any sort of liturgical element. Having said that, I love CM telling me how these two things help him keep Jesus at the center, and it makes me realize there are two other avenues *I* can explore. (And to be honest, I wish my church had a bit more liturgical element.)

  2. ” Ever since I took my first trip to India about twenty years ago, I have come to think that it is hard for me to know Jesus fully without being exposed to people, worlds, and experiences that stretch me beyond the comfortable culture in which I dwell.”

    Does this mean that the those who cannot afford to travel internationally are at a disadvantage in coming to know Jesus fully? I’ve never traveled internationally, nor will I ever be able to afford to do so; is this really a limitation on my ability to know Jesus fully? I hope not.

    Also, rather than serving the poor, perhaps serving those in need would be a more inclusive discipline, because it’s a discipline that the poor can participate in rather than merely being subjects of.

    • Hardly. After all, there are millions of people from over seas are immigrating to the Americas. The trip to India was an example. Other worlds, peoples, and culture are so easily right next door. GI meet and interact with them.

      • Go*

        • Well, I don’t have to go anywhere to do that; I work, and interact, with people from all over the world in my blue collar job on a daily basis. It’s a pleasure to work and interact with people from different backgrounds and cultures, no discipline involved.

          • “It’s a pleasure to work and interact with people from different backgrounds and cultures, no discipline involved.”

            +1 It makes life more interesting. I would not want to go back to living in a place where everyone is like, or at least looks like, me. I believe it also eliminates a lot of The Fear(tm) I hear on the radio and see on TV.

    • “Does this mean that the those who cannot afford to travel internationally are at a disadvantage…”

      I don’t think so. Those who cannot travel may not be able to experience the full extent of a Different Place and those people in their/that place. But those people are coming to us.

      I live in a rust-belt city and on my way to work I pass a variety of people in non-western garb. Women wearing head-scarves walk past my house on the way to the corner store and the bus stop every day. A good percentage of the people on the bus/train are not speaking English.

    • Thanks for helping to clarify my points, Robert. We’re on the same page. I’ll change the wording to reflect that.

      • A Simple Hillbilly says:

        I knee jerked when I read that at first as well, even though after reading your full thought, I appreciate the point. I think it comes bad flashbacks to evangelical youth or college groups. People that spend the thousands of dollars for mission trips are “Good Christians” and a nice way of weeding out the poor people they don’t really want to have in the group. I had one campus minister actually tell me students ability to pay for mission trips was his basis for for judging if a person was really a committed Christian.

        Again, you did not go anywhere near that statement, but as soon as I saw the word “mission” it made me cringe.

        • I had the same gut reaction, and subsequent self-correction. The “mission trips” really torqued me.

  3. I just want to say I appreciate this post in light of yesterday’s post. Not that the discussion was not good and important yesterday, but this is a nice refresher of perspective.

    Thanks for it.

  4. CM, you are very good at doing this and I believe it furthers the cause of ecumenicism much better than holding hands and singing Kumbaya, at least for me. I have one minor quibble about something that split the Christian world in two. “Exalted to the Father’s right hand, he poured out the Holy Spirit . . . .” This seems to me to unnecessarily tweak the nose of our Eastern brothers and sisters.

    We haven’t figured out a workaround in a thousand years but maybe something like, ” , , , the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, who was exalted to the Father’s right hand. The Holy Spirit was poured out and formed the new covenant people of God . . . .” You might well do better.

    I understand the historical background of that unfortunate split but it just strikes me as silly and unprofitable today for anyone other than professional theologians. I am glad to see you confining your advocacy of creeds to the Apostles Creed. I have stopped speaking more and more parts of the Nicene Creed as obtuse and divisive, would very much like to see it join the Athanasian Creed as a historical relic of the church, no longer helpful and in some parts harmful or nonsensical for ordinary people who make up most of the church.

    • Thanks, Charles. And apologies to any Orthodox brethren who might have been offended.

      • I didn’t feel any tweak, so no offense taken at all from this quarter 🙂

        Thanks for thinking about this, Charles. Appreciate your awareness.

        Dana

    • turnsalso says:

      Might I ask what parts of the Nicene Creed you find obtuse and divisive?

      • The divisive part obviously is the “filioque” insertion. As originally agreed upon by all in Council, the Holy Spirit “proceeded” from the Father. The Latin churches arbitrarily and unilaterally changed this to read “from the Father and the Son”, something the Orthodox wing does not believe. I say “originally agreed” but there are revisions and different versions in different churches. The creed was composed in Greek, translated into Latin and other languages, including our English, with its own revisions and versions. Each translation brings its own problems and barriers to understanding.

        It was intended to be a means of common agreement for the official state religion of the Empire, and has turned out to be anything but. It was also intended to combat what were perceived as heresies for the same reason, and this accounts for the language that I find obtuse. In order to understand what statements like “eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father” mean, you would need to study at the PhD level in NT Greek, theology, history, and Greek philosophy. At that level you would find that a roomful of such learned folk would not agree with each other what was meant, and further you would find that the original composers of the creed did not agree with each other. If you read the histories, it was hammered out not only with fierce debate, but plotting, intrigue, violence, banishment, and murder. Might makes right.

        Unfortunately the Orthodox wing does not recognize the Apostles Creed as a solution. Removing the part in the Nicene that speaks of the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son altogether would go a long way toward a solution, but don’t hold your breath on that one. As to how these matters in any way help us to love God and our neighbor, I have no idea. At this point I find them counter-productive and a stumbling block, but I recognize that many are willing to accept them pragmatically without common understanding, as did many of the original signers.

        • “The Latin churches arbitrarily and unilaterally changed this to read “from the Father and the Son”, something the Orthodox wing does not believe.”

          It was unilateral but not arbitrary. It was done to address a western heresy that did not occur in the east. There was a western heresy that the Holy Spirit was not God and not coequal with the Father and Son: the western adaptation was to confirm that the Holy Spirit is God and coequal with the Father and Son. The Creed as originally written emphasized the Monarchy of the Father–a concept that was blurred and lost by the word proceeds.

          While the Catholic Church accepts the Monarchy of the Father, that phase of the Creed has been used, in the West, to discuss a different orthodox belief. The change was rooted in an actual misunderstanding that occurred in the West. It was an attempt to preserve orthodoxy not change the teaching.

          • Dana Ames says:

            The attempt to preserve orthodoxy is not the problem. The problem was that it was done outside of an ecumenical council, and was never brought to one later. The doctrinal point could have been ironed out in a council, and the fallout from this issue, anyway, avoided. Theologians in both the east and the west say it could be done even now.

            This is not the only big difference between east and west; others remain, and not just the status of the Pope of Rome.

            Dana

    • join the Athanasian Creed as a historical relic of the church, no longer helpful and in some parts harmful or nonsensical for ordinary people

      Kind of like Christology generally. Most Christians don’t see the value of it, so apparently it must not be that valuable and worth persisting in. (end sarcasm, just to be clear) Personally, I think that despite the single phrase that splits East and West in the Nicene Creed (which was certainly more about politics than doctrine), the fact that the sum total of the rest is held by Christians worldwide is a beautiful thing. Listen, if Rome agrees to drop the Filioque, my money says Protestantism will follow, and there will be peace and harmony among brethren. But that would require the Pope to say “we were wrong,” so it isn’t gonna happen. Let’s not blame the creed for faults in the office of the Papacy.

      • Richard Hershberger says:

        “Kind of like Christology generally. Most Christians don’t see the value of it, so apparently it must not be that valuable and worth persisting in. (end sarcasm, just to be clear)”

        It’s an old fight. Modern Christians don’t need to refight it: at least no Trinitarians. We have newer, trendier things to fight over.

        • Christiane says:

          there is a modern ‘version’ of the Christology fight within the evangelical community over a ‘doctrine’ called ESS (the Eternal Subordination of the Son) . . . for those who support it, it is used to bolster the patriarchy movement’s claim that wives are to be subordinate to the will of their husbands in the same way that Christ is subordinate to the Father within the Trinity

          orthodox Christians do not support ESS

          • Richard Hershberger says:

            That is a new one (or rather, a new recycling of an one) to me, but a few minutes with Google show that it is indeed a thing. Is it a niche thing and that is why I overlooked it, or have I managed to look past the elephant in the room? I will be optimistic and hope that it is the former. And when I characterize this as optimistic, it isn’t merely as a salve to my pride in my powers of perception.

          • Christiane Smith says:

            Hi RICHARD,
            I think you are right. The ESS phenomenon seems to be centered in the fundamentalist-evangelical patriarchy movement that is also associated with some in the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) . . . it does also reflect an attempt to support THIS particular 1998 ADDITION to what is today called the Southern Baptist Convention’s ‘2000 Baptist Faith & Message’:
            a declaration that “a woman should ”submit herself graciously” to her husband’s leadership.

            It’s not the ‘elephant in the room’, sir, no;
            but for many affected women, it is very much ‘ the mouse that roared’ 🙂

      • ” But that would require the Pope to say “we were wrong,” so it isn’t gonna happen.”

        Miguel, this doesn’t necessarily follow, and the Romans are not necessarily wrong in the matter. As I understand it, in the original Greek language of the creed, it makes sense that the Holy Spirit can only proceed from the Father in a very involved technical sense of the words. But the Latin translation of the words changes the meaning to the point where it now makes sense for the Holy Spirit to “proceed”, whatever that means, also from the Son. So it isn’t that the Romans are wrong, it’s more like apples and oranges. Or straining out gnats to swallow camels. From my point of view, what possible difference does it make in day to day reality?

        Yes, these were political matters, only necessary after Christianity changed from being persecuted to the state religion. They were also philosophical matters, that being the only language available to describe the indescribable. I would have much less trouble with the creed if it was considered poetry than some kind of legal document for use as an oath of allegiance, which is how it was written.

        The Pope today could say, “From our standpoint in the Latin West, the filioque makes sense. From the standpoint of the Greek East, it does not make sense. In the hope of soon sharing bread and wine in Christian love with our brothers and sisters from the East, we are removing the contentious words from the Creed within our authority. It is not a matter necessary for salvation and those within the Church are free to retain a belief in it as understood in our Tradition.” This Pope might get away with that, or maybe not. Stranger things have happened. I’m sure lawyers from both sides will descend on me.

        • In most international liturgies in at the Vatican the Filioque is no longer sung–it is not a liturgical norm in the West though. A link to John’s Paul’s statement: http://www.ewtn.com/library/CURIA/PCCUFILQ.HTM

          • Rick, thank you for that link. I read the whole thing and as much as I understand it, it seems to confirm what I had thought. I must say that it seems like a lot of unnecessary gobbledy-gook to me, and I expect would have to Jesus as well. It recognizes that the Trinity is a great mystery, why not leave it at that? Jesus said, “I will ask the Father and he will give you another Helper to be with you forever, even the Spirit of Truth . . . .” Why not leave it at that? History and personal experience and the testimony of others bears out the truth of Jesus’ words. If your link is from twenty years ago, why are we still hanging on to this old barrier to fellowship over obscure technicalities?

          • “Why not leave it at that?”

            Heh. This is the most reasonable response to SO MANY theological divisions.

            We take what the text says, and often under the guise of ‘logical extrapolation’ add our own secret sauce; then “What??!?! You don’t like my secret sauce??!?! Pox!”. So little of what we add has any substantive effect.

            This is one of my struggles. It is often hard to care about a lot of Church Matters or Theology. As in the end so much of it is best described as “inconsequential”.

  5. I really like #3, to me this is the most crucial. It’s hard to believe in someone you don’t know about and the Gospels are the way we get to know Christ.

  6. A Simple Hillbilly says:

    I get the feeling that not all of these practices help me as much as they do Chaplain Mike, but clearly they have helped shape many.

    Reciting the creed or the Lord’s Prayer does not carry much weight in my practices, partly because of the tradition I was raised in, but I know it does for many others. When I volunteer at nursing homes, there are always elderly people who just seem lost to the world, but start the Lord’s Prayer, or a certain hymn, or the creeds, and it reopens that memory, awakens their minds. It holds their faith even after their memory is gone. I cannot deny how these things have shaped their lives.

    The Lord’s Supper is certainly the practice that first comes to mind in my life for keeping Jesus in the center. It is also my connection to the holy catholic church. In every corner of the earth, bread and wine, body and blood, grace and forgiveness, a true global communion for those of faith.

  7. Patrick Kyle says:

    Thanks CM, great and important post.

  8. This is a really wonderful and helpful post, Mikie. Thank you so much for it.

  9. This is a really wonderful and helpful post, Mike. Thank you so much for it.

  10. Thanks for sharing, CM. Great thoughts all the way around.

  11. Well, one of the people who hoped to see more of this kind of stuff this year, I love, love, LOVE this!! Thanks, Chaplain Mike!

    I don’t do #1 much, and my church is weak on #2, but I appreciate hearing how this helps you, and also gets me thinking about how I might add those elements in my own walk. Thanks for sharing those.

    #3 – Keeping the Gospels primary. YES! I believe this is so true. I teach an adult Sunday school class and have found myself “led by the Spirit” to continue teaching out of the Gospel accounts. So for every non-gospel book or two that I study, I make sure we go back to one of the gospels. Currently in Luke. Fascinating!!

    #4 – Haven’t ever thought of that. Thanks!

    #5 – Praying the Psalms. I like that. A few years back, again “led by the Spirit,” I decided to lead every Sunday school class with a reading from a Psalm. It’s been really, really cool. We just made it through them all a week ago.

    #6 – I’m in two prayer groups. I think that may be a thing I do at every one from now on. We’ll see…

    #7 – I’m beginning to see how “serving others” isn’t only a good spiritual thing to do, I think it’s a wonderful “psychological” thing to do, too. I see so many people having pity parties and moping about the way life’s gone and yada yada yada…and not to sound too unsympathetic or callous, but sometimes I think all these people need to do to turn their lives around is to go help someone else.

    #8 – Cross-cultural missions. Yes. Some of you have heard me tell the story of my church, where it had become a sort of country club of 40+ year old white folks who are 20+ year old Christians, yet in the midst of one of the most diverse communities in Washington state (Kent). When we brought in a new pastor, we were looking for a guy who might have the ability to shift our congregation from its country club mentality. Well, praise Him, but now we have a huge African refugee contingent, along with several other nationalities and races. Really, really interesting to see!

  12. I was not raised in a liturgical church and when, after having been a prodigal for many years, I returned to the church it was not to a liturgical church but I find myself more and more drawn to those traditions that practice formal liturgy. One of the many things that stuck out to me from yesterday’s discussion is that much of the tradition I practice my faith in is concerned about sin management and not so much about proclaiming the finished work of Christ. There is a continual emphasis on the self–my sin, my actions, my service, etc. that serves to put the focus on me. I have a hard enough time battling selfishness and need a form of worship and spiritual practices that put the focus on something outside myself–namely, that puts the focus on Christ. “Almighty God have mercy on you, forgive you all your sins through our Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen you in all goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep you in eternal life.” This pronouncement of what has been accomplished through Jesus, on the other hand, serves to free me from constant introspection, frees me from the anxiety of wondering “am I in, am I accepted by God?” and frees me to love and serve others as a response to the grace I have received, not as a measure of how much grace I have received.

  13. Christiane says:

    I don’t mind saying this prayer often . . . I don’t think of it as ‘repetition’ because each time it is prayed is like the first time:

    ‘Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us. . . . ‘