Stewardship of Life


Slow-Cooker Spirituality

Posted in It's Personal by Robert Blezard on July 9, 2010
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By Rob Blezard

When I lived in in Chicago, my neighbors cooked real barbecue. Not the “sloppy joes” that passes for “barbecue” in Pennsylvania (where I live), or the 15-minutes-on-the grill treatment that most of us do at backyard cookouts. I’m talking about nice cuts of meat barbecued s-l-o-w-l-y to tasty perfection.

An African American family originally from the South, my neighbors did it the right way. Their “barbecue day” began after breakfast, with a small charcoal fire in the big cooker, into which they placed pork, chicken, beef, sausage and hot dogs, all slathered in succulent sauce.

All day long my neighbors kept the fire low. When it was finally ready, their barbecue was tender, juicy and out-of-this-world tasty.

The time and the process of slow-cooking give real barbecue its amazing texture and flavor. Sure, the meat could cook in 15 or 20 minutes, but it wouldn’t be the same. Gradual cooking over many hours transforms ordinary supermarket meat into the delicacy known as barbecue. It cannot be rushed.

Slow-cooking is a great a way of preparing food, but it also serves as a good philosophy for life, and especially the Christian life. The wise person gives time for everything worthwhile. Most goals are best accomplished at a slow and steady pace. And rushing can actually harm some things, such as intimate relationships.

The slow approach is out of sync with our microwave world. We want things NOW — if not sooner, and we are accustomed to getting them.

We expect instant downloads on our computer, super-fast Internet connections, movies-on-demand from our cable company, wi-fi everywhere, crash diets, fast food, drive-through pharmacies, fast-acting pain relievers, online banking, pizza delivered to our home in 30 minutes, next-day shipping, and on and on. We are conditioned to rush.

Our conditioning has taught us to be impatient  and grumpy when our needs are not met quickly or our goals take too long. When we hit delays, we get huffy, loose interest and move on.

Problems arise when we apply this attitude to our lives of faith, expecting that God will work quickly to transform us into steadfast disciples — strong in spirit, loving of heart and gentle in nature.

Disappointed when dramatic results take too much time, many people change churches, practices, denominations. Or they just drop out altogether.

Mystics and saints from all ages have told us that real spiritual transformation takes place in God’s slow-cooker, over years and decades. It’s true that conversion and coming to faith can happen quickly, as with Paul on the Road to Damascus, but growing deeply in faith requires time.

You can read the Bible in a few weeks, but it takes a lifetime to learn. We can memorize the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostle’s Creed in a few hours, but a deep life of prayer evolves over years of practice.

Like barbecue, our spiritual transformation cannot be rushed. The Holy Spirit applies steady heat to our souls, tenderizing us and filling us with the savory spice of God’s love and mercy.

Our part is to stay in God’s slow cooker — faithfully worshiping God, diligently praying and remaining open to God’s guidance and direction.

Reprint rights granted to congregations and other church organizations for local, nonprofit use. Just include this note: “Copyright (c) 2010, Rev. Robert Blezard. Used by Permission.” Other uses, please inquire: rcblezard@embarqmail.com.

Blezard is an ELCA pastor serving Trinity Lutheran Church, Arendtsville, Penn., and editor for stewardshipoflife.org.

Photo by Food Thinkers, used under Creative Commons License.

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Holy Laughter

Posted in It's Personal by Robert Blezard on June 23, 2010
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Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.”

Psalm 126:2

A fellow Christian once told me that God had no sense of humor. “Nowhere,” he said sanctimoniously, “does the Bible record that the Lord Jesus laughed.”

I replied, “It doesn’t record that he went to the bathroom, either, but I don’t think he held it in for 33 years! He wasn’t into that kind of miracle.”

I hope I’m right. If God doesn’t have a sense of humor, I’m doomed. Doomed, I tell you!

Because I really love humor, even religious humor, and I love to laugh. Always have. As a kid I listened to George Carlin’s vinyl LP records. And for that one year (1974) that it was on the air, I tuned in faithfully every week to The National Lampoon Radio Hour, which featured some unknown young comics, such as Chevy Chase, John Belushi, Bill Murray and Gilda Radner.

The ability to laugh at the world around you is a gift from God. I am convinced of this, even though references to laughter are relatively scarce in Holy Scripture. For me, there is a close connection between humor and spirituality. Humor arouses delight and joy – two pathways of the holy. And I’m not the only one who is onto this.

Years ago I interviewed a Roman Catholic monastic who told me his community valued a sense of humor in people who wanted to join. Humor, he said, indicates a healthy and balanced psychological makeup. By contrast, people who are too serious may be hiding real issues.

Scientists have verified that a sense of humor and frequent laughter has amazing psychological benefits. Among other things, people with a sense of humor tend to be more relaxed, less stressed, more creative and less prone to depression, according to a 2006 report in Psychology Today (click here!). Moreover, the article points out numerous physiological benefits:

Laughter … sharpens most of the instruments in our immune system’s tool kit. It activates T lymphocytes and natural killer cells, both of which help destroy invading microorganisms. Laughter also increases production of immunity-boosting gamma interferon and speeds up the production of new immune cells. And it reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can weaken the immune response.

I bring humor into worship at church. The weekly bulletin has a “Sunday Chuckle” – a joke or cartoon. It makes people smile. One choir member actually got the giggles in the middle of service. I also make the occasional wisecrack or joke during announcements, in the sermon and whenever the appropriate occasion arises.

Laughter relaxes people, as Psychology Today points out, and relieves stress. It brightens the mood of the church and makes worship a much less sober, dry experience. Perhaps the most surprising side effect I’ve noticed is that it sharpens the attention of people in the pews.

One senior citizen told me, “I have to listen carefully because I never know when you’re going to throw in a zinger.”

Do you think God has a sense of humor? If so, let me know your thoughts. If not, let me know your thoughts and pray for me, because I am doomed.

Photo by Pheesy, used under Creative Commons license. Click here to view more of Pheezy’s photos.

Vacation Daze

Posted in It's Personal by Robert Blezard on June 17, 2010
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Do you get enough vacation time to relax and refresh yourself?

Just an hour ago I arrived home from the airport after a glorious vacation, so the memories are still fresh and delightful. We visited an art museum, saw some great live music, ate some delicious meals, took leisurely strolls through scenic areas, toured historical sites, visited some cool shops — and just enjoyed the simple pleasure of taking a break from work.

It was a short trip, not-too-expensive, to a not-too-glamorous place, but it was thoroughly refreshing.

When’s the last time you took a vacation that really recharged your batteries? Do you have enough time in the course of a year to renew your spirit? If you suspect you are vacation deprived, you may be right.

Americans are among the hardest-working people, at least when compared to residents of other industrialized countries. European nations are notorious for their generous vacation policies – the effect of government law and a general culture that values time away from work.

For comparison’s sake, here is a 2007 roundup of average vacation days, according to the United Nation’s World Tourism Organization:

Italy, 42 days
France, 37 days
Germany: 35 days
Brazil: 34 days
United Kingdom, 28 days
Canada: 26 days
Korea: 25 days
Japan: 25 days
U.S.: 13 days

OK. Anybody want to move to Italy? How about Japan, where five weeks of vacation is the norm? That sounds pretty good, considering that most Americans are lucky to get two weeks. At my old place of employment, you received one week after the first year, two weeks after three years, three weeks after five years, and the maximum — four weeks — after 10 years.

Question is, what is it about the way Americans think that places work above leisure? Certainly part of it is that old Protestant work ethic that values industriousness and is suspicious of leisure and – gasp! — pleasure. And we STILL say that the devil makes work for idle hands.

In her landmark book, “The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure,” sociologist Juliet Schorr argues that the industrialized world has made enormous gains in productivity since World War II. But, whereas Europeans have tended to take productivity gains in the form of increased vacation and leisure time, Americans have tended to take it in the form of increased pay to buy consumer goods.

“After four decades of this shopping spree,” Schorr writes on page 3, “the American standard of living embodies a level of material comfort unprecedented in human history. The American home is more spacious and luxurious than the dwellings of any other nation. Food is cheap and abundant. The typical family owns a fantastic array of household and consumer appliances.”

The question is, are we more happy? And are we more healthy as a result? Here the research, unfortunately, indicates no. Surveys show Americans to lag behind other nations in happiness. But granted, that’s a subjective thing to measure. But medical statistics show Americans are 49th in life expectancy — behind all of the nations on the above list except for Brazil (source).

In their book “Your Money or Your Life,” authors Joe Dominquez and Vicki Robin say that Americans are not so much working to make a “living” as they are working to “make a dying.” What do you think?

Stewardship of life means taking care of yourself in all the ways that help you to live the best, happiest and most godly life possible. That includes taking adequate time for leisure and vacations?

Are you getting enough time off? How do you cope? What advice do you have for others? Share your ideas!

Photo “Vacation” by 19Melissa68, used under a Creative  Commons license. Check out more of Melissa’s photos.

Ordinary Time? How About ‘Miracle Time’ instead?

Posted in It's Personal by Robert Blezard on June 10, 2010
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“IT’S PERSONAL” BLOG

Now that those sexy church seasons of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter and Pentecost are behind us, we are now full into the plain vanilla liturgical straightaway known as “Ordinary Time.”

What a crummy name for a church season. Can it get any worse?

Yes! The liturgical color is green.

What’s so “ordinary” about Ordinary Time? It turns out, mostly just the name. “Ordinary Time” is the English translation of the Latin phrase, Tempus per annum, or “time through the year.”  Itself not exactly the kind of phrase that inspires either monkish devotion or religious revelry, Tempus per annum was a Catholic thing arising from the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s. So they get two points for the whole “ditch the-Latin” thing, but minus three points for coming up with the dorkiest name for sacred time.

The “ordinary” in Ordinary Time, according to http://www.churchyear.net, may have its roots in the idea of “ordered,” since the weeks are just kind of numbered between Pentecost and Advent. And as any 11th grader studying high school algebra can tell you, an “ordinal” is just a number in a well-defined set.

The Vatican officially adopted the term “Ordinary Time” in the English translation of its 1969 directive, General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar, which once again clearly revealed Rome’s need for a noncelibate editor to spice up the language of their official documents. General Norms explains the season thus:

Apart from those seasons having their own distinctive character, thirty-three or thirty-four weeks remain in the yearly cycle that do not celebrate a specific aspect of the mystery of Christ. Rather, especially on the Sundays, they are devoted to the mystery of Christ in all its aspects. This period is known as Ordinary Time.

Okay, now we’re getting somewhere! But why call the time when we celebrate the mystery of Christ IN ALL ITS ASPECTS “Ordinary Time”? That would be like calling the day on which Jesus Christ was nailed to a cross to die “Good Friday”! But that’s another column. My guess is the real origin of “Ordinary Time” comes from lack of imagination. Those Vatican editors really should get out more.

Maybe it’s time for all the churches to debunk Ordinary Time once and for all! The predecessor to the National Council of Churches apparently did just this, according to Wikipedia. In 1937 it proposed “Kingdomtide” as the name for the whole season between Pentecost and Advent. Fortunately, it never caught on and MAY be someday be the name of a video game in which Medieval knights fight the minions of the church to rescue the knockout princess (blonde, of course) who is imprisoned in a fortress-like convent. Or maybe not.

But here’s the deal: All kidding aside, there is no such thing as ordinary time. It’s a dumb and misleading name. Every moment of every day pulses with divine energy, so every moment is saturated with God’s meaning and purpose, if we only open our eyes and hearts to see it.

Alas, few people do, even though almost every spiritual discipline is devoted to just this purpose: to help give you an awareness of God’s presence all around you, in every nanosecond of time.   The name for the season between Pentecost and Advent should remind us of this.

Therefore, I propose we  change the name of the season from “Ordinary Time” to “Miracle Time.” Because like “the mystery of Christ In all its aspects,” God’s universe is full of Miracles for us to celebrate. No, the idea isn’t original.  I drew inspiration from Walt Whitman, who was great American poet of the 19th century, and definitely not a celibate monk.

Whitman’s poem will explain it all:

Miracles

Why! who makes much of a miracle?
As to me, I know of nothing else but miracles,
Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,
Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky,
Or wade with naked feet along the beach, just in the edge of the water,
Or stand under trees in the woods,
Or talk by day with any one I love–or sleep in the bed at night with any one I love,
Or sit at table at dinner with my mother,
Or look at strangers opposite me riding in the car,
Or watch honey-bees busy around the hive, of a summer forenoon,
Or animals feeding in the fields,
Or birds–or the wonderfulness of insects in the air,
Or the wonderfulness of the sun-down–or of stars shining so quiet and bright,
Or the exquisite, delicate, thin curve of the new moon in spring;
Or whether I go among those I like best, and that like me best–mechanics, boatmen, farmers,
Or among the savans–or to the soiree–or to the opera,
Or stand a long while looking at the movements of machinery,
Or behold children at their sports,
Or the admirable sight of the perfect old man, or the perfect old woman,
Or the sick in hospitals, or the dead carried to burial,
Or my own eyes and figure in the glass;
These, with the rest, one and all, are to me miracles,
The whole referring–yet each distinct, and in its place.

To me, every hour of the light and dark is a miracle,
Every cubic inch of space is a miracle,
Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with the same,
Every foot of the interior swarms with the same;
Every spear of grass–the frames, limbs, organs, of men and women,
and all that concerns them,
All these to me are unspeakably perfect miracles.

To me the sea is a continual miracle;
The fishes that swim–the rocks–the motion of the waves–the ships, with men in them,
What stranger miracles are there?

(From the 1900 edition of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, in the public domain.)

*General Norms is actually pretty instructive, maybe even for those who aren’t liturgical nerds like me! Click here to read a copy.

“Eternal Time”  photo by Robert van der Steeg, used under a Creative Commons license. See more of  Robert’s photos at http://www.flickr.com/photos/robbie73/.

How to Stay Spiritually Healthy

Posted in It's Personal by Robert Blezard on June 7, 2010
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How are you meeting your spiritual needs? How are you nourishing your soul?

As a pastor I ask these questions a lot, but especially to folks who seem stressed out, overly busy, burdened by everyday problems, or who seem to be drifting away from church. They are also good questions to keep in mind over the summer, as many of us travel and tend to get distracted from our spiritual lives.

Like physical health, spiritual health needs our attention and priority if we are to enjoy lives that are strong, balanced and joyful.

We know that if we never exercise, our bodies will become unhealthy. We will suffer, and our lives will be filled with pain.

Your spirit needs exercise, too! The best way to stay in spiritual shape is to pray daily, both informally (for instance, when you are diving) and formally (with hands folded, head bowed, as at mealtime or bedtime).

And at least once a week go to the “gym” where you can get a spiritual workout. You know I’m talking about church. Worship with your brothers and sisters, hear the Word of God proclaimed in music, Scripture and sacrament.

For advanced spiritual exercises you can meditate, engage in lectio divina, fast for a few hours, join a Bible study, engage in service, embrace generosity as a discipline, practice love or just day sit in holy silence for a few minutes each day.

And how about your spiritual diet? For our physical health, we know that eating doughnuts, cookies, pizza and ice cream all the time will make us sick. We need to feed our spirit good stuff, too.

The Bible provides the best spiritual nourishment. Like an apple a day, a little Bible a day goes a long way to keeping you healthy and strong spiritually. Many denominational websites can send you a daily Bible verse!

Supplement your Bible readings with a daily devotion of some sort. Bookstores sell books of niche devotionals targeted to Christians of every interest. Lots of websites offer daily devotions as well.

Thanks to online resources, you can probably find everything you need without too much trouble. Just go to a spiritual website you find suits your tastes and values, and chances are you can find some devotionals. For instance, I like the website of  Sojourners: Christians for Justice and Peace, and receive from them a daily email with a Bible verse, a quote from a spiritual writer, a prayer and links to articles I might like to read.

Spiritual health needs our constant attention, especially in the summer. When we go on vacation, it’s easy to go on vacation from God, as well.

So this summer, work hard at your spiritual health. Pray daily. Read Scripture. Attend church when you can. Nourish your soul on good material. Here are some suggestions for summer reading:

The Gospel of Luke. For churches that follow the Revised Common Lectionary, we are now in the year of Luke, Year C, when we will hear his words regularly in church. Read the whole Gospel and be inspired!

The Shack, by William Paul Young. The novel is a fanciful depiction of the Holy Trinity. It’s definitely challenging, and I hope inspirational, too!

New Seeds of Contemplation, by Thomas Merton. An American monk and mystic, Merton describes a spiritual life in short, inspiring chapters.

Other pastors have recommended the following to me, so I have put them on MY summer spiritual reading list:

Pastor Brian suggests REJEUS by Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost, and The Naked Gospel by Andrew Farley.

Pastor Tom suggests Unbinding the Gospel, by Martha Grace Reese; The Jesus Manifesto by Leonard Sweet;  Almost Christian: What the faith of teenagers is telling the American church, by Kenda Creasy Dean; and O me of little faith- the confessions of a spiritual weakling, by Jason Boyett.

What do you read to nourish your soul? Let me know and I’ll share it with everyone else!

“Yoga Woman” Creative Commons Photo Credit: Adria Richards, http://www.flickr.com/photos/adriarichards/2798736890/

Enraptured!

Posted in It's Personal by Robert Blezard on June 2, 2010
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After a decade or more of resistance, I have finally surrendered to the theology of the  Rapture. I’m certain the Rapture will take place in the not-too-distant future – probably before the end of President Palin’s second term.

For those who have somehow missed the cultural juggernaut, Rapture theology holds that the world’s many crises will only escalate. (Pretty good odds there, huh?) But not to worry! Just before the you-know-what hits the fan, God will remove all the “good people” who have accepted Christ as their personal savior and deliver them to some safe celestial realm. The rest – those who never accepted Christ, or who said they did but never really did – will be “left behind.” Maybe you’ve heard of the Rapture from books that use this as a premise, the Left Behind series of 16 books. Novels, actually; fiction, like the Da Vinci Code. They’ve sold millions!

So when exactly will the Rapture come? It depends on how the current crises play out, and there are new problems all the time! You have to work hard just to keep up. For instance, this week’s violence between the Israelis and Turkish activists trying to penetrate Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip – well, that could have big consequences. Maybe we’ll see just how much nuclear capability Iran really does have, and that will spell imminent Rapture, for sure.

And there’s the whole “oil in the Gulf of Mexico” thing. Nobody knows what will happen, because we’ve never faced that big a mess before. One thing’s for sure: Poison enough water, poison enough spawning ground for important species, poison enough microorganisms at the bottom of the food chain, and the whole web of life just collapses. That, too, would certainly indicate an early Rapture.

Then, of course, there are the classic crises that we’ve been following for a while, such as overpopulation, climate change from greenhouse gas emissions, the acidification and warming of oceans, the global economy, natural disasters and war. Dependable as always, armed conflict makes for a good crisis — in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Darfur region of Sudan, in Chechnya and on and on.  Then there are the wild card players, such as Kim Jong-il in North Korea and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran: Do they have nukes, or what?

So the Rapture’s timing is a matter for close watching and careful analysis of the warning signs. Kind of like the weather. An inexact science, lots of variables, but always interesting.

But as I said, surrendering to the Rapture theology has transformed my life. I used to be worried about all these crises! It’s true. I used to sign petitions for nuclear non-proliferation. And I would fax my U.S. Senators and Representative, urging them to get the U.S. behind a global commitment on greenhouse-gas reduction before the planet bakes like a sugar cookie in the oven too long. And I would give money to organizations looking for a diplomatic solution to the Israeli crisis. I really did. I used to do all those things.

Since I now know that it’s God’s plan that human beings will eventually destroy the world, what’s the point? And since God will rescue true Christians, Rapturing them to paradise just before the worst takes place, why should I get all excited over stewardship of our natural resources, our money, our time, our talents — or even my own health? Why continue a gym membership and eat salads when we’re all going to be given new celestial bodies  in the end? I can eat Moosetracks ice cream in front of the TV all day long, then loose my  gut and love handles in the Rapture!

Believing in the Rapture is a lot less stressful than believing that Christ calls us to be partners with him in healing a world that has been lost to sin – what a lot of us used to think. And believe me, it’s a whole lot less work!


Rob Blezard is a writer and editor for SOLI. Reprint rights gladly given to congregations and church agencies for local, nonprofit use. Just include this copyright notice: “Copyright © 2010, Rev. Robert Blezard, http://www.stewardshipoflife.org. Used by permission.” Other uses inquire: rcblezard@embarqmail.com.

The Prayerful Pose

Posted in It's Personal by Robert Blezard on June 1, 2010

Press you hands together, palm-to-palm, finger-to-finger, thumb-to-thumb. Go ahead. Do it now, and hold it for a few seconds. Are you doing it?

Not a very natural pose, is it? In fact, it feels kind of awkward, right? At least it does for me.

The position forces your hands to straighten against their natural curvature. The stretching gives you a slight physical sensation – not uncomfortable, not painful, just noticeable.

It’s precisely because of this physical sensation that I have enjoyed using the gesture in prayer. True, it has been a traditional prayer gesture for hundreds of years, but it was still new and fresh for me when I started using it regularly during the past year.

Before, I would enter into prayer using any old hand position — letting them dangle at my side, clasping them together at right angles, interlacing the fingers — whatever seemed comfortable. Sometimes I would fidget around and use all of them in the same prayer session.

Perhaps I avoided palm-to-palm prayer because it felt so forced. And years ago, before I was a pastor, I attended a church where the pastor used it all the time, and I thought it looked pretentious. But now that I’m using the gesture, I see the benefits. It has helped energize my prayer life. How can a mere gesture do this?

Physical actions do help us enter into different states of mind. Think about it. When you place your right hand over your heart, you think patriotic thoughts. Why? Because that’s what we do whenever we recite the Pledge of Allegiance or sing the Star Spangled Banner. We’ve learned.

And when we put our index finger to our lips, we automatically hush both our voices and our thoughts, because it’s the gesture of quiet. When we place our left hand on the Bible and hold our right hand up, we become serious and sober, more likely to tell the truth.

When I place my hands together, palm-to-palm, fingers-to-fingers, thumb-to-thumb, my body, mind and spirit know it’s time to pray. It’s time to put away distracting thoughts and focus on communication with the Almighty. It’s time to relax and open myself to the presence of the Holy Spirit.

The awkwardness of the pose assists me in entering into prayer. I place my hands in this pose only when I pray. So it’s special. And the slight stretching sensation from my fingers gives me a sensual reminder that it’s time to pray.

It works for prayer at worship, when I’m listening rather than leading (when I’m leading prayer I still use the orans position – arms bent, hands out to each side, palms up). But it also works when I’m listening to Scripture being read. The gesture reminds me to pay attention – this is the Word of God.

Try this practice for yourself – or experiment with what works for you. The simple technique has improved my experience of worship.

When I place my hands together, palm-to-palm, fingers-to-fingers, thumb-to-thumb, I remind myself that I am in the presence of the Holy. I remind myself to quiet my mind, focus my attention and open my heart to God, who is all about and reaching all around me.

Rob Blezard is a writer and editor for SOLI. Reprint rights gladly given to congregations and church agencies for local, nonprofit use. Just include this copyright notice: “Copyright © 2010, Rev. Robert Blezard, http://www.stewardshipoflife.org. Used by permission.” Other uses inquire: rcblezard@embarqmail.com.

How to avoid boring worship

Posted in It's Personal by Robert Blezard on May 26, 2010

By Rob Blezard, May 12, 2010

There is a cure for boring worship. Worship Boring? Come on, now, admit it. In your faith life you have occasionally thought of worship as boring, haven’t you? OK then.

You can understand why worship seems boring to many people. Entertainment is all around us, 24/7, and available in ever-smaller, ever-cheaper and ever-more-convenient ways. In one gadget that fits into our pants pocket, we can watch movies, listen to music, browse the World Wide Web, make phone calls, take photos, text message our friends, play games, read books, and on and on.

By comparison, worship is low-tech, and not multi-functional. On top of that, we use the same basic form of worship week after week, and even with the same prayers and chants.

After a while, you can follow the entire liturgy without ever cracking the red hymnal. You can stand, sit, chant, exchange the peace and take communion without thinking once about it.

Here’s the cure for boring worship:

First, remember that worship is not entertainment. Entertainment aims to distract you from life and reality by altering your mood with pleasant or exciting experiences. Entertainment is a commodity that we buy and use to bring us pleasure. We’re surrounded by cool entertainment delivery systems because they have been designed, manufactured and marketed to bring us pleasure.

Worship is often fun, inspiring, interesting, purposeful and enjoyable, but its entertainment value is really beside the point.

Worship aims to bring you, not away from reality, but towards reality. The reality is that our lives come from God and return to God, and in between we connect with God as at the center of our world, the center of our being. Worship disconnects us from the distractions of entertainment and the world, so that we can reconnect with God and truly live.

Second, focus. At worship, you have only one task — to worship. You do it best by clearing your mind of all the other thoughts your mind is capable of thinking. Focus on the worship service.

If you can say or chant a prayer or song by heart, allow the familiarity to free you to concentrate on each word, each phrase, each sentence as it passes your lips. Focus!

Finally — and this one is the biggie — expect that God is going to touch you during worship in some way. Expect that God who created earth, matter, space and time, is there in the church and reaching out to you. Why on earth would you expect that? Because that is precisely how God operates.

God promises to be with us when we gather in the name of Christ. God has given us the Holy Scriptures in order that God may be revealed to us. We hold services, sing hymns, read Scripture, listen to the Gospel proclaimed, celebrate the sacraments for only one purpose: That we may be present where God has promised to be, and that our lives may be filled with God’s peace, power and love.

But if we’re bored and distracted, wishing to be entertained, we likely won’t be open to God’s presence. And we miss out.

Rob Blezard is a writer and editor for SOLI. Reprint rights gladly given to congregations and church agencies for local, nonprofit use. Just include this copyright notice: “Copyright © 2010, Rev. Robert Blezard, http://www.stewardshipoflife.org. Used by permission.” Other uses inquire: rcblezard@embarqmail.com.

Commencement advice for every day

Posted in It's Personal by Robert Blezard on May 26, 2010

By Rob Blezard, May 19, 2010

‘IT’S PERSONAL’ BLOG

OK, graduates, listen up!

This is your big day at last. It’s time to get out there in the world and make a difference!

Pursue your dreams! Shoot for the stars! Aim high! The world is your oyster! Set lofty goals! The sky’s the limit! Let your vision be your guide!

But it won’t be easy. Work hard! Don’t be discouraged! Be diligent! Take heart! Fight the good fight! Run the race well! Stick to your guns! Be true to your values! Honesty wins out in the end! Integrity is its own reward!

But you can do it! So make a difference in the world! The future is in your hands! You are the leaders of tomorrow! The world is counting on you!

Across our land, young men and women are hearing commencement addresses full of hope and inspiration and promise. And yes, full of clichés.

I’ll be giving a commencement speech, of sorts, on Sunday, when my church confirms six youth in the faith. I will speak of their journey of faith, how God was with them at Baptism, and how at this ripe stage of life — as they are now almost done with the eighth grade – they begin in earnest their faith journey. Every moment, I’ll tell them, God will be with them, like a guide in their raft through all the through the whitewater rapids of life. It will be a good talk, filled with hope and inspiration. Oh, and probably clichés.

It’s the season of commencement speeches, and for much of the Easter season, churches that follow the lectionary have been reading Jesus’ pre-ascension advice to his disciples. Which is kind of like a commencement speech, when you think about it, except Jesus was way too smart to use clichés.

Whether it’s for high school graduation, college graduation, confirmation – or even a farewell speech to a class of 12 apostles, commencement addresses give us hope, wisdom, inspiration to live better lives. They put things in perspective and help focus our energies.

But why do we reserve this kind of advice for only once or twice in a lifetime? And then, at the very stage of life when people are least likely to use it? Change the world? Follow your dreams? Make a difference? Sure, but first, you probably want to (fill in the blank) get your own apartment … graduate from junior high school … survive persecution of Christians by Saul and the Romans.

It’s later we need that advice – when we’ve have been working for a while, when we have a little credibility, experience and perspective. That’s when we can better chart the way forward. That’s when it comes in handy to be reminded to dream big, work hard and have integrity.

In middle age, when our bodies begin to change and retirement is no longer way off on some far horizon, that’s when we really need to be reminded to dream. We’ve been so busy surviving that we may have lost perspective. Our looming mortality will force us to sit still, be quiet and pay attention. As singer Bonnie Raitt comments in her hit Nick of Time: “Life gets mighty precious when there’s less of it to waste.”

When it comes right down to it, every day is graduation day. Think about it! Every day we awake more experienced and prepared to follow our dreams than previous day. Every day holds promise, hope joy. We need to be reminded of it. We need a daily commencement speech. No matter where we are in our life journey we can remember Jesus’ words to every day graduates like us:

“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Rob Blezard is a writer and editor for SOLI. Reprint rights gladly given to congregations and church agencies for local, nonprofit use. Just include this copyright notice: “Copyright © 2010, Rev. Robert Blezard, http://www.stewardshipoflife.org. Used by permission.” Other uses inquire: rcblezard@embarqmail.com.

Free will? What free will?

Posted in It's Personal by Robert Blezard on April 1, 2010

This Lent has taught me that Martin Luther was correct: We have no free will. Our wills are thoroughly corrupted by sin and our selfish desires.

Marty was right: Our will is in bondage to sin.

See, I had given up sweets for Lent, and I really was doing pretty well. Pretty darn well. But then Shirley, one of my congregation’s gracious grandmas, brought to the church office a plate of her famous candy peanut butter Easter eggs.

Shirley is one of the best candy cooks in the entire Milky Way galaxy. For instance, there’s her fudge, which has a gentle, moist, yielding texture with just a hint of crumble. Shirley’s culinary alchemy transmutes the sweetness of sugar, the goodness of cream and the bitterness of chocolate into pure confectionary gold.

So I knew I was in big trouble when Shirley brought the peanut-butter eggs.

Free will? Not a chance! My will mounted no defense and uttered not a whimper of protest. It simply surrendered. And the eggs were better than I imagined, since they had an extra ingredient – the intoxicating spice of forbiddenness.

Point is, our wills are never free when it comes to the sins and desires that tempt us. The more we are tempted, the more in bondage our wills remain.

Think about it. If we had truly free will, there would be no diet industry. As our culture waddles in obesity, we try this diet plan, we buy that diet book, but the only thing getting thinner is our wallets — by $40 billion a year (source). Our will to be thinner stands no chance against our will to eat fattening food. If our wills were truly free, wouldn’t we simply choose to eat in moderation and exercise more?

The credit-card debt crisis is another product of our wills enslaved to sin and selfish desire. Like  flies in a spider’s web, millions of Americans are trapped in consumer debt that far exceeds their ability to pay. We long to be debt free, but it the more we struggle the more we are ensnared.

If we all had free will, really had free will, wouldn’t those of us with stable jobs and a decent income simply choose to live on what we earn? If we had free will, it wouldn’t be hard.

Instead of free will, let’s talk about free choice, which we really do have. We are free to choose even those things that are bad. And because our wills are in bondage to sin, the results are always disastrous.
Just look around. On a conscious level, we tell ourselves that we really want to be healthy, to live on a planet that is clean, to use our resources in a sustainable way, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. But because of sin, we are perpetually unhealthy, our planet is polluted, we are gluttonous with its resources and care not a whit for our neighbors.

Paul put it well in Romans 7:19: “For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do — this I keep on doing.”

What’s a species to do? Well, first, we can do nothing by ourselves, as Luther observes. We can only fall on our knees in repentance, ask God for forgiveness and let the grace of God wash us clean, renew our spirit and slowly — over a lifetime of repentance and prayer —  help us make better choices.

Which is exactly what I intend to do – just as soon as I’m done with Shirley’s peanut butter Easter eggs.

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