Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Witness the Word: "I Am Convinced"

Check out this video from  Community of Christ Seminary Dean Matt Frizzel as he shares a deeply personal experience of God's love and presence in his life.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Sing to the Lord by Nathan Reiff

 Ephesians 5:15–20

Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul begins this passage by talking about the need to be wise, make the most of your time, and emphasizing the evilness of the days.  Paul thought the return of Christ was imminent and often talked of the shortness of days.  Therefore, it makes sense for him to counsel us to be vigilant and on guard and to avoid being drunk or wasting our time.  The first part of this scripture makes logical sense.  The second part of this scripture pivots and seems odd in connection to the beginning. 

In the second part of this scripture, Paul tells the people to sing songs and give thanks.  If the days are evil, singing songs and giving thanks don’t seem to be the type of advice one would recommend.  If FEMA was issuing a warning about imminent danger and telling people to stay inside, stock up on food and drinking water, have a safe place to shelter in case of high winds and be on alert for further updates, but then also went on to recommend singing songs and giving thanks for everything, the community would wonder if FEMA was nuts.  But this is exactly what Paul is doing.  The days are evil; give thanks for everything.

How do we make sense of these dual recommendations?  It can certainly feel like we are living in evil times.  We see and hear messages of danger to our privacy, our safety, our food and our beliefs.  The news tells us about terrorism, murders, earthquakes, and wars.  Despite most of us living in a very safe time and place, we are shown the fallenness of the world every day.  Yet, we are told by Paul to be filled with the Holy Spirit and to give thanks. 

Why would we give thanks?  The Community of Christ is called to be a people of joy and hope.  Thankfulness is one way to build joy in our lives.  Psychologists who study happiness and resilience asked people to spend a few minutes each day writing three unique things they were thankful for in a journal for four weeks.  Each person was asked at the beginning of the four week period to take a test to evaluate how happy they were.  At the end of the four weeks, they re-took the test, and those who had written three things they were thankful for, were happier than they had been four weeks earlier.   If we are to be a people of joy it is necessary for us to be thankful.  This research indicates that we can change our level of joy.  But this isn't done by merely willing ourselves to be joyful; it is accomplished by training ourselves to see the good in our lives.  We sing of the goodness of Christ, and seeing that goodness is a skill we can learn. 

The radio show “This American Life” recently relayed a story about Janie Hampton, an author who set out to write a book about the Girl Guides (similar to Girl Scouts).  The author’s initial idea was to write a satire about the overly happy, sing-song nature of the Guides.  But she stumbled on an account of a Girl Guide troop during WWII in Occupied China.  European and American citizens who were living in China during WWII were shipped to concentration camps.  In one particular camp, children and teachers were moved, but the parents of the children were shipped to a separate camp.  The teachers used the positive attitude, songs and structure of the Girl Guides to help the children flourish in the camp.  One of the surviving girls talked about how it felt less scary if they could sing during their experience in the concentration camp.  She felt that their condition must not be that terrible if they could still sing about their experience.  The girls flourished despite the prisoners starving and having to get smuggled eggs from local monks.  In a similar manner, Paul asks us to see the world as it is, but to still keep a song in our hearts and to give thanks.  Paul asks us to change our focus. 

Science has shown that we tend to see what we are focusing on.  There are several videos on the website called "The Invisible Gorilla".  The videos show that what we focus on influences what we see.  If we spend too much time focusing on one particular aspect of the world we become blind to other aspects.  If you watch these videos, you will see a group of people playing with a ball.  As the people play, a gorilla moves across the stage.  Almost half of the people who watch the video in experiments miss seeing the gorilla.  Scientists conducted additional studies wherein they changed less obvious things, and nearly everyone missed the changes. 

What we are focused on determines what we see.  This is true when we focus on the brokenness of our society.  People surveyed in the United States believe they live in a world more dangerous than it was in the past.  But crime has gone down nationally and at a steady pace for the past 30 years.  News coverage of crime has gone up significantly during the same 30 years.  We see what we focus on. 

Paul advises the people of his time to give thanks.  This giving of thanks changes our focus.  We live in a world that is broken.  We know this from the news and from our personal experience.  But we also live in a world filled with Christ's presence.  God is in all things and is working in this world.  We are a church that is filled with the Spirit.  We are called by Christ to be a people of peace, hope, and love.  If we are going to be a people of peace, hope, and love, we need to be able to see the spark of God in those we meet.  To see that spark we need to train ourselves to see the good.  Giving thanks is one way to change our focus to the good.  We must be thankful for the wonders of God's creation, including the beauty in each other. 

Doctrine and Covenants 163 tells us that the spirit of the Restoration is one of, "…adventure, openness and searching." It is easy to see the failings and faults of the world.  And we need to recognize those faults in order to fix them.  But, first and foremost, we are called to be a people of joy.  Our joy is brought about by knowing that Christ is in our world, in our church, and in our neighbors.  Our "unique and sacred place" can be claimed by searching out those things for which we are thankful.  By turning our focus to the good, as opposed to focusing on the brokenness, we are a people of joy; and as we treat the brokenness of the world, we can do so as we "laugh and play and sing..." 

We cannot be joyful merely be pretending that the bad does not exist.  Joy is not a promise in the future.  We are called to embody the hope and freedom of the gospel now.  We are a people of compassion.  We are a people who are supposed to embody the gospel.  We talk of providing sacramental ministry to the world.  This means we are bringing the sacred into the world. 

Through our actions we connect the everyday to the divine.  To do this we need to be able to see the divine, and we see the divine by thanking God for those little pieces of divinity God sprinkles throughout our days.  When we come together to worship, or when we are singing to the Lord in our own hearts, we are reaching out to the Divine.  Our thankfulness is a recognition of God’s action in the world.