Morning by Morning

"The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary. Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught. The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious; I turned not backward." Isaiah 50:4-5

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Secret Keepers

The Church is a family with some basic similarities with any family, and an essential difference.  The parish church, gathered from many places and many backgrounds is generally a broader community than a single family.  Secret keeping can ruin families, and it can ruin churches, for secret keeping leads to loss of trust in the secret keepers.  Instinctively one knows that something is going on, and we have the therapeutic words of Jesus that what you do in secret will be shouted from the rooftops. Secret keeping in families and churches is a sign of dysfunction, and only a growth in transparency will move families and parishes towards health.

There is only one kind of secret in parish churches that should not be told, and that is the secrecy of the Confessional.  That leads to a potential priestly misunderstanding; you can’t extend the secrecy of the Confessional over the rest of the stuff in a parish, it simply doesn’t work.  Part of the reason is that people, without priestly training, sometimes are unable to handle the private exposure of the secrets of another; they simply have to pass the hot potato.  The more loaded the hot potato the more apt they are to pass it on.  But let me tell you a secret, not all priests handle this very well which is why the Book of Common Prayer advises that you find “a discreet and understanding priest”.
Secret keeping in Churches doesn’t work very well, and for several reasons, the first reason being the nature of the secrets one is trying to protect.  Secret keeping in parishes most often has to do with gaining and exercising power over others.  It automatically creates an ‘in group’ and an ‘out group’.  Withholding information from others removes the power of response, either of approval, disapproval, or action.  Incorporating unwilling people in the circle of secret keeping is an attempt to neutralize them under the bonds of secrecy, in effect saying, “Now that you know the secret, don’t talk about it.”
Because the church is a broader than an individual family, secret keeping doesn’t work very well.  If the secrets being kept hide actions that would not be taken if they were public, they contain an element of shame.  In that sense, shame is the fear of exposure.  If an unwilling person is placed in the position of keeping secrets in a parish setting they may have several responses.  Some people boxed into that situation will simply, as a matter of principle, just ignore the demand for secrecy.  Some can’t wait to unload the hot potato sometimes sharing the secrecy under the guise of sharing a prayer concern.  Some relish the power that secrecy sets up and the result is divisiveness, and yet others gloating over their power can’t resist telling someone.
Again we come to the old adage, when power comes in the door, love goes out the window; and love is the central business of Christians, especially with each other.  A wise friend of mine says that anything worth doing should be done in the open.  If you can’t do something in the open, you probably shouldn’t be doing it. 

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Worry, Worry, Worry!

Worry, worry, worry, oh me, oh my, like a dog on a bone.  Have you ever observed that many of the things that we worry about are things that we can do nothing about at the time we are worrying about them?

Some of the things we worry about are matters of genuine concern, but some of them really don’t deserve the worry weight we place on them.  That reveals that there are two levels of worry.  The first level of worry is over things that may call for specific action and prayer; the second level of worry needs to be treated differently.
The first kind of worry is the subject of Psalm 107 where a pattern is established in a refrain that repeats throughout the psalm.  “They cried to the Lord in their trouble, and He delivered them from their distress.”  The word ‘trouble’ can also be translated as ‘a tight place.’  We do get in tight places, and that does call for trust and prayer.  St. Peter advises us to cast and keep on casting our anxieties on Him for He cares about us (I Peter 5:7).  Sometimes dealing with a significant worry takes persistent prayer and responsible action.

The second kind of worry is just the habit of worrying.  We human beings will worry about things that aren’t worth worrying about just because we are used to worrying about something.  The Psalmist says of some people, “There they were, overwhelmed with dread, where there was nothing to dread” Psalm 53:5 NIV). 
This kind of worrying can be managed by a simple technique. As one of the ancient Desert Fathers said, “If you have a snake or a scorpion and you put it in a box and put the lid on it, sooner or later it will die.”   A little holy repression is good for the soul.  Repress it.  Put it out of your mind.  Go watch a movie.  Read a good book.  “Whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:8). 
On a deeper level, consider the Sovereignty of God.  There is ultimately nothing that is going to happen to you that He can’t redeem.  He who created you, loves you, and holds you in the hollow of his hand. “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His steadfast love endures for ever” (Psalm 118:1).