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A Dearth of Spirituality September 6, 2006

Posted by Matt in Matt, praxis.
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I suppose that it would be most appropriate to start off this entry with a confession: I rather dislike the word “Spirituality”. I suppose that I’ve been exposed to so much pop christianity that I’ve been unable to separate their usage of the term from its vaulted former status as a word describing the praxis of our Faith.

That being said: right now, I am experiencing a dearth of Spirituality.

There are a couple of reasons for this I think. One, I am afraid of unsettling some of the people around me. My roommate, for instance, comes from a background where Worship was seen as optional as long as one attended some Church function during that week. (This isn’t meant to be a condemnation, just an observation — one that he himself made.) I was struck by this fact when we were driving back from Disney here recently. We were chatting about the times that his group was able to meet. One of the times that he mentioned was early Sunday morning (10 to 2). I myself come from a background where Sunday (usually all-day, but especially mornings) were completely off-limits to calendar with. How do you explain to someone who doesn’t care about the Theology that Worship is a vital part of your life (personally speaking)? I use my roommate as an example, but it’s equally true for many amoung my Faith Community. How do you explain that you see Communion as so important that you should set aside a time every week to get together and share in the Meal? How do you explain to your Protestant friends when you start crossing yourself? I don’t want people to feel uncomfortable around me, because they are my Faith Community. They are the people that I live, learn, and grow with.

Secondly, there is a lack of kindred spirits in my Faith Community. Sure, there are a couple of people who actually have some understanding of what pomo means for the Church. Yet, they have their own lives to run as well. What the first point deals with at the personal level, this point deals with at the organizational level. What do you do when your own Faith Community does not always match your view of faith and practice? Obviously, this is an ongoing discussion (especially amoung self-identifing emergents), but I’m not looking to answer the larger theological question in regards to ecclesiology. I’m looking for an existential solution to the question of differing thoughts on praxis. I think that our community provides wonderful opportunities for praxis, but I don’t think that anyone in our current leadership has a firm understanding of what that means nor how that should drive how you do ministry. This makes continuing commitment to a life filled by praxis difficult.

In the end, I know that I simply MUST do my own Faith. It is what we as Christians have been called to do. I know that God will provide the strength necessary to do what I have been called to do. I need to place aside the concerns of my flesh and embrace the concerns of Christ.

Praise be to His Name for he provides comfort in the time of need.

The Prince August 19, 2006

Posted by Matt in Grace.
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The Peace that passes all understanding… Those are the words that some people use to describe the feeling at which they are “at rights” with God.

Often times in our lives, we are faced with the times and situations that require a moment of peace. Whether from stress or aguish, from joy or depression, there is always that time where you simply can’t take anymore of the emotional torture. Life has the every so subtile way of crushing down on you.

Yet through Christ, we are offered a gift of grace. We are often times offered that moment of peace, that we need more than anything else.

John 14:27 ESV
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

In my own trials and tribultations, I am often times (more often than not, I would say) faced with the need to “tap” some of that peace. Stress from school. Stress from friend (or rather, the lack thereof). Stress from excitement. Stress from ministry. Stress from interaction. Honestly, those stresses that anyone would relate to a typical college student.

It is in these moments of extreme struggle where I feel the prescense of God the most. Those moments where you are laid bare. Laid before the oppression of life itself. Those times when you feel that you simply have to just get out and run away from it all. Those times are the times when that peace begins to flow forth.

Sometimes it’s that phone call that you never thought that you would get… Sometimes it’s that movie that you just simply needed to see… Sometimes it’s that sholder to cry on. Yet most often for me, it is simply that feeling. That feeling where you know that everything will be okay. That feeling that sends chills down your spine and warms your heart.

This feeling is the one that flows forth from the very grace of God. The gift that surprises all the senses. That peace that which surpasses all understanding.

May our lives continue to live in yearning for that peace, that peace which follows forth from the Prince of all Creation.

Shallow Thoughts August 19, 2006

Posted by Matt in Wesley.
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This week I was able to retreat with several of the students who are active in the Wesley Foundation at Clemson University. We went away from the chaos of the campus, from the rush of student life, from the cell phones, TV, Internet and other sundry distractions. We sat down to plan out the rest of this semester. Urgently setting schedules, making important decisions, and discovering who and what our ministry was all about.

One of the most interesting activities that we engaged in was a journey of discovery (my term for it). We were all seated around a large circle and Lane (our campus minister) asked us to define what Wesley meant to us. As the discussion went around the room from person to person, you could sense a theme around the thoughts of all the people in the room.

The reason that people love Wesley. The reason that people continue to come back. The reason that they are even challenged to leave other ministries to join ours. That reason was community and family.

I find this extremely encouraging for any Christian ministry. There is a sense in which this is exactly what the Body of Christ is supposed to be. There’s a palpable sense of love in everything that happens through Wesley and more importantly through the people of Wesley.

What is it about this circle of love that people find so appealing? What is it about that love that resonates so much with the appeal of the Gospel? Is there something of Jesus encapsulated in the gathering of believer in a sense of family and community?

I ask these questions with cheap answers, surface answers, lying around in the waters of my mind. Yet, I am compelled to probe deeper. Hopefully, someone reading this will have some insight that they would like to share.

Is this something that you feel in your churches and Christian organizations? Is it something that you feel is missing? Is this just a figment of my overactive imagination?

I, for one, hope that we are able to continue to foster this love for each other and for our larger campus community. I hope that we allow God to move us to the ministry that we need to be for the people of Clemson University. May more lives be blessed through this ministry as I have been bless.

Glory to God in the Highest for all that he has done here in Clemson and in my own life through the people and ministries of the Clemson Wesley Foundation.

The Eucharist August 8, 2006

Posted by Matt in Church, Liturgy, Sacrament.
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It’s the first Sunday of the month (well, it was when I thought up this post)… Must mean that it is time to chat about Communion. Yes, I admit that I am a Methodist and that as a Methodist I believe that Communion is something that should only happen once a month… Oh, wait!!

Quoting John Wesley (and let’s face it, if you ever want to get through to the Methodists, you are going to have to quote Wesley):

it is the duty of every Christian to receive the Lord’s Supper as often as he can

What?!? Duty?!? “Often as he can”?!? But if you have Communion too often, it becomes less sacred…

A Third objection against constant communion is, that it abates our reverence for the sacrament. Suppose it did? What then? Will you thence conclude that you are not to receive it constantly? This does not follow. God commands you, “Do this.” You may do it now, but will not, and, to excuse yourself say, “If I do it so often, it will abate the reverence with which I do it now.” Suppose it did; has God ever told you, that when the obeying his command abates your reverence to it, then you may disobey it? If he has, you are guiltless; if not, what you say is just nothing to the purpose. The law is clear. Either show that the lawgiver makes this exception, or you are guilty before him.

Hello? Wesley is battling the same arguments in 1733. It’s now 2006. (That’s 273 years ago.) My campus minister passes me a copy of Circuit Rider, a magazine intended for the pastorate in the United Methodist Church. This month’s issue just so happens to deal almost solely with the sacrament of Communion. And wouldn’t you know it, I hear the same arguments being addressed. Though this time, it’s not John Wesley fighting back. It’s Will Willimon (PDF warning):

Celebrate more frequently! Holy Communion is the normal food of Christians.  Churches that celebrate this sacrament more frequently value it more highly.

Why are we still having to tell people this? Why doesn’t Protestantism take up its Reformation background and actually change things towards the way they are supposed to be? I’ve heard various ideas as to why: It’s too Catholic, Our pastorate isn’t educated enough, Our congregants aren’t educated enough, We don’t have enough time and on and on and on.

Am I the only person who thinks that this is simply abserd? Guess not.

As a side note, my own community here in Clemson, SC took these words to heart and has actually started a weekly Communion and Healing service (theological considerations aside, when is the Youth going to have their turn?). They also had a true Service of Word and Table this past Sunday. It excites me. Things are actually changing, even in my aged community.

More thoughts later…

Grace and Peace,
Matt Lemieux

Seven Songs August 6, 2006

Posted by Matt in Matt, Meme.
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Woohoo, another meme… This one comes once again from Rob.

So, seven songs that I am enjoying right now…
1) Nocturne in C minor, Op. 48 by Chopin (for quiet reflection)
2) Flesh and Blood by Andrew Peterson (Song about the Eucharist)
3) Fair Phyllis, a English madrigal, performed by The King’s Singers (I love to sing)
4) Carolina by Andrew Peterson (Song about Carolina and relevant just now)
5) Piano Man by Billy Joel (Long story, Jellyrolls)
6) Mohawks on the Scaffold by Andrew Peterson (Song about Church and “not getting it”)
7) Hallelujah by Rufus Wainwright (just a great song)

And there you have it, seven songs that I am enjoying right now. If you are reading this and have a blog, consider yourself tagged.

Yours,
Matt

The One Book Meme July 27, 2006

Posted by Matt in Matt, Meme.
2 comments

Rob of the New Perspective on Robb fame recently tagged me to complete another fun little meme…

1. One Book that changed your life:
Popular response it seems, but I would have to say N.T. Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God. Not so much for any specific content of the book, but just the way that it affected the way that I view Jesus, the Gospels and the Kingdom of God.

2. One Book that you have read more than once:
Easy… The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by C.S Lewis. I’ve read the entire series several times and recommend it to everyone.

3. One Book you’d want on a desert island:
Hrmn… Tough one… But I think I would take Dune by Frank Herbert. I can keep reading that book and get new things out of it every time that I do so.

4. One Book that made you laugh:
The book that has made me laugh the most would probably be Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. If you’ve read it, you understand. If not, you should… ;-)

5. One Book that made me cry:
A repeat… The Lion, The Witch, and The Waredrobe. If you can make it through the Stone Table scene without breaking down, I’m not sure that you are human.

6. One Book that you wish had been written:
An Open Letter to Matt Lemieux by Jesus of Nazareth. The Church in the Kingdom, or ‘Getting’ Church by any theologian prior to this century.

7. One Book that you wish had never been written:
Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoffer. If there is one book (which, I’ve not even read all of) that challenges me than any other, it is this one. I think that my life would have been much simpler and more complacent if I had never heard of Bonhoffer. That being said, everyone MUST go read this book… ;-)

8. One Book that you are currently reading:
The Secret Message of Jesus by Brian McLearen.

9. One Book that you have been meaning to read:
Resident Aliens by Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon

10. Tag 5 other people:
Well, you see, I’m new to this whole blogosphere, so for the time being this is a dead-end, but eventually I hope that it is not… :-)

Yours,
Matt

Politics July 22, 2006

Posted by Matt in Church, Mission.
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Ah, the joyous subject of American politics… You may insert any cynical cliche introduction to the topic as you may see fit.

Personally, I have to wonder how either side lives with themselves. Both make the same mistake: Confusing the Government’s work with The Body’s work. For the “Right”, it’s social issues. The Government’s job is to enforce the moral status-quo (that of, so-called, Juedo-Christian values). For the “Left”, it’s economic issues. The Government’s job is to enforce arbitrary standards of healthy living.

Of course, regardless of what you think the roll of the Government is, it is most certainly not a replacement for the work that we as Christians are called to do. Yes, we as Christians are called to be a people set a part (namely, by our adherence to the moral guidance of the Spirit), yet we are also called to be agents for bringing about the Kingdom of God in the places where we are. However, I think that the Scriptures are rather clear that WE (that is, the Church) are the people called to that task, not the powers and municipalities.

Then Chaplin at Duke Divinity (now Bishop of Northern Alabama) Will Willimon writes in his book Resident Aliens:

“Sometime ago, when the U.S. bombed military and civilian targets in Libya, a debate raged concerning the morality of that act. One of us witnessed an informal gathering of students who argued the morality of the bombing…At one point in the argument, one of the students turned and said, ‘Well, preacher, what do you think?’ I said that, as a Christian, I could never support bombing, particularly bombing of civilians, as an ethical act.

‘That’s just what we expected you to say,” said another. ‘That’s typical of you Christians. Always on the high moral ground, aren’t you? You get so upset when a terrorist guns down a little girl in the airport, but when President Reagan tries to set things right, you get indignant when a few Libyans get hurt.’

The assumption seems to be that there are only two political options: Either conservative support of the administration, or liberal condemnation of the administration followed by efforts to let the U.N. handle it.

‘You know, you have a point,’ I said. ‘ What would be a Christian response to this?’ Then I answered, off the top of my head, ‘A Christian response might be that tomorrow morning the United Methodist Church announces that it is sending a thousand missionaries to Libya. We have discovered it is a fertile field for the gospel. We know how to send missionaries. Here is at least a traditional Christian response.’

‘You can’t do that,’ said my adversary.

‘Why?’ I asked. ‘You tell me why.’

‘Because it’s illegal to travel in Libya. President Reagan will not give you a visa to go there.’

‘No! That’s not right!’ I said. ‘I’ll admit we can’t go to Libya, but not because of President Reagan. We can’t go there because we no longer have a church that produces people that can do something this bold. But we once did.

That’s right… We once did. Ask a Church Historian some time. They are the forgotten few in modern scholarship, namely because their project has been appropriated by others for other motives. They’ll love to hear from you.

Notice well that the Christian response (as Willimon suggests) is not a “Liberal” one or a “Conservative” one. It’s a missional one. Christians would do well to remember that Jesus was a radical precisely because he wasn’t a Liberal or a Conservative (if such terms can even be applied). Jesus was radical because he told everyone that they were wrong and they needed to get back to doing God’s work and not their own foolish pursuits.

Reminding You to Go,
Matt

The Joy of Rediscovery July 22, 2006

Posted by Matt in Church, Gospel, Matt, Mission.
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The following blog entry was written primarily as a free write exercise in order to better understand the place that I am currently in. The flow will reflect my own thought process. As such, it may not be the most coherent piece of writing on the face of the planet. However, I think that it accurately represents the place that I currently stand, even if I am the only person who can understand it… — Matt

As much as I hate to admit it, it is time to start writing about myself. This may strike some people as odd, but recently my identity has shifted from the traditional individualistic Western view to a more collective and Eastern view. This is the result of a paradigm shift in the way that I approach Scripture and Revelation, which, in turn, impacted my Christian identity. My identity as a Christian moved from being a quality of who I am to become the “whole” of which I am only a small and barely significant (if I may be so bold) portion of.

This shift was facilitated by a severe case of Clinical Depression which onset in the midst of my Freshman year at Clemson University. In the muddle of my depression, it became necessary that I maintain a firm grip of my own identity, both in a holistic sense and in a spiritual sense. Without the conscience effort to keep my own identity intact, I would have killed myself. Without a firm understanding of the place that God had for me in his world (not in a specific sense, but a general one — one in terms of life and existence), I would have lost the last barrier between myself and myself, between the man that I would called to be and the man I saw myself as. I look back with a sense of irony that this was also my period of greatest doubt, both of Christianity and the existence of God.

Thus, I started an intellectual pursuit of Truth. (This should surprise precisely zero of the people with which I have had ANY significant contact.) I began to seek out those answers that Christians offered to tough questions. Questions brought to the forefront by honestly seeking doubters. As much as I wanted Christian answers to be resoundingly and obviously true, this was simply not the case. The answers they gave began to ring with a hollow sense of artificiality. It was as though even the people giving them knew that they were lacking. Even the most astute (at least, seeming so) attempts to prove the existence of God, to disprove another Bible “contradiction”, or push the latest and greatest in 16th Century Christian thought, began to show sign of being forced, as if something about them were artificial.

It was this artificiality that caused me to approach some the primary scholarly material of the past half-century. Slow, but surely, I was introduced to an entirely new view of Scriptural Study, an attempt to return the texts to their proper and full context in the ANE, specifically in the idea-world of Second Temple Judaism (and, yes, it is okay to be completely confused by that last bit). From this study, I began to see a clearer picture of where we as Christians were called to be.

At the same time as this shift in focus, I was also confronted on several sides by this seemingly popular notion of a “Radical” Jesus. From youth retreats to billboards, from Spiritual self-help book to NOOMA videos, this notion came through loud and clear. However, nothing the people presented seemed all that radical to me. It was the same old picture of Jesus as that great moral teacher who died to save me from my own sin. Not to say that this wouldn’t be a singularly unique person, but it simply didn’t strike me as radical. This is, perhaps, to blame on my own Evangelical upbringing and this fact that this notion had been drilled into my head from such an early age. Whatever the reason for that reaction, it is the one that I felt at the time.

Then, these two decidedly different streams of thought came crashing together. This “modern” view of Scripture present a “Radical” Christ. Radical not only to his own day, but to ours as well. It is incredibly important to unpack everything that this revelation entails. So important, in fact, that I won’t even begin to venture an attempt to do so here. There are several works on the subject avaliable and I hope one day to possess the ability to pen my own thoughts in an attempt to encapsulate a small portion of that significance.

While I don’t even have the words to begin to explain it, this revelation caused a complete shift in my own understanding of myself. A shift from an individual to a member of a collective, a shift from needing to figure out my place in the world to the joy of finding out what God had in store for me, a shift from understanding Jesus’s sacrifice for me to understanding Jesus’s sacrifice for the whole of creation, A shift from an urge to understand myself to loving everyone in every way that I was capable.

This is the joy of rediscovery. The joy of finding the truth that has always been there. Like solving a puzzle or having a singularly marvelous insight, it’s uncovering the truth that laid just under the surface, eager to break out of its binding in ancient text or bad assumption. My joy of rediscovery was finding the message that drives to the very core of the created order, Gospel.

However, that joy brought hardship. It brought the understanding that I was not where I needed to be. Further, that the Church (as a collective whole) was not where it needed to be. We (I and the Church, if I can even begin to speak as though those two were separate) had a mission. Something that we had been neglecting to accomplish. English scholar and churchman N.T. Wright call it “putting the world to rights”. Jesus charged us to proclaim the message to all nations, but, even beyond that, he charged us with the very act of bringing about God’s Kingdom in this world in the fullest possible expression. If that sounds like an easy task, then you probably need to spend some time thinking about what a Kingdom of God would be.

However, there is hope to be found. Christians have been doing this work all along, even if they never completely appreciated the significance of that work. Even I had been developing an “attitude for service” for a long time before I ever realized that this is what I was compelled to do by virtue of my loyalty to the Christ and his work in this world. I had never understood it on those terms before, but somehow (read: the Spirit) I was already on the path that I needed to be on.

However, this began to beg a larger question. What is my unique Kingdom-Work? What is it that I am supposed to bring to the Table of the Church? I must admit that I am currently deep in the heart of this struggle. I know pieces of the picture: Seminary, Ordination, Clemson. Yet, this doesn’t provide even a glimpse of the life that God has in store for me. Through Clemson, I was able to tap into a unique community of believers known as Clemson Wesley. That unique community has yielded unique Christians who have challenged and continue to challenge any view of my future. I am continually haunted by Jesus’s call to Kingdom-Work.

I continue to see many avenues in which that work is being carried out and will be carried out. Visions are coming out of this community that simply can have no other source than the very Spirit of the Living God. I am excited. I know that God placed me in this place and with these people for a reason. I still have no idea of my place in this Kingdom-Work, but I am ever excited to see where God wants me to be. I am also excited to see where God wants me to be. I am also excited by the fact that others are excited by the very same thing in their lives. They may be further along in that journey than I am. They may be slightly behind, but you can still sense that joy. That joy of rediscovery. That joy of finding the place that God has for you in this world.

Praise be to the Lord for the place that he has brought me and for the places that he will take me. Amen.

Yours,
Matt

The Blog July 22, 2006

Posted by Matt in Miscellaneous.
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A little meta right off the bat… This is a temporary place for my blog. One of these days I’m going to move it elsewhere so I can have a full blown installation and get this colour scheme looking better. I don’t like the fact that my sidebar is now on the bottom, which means my blogroll gets no play. Good News everyone, I messed around with the themes panel and found one that I could customize well enough to my tastes.

That said, I do like WordPress’s CMS. It’s very easy to use and their default font is simply amazing… :-)

Yours,
Matt