Wednesday, July 28, 2010

In communication with God

I heard a thoughtful sermon this week.

From the Gospel of Luke: 11:9 "So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 11:10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

The homilist, Fr. Dave, described his 5-month old son: he cries and he gets fed, or changed, or cuddled to sleep. This is the young, early relationship between parent and infant. The infant asks through cries and his needs are attended to.

Fr. Dave’s 7-year old son was compared to the infant son. To the older child the parent can say, “Please pick up the toy (rattle, or whatever) that your brother dropped and give it back to him” and the older son does as he is asked. Most of the time.

The relationship between parent and older son is more fully developed. They communicate on a different level, a mutually interactive level.

So, too, is our faith relationship with God. In early stages of faith we ask God for help, and if we are paying close attention, our prayers are answered, though perhaps not in the way that we expect. In more mature stages of faith the communication with God is more complex. God asks us to help with God’s purposes. God asks us to help by assisting others, by showing love through actions to others. We become God’s helpmate by working to fulfill God’s desires on earth by helping others with the resources we have. When we lack the resources God works with us to help us develop the resources that we require to do God’s will.

This description fits what I have seen in the world of faith in my life. I appreciate the description. I know that Fr. Dave has lived this message, too. In his life he has heard God’s call to action for Dave and Dave has responded in amazing ways. Just one of those responses resulted in Fr. Dave terminating his job, and with his family they sold their home and moved a thousand miles away so that Fr. Dave could attend seminary to become a priest. For the three years of seminary they lived on the proceeds of the sale of their home, and at the graduation were out of money and in debt. That, in my mind, is called jumping off the cliff in confident faith that it is what God asks to be done. Fr. Dave used the resources that he had available (the value of their home and security of a job) to obtain the resources that he heard God asking him to develop so that Fr. Dave could persue more fully the work that God was asking of him, in his case to become a priest and now rector of a congregation.

That is powerful stuff to me and my faith.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Was it the presence of the Holy Spirit?

Last Saturday was a quiet July afternoon at our ministry-which-is-the-bookstore. There had been few customers. Gradually, quietly, that changed.

A young couple and their baby-in-stroller entered the store. They were looking for a very specific icon. It was Jesus as King and High Priest. Their words and descriptions showed that they knew little about icons, but what they did know was that they needed one very specific icon. It had to be a Russian icon, not Greek. “Is this a Russian icon?’ “How can you be certain?” I am not a icon scholar, but I pointed to the lettering on the icon and asked is that text in Greek or Russian (Cyrillic)?” They didn’t know, but I suggested that it looked like Russian letters to me.

During the few minutes of their questions and my replies, as I offered them a catalog of icons with descriptions and a book about icons, as I tried to leave them alone to talk on their own, some other customers had entered the store. I became aware that we now had in the store customers who included a bishop in the United Christian Church, a Seventh Day Adventist pastor, and a bishop in a conservative Orthodox Catholic church. Although this last bishop told me that he had been so overworked and tired that this was his first chance to visit our store in months, he soon gravitated to the icon shoppers. Almost immediately he engaged the couple in a teaching situation as he described the icons and their meanings.

The woman of the couple came to me to ask if there were other stores in town that had more icons than we have. I explained that most of the Russian and Greek Orthodox congregations have gift shops attached to them. Although those shops have limited shop hours of operation they are nearly always open immediately after their Sunday worship services. Not only do they have icons, they really know and appreciate their icons and would be more knowledgeable than I. I offered the name of one, St Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church, certainly having a well-stocked store, although they are Greek and not Russian. “And where is it located?” Let me show you in the phone book. “Oh, I don’t use phone books. I haven’t used a phone book in five years. You have given me the name of the church and I will locate it in my computer.” “But, that is only one congregation and the phone book will list the various Russian and Greek Orthodox congregations.” “No. I don’t use the phone book and don’t want you to use it.”

Several minutes later the Orthodox bishop had stopped trying to teach them about icons. The couple had found two icons that they were interested in. One of the icons depicted Christ’s hand in one position. In the other icon Christ’s hand was in a different position. Placing both icons on the counter the couple continued to discuss them. They liked one icon, but not the depiction of Christ’s hand in that one. They preferred his hand in the other icon. Their discussion evolved to the topic of Photoshopping one icon and replacing the hand in it with the hand in the other one so that it would fit what they wanted.

By this time we all had given up trying to help the couple with the icons. It was obvious that they had no interest in the centuries of tradition and reverence for icons and iconography. They were only interested in getting a nice picture that fit what they wanted. As the bishop had earlier explained to them, icons are not pictures, they are an entry into the mystical nature of God. As I had tried to point out to them in books and descriptions of the icons in a supplier’s catalog, the specific icons have a specific history and meaning. These reproductions of the original icons refer back to the time when the “writer” of an icon would fast for 40 days, then seek permission and guidance from the bishop as to what the icon that was about to be created should manifest. Then, in all spiritual devotion, they would painstakingly attempt to create the work of spiritual art.

Nope. The couple intended to Photoshop the two icons so that they would have the one that they wanted and could put that picture of Jesus as King up in the window of their apartment.

Soon after the icon shopping couple left the store I realized that the clergy who had converged on our store had departed as well. It seems to me that the Holy Spirit was present during that event last Saturday afternoon as the clergy gathered, were present during a couple’s shopping experience, and then went away.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

What do we do with the choices that we make in life?

I read the following piece in the Christian Century this week:

You’ve heard of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, founders of the hugely successful Apple computer company, but you’ve probably never heard of Ron Wayne, Apple’s other founder. Wayne bailed out of the firm after only 12 days because he was afraid of losing his shirt in a risky venture. His original 10 percent stake in the company would be worth more than $22 billion today—if he had held on to it. “I left Apple for reasons that seemed sound to me at the time. Why should I go back and ‘what if’ myself?” Wayne said recently. At age 76, he is living off Social Security checks and earnings from the sale of stamps and coins.

I think that there is quite an important lesson here. Wayne made a decision many years ago. There are two different ways to handle looking back on decisions that we all make. We can either wish that we had made different decisions and beat ourselves up for not making a different decision, and perhaps using it as an excuse for why we are where we are today, or we can admit that we made the decision and move on with a positive outlook for what we are doing today and plan for the future. Some people see the glass as half full of water and some see it as half empty. Same glass of water. It’s what we think about it, and feel about it that makes all of the difference. This doesn’t mean that we should forget the past. We can learn from our past decisions and actions. We can also forgive ourselves, put down the load of carrying around those old burdens, remember where we put them down so that we don’t forget the lessons, but not be burdened with continuing to carry the old burdens that will hamper our life today and in the future.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

What’s happening around the ministry-which-is-the-store this week.

After weeks of work, discussion, and collaboration, we signed the contract and half paid for the website upgrade. This is the first in two years, which is a long time in website time. You probably will see the results about the end of July.

We are preparing for our 20th annual big summer clearance sale next week. Nancy looked at the numbers of each item in our inventory to determine whether it will go on sale. It took her a long time and she was bleary-eyed by the end. I have created the postcard graphics, with Nancy’s help. Everything involves Nancy’s help. The postcards design and addresses for the local store friends have been sent to the printer and mailing service, through a jobber. Two E-mail newsletters are ready to go, one for our Frequent Buyers and another for our regular monthly E-mail newsletter. Twitter notice, and Facebook notices are being prepared. The advertisement button on our website is ready to “go live.”

We are preparing to start pulling the books and non-book items. They will be stickered and re-priced. Store signs are being made. Monday we will be closed for the Independence Day holiday which gives four of us several hours to revamp the insides of the store so that we can open with the Sale on Tuesday morning, July 6th.