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Monday, September 21, 2015

Pause



This has been the busiest summer of my life.  No exaggeration.  No hyperbole.  No kidding.  I was thinking about rehashing it, but come on... nobody really wants to read that.  I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't glad it's almost over.  Summer, that is.  I'm exhausted.

When I sat down to write this post, I had absolutely nothing ministry related to say.  Then it occurred to me that when life is ministry, there's always something to say; even if it's not very profound.  And so here I am, listening to a mix of instrumental music and nature sounds, muted by the voices of my super loud kids who are running through a hotel suite, trying to wind down enough to wind down.

There's a word for this.  It's Sabbath.  We all need it.  So, rest.

L.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Anointing of the Sick: Magic, Faith, or Sacrament?



The following is the first in a series of guest posts
as my family embarks on a much needed vacation!
This post was written by my new friend, Walt Gessner,
whom I met through my husband, Phil,
who met Walt when they were in the same cohort at
Northwest Nazarene University, studying Spiritual Formation.
Walt gives you a little bit more of his background
in the post that follows.
Thank you for sharing with us, Walt!

I am aware that those of us that have aligned our work and ministry with the Church of the Nazarene have varied opinions and thoughts in regard to the anointing of the sick. A mentor and very good pastor friend of mine does not like to use oil in praying for the sick. His position is a well-reasoned and understandable one: many people that sit in the pew will see the oil, receive the oil, and somehow missing the prayer in being healed will think that it was the oil that healed them. I guess he feels that many Christians do not have a very good grasp of the basic tenets of the Christian faith to recognize that the power is not in the oil, but in the one whom the oil represents: the Spirit of God.

Other Nazarenes that have a more conservative approach to theology and Christian living quickly pick up on the other name for the anointing of the sick, the Sacrament of Last Rights, and cast it aside as being “too Catholic,” and thus something that we Nazarenes best stay away from so that our theology and Christian living are not corrupted. I see their point, especially since our roots are in the Protestant stream of things. To be too Catholic might somehow pull us into that void of works over faith salvation, and thus we would fall into the trap of thinking our being good is being good enough to “make it to heaven.” It should be noted, however, that the anointing of the sick in the greater context of Christian history was practiced before the Roman Catholic Church became the Roman Catholic Church and was seen in terms of Christ’s healing of the sick and as a valid practice of the early church through the Apostle James.

Now before we go any further, I should explain that I am an ordained elder and pastor in the Church of the Nazarene, I hold a BAMin from Nazarene Bible College, two Masters degrees from Northwest Nazarene University (am I still allowed to admit that?), and am in the dissertation phase of a PhD from Regent University (an odd relationship where Fundamentalists and Pentecostals are bedfellows in the School of Divinity). My PhD will be in Theological Studies with a Christian History concentration – of course should I actually get the dissertation written and defended. My call and spiritual gifts are to be a pastor/teacher, and specifically, to encourage the body of Christ to be re-created in the image of God and ministry students to be spiritually formed in preparation, not simply complete a course of study for the piece of paper.

Why is it important to know my pedigree before we continue? Because I see sacrament in historical as well as ecclesiastical contexts; helping me at least to peel away the uninformed clichés that we often found our beliefs upon. Please don’t get me wrong. I do not feel that we are living less than Christian lives because of cliché. I do feel, however, that cliché has become the easier thing to preach and teach which is up and against good biblical exegesis and the exhortation to study to show one’s self approved. I also am forced to reconsider presupposition and allow the stories of the church to speak for themselves, even being willing to raise controversial questions at the expense of my own notions and temperament.

So why is the anointing of the sick a varied practice in the Church of the Nazarene? Really it comes down to that old saying, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things charity.” We Wesleyan types like this saying and attribute it to John Wesley, but it was probably something that was said before Wesley, but in principle was practiced by Wesley and was embraced by early Nazarenes.

The man that is considered the founder of the Church of the Nazarene, Phineas F. Bresee, was not a fan of the proponents of the Divine Healing Movement, which has its origins in the American Holiness Movement, but was not embraced by all Wesleyan leaning holiness folks – Bresee fell here. Before he set out and started that very first Church of the Nazarene in 1895, Bresee worked with a city holiness mission, Peniel Mission, in Los Angeles. At one point, Bresee got wind of the Mission’s inviting another holiness preacher by the name of A.B. Simpson (Simpson would become the founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance) who was a divine healing proponent and considered an extremist. Whether coincidence or intentional, when Simpson agreed to come, Bresee pulled out and the Church of the Nazarene was born.

E.A. Girvin, a Bresee biographer, gives great insight into Bresee’s position on healing and of the anointing of the sick in writing:

I never knew a man who was freer from all forms of fanaticism, and from that presumption which so often masquerades under the guise of faith. He insisted upon our using all the means which were placed at our disposal, trusting God for the outcome, and giving Him the glory. While he frequently prayed for the healing of the sick, and his prayers were marvelously answered in many cases, he never anointed with oil. He would pray with and for those who desired to be anointed, but invariably have someone else do the anointing. His exegesis of the passage in James, referring to anointing the sick, was that the oil was used as a kind of medicine, and that we complied with that requirement when we gave to those who were ill the best remedies at our disposal. He claimed that God healed in all cases, whether means were used or not, and that healing was always divine healing.[1]

While Bresee had this position, it is also obvious that he considered divine healing a non-essential.

In October of 1907, the Church of the Nazarene would form a union with the Association of Pentecostal Churches of America, becoming the Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene. One of the leaders from the Association instrumental in the union was Hiram F. Reynolds. Reynolds did see divine healing as having an important place within the Holiness Movement having testified to being healed and sanctified after suffering a nervous breakdown in 1880.

To read the articles submitted by both Nazarenes and those of the Association in The Nazarene Messenger in 1906 and leading to the union in 1907, it is easily seen that one of the “issues” leading to the union was healing. Equally interesting is to read the reports published in The Beulah Christian, the official paper of the Association. In 1906, there were reports of healing and of supernatural occurrences at the college that would be the precursor to Eastern Nazarene College.

Why are these articles, testimonies and reports important to our talk? They are important because they reveal that unity, liberty, and charity were very much at the heart of the union. Our early foremothers and forefathers in Nazarenedom would not allow non-essentials to unhinge the greater mission: to proclaim scriptural holiness to the world. So, where Bresee was not a fan of the tenets of the Divine Healing Movement, he would not allow divine healing to be the divide of a holiness people. In fact, a statement on divine healing was added to the statement of union between the two formerly separate bodies now made one and called the Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene.

The anointing of the sick with oil whether one is comfortable with it or not, is indeed a valid practice within the Church of the Nazarene. If one believes that anointing with oil is an important “sacrament” (a Christ directed and biblically instructed practice of the church), then let those who desire to be healed call upon the elders (spiritual leaders) of the church, be anointed with oil, and prayed for in faith. If one should see the potential of spiritual downfall for the local gathering of Nazarenes in the practice, then let them still pray the prayer of faith, all in agreement, so that sins would be forgiven, bodies made whole, and spirits set free to be healed in heaven. If two Nazarenes disagree on the matter in fellowship, then let them commit themselves to unity, offering liberty, and sharing charity as sisters and brothers in Christ – for the Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. After all, this is our founding, this is our heritage.


[1]E. A. Girvin, Phineas F. Bresee: A Prince in Israel  (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1916; repr., Third, 1982), 377.

Friday, September 18, 2015

FYI Friday

Hello Readers!

I just wanted to give you a "heads up" that I will be out of town for the next three weeks.  During that time, I have turned "Flip Flops, Glitter, and Theology" over to a group of friends and colleagues who I think will offer you some different perspectives on various subjects for Thursday Theology and Sacramental Saturday.  I intend to continue to post on Mondays while I am gone.  The chance that some of these guest posts will push beyond my own worldview and theological understanding is relatively high.  If you find yourself in the same position, remember that this is an excellent time to learn from others who have differing viewpoints and to find ways to work together, in unity, as opposed to uniformity!   Thanks for reading!

L. 

Monday, September 14, 2015

The First Time I Went to Jail



"I was in prison and you came to visit me" (Matthew 25:36, NIV).

So the truth is, the first decade I spent in ministry was really very (physically) safe.  Safe churches.  Safe neighborhoods.  Safe people.  And then we moved to this little town in Indiana, which, by all reasonable definitions of small town, Midwest, U.S.A., should have been among the safest of them all.  Early on a handful of people referred to this place as "Little Chicago," and I laughed, because we had been in towns like this before.  Generally speaking, these are the places where 16 year old gang member wannabes hang out and pretend that they are a part of a gang while smoking the cigarettes they stole from their parents.  We're talking hard core here.  Feel the sarcasm.

My amusement was short lived.  I can't remember if it was the realization that actual drug deals were taking place right under my nose, or the fourteen year old girl who came to me after she was raped by a friend of her brother and her mom refused to press charges, or the shooting at the bowling alley, or one of the nights that I found myself on the telephone with emergency dispatch... again... but it didn't take long to realize I had landed in a different world, and I had a choice to make.  I could be terrified or I could love these people.

I would like to say that my motives in choosing to love were purely selfless, that I chose love because it was the right thing to do, that I chose love because it's what Jesus would do.  I'm sure that entered into it, but honestly, it didn't take me long to figure out that everyone dangerous in my new life was preying on people who were weak and fearful.  I chose love, because, at least in part, it seemed like the safest way to go, and I was right.

But it's one thing to love when people are on your own turf, where you make the rules and have some sense of authority.  It is a completely different game when you're taking a walk through town and are suddenly informed that one of these people, whom you've poured a lot of time and energy into, is in jail... and could you maybe visit him?

Oh.  That was a new one.

I showed up at the jail and had no idea, whatsoever, what to do.  As it turns out, you have to have some sort of relationship with the inmate, which you declare, and there is no category for "pastor's wife".  If the inmate has already had his or her quota of "friends" during visiting hours, you might try "pastor," even if you aren't one (It wouldn't be a lie now, but I admit, it was then)...  This title will get you admitted, and they might not even ask for credentials of any kind if you are lucky (which I was) or pregnant (which I was) or just seem a little crazy (which, undoubtedly, I did). 

I'm not exactly a germophobe, but nothing could have prepared me for the next twenty minutes of talking through a dirty piece of  glass, utilizing a sticky phone.  Note to self - always carry hand sanitizer (The fact that I didn't have any proves that I am being completely honest about not being a germophobe, although I admit that I don't love germs). 

I know a lot of people feel that our jails and prisons are too humane and that the people who end up there do not deserve the treatment that they receive, that they should not have access to education, decent food, medical care, etc., while people who have never done a single thing to merit incarceration struggle to attain these things.  I guess, in theory, I understand where they are coming from (although I do not agree with them).  However, I just have to say that in this first, limited glimpse of inmate life; I found it to be rather humiliating, both for the inmate and for the visitor.  This guy was my friend, but I really cannot imagine what it is for a spouse, or parent, or child to communicate for months or years on end through the sticky phone... through the dirty glass... without privacy or dignity.  And yet this goes on, day after day after day.  And some prisoners are not fortunate enough to have anyone in their lives who is willing to visit at all.

So, I started thinking about Jesus and how he says that visiting those who are in prison is just like visiting him.  That doesn't even make sense if we think of prisoners as undeserving and less than human.  An argument can be made for the other people in this group that Jesus cites that they have come to be in these circumstances by no fault of their own.  But prisoners?  Can Jesus possibly be serious?  Do we really have to get our hands dirty like that?

I would say yes.

L.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

I am Soaking Wet and I am Freezing and I Can't Remember how I Got Here



It should probably have been cause for alarm when this was the narrative playing over and over again in my head as I traipsed through the woods... alone... in the rain... in an unfamiliar city.  But I have long since passed the point of alarm...  And that reference to not remembering how I got here?  I didn't mean Portland.  I meant life.

The other day, someone who regularly reads this blog asked me if I was going to become Catholic.  I smiled.  The answer to that is no, but I continue to be surprised by how vast the disparity is between typical, mainstream Protestants and Catholics.  If exploring sacraments, and deciding that I love them, is enough to create doubt about my Protestantism; I think we have a real problem.  And it's not that sacramental living is to be avoided.  It's that we have avoided it to the point of misunderstanding.

So, I'm still out of town, and it's Sunday.  The truth is, I don't always "go to church" when I'm out of town.  The truth is, I had no intention of "going to church" today.  However, in my research regarding what I might like to do today, I came across "The Grotto", which is a Catholic shrine and retreat center.  Of course I needed to spend the day there, and it didn't make any sense to skip Mass if I was going to be there, anyway, so I "went to church" after all.  Of course it was beautiful and inspiring and of course I felt like I was probably wearing a big scarlet "P" (for Protestant) on my shoulder, because I'm still getting the hang of the rhythms of Catholic Mass.  I participated in the Eucharist even though the priest said it was only for Catholics, today.  I don't think I got caught.

I spent some time walking through the stations of the cross, St. Joseph's grove, via matris, and the mysteries of the rosary.  Honestly, it was a little overwhelming and will probably take me some time to unpack it all.  For tonight, I would like to focus, briefly, on my experience at the prayer labyrinth.

Most people are really uncomfortable with silence.  I actually like silence.  A lot.  Maybe too much.  I took probably an hour or so to walk silently through the prayer labyrinth, allowing God to speak to me, speaking to God when I reached the center, and then allowing God to speak to me again on the way back out.  There is something significant about measured movement and directed time.  I really like the idea of prayer as breathing, and I think it is essential for us to "pray continually" (I Thessalonians 5:17, NIV).  But praying, very intentionally, for an hour, was good too.  I think maybe I need a prayer labyrinth in my backyard. 

Like many experiences in my life, this one has caused me to consider rhythms again.  I wonder what it will take to create the kind of time and space that are conducive to this kind of communion with God on a regular basis.  I feel as if I waste an extraordinary amount of time every day, and yet I also often feel as if there is not enough time to accomplish everything I should be doing.  I'm pretty sure I'm going to find that it's a matter of priorities.  It usually is.

L.

P.S.  I could have titled this post, "Confessions of a Protestant girl who now owns a rosary and has no idea what to do with it."  I might have done a little bit of birthday shopping... for myself... in the gift shop.