Living the Questions at SRCC

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

I Believe; Help my Unbelief

I really appreciate Dana's questions in her post. And they're making me turn a couple things around in my head/heart as well.

Yesterday afternoon I led my Liturgical Writing workshop for some of the Intro to Christian Worship students. The model I teach is simply based on my own approach to writing for worship, which is a contemplative one.

One of the steps that I discuss with the students is "Locating yourself before God." This is what I do after I've written one or more pieces for worship. I settle into prayer and ask myself: "Can I say this with integrity to God on behalf of the congregation, with all of the world's concerns and realities in our midst?" Usually, if the answer is no, it is because I have been too surface in the prayers I wrote. To speak with integrity before God in worship for me means being willing to say what's most difficult to say. Walter Brueggemann in his book Finally Comes the Poet: Daring Speech for Proclamation says:

Believers whose faith is greatly diminished may utter a truth greatly reduced: 'Smile, God loves you.' Does God love because God is engaged in some cover-up with us and does not know about the alienation? Because if God knew, God would not meet me with a smile, but with a deep, deep cry for life run amiss. The alienation is heavy, serious, and burdensome for us, because it is heavy, serious, and burdensome for the alienated father God, for the mother God who grieves for us while we are too numb to grieve.

When I look over the prayers I've prepared for worship, I ask myself, "Am I engaging in some kind of cover-up here?" And if the answer is yes, then I go back to the drawing board.

All of this to say that, after I shared this yesterday, a student asked me, "What about when I don't feel like I believe it, but as the pastor, I need to pray it anyway? What about the times when I can't say it with integrity before God because I'm in a place where I just don't feel it?"

Those of us in the room merely nodded our assent to her question. I think because we'd all been there. And none of us had an easy solution to it. It was the kind of question that seemed best responded to by a "yes," even though it was far from being a yes-or-no question.

Shortly after she asked this question, I had the group break up for a session of writing. We took about an hour to work, then came back together. I spent some time praying for the participants of the group, while they were writing. At the end of the hour, then, as I sat there watching the rain come down in sheets, I remembered the prayer that has been my saving grace so many times: "Lord, I believe; Help my unbelief."

This came to me again after I read Dana's entry: 'I believe; and yet. . .' This experience is similar to my own. I experience it as the steps in my dance with God: I believe. And yet. It is a step in, close. It is a step away. It is a surrender into. It is a pulling back. It is a sweeping off my feet. It is a soaring away. It is a kiss. It is a back turned. All of it, though, is the dance. All of it taking place in relationship. The step away, the pulling back, the soaring away, the back turned--none of those steps is the ending of the relationship but a part of it. They are all, in the end, relational terms. This is my experience.

For me, I think, intercessory prayer seems to come down to this: I have no idea where I end and someone else begins. I don't know where someone else ends and God begins. I don't know where those boundaries are, if there are any. Now, I'm fully aware that a psychotherapist would have a big problem with this kind of worldview. (We hear nothing in pastoral care if not--know your boundaries!) But I think the question is real: where do I end and you begin and where do you end and God begins?

Because I can't answer these questions with any sense of certainty, then I recline into trusting intercessory prayer "works."

Monday, February 27, 2006


I'm a newbie at blogging....but here goes. First, I truly am enjoying LTQ despite my apparent mini-breakdowns, really! However, feeling "guilty" about last night's session and my comments on intercessory prayer. As much as I loved Sandy's story about prayer - and I BELIEVE it - I was stuck in my "prayer doesn't work" motif.
Been thinking about it all day. I found myself agreeing (!) with the LTQ folk about the connectedness and intimacy of God....and how it seemed they were saying prayer isn't really so much about the outcome, but about the experience, the intimacy with God.
The guilt is about on one hand believing, trusting, having faith, and on the other hand not really believing prayers get answered, AND SAYING THAT OUT LOUD! I mean, isn't it somewhat about our perception? How we choose to see it that "it all worked out for the best," or "everything happens for a reason?" Don't we after-the-fact find a way to see it as a prayer answered...just not in the way we may have wanted?
So, I'm stuck about intercessory prayer. Stuck between "I believe in prayer," and "Prayer doesn't work."
I think I've pondered this for years. Doesn't it say something in Job about how when something goes wrong we blame God for not answering our prayers but when things go RIGHT we attribute it to talents, our effort, our luck, etc. but not to God??
In my guilt-yet-willing-to-look-at-it, I am pondering.....aren't I supposed to pray that "God's will be done?" anyway, and therefore what would my intercessory prayer be beyond that? --- dana

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

An encouraging, friendly nudge

Welcome to all the men in our group who have signed up for the blog! And now we're looking for the women's voices . . .

Monday, February 20, 2006

Looking forward to being part of this blog...

I was delighted to see that Jen had started a blog for our Living the Questions group. Perhaps I will post what I have done on the spiritual autobiography that was suggested. I had done one a number of years ago when I was in seminary (91-95) but decided it was time to write something new. It is a work in progress -- like (I believe) all of us are in this world -- thank goodness!

Again, cheers and congratulations, Jen, for this great idea -- and thanks, Doug D., for sharing your article from The Other Side with us.

-- Rick Mitchell

PS - My "contributor" listing may show up as ecumenicalnews or Revrickm, since those are the names I am shown under as a member of -- As many of you know, I do several blogs, four of which are at Blogger (Blogspot). I will not "advertise" them but will give you a link if asked. :-))

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Themes of Scripture: Exile & Return

Last week's session, we talked about some of the over-arching themes that are present in the biblical witness. One of those themes was exile & return. A few years ago, Doug D. published an article, "Welcome Home," in The Other Side magazine where he was working as co-editor. Some of the themes of exile and return are present in it. We thought you might like to see it. (Click on the article's title in this post for a link to it.)

The Trusting Heart Shall Prevail (Psalm 31)

How great is your goodness Lord
poured out on the one who loves you
Face to face with iniquity
the trusting heart shall prevail

Far from intrigue, from malice
I run to your presence, take sanctuary
in your eyes. Hands aloft, you encompass
a holy tent, a refuge.

The war of tongues, a babble, a rout
rages, goes nowhere,
I would dwell
tongue stilled, mind subdued
in your holy temple

Come, make me your temple
deep founded, touching high heaven

All you who fear the Lord
exult, take courage
come shelter in the Living One!

Daniel Berrigan in Uncommon Prayer: A Book of Psalms

Welcome Posting

Welcome to the new blog for members of our Living the Questions class. Please feel free to use this space to reflect on ideas and insights as we continue on our journey of living the questions together.

This evening we had a great conversation together as we considered the questions of evil, suffering, and God's love.

Together we explored questions of God's omnipotence. We considered how we define the word power. And thought about the difference between relationality (mutual sharing of power) and power over.

We also asked questions about evil: How and who defines what evil is? What does it mean when we give the power to define evil to the legislature? Is evil decided by the historians? Implied in these questions are--do the politically powerless also define evil?

Is there such a thing as absolute evil and absolute good? Or are these terms relative?

We inquired into the connections that may or may not exist between suffering and evil.

We took some time to talk about our responses to the events of September 11. Some of us experienced profound concern about how the U.S. would respond to the attacks. Some of us experienced a tremendous sense of vulnerability. Some of us felt overwhelmed by sadness, unable to catch our breath. Some of us felt as though the language of evil was stolen from the Christian community by its immediate use in political discourse by the likes of Karl Rove. Some of us felt as if the language of evil was not appropriate to the events of that day; rather, language of cause-and-effect might be more appropriate.

We concluded this evening's session looking toward the next one which will focus on Intimacy with God. I invited folks to read the materials for next week early in the week, so that you will live with the material for a week before we discuss it. Keeping in mind our session this evening, ask yourself: If my image of God is an all powerful God, an omnipotent God, how do I pray in light of September 11? Or, if my image of God is of a God who is not all-powerful, but a God who suffers-with (maybe even a God who is vulnerable), then how do I pray in light of September 11? Lastly, considering the phrase "intimacy with God"--what issues of trust do I face in my relationship with God?

Feel free to begin to reflect on any or all of these issues by adding a post of your own.