a new poem
Thursday, September 23, 2021
St. Adamnan’s Day
reflections by Troy Cady
In my prayer book this morning, I learned that today is the feast day of St. Adamnan among the Northumbria community.
Adamnan was the ninth abbot of Iona. In the late 7th century, church leaders in Rome were putting pressure on the Celtic church to adopt Roman customs. Because Adamnan was a peace-loving person and did not wish division with his brothers and sisters in other sectors of Christendom, he tried to persuade the community in Iona to go along with the new Roman customs.
He met with no small measure of opposition. For many years, a contingent of the community in Iona insisted on celebrating Easter twice each year: once on the new Roman date and once on the traditional Celtic date.
Though the matter seems trivial to us now, I imagine it was incredibly difficult for Adamnan to hold the community together in the midst of it all. In fact, I imagine the community felt like it was bitterly divided for quite a long time.
Viewing the situation from Adamnan’s perspective, he had an impossible decision to make. If he decided to hold fast to the Celtic customs, he would risk division with his brothers and sisters in other places. If he decided to embrace the new Roman way, he risked resentment with many of the members of the community right in his midst.
As someone who serves on the staff of a local church and as someone who is deeply concerned about the state of the broader church in America, I can relate to Adamnan.
In short, my heart aches over the issues that are dividing the American church right now, both locally and nationally.
On the one hand, my heart grieves the broader church in America. Like the Roman authorities in Adamnan’s day, it seems to me that the American church of today is intent on powering up, laying huge burdens upon people, and pressuring diverse sectors of society to conform to a particular worldview. I can’t help but feel that what really motivates the church in America is a desire to consolidate and preserve a sense of cultural supremacy. The ideological hubris is oppressive and it is absolutely astounding when I consider that it comes from those who tout “salvation by grace through faith.”
If we are to be a people who reflect the grace of Jesus, our way of engaging the world must become more gentle, understanding, and humble. We should be known not as coercive but as compassionate. Let us listen more than we speak. Let us lay aside anger. While arguing may win a temporary victory, it is only by love that anyone is transformed through and through.
The irony of all of this is that, like the Roman church of Adamnan’s day, the American church wants to cast itself as an agent of change—but underneath the desire to effect change is a deeper desire to arrange life in a way that is most comfortable for us. In other words, it’s possible that the desire to change the world around us springs from a deeper desire to secure our standard of living…without having to change ourselves.
In other words, we like life the way we like it. We want our homes and neighborhoods to be just the way we like it. We want our schools and our cities…our friends, our holidays, and our entertainment…to be just the way we like it. We even want our church to be just the way we like it.
This is what Adamnan faced from both sides…pressure from those who wanted things to be just the way they liked it. The power struggle here is exhausting in part because it is simply inescapable.
I have been saying this since long before the pandemic hit, but I revisited it in March 2020 and again in the summer of 2020 and again in the fall of 2020 and again and again and again since then:
The church in America desperately needs to reimagine what it really means to be the church. We can no longer continue arranging “church” in ways that merely suit our own liking. The invitation ultimately is to let go of power, to relinquish the need to control, to stop trying to rearrange the world in whatever way we happen to like best. Once we can really do that, we are really free to love, just love…to see others for who they are, made in God’s image, beloved through and through.
I believe the church in America is facing a crisis that is deeper than anything we have ever had to face. The question is not whether the crisis is upon us. The question is: “How will we respond to the crisis?”
Will we be willing to ask the hard questions of what it means to be the church? Are we willing to do what it takes to be a community of those who have been called by God to love others extravagantly? Will we be open to different ways of being formed? Will we hold on to what we have always known? Will we choose to be heavy-handed when God would make us soft-hearted?
On this feast day of St. Adamnan, I imagine these were some of the difficult questions he must have had so many centuries ago, though I admit I may be reading into his story a bit. All I know is I can sure relate to the no-win situation he found himself in.
That said, I am inspired by his patient, gentle, peace-loving way of holding gracious space in the midst of the tension and I want to follow his example. I want to be the kind of person who can hold the space open so we can just come together in our differences…to help each and every person experience deep within the freedom and joy of being beloved through and through. May it be so.
Friday, September 3, 2021
Recently, I completed a two-year course of study to become trained in a centuries-old practice known as spiritual direction. In case you’ve never heard of this before, I define spiritual direction as an intentional process whereby one person helps another notice, honor, and respond freely to God’s presence and activity in their life. As a spiritual director, I seek to cooperate with God in nurturing an open space where others can come to God just as they are...to experience what it means to be the Beloved of God.
Sunday, June 27, 2021
Most Christians today speak of attendance at a Sunday gathering as “going to church.” I suggest the phrase is misguided and its common use is indicative of a gross misunderstanding of the nature of the church as Jesus imagined it.
For starters, the word “church” (ekklesia) in Jesus’ day was not specifically a “Christian” or even solely a “religious” phenomenon. It could be used in reference to the synagogue as well as in reference to gatherings of various civil societies. The word, generally speaking, had to do simply with “assembling” a group of people together for a specific purpose. In that sense, any kind of “assembly” could be called a “church.”
But the church of Jesus departed even from the first-century way of understanding the word. In the “church” that Jesus created, he was (as usual) being phenomenologically expansive with the idea compared to the way most people defined it.
Whereas each synagogue gathered people together around Scripture and the teaching of a rabbi, Jesus was a different sort of rabbi in that he claimed to be the Word-made-flesh. Thus, the synagogue he led was always on the move. It was literally embodied but, paradoxically, there was no routine physical location you could meet at during a certain day of the week at a certain time of day. It was a synagogue he could convene in any place at any time on any day of the week. Jesus’ “church” gathered wherever he happened to be at the time. Sometimes large crowds would gather by the lakeshore to hear rabbi Jesus teach and other times he’d reserve his teaching for just a few of his closest followers on a hillside or in a garden.
Thus, Jesus’ church did not extract people from the everyday stuff of life like today’s “church” does. Rather, the real world served as the context for the church Jesus established. The church that Jesus led was more like a living, holistic organism than a segregated, hierarchical organization with a special event once per week.
In that vein, Jesus’ commission to his disciples to make more disciples was intended to follow the same trajectory. Christians today translate the famous commission in Matthew 28 as “Go and make disciples” but what Jesus actually said was more like: “As you go, make disciples…” The phrasing implies that the church (those who are assembled to center themselves on Jesus) will make disciples in the course of everyday life.
Though Jesus’ followers do “gather," an indispensable aspect of Jesus’ teaching involves his “sending” of the church to be fully present to the world-as-it-is. Consequently, church in the Jesus-way is a phenomenon that is "gathered to be scattered." It’s a mystery: Jesus’ ekklesia is created through diaspora.
My prayer is that the church of today would recover the full sense of that great commission and live according to what it really means to be the church in the spirit of Jesus. My prayer is that the church of today would be and act more like Jesus, the Word-made-flesh.
The Church of the Word-made-flesh
reflections by Troy Cady
*Photo by Cassie Boca via Unsplash. Creative Commons License.
Sunday, May 23, 2021
Today is Pentecost! It's the day Christians celebrate God's gracious gift of the Holy Spirit. Here's how I tell the story when I'm working with folks in an intergenerational setting. It's part of a series I'm making called PlayFull Faith that describes how "God dances and invites us to join the dance."
I hope you enjoy the video and I pray you let the light of God shine brightly in your heart.
Sunday, May 16, 2021
The question on my mind (and heart) this afternoon is: “How may we live in hope when our society seems incapable of any sort of collective action?”