Friday, September 23, 2022

healing the disease of anger

Yesterday, I got to spend the morning with a friend. When we have the chance, we get together to pray, read Scripture and talk about it. I find these times to be refreshing because of their simplicity. We have no agenda beyond the practice of open and free dialogue.

My friend likes to read from the King James version of the Bible because he savors its lyricism. Yesterday, one of the portions we read was from the book of Proverbs. After reading the chapter, I asked my friend to share which proverb felt most important to him today. Because he is a father to three children, he selected the verses in the chapter that talked about parenting.

Then, I shared the proverb that felt important to me. It was this:

“Make no friendship with an angry man;
and with a furious man thou shalt not go:
lest thou learn his ways,
and get a snare to thy soul.” -Pr. 22:24-25

As we reflected on those verses, we talked about how it seems that our entire society has become tainted by incessant hostility and anger. The latter half of the proverb explains how anger has become so rampant: anger is contagious and, before you know it, you are held captive to it.

As we discussed this, I shared with my friend about a study that found that posts on social media that adopt a tone of outrage, anger and disdain tend to get more interactions than other posts. In a podcast I listened to recently called “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill,” host Mike Cosper notes that this is one reason the celebrity pastor Mark Driscoll so regularly unleashed angry rhetoric in his hour-long sermons. The team that managed his online presence discovered that when Driscoll used a hot-tempered style of preaching it garnered more hits on their website. So, it didn’t take long for Driscoll to adopt the "shock and awe" approach as his trademark style.

Rage is highly effective at getting attention, even though it is not very constructive. Though there is a place for righteous anger, when anger only begets more anger, it is an exercise in futility and increasing degradation.

I suppose that most people who are constantly angry feel that their anger is righteous…even when it isn’t. When our emotions are constantly whipped up in a spirit of fury, it is hard to be objective about the true state of our own heart. When confronted with our own anger, we are more prone to defend ourselves than take time to reflect, seek forgiveness for the hurt our anger has caused, and (most importantly) change course.

I do believe it is important to let yourself feel anger, but it is more important to listen to what your anger is trying to tell you. This is why I love the practice of spiritual direction so much. It provides a space for someone to safely listen to their own emotions. And what I have observed as I have sat with various folks in spiritual direction over the past two years is that underneath the anger there is a deep, deep sadness that longs to be acknowledged. Thus, addressing the sadness proves key to healing our woundedness that prompted the anger in the first place. Unless we can heal the wounds, we will never be able to satisfy our anger.

It comes as no surprise, then, that the remedy for anger is gentleness. We need quiet, gentle spaces to be present to our sadness. We need understanding and compassion. We need companionship.

The catch is: it feels counter-cultural to practice gentleness in a world beset by so much anger. It takes faith and courage to be gentle. It requires hope—a belief that the quiet spirit will ultimately be heard underneath the noise of all the shouting—a trust that gentleness will outlast all the outbursts.

This is an appeal to slow down. Take the time to listen. Have enough courage to be gentle. May we trust and hope in a different way. May we reflect on our own anger, asking what it wants to tell us…lest we keep spreading it around carelessly.

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healing the disease of anger
reflections by troy cady
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*Photo by Valeriia Miller via Unsplash. Creative Commons License.

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

the deepest love from the weakest soul

Lord,
you have asked me just to love you
with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.
But, the one thing you have asked
is the very thing I cannot do.
My heart is heavy.
My soul is disintegrating.
My mind is clouded
and my strength is gone.
Lift from me this burden of sadness.
Put me back together.
Give me a clear vision of you in my mind’s eye
and grant me the grace of rest.
I’m tired and weak.
But I believe that
you are patient and kind,
loving and gentle,
full of compassion and mercy.
Before I can love you,
I need you to love me.
You know this, Lord.
You know me well,
your helpless child.
So, until I can recover myself,
please accept this child’s belief in your love
as the deepest love from the weakest soul.
Amen.

…………………..

the deepest love from the weakest soul
a prayer by troy cady

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

In God we Trust?

As a pastor who served for many years in evangelical settings, I want to say some things to all the Christians who have been offering “thoughts and prayers” today in the aftermath of yet another mass shooting in the United States.

First of all, you cannot say America is a country that trusts in God while failing to work for practical solutions to the obvious gun violence problem we have in our midst. Such work is the very by-product of faith. To trust in God is to work for the common good.

Surely by now you must acknowledge that the problem is more than just personal. There is a dimension to this that is perpetuated by the very systems and structures of our society. There is action we can take, policies we can enact, and care we can offer on a structural level that will at least lessen the incidence of mass shootings like those we have witnessed in the last two weeks alone.

I say this because I notice that evangelical Christians in particular have become very good at explaining away each specific shooting in ways that conveniently allow them to just ignore the problem and do little or nothing to work for systemic change.

At the same time, evangelicals have perfected the art of mobilizing collective action around other causes they believe in such as the abolition of abortion, the prohibition of gay marriage, and the protection of a whole array of religious liberties they enjoy.

To those Christians, I say: you celebrate victories around these causes under the full conviction that you are building a more Christian society with each win. But I have to ask…on the verge of the overturning of Roe v. Wade… is a Christian society the kind of place where the unborn are protected but gun violence runs rampant? Is this really what a Christian society looks like? Should you not do something about this, if you really trust in God?

This is an invitation and a charge: Why not direct your collective energy to acts of compassion for all life, including the protection of lives that are threatened every day by irresponsible policies pertaining to firearms?

Jesus, the one you claim to be your Lord, has told you plainly that you cannot trust in both God and money. The same is true of guns. So, the question is simple: do you trust in God…or guns? You cannot trust in both.

I can’t help but feel that those who would defend their right to bear arms at any cost have failed to trust in God by their support of the political power brokers who block important policies regulating the proliferation of assault weapons in our society. Instead, I see countless Christians bowing to fear in the name of freedom and, as a result, they have given free rein to the senseless violence that has plagued our country for far too long now.

I note that so many political leaders that are backed by evangelical Christians are eager to criminalize abortion but then they turn around and vote against the appropriation of funds to address the shortage of baby formula that is causing immense hardship for countless households today. Do you value life? Then act like it!

In a similar act of hypocrisy, those same leaders claim that our gun violence problem in the United States is really just a mental health crisis…but then they turn around and gut the funding of important mental health programs that are needed to address this problem.

So, to all the Christians offering “thoughts and prayers” today, I have to ask again: just who do you trust? You cannot say you trust in God and then stand by and do nothing but make excuses for the lack of progress we have made in this area.

Remember, faith without deeds is dead. Faith acts. Faith moves. Faith calls for hard choices to be made that will contribute to healing and to our collective wellbeing. Christian: if you say you trust in God, it would be better for us all if you would just act like it and spare us all your half-hearted prayers.

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In God we Trust?

reflections by Rev. Troy B. Cady

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Sunday, April 17, 2022

Weeping at the Tomb


I awakened this Easter hours before daybreak. It’s not because I am preparing to attend a “sunrise service.” I’m not. The church I serve will meet today at 10, our normal time for gathering on Sundays.

This is our third Easter since our community went into pandemic mode. On the first Easter, we met on Zoom and there were many tears shed. Last year, we met outdoors in person. We simply hosted a party for the neighborhood. It was a blast but some of the members of our congregation wondered “when church was going to start” and apparently we disappointed them.

This morning, I am ready for another in-person gathering that will look a little more like normal. We’ll gather outdoors for a little while at the beginning but then we’ll head into the sanctuary to sing, hear the story together, reflect upon it, and pray.

As I think about the way our ministry has changed over the past two years, it is heartbreaking to me to acknowledge that we have let so many people down. That’s not the sort of thing you want to hear from a pastor on Easter Sunday, but it’s the truth.

Our church decided to approach the pandemic as an opportunity to experiment with different ways of being. I suppose every church has had to do that to some extent, but the sad news about our little congregation is that, despite our efforts to innovate…the church seems to be dying.

We’re all tired. So tired. Grieving the loss of what we once knew. Confused, frustrated, and sometimes angry. All the feelings you would expect to feel…in grief.

This Easter, I feel like a failure. That’s the God-honest truth.

In Scripture, we are told that some women made their way to the tomb “at dawn on the first day of the week,” not long after they had laid Jesus to rest just before sunset the previous Friday.

In the apostle John’s account, Mary Magdalene remains at the tomb weeping when she sees that the stone has been rolled away from the entrance of the tomb and Jesus’ body has gone missing.

That is what I feel like this Easter.

But as I am wakeful this morning, and the sun has yet to rise, I am cherishing the collective memory of Jesus’ appearance to her in the garden by the tomb. She thinks he’s the gardener at first. Until he asks her why she is weeping and speaks her name.

So, this morning, I am speaking with my Lord in my own inner garden. Asking him to tend the ground of my entire being with care. Asking him to see my tears and open the ears of my heart so I can hear him speak my name.

And I’m asking him to heal this world. And I’m asking him to help me be even a small part of that healing work, to share his resurrected life and his renewing love with others. I’m asking him for faith. I’m asking him for fresh hope. I’m asking him for rest not only for myself on this day after the Sabbath but the rest of his peace for our entire society and for creation herself. Start with me, Lord, but let the rest of your resurrection usher in a new dawn, a new day, the reign of grace and joy and all things bright and beautiful.

Lord, make it so. Deliver us from the clutches of death, even if it means something needs to die for your love to rise.

………………..

Weeping at the Tomb

reflections by troy cady

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*Photo by Orkhan Farmanli via Unsplash. Creative Commons License.

 

 

Thursday, March 3, 2022

I had Jesus over for dinner on Tuesday and his pronouns were

I had Jesus over for dinner on Tuesday and his pronouns were
they, them, and theirs,
she, her, and hers,
we, us, and ours.

She took this picture of me in the kitchen,
then she told me I didn’t really have time
to post it on Instagram.
I did it, anyway.
We made pancakes.
It was Fat Tuesday.
We laughed a ton—
it had been a while since we’d all been together—
it was so damn good to be together again!
They came bearing gifts like
berries and homemade pickles
and microbrew beer.

He told jokes and wore yellow-rimmed glasses
and plays Wordle and we teased each other.
She was in third grade and had long green hair,
she was one and she cut her pancakes in little squares
so she could eat them more easily,
she had just learned to walk,
she was retired from her life in the theatre,
and wandered out to the kitchen
where the griddle was hot,
and I put a fresh cake on her blue plate,
and she commented how nice it was
to have a meal made for her for once
because she’s used to having to cook for herself
and everyone else all the time.

They’re vegans.
We made almond-flour pancakes
with applesauce in the batter and no eggs.
She said we didn’t have to do that,
but we said we wanted to,
and, besides, we all thought
the vegan pancakes were better, anyway.

He’s a mother and a professor,
an animal lover and a dog-walker,
a graphic designer and a bagger,
a middle-schooler and a musician.
They’re going on a cruise, him and her,
just the two of them—
their first time in the Caribbean—
a music festival on a ship,
and he only has to play two shows the whole time.

She knew who The Mavericks were
and loves them.
She was the first one there
and the last one to leave.
She helped us do the dishes
after the others had gone and
we gave her a ride home.

She speaks Spanish.
Denmark and Greece and Texas are in their blood.
Russia and Ukraine, too.
She asked if we could have a moment of silence.
We paused to remember
two years of mask mandates,
five days of war,
millions of deaths,
hundreds of thousands of refugees,
multiple fears, and
one brave hope.

She said that was the quietest this bunch had ever been together
and we laughed again after the silence.
And that’s how we made me believe again
that Jesus could be
she and he,
and them and us—
because at our pancake dinner on Fat Tuesday
they showed me that
Jesus could also be
me and mine—
because somehow…
and I can’t explain it…
I need them to be me
if they are going to become we and us and
we are ever going to be
my All in All.

…………………………

I had Jesus over for dinner on Tuesday and his pronouns were
by Troy Cady

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

my Refuge

You are my shelter,
my refuge, Lord.
When it feels like
the world is caving in,
Your love is
my safe place.
In You and You alone
I find all beauty,
truth and goodness.
My heart—
hidden in Your heart—
Your life, my life.
Under the cover
of Your wings
I sing to You.
Alone with You
I am never alone.
Here with You
I hear Your promise
and Your Word
quiets my heart.
Here with You
I find rest,
the perfect rest
of Your loving presence,
my refuge,
my refuge,
my refuge.

……………….

my Refuge
by troy cady
 
Photo from the Boston Public Library via Unsplash.
Creative Commons License.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

What is Worship?


At our church here in Chicago, we have been talking about the nature and purpose of worship. I was asked to respond to the question that is the focus of this essay: "What is worship?" Here are my thoughts. I hope they are helpful to someone! -Troy

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What is Worship?

reflections by Rev. Troy B. Cady

 

           

Intro & Thesis

 

What is worship? There is no easy answer to this question; however, we could start by acknowledging that to worship God is to glorify God.

 

But that begs the question: what does it mean to glorify God and how do we glorify God?

           

I suggest that, at its core, worship is devotion; whatever captivates your greatest devotion is what you worship. To worship is to love; a life lived in love for God and others is what brings God glory. To live in love is to worship God.

 

In this essay, I look at what the prophets, Jesus, and the apostles of the New Testament have to say about worship as I describe various forms of false and pseudo-worship in hopes of helping us understand worship in terms of devotion to God, love for God and love for others. 

 

The nature and forms of idolatry

To see how worship and devotion go hand-in-hand, let’s take a step back from the question of God-worship. It is possible to worship something that is not God or someone other than God. The Bible identifies this as idolatry.

            Whatever you are devoted to the most in life…that is what you worship. The fact is: many Christians in America today are more devoted to their political philosophy than they are to God. It is easy to make an idol of politics.

            Still others are most devoted to upholding a certain vision of family life. Though God desires us to be nurtured in the context of loving community, when we insist that such a community must look a certain way, we have made our ideal of family into an idol.

            In a similar way, if you devote your life to the accumulation of wealth, you worship riches. If you are most devoted to achieving society’s standards of success or popularity, you are really worshipping some arbitrary ideal of accomplishment or the ever-elusive high of gaining fame and human esteem. The sobering truth about worship in our society today is that humans have perfected the art of finding almost anything else to worship if it means they can avoid devoting their entire selves to God. 

 

Some common Christian idols

Ironically, a common object of worship for many Christians is the Bible. Let’s face it: when we would rather just talk about what the Bible says than to devote ourselves to God and practice God’s way of love for others, we are really worshipping the Bible…not God.

            In the same vein, Christians are even capable of worshipping the idea of worship. We do this most commonly by defining worship in reduced terms, equating it to the act of singing “worship” songs with other believers once a week (typically on a Sunday morning for about an hour). Many Christians have come to worship worship by insisting their worship be offered in a certain way and with a certain style. If it is not in our preferred form (usually singing) and style (usually a particular genre of music), it doesn’t feel very worshipful to us. This is not to diminish the value of singing our devotion to God; it is simply to remind us that worship is so much more than singing.

            I think one of the saddest expressions I have ever heard in my life is when Christians talk about the “worship wars” that take place in the church today, as if worship is something to fight about. When we start fighting about worship, we could well wonder whether we have, in fact, stopped worshipping God. 

 

What Jesus says about true worship

In John 4, Jesus addressed our propensity to substitute God-worship with the worship of the trappings of religion itself. In this text, a Samaritan woman asks Jesus where (and, consequently, how) the true God-worshipper should worship. Jesus’ reply is telling. He says that true worship is not about where you go to worship (“neither on this mountain [in Samaria] nor in Jerusalem”), but true worship is about the spirit.

            In other words, the real place of worship is in your heart. Worship is simply the act of devoting our hearts (the entirety of our being) to God. 

 

To worship is to love God

This picture of true worship coincides with what is perhaps the greatest confession of all time. Significantly, it is a confession that has been used for millennia in communal worship settings

“Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”

                                                                                                            (Dt. 6:4-5)

 

            Perhaps the best way to define worship, then, is to define it in terms of loving God. After all, to love God is to cultivate our devotion to God. As such, this confession to love God with all of our everything represents the height and depth, the breadth and length of our worship to God. To the extent that we love God in everything and with everything—to that extent—we worship God. 

 

Where and when to worship

It is no mere accident that the text in Deuteronomy 6 goes on to describe where we are to practice loving God with our everything. Not surprisingly, the location of this kind of devotion is…everywhere. And the time is…all the time: “…when you sit at home…when you walk along the road…when you lie down…and when you get up.” More than the tabernacle, the temple, the synagogue, or the church building, the text tells us that the true place of worship is in “your hearts.” In other words, every place and every time is a place and time to worship. As the poet Wendell Berry says, “There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places.”

 

How (not) to worship

But how do we show our love for God? There are many ways to do this but the Bible is clear that one can do many religious things to express one’s devotion to God while still missing the very heart of worship.

            God addressed this with these words spoken by the prophet Isaiah: 

“These people come near to me with their mouth

    and honor me with their lips,

    but their hearts are far from me.

Their worship of me

    is based on merely human rules they have been taught.” (Is. 29:13)

 

            In light of God’s never-failing love from one generation to the next, it stands to reason that really all God ever wants from us is to show our worship of him by simply loving him in return. More than our songs, more than our tithes, and more than our study of the Bible…God just wants us to love him in return. If those religious activities help us to love God, great; but church history has shown that Christians can be very good at practicing their religion while at the same time failing to love. While it is true that love for God is often expressed through musical praise, generous giving, and listening for God’s voice by meditating on Scripture, it does not follow that these activities are inherently acts of true worship. True worship is a matter of the heart, not a matter of mere ritual performance.

            This is why Jesus echoed the refrain from Isaiah 29 when he addressed the Pharisees of his day. His words to them were bold because the Pharisees were the ones who were regarded as the most devoted to God, the true God-worshippers. But Jesus exposed their hypocrisy by appealing to the heart of worship in their own tradition. In short, Jesus wanted them to see how they were very good at doing all kinds of religious things for love of God, but had, in fact, neglected love for their neighbor.

            In Matthew 15, Jesus identifies how the Pharisees even used their own devout religious observance as an excuse to mistreat their own parents in old age. In Matthew 23, he describes how the Pharisees faithfully tithed as an act of worship but “neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness.” He admonishes them: “You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.”    

            Jesus’ critique, then, gives us a clear answer as to the best way to show your love for God: it is to love your neighbor. 

 

How the apostles describe worship as love

The apostle Paul describes this very dynamic when he says that the entire law is summed up in one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14)

            That is quite a striking statement. In essence, he is telling us that if we can only keep that one command, we will also be keeping the command to love God. But…how could this be? Could it really be that simple? All we need to do to love God is to love our neighbor?

            The apostle John explains (in refreshingly simple terms) how this could be so: 

“God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. We love because God first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” (I John 4:16, 19-21; italics added)

 

            For this reason, any act of service you render to your neighbor is an act of service to God himself. To put it another way: to serve another is to render worship to God. That means…when we share food with the hungry, we are really worshipping God; when we companion the lonely, we are really worshipping God; and when we help heal the infirm, we are really worshipping God. Anything you do to love your neighbor…you are doing as an act of love for God.

  

Worship: living for God’s glory and neighbor’s good

In the local church where I serve, we often like to say that the church exists “for God’s glory and neighbor’s good.” It’s a lovely sentiment, but Jesus, and Paul, and John take this idea a step further. They tell us that when we live for neighbor’s good, we are really living for God’s glory.

            Again, the prophet Isaiah speaks to this: 

“‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,

    ‘and you have not seen it?

Why have we humbled ourselves,

    and you have not noticed?’

 

“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please

    and exploit all your workers.

Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife…

    Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,

    only a day for people to humble themselves?

Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed

    and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?

Is that what you call a fast,

    a day acceptable to the Lord?

 

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:

to loose the chains of injustice

    and untie the cords of the yoke,

to set the oppressed free

    and break every yoke?

Is it not to share your food with the hungry

    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—

when you see the naked, to clothe them,

    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Then your light will break forth like the dawn,

    and your healing will quickly appear;

then your righteousness will go before you,

    and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.”

                          (Isaiah 58:3-8; italics added)

 

            It is important to notice that this text about the true worship that happens when we love our neighbor concludes with an image of God’s glory breaking forth like the dawn. If worshipping God means glorifying God, this text helps us make the connection that the glory of God breaks forth when (and only when) we worship God truly by loving our neighbor.

            I was saddened the other day when a friend told me an experience she had one Sunday at a church she attended. After the service, all kinds of people were trying to get out of the parking lot when a man in a large luxury car became upset at her for getting in his way. He was so upset he told her to f*** off with his middle finger raised at her. And this is just one example. As a pastor, I have seen firsthand how church people can enjoy a lovely worship service one hour and the next treat their fellow congregants or pastoral leaders like dirt without so much as an apology ever being offered. What a sham we have made of the idea of worship! How we have cheapened it. When churches have lovely worship services but church members do not even share God’s love with each other, what is happening in the church service cannot really be called worship. Our true worship is displayed in learning to love one another and extending that love to all. 

 

In conclusion: God’s glory and the common good

In contrast, I want to conclude now by sharing with you a story that illustrates just one of many ways God’s glory breaks forth when we simply serve the common good. It was a conversation I had just this week with a small group of people I know. One of the group members happens to be a teenage girl who wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Times, advocating for sane measures in school policies in hopes of protecting the vulnerable in the midst of the pandemic.

            As we shared our elation with her on being published in such a prestigious newspaper, we returned to the theme of worship that we have been learning about for some weeks now. And I mentioned to her that advocating as she did for the sake of others was really an act of devotion to God, a way of worshipping God. She said that hadn’t occurred to her but, as she thought about it more, she became animated and excited. I wish you could have seen the glow on her face as she took in the good news of that truth—that anything we do can be done as worship unto the Lord.

            This young woman really knows what it means to worship. She knows firsthand that we really can worship God with our everything at all times and in all places and in all kinds of ways. All we need to do…is love.

            Since God himself is love, may we always remember that the very glory of God is the life lived in love. Let us worship God, then, in spirit and in truth. Let us live in love.