Thursday, September 23, 2021

St. Adamnan's Day


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

spiritual direction

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 experience what it means to be the Beloved of God.

I love the simplicity and the process of spiritual direction because I see a lot of playfulness in it. Did you know I happen to be passionate about play?!

Though the phrase “spiritual direction” might not sound very playful, time and time again, I have seen the spirit of play embodied in our midst as the person seeking God’s direction experiences freedom, grace, joy, and openness in their relationship with God. In spiritual direction, we engage our imagination and become more childlike (trusting) in our faith.

Like play, spiritual direction is not a pre-planned program. Each session has an improvisational feel to it as we simply listen to what is being said and as we open ourselves to what God might want to say in the spirit of love, just love. We bring the stuff of our real life to the interaction and attune our hearts to the very heart of God, bringing Scripture to bear and applying the gentle, compassionate, and gracious way of Jesus to our lives.

In the midst of such an interaction, we cultivate the spirit of self-forgetfulness (which is also a characteristic of play) as we attend fully to God’s presence in our midst right here...right now.

I’ve become convinced that these kinds of interactions are sorely needed in a world that scarcely slows down long enough to really listen. It saddens me that in our society today we have become increasingly violent towards one another in thought, word, and deed. In that light, spiritual direction is a countercultural way of being with one another, so I am looking forward to practicing it more and more with those who may be interested in it.

I wonder if you sense that spiritual direction could be a help to you in your life? If so, I’ve prepared a sign-up form where you can find out more details about it. If you have any questions or want to talk with me more about it, feel free to reach out via a private message.

In any case: may God’s love and joy, grace and freedom flourish in your life!

Sunday, June 27, 2021

The Church of the Word-made-flesh

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

Pentecost: God Dances Like a Flame

 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

to mask or not to mask?

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?”

On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced new “Interim Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People.” Since then, I have seen no shortage of strong reactions from all kinds of people.

What seems to be at issue is the updated guideline that a fully vaccinated person “can resume activities without wearing a mask or staying 6 feet apart.” This is the case even when in public places such as theaters, shopping centers, restaurants, and sporting arenas.

On the one hand, there are those who have opposed CDC guidance thus far who are quite happy about the new recommendations. Many of them seem to be saying, “Well, it’s about time!”

On the other hand, there are those who have followed CDC guidance thus far who are upset about the new recommendations. The general response in this camp has been: “I don’t care what the CDC says, I’m still going to wear my mask in public.”

I see no small measure of irony in both responses, and I must confess I am more than a little distressed by this.

For starters, neither “side” seems to be taking into account the many exceptions there are to these guidelines. For example, the CDC stipulates that the public should abide by all “federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance” that may require mask-wearing and/or impose physical distancing restrictions. Among those general exceptions, the CDC notes that mask-wearing will continue to be enforced in this interim period on buses, trains, and airplanes (including any respective transportation hubs).

But I think what distresses me the most is the way we Americans take something as simple as mask-wearing to further divide us. Incredibly, we have turned it into a wedge issue; we politicize it. We seem to have a kind of soul-sickness that frames any kind of call to collective action as a reason to go to war with each other.

What’s so scary about this most recent wedge issue is how we will be able to physically identify the “liberals” and “conservatives” in our midst. All we will have to do is look to see who is wearing their mask when they don’t have to wear it. You could scarcely find a better recipe for “Instant Othering.” God help us!

We are in the midst of a major culture shift that has been going on for decades already. But the unusual stress of the pandemic is bringing into full relief the nature and depth of that shift. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out that the likelihood of seeing people masked in highly populated public spaces is here to stay, even if the venue in question does not require it.

It doesn’t even have anything to do with COVID anymore. Friends of mine who are still going to mask after being fully vaccinated will do so any time they are ill or any time they especially want to avoid becoming ill. This will apply even to the common cold.

This is the norm in many countries and I dare say most Americans think that the practice is strange. I suggest that countries who practice this kind of voluntary masking have a higher sensibility to the impact of their actions on the collective. As a highly individualistic culture, Americans will have a hard time with this.

Given that masking will now be common even after the crisis of the pandemic has passed, my concern lies with how this new practice can draw us together and how it can also divide us. It is crucial that we find a way to come together. We must stop tearing each other apart. We need to be wise about the battles we feel compelled to fight and the absolute judgments we are prepared to make.

As someone who aspires to follow Jesus, I want to appeal to all of us to live by his timeless words: “Judge not.” You don’t even have to claim Christianity as your religion to see the wisdom in such an admonition. Of course, we need to make decisions and be wise, but what Jesus is talking about here is the spirit of condemnation. He was speaking against certain religious leaders who were prone to condemn others because of their life situation and/or the choices they have made.

We have got to stop judging each other and learn to look at one another through the eyes of love…with compassion and understanding. To do this we must admit that we never know the full situation with another person or a group of people.

I am convinced that the spirit of condemnation feeds on the toxicity of ignorance. If we could really see what’s going on inside each other…if we could really identify with the challenges they face, the aspirations they possess, and the reality of their history…we would not be so quick to judge, to look on another with disdain, mockery, and ridicule.

As we head into this new reality, we need to remember that we will not be able to pigeonhole someone based on whether they have chosen to wear a mask or not. Labeling another is easy but it always prevents really knowing them. It also hinders your own wellbeing—whether mental, emotional, or spiritual.

Remain open to others who are different than you. Refuse to make snap judgments. Enlarge the capacity of your soul to provide a hospitable environment for others. We may not be able to find a way back to true “collective action” as a society again, but let us do all we can to humanize one another.

to mask or not to mask?
reflections by troy cady