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More or Less Church

Joanna Depue "DJ/Deacon J" writes original songs and liturgies, does daily Farm office work and records Barbara's eMos on The Geranium Farm. A singer and dog trainer she utilizes healing touch in her private massage practice. PLEASE share YOUR original ideas for worship, special liturgies, prayers, songs, sermons and noteworthy blogs right here.
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Saturday, March 08, 2008

Lent IV: The Lord Does Not See as Mortals See

It would be tempting to focus only on the Gospel lesson for Lent IV - Lord knows there's a lot to be gleaned there. Having gone over the readings several times my mind kept making connections with sight and illusions to seeing, seeking, looking.

Saul was dead and Israel needed a new king. Samuel, older and wiser than the young boy who heard the Lord call three times during a special night, heard the Lord call him to anoint the next king. Jesse's sons came to the sacrifice that Samuel prepared. Most of them were strapping men, each were candidates as far as Samuel was concerned. The fact of the matter was, however, that the next king of Israel was God's concern, not Samuel's. Just to remind him, God put this wisdom in Samuel's ear: "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart." Ah, to see with the eyes of the heart. 'Don't judge a book by its cover' aside, but it’s what most mortals do. They look with their eyes to the outside, they do not look to the treasures within another human heart and are poorer for their negligence.

The shepherd uses keen eyes (and the keen eyes and ears of herding dogs) to keep the flock together, to stave away danger, to find peaceful passage, water and food. The Good Shepherd does not only these things, but revives the souls of his human flock and in Baptism anoints them as his own forever.

I am an exception to the rule; my eyes adapt readily to dimly lit places or near complete darkness. I was a shoe-in to help kids without flashlights at Girl Scout camp find their way to the outhouse during the new moon. I have to adjust to light, to brightness and high beams. Yet I cannot read, write or sew in the dark. I am still a creature that needs light. In fact during late fall and winter I suffer from lack of light as others with seasonal affective disorder do. We are children of Light and we seek the Light. Even if we adapt, we are not as God, "For to You both day and night are alike"(Psalm 139:12).

The disciples, the Pharisees, the parents of the blind man were just as blind as the blind man himself. In those days there was a semi-karmic line of thought in the theology. You were sick because you or someone before you (possibly generations ago) had sinned. But neither the blind man nor his parents had sinned according to Jewish law. Jesus was trying to dispel the concept that disease was punishment for sin. Disease was disease, and sin was sin.

No one in early times could remedy prenatal blindness; even today with all our technology we are only beginning to tap into potential clues. Then and today we could and can contribute toward many diseases by taking poor care of our bodies through poor sleeping, exercise or dietary habits, poor hygiene, substance or physical abuse. Yes, there are still congenital defects, yet none of which are caused by sin.

Sin on the other hand is the one thing we can do that no one else can do for us. It's ours to enter into or avoid. The consequence of sin is like a block that we -- ourselves -- put between ourselves and our God. Sin has a secondary effect: it is the block we put between ourselves and the rest of the Body of Christ, our sisters and brothers. Put enough blocks together and you've got the basics of a wall -- a wall of our own making.

Jesus had the charisma which brought a yearning, a longing to experience the Light. That could mean to people wanted to lose their physical infirmities or the desire to destroy any barrier of sin they had created. Jesus healed the blind man using the same dust with which the man was made, in a way molding 'new' eyes for him. The blind man with mud encrusted eyes then followed Jesus' directions and made his way feeling for landmarks, the ruts in the dirt path, hearing the familiar voices, thud of pails and splash of water of the pool knelt near it and washed the mud off his eyes. His exterior darkness was pierced by light, fuzzy figures, unimaginable color.

Rather than believe the miracle had occurred, some doubted this was the same blind man. The Pharisees kept asking and man kept assuring them that yes, it was he, the former blind beggar, now able to see. Disbelievers - rather than focusing on the miracle -- felt the need to go by the book. Making a poultice of mud, of course, was work and no work was to be done on the Sabbath. There was a sinner of grievous proportions out there working! They called for witnesses, grilled his parents, wanted to discover the whereabouts of the offender and his destination, get an angle, maybe an artist’s rendition of the "suspect"/criminal/sinner who had broken the Law. Somehow, lost in translation, was the fact that a man who had been unequivocally born blind could now see. A miracle had happened. Yet all of these keen legal minds could not get to the simple truths of the matter which were spelled out by the blind man himself: 'No one evil can do a good thing. I don't know who he was, where he came from or where he went. I know he must be full of holy power because I was blind and now I see.'

That was just about the last straw for the Doctors of the Law. When the 'former' blind man met Jesus again, Jesus revealed himself to the man cured - and the man's sight was now complete. He had not only been given visual sight, but insight only the heart can have: faith.

When the eyes of our hearts are opened, we are able to see God. Then - and only then - do we go beyond mere mortal sight to see as God sees and our world, our lives, our focus and perspective are changed forever.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008


Quite a hubub has grown over the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Of all the articles released on this survey, the most succint presentation has been made by MATTHAI KURUVILA of The San Francisco Chronicle, printed below:

"Twenty-eight percent of American adults have left the faith in which they were raised, switching to another religion or no religion at all, according to a national survey of religious affiliation.

In addition, adults who claim no ties to any religious institution have grown into the fourth-largest category of religious identification, according to a report by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

And while 10 percent of U.S. adults have left the Catholic Church, an influx of Catholic immigrants has kept the church's population stable.

Partly because the numbers of the unaffiliated have grown, Protestants, who have historically been the majority in the United States, are on the verge of losing that status. Only 51 percent of American adults describe themselves as Protestant.

The 28 percent of Americans who left their childhood faith include people who abandoned institutional religion entirely and people who have converted to another religion, such as a Christian converting to Judaism or a Buddhist becoming a Muslim.
An additional 16 percent of Americans have switched from the Christian denomination of their childhood to another Christian denomination, such as a Methodist becoming a Southern Baptist.

The fluidity of affiliation in the United States underscores the competitiveness of the religious market, in which groups are vying for members, said Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum. "If you're going to rest on your laurels, you're history."

The survey of more than 35,000 adults was distinctive in the number of respondents as well as the number of questions posed. It found that 78 percent of the 220 million adults in the United States are still Christian.

Among Protestants, evangelicals are the largest single group, representing 26.3 percent of the nation's adult population. Mainline Protestant denominations -- including Methodists, Presbyterians and Episcopalians -- continue to see their numbers shrink, currently representing just 18.1 percent of the overall population. Historically black churches, which are increasingly taking on members of other ethnicities, represent 6.9 percent of the overall population.

Catholics are the second-largest group of Christians, representing roughly 24 percent of the population -- a relatively constant figure for the past 35 years.
But the constancy of that figure obscures the dramatic and unique way in which immigration patterns are reshaping America's religious identity, the survey found. Unlike in Europe, the majority of immigrants to the United States are Christian. And those immigrants are heavily Catholic, particularly those from Mexico.

Among immigrant adults, Catholics amount to 46 percent, while 24 percent are Protestants. But among U.S.-born adults, Protestants outnumber Catholics, 55 percent to 21 percent.

The departures from the church mean that "roughly 10 percent of all Americans are former Catholics," the study found. While 31 percent of American adults were raised Catholic, only about 24 percent describe themselves as Catholic today.

Roughly 16.1 percent of the U.S. population describes themselves as not affiliated with any religious organization or body, a category that includes those who believe in God. Researchers said the numbers of atheists and agnostics -- roughly 1.6 and 2.4 percent of the U.S. adult population -- have remained consistent over time.

Those who are raised unaffiliated change their beliefs, too: Roughly half of those who were raised without a religious tradition now claim one as adults, according to the survey.
John Green, a senior fellow at the Pew Forum and a principal author of the study, said the impact of the unaffiliated has yet to be seen. But it needs to be watched.

"The large size of this unaffiliated group could have a profound affect on the character of American religion," he said."

Have you been one of the many to make a change? Following Debbie S. Loeb's lead in Hodgepodge regarding how you found The Geranium Farm and what features you enjoy, I will field your replies to the above mentioned survey. Let us know, if you don't mind, what affiliation you began with and where you identify yourself now. If you wish to give us a brief description of your turning point, please do. As they come in, I'll collect them and post them as Debbie did in installments. I'm one of the 16% who chose to switch Christian affiliation from Roman Catholic to Epicopalian. This will be your forum to cast your ballot of affiliation and whether it has remained the same or changed - and why. Please send your replies to:

p.s. Hey, sounds like a great opportunity for evangelism!!!!

N.B. For a deeper understanding of the Pew Charitable Trusts Survey, please read Carol Stone's insightful and in depth analysis in the entry "Catching Up...." dated March 4, 2008 in the Ways of the World feature on The Farm!

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