Well, what did you do on your summer vacation? It’s the classic question every child is asked by teachers and friends as a new school year is ramping up. Depending on what you did and perhaps your age, personality type and who is asking, you may be eager or reluctant to answer that question. Some summers are crammed with exciting activity and good fun, some drag on in endless boredom, some simply mean more of the same grinding poverty and lack of opportunity. Summer has many meanings, depending on your location – geographically but also socially.
For me, I’m glad you asked because I’m eager to talk about my summer. Part of the joy of summer is living in paradise. The sunny days and moderate temperatures seem unending. Even with the drought there are many shady trees and lovely gardens to enjoy. We had some good times as a congregation, including cook outs, international visitors, baseball and worship in the park. It was a good summer here at FBCPA.
My summer was highlighted by the two weeks in August when I took off for Tahoe and points north. I missed my annual continuing education week with the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America. The pictures posted online made it as appealing as ever, so I regret not being there. However, my alternative was to spend a week at Lake Tahoe (not bad, eh?) at annual summer retreat of Companions on the Inner Way. Companions is a program in spirituality developed in the early 1980s by the late Morton Kelsey and Professor Roy Fairchild of San Francisco Theological Seminary. Initially the program was core to the SFTS Center for Christian Spiritual Disciplines (now the Program for Christian Spirituality in which I am doing my sabbatical work.)
In the early 1990s Companions became an independent program providing spiritual retreats twice a year. It is now a ministry of Seventh Avenue Presbyterian Church in San Francisco. The pastor of that congregation and the liturgist for Companions is Jeff Gaines, my former Spiritual Director. The summer retreats are held at Zephyr Point Presbyterian Conference Center on the shores of Lake Tahoe. The setting is magical as most of the meeting rooms look out on the multi-hued blue waters of the Lake. In the course of the week, we experienced thunder and lightning, clouds and sunshine, whitecaps and mirror stillness on the lake. Surely God is in that place (though, of course, we know that God is present in every place!) What a treat each afternoon to sit on a bench on the lakefront reading and contemplating as I read and just staring at the lake.
The high point of this elevated experience was the teaching of Brian McLaren. Brian, a prolific writer, is one of the originators of the “Emergent Church” movement. This is a phenomenon with which Pastor Tripp familiarized us during his tenure here. In my nutshell, the Emergent or Emerging Church, is an attempt by contemporary Christians to find ways to be and do church that will speak the “Good News” authentically and meaningfully in the context in which we find ourselves. In this view, church may look like nothing we’re familiar with, yet it still communicates Christ’s vision of the constantly in-breaking reign of God on earth.
The theme for the week was taken from the writings of the Medieval German mystic, Meister Eckhart, who prayed that “God would save me from God.” The flyer for the retreat enticed us with this message. “These words, adapted from Meister Eckhart, reflect a struggle that many of us feel: a tension between our conventional images of God, our language for God, our formulations about God on the one hand and our intuitions of, experiences with, and hopes about God on the other. Rather than trying to suppress this tension, we will explore it as an arena for spiritual growth and creative spiritual exploration.”
We will come back to this material in the days ahead. Brian, a brilliant public theologian, former pastor and English professor, challenged us daily to reconsider our view of God, of Christ, of Bible, of faith. His concern is for a living God, a living Christ, a living Word, a living people. His latest book is We Make the Road by Walking: A Year-Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation, and Activation. Among other things, this book provides a creative alternative to the lectionary with 52 chapters of scripture texts, commentary and reflection by Brian. Beginning with the first Sunday in September, we will use this alternate to provide worship themes for the coming year. The book is divided into four large themes – Alive in the Story of Creation; Alive in the Adventure of Jesus; Alive in a Global Uprising; and Alive in the Spirit of God.
As you can see “aliveness” is key to Brian’s thinking and I hope it is to ours well. What would it mean to live out our existence as FBCPA fully alive? Together we can make this enterprise key to our common life in the year ahead. What being alive means is not prescribed. Our aliveness is unique to us, to be explored, tested, worked out and celebrated. As you can probably tell, I am excited about the prospects of this journey, of making our own “road” as we walk it together. We will order some copies of Brian’s book to have available to those who wanted read about the adventure that lies ahead.
I’m sure this is more than enough for now. As always, I am glad to be with each of you on this faith journey.
You will see elsewhere information about “Campaign Nonviolence,” organized nationally by Pace e Bene and locally by MultiFaith Voices for Peace and Justice. Their literature says, “Campaign Nonviolence is a long‐term movement to build a culture of peace by mainstreaming active nonviolence and by joining the enduring, nonviolent struggle to abolish war, end poverty, stop the destruction of the earth, and challenge all violence. Campaign Nonviolence invites you to practice nonviolence toward yourself, toward all others, and toward the world!”