Prayer - "In Like a Lion Out Like a Lamb"

A parishioner of the church that I serve shared this image with me. Additionally he shared some remarks which are in the caption.

"Somebody posted this picture in a group I follow as part of a conversation about prayer group. The person who posted it was, I believe, critical of the image. My thought as soon as I saw it was that the pictures should be opposite: shouldn't prayer be a humbling experience?"

"Somebody posted this picture in a group I follow as part of a conversation about prayer group. The person who posted it was, I believe, critical of the image. My thought as soon as I saw it was that the pictures should be opposite: shouldn't prayer be a humbling experience?"

The member, named Thomas, makes the astute observation that prayer is a practice of humility and that we often don't associate humility with lions. Of course, this is a metaphor and all metaphors breakdown at some degree of reflection. If I were to add to Thomas' point it would be that prayer is neither lion or kitten but both.

There are times in my life where prayer has given me the strength to move into the brave new world. It is clear that those who are enslaved or in exile or refugees or many other conditions that strength or pride or courage is needed. Prayer, at times, can help us see the inner strength God has given. However, for the most part, I need less roar and more purr, so to speak. 

If thought of only a tool to strengthen and empower, then prayer is only thought of as something that is 'helpful" when we are in the valley of the shadow of death. However, and perhaps more importantly, we need to pray when we are at our most prideful.

God As Projectile

Peter Rollins continues to be a great source of life and energy for my theological reflection and thinking and I am thankful for his life and ministry. Recently I heard him speak on a podcast about how some think that God is merely a projection of our fears, desires and beings into the heavens. And to bring the point even closer to home for Christians, he makes the point that denominations are often failing because denominations are many times just projecting what they think God is compared to other denominations.

Rollins reminds us that God is less projection and more projectile that shatters our projections of God. The Taoist tradition has this line in their sacred writings:

The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao; The name that can be named is not the eternal name.

Within the tradition I practice we say of God in Christ is:

"The name which is above all names'

The point being that when we give God a name we are only casting a projection. I agree that some projections are clearer than others, but a projection non the less. The True God is less a projection and more projectile that shatters our projections. The moment we try to name God, put God in some theological framework (AKA: a box) or project God we are missing the power of what/who is God.

Finally, Rollins makes note that the beauty of denominations is that the word "denomination" means to "de-name" something. Denominations, when at their best, are doing the work of de-naming God so that God is no longer a projection. The act of de-naming God is scary and even dangerous to some, however in only be de-naming God do we come to an even deeper and fuller trust in that which cannot be named because our projections of God becomes smashed.

Boundary Confusion In The UMC

Boundaries and Barriers

Boundaries and Barriers

Within the UMC there is much talk on line about the role of boundaries. There are some who consider the election of Bishop Oliveto a breach in the boundaries of the Book of Discipline. There are others who feel that the organization of the Wesley Covenant Association is a breach of boundaries. The interesting thing to me is that both groups are correct - these are a break in boundaries. What is sometimes missed in all the discussion (including in my own thinking) over these broken boundaries is we may be confusing boundaries for barriers.

Boundaries are those things that are set up to guide and protect. They are generally good things to follow. For instance, if you see a line on the road, it is generally a good idea to not cross it. Boundaries also have a flexibility built into them that makes them easier to uphold in our lives. Sticking with the road metaphor, those lines can be redirected and even redrawn to accommodate wider vehicles or road construction. Boundaries are not the same as barriers because boundaries have an appropriate permeability to them.

Barriers are not permeable. These are like those concrete walls put on the side of the road to ensure that no one can cross over them. Barriers not only protect us from harm but also cause harm if violated. Which is why barriers are more obstructive and obstructive than boundaries. It seems that at the heart at some of the matters in the UMC, there is confusion on what is a boundary and what is a barrier.

Jesus ran into this when he was confronted by the religious leaders of his time. He was told that he was violating laws which they saw as barriers but Jesus saw as boundaries. You should not eat on the Sabbath was a barrier to some but a boundary to Jesus. God, not man, can forgive sin was a barrier for some but a boundary for Jesus. Death was a barrier for some but Jesus shows us it is boundary. 

Boundaries are important to be sure, but they are not the same as barriers. While both are designed with protection in mind, it seems like we are in the deepest mess when we confuse boundaries and barriers. 

(Update note - Thank you to W.J. who helped point out my own confusion in the original post where I mislabeled boundaries and barriers. It just goes to show that even when we think about it, there can be boundary confusion.)