Ethical Wills

Today on NPR, I heard a discussion of “Ethical Wills.”  The idea is that, in addition to leaving material possessions in a will or trust, we leave for those in future generations a statement of our ethical values.  It is an opportunity to pass on what we truly value, believe,  and hold dear.  A guest shared his experience of reading his father’s Ethical Will, of seeing it in his father’s own handwriting, and being reminded of the values passed on to him.  I agreed with the attorney who called in, not to disagree with the concept, but to emphasize that our financial/material wills and trusts should express our deepest values.  Another woman called to ask ‘why, if we live our ethics, we would need to write them down for our children to know them.’  One response was that an “Ethical Will” is an opportunity to reach to generations beyond our children and those who knew us directly.

I was compelled by this discussion.  Several things occur to me.  First, we would do well to express our ethics in writing; not only that future generations may know us and perhaps be engaged by our ethical beliefs and values for our world and community, but that we may understand what we believe and why.  Too many of us move through our lives without reflection on the decisions we make and what those decisions say about who we are — heart and soul.  Even when we do reflect on our actions, we cannot assume that those close to us understand the faith, the grounding, the experiences, the understanding of life out of which our actions grow.  What an amazing gift to share with those dear to us and to their children, and children’s children.

Second,  I am aware that we have a difficult time talking about what we believe, here and now, with our famlies, friends, and faith communities.  We can spend years working together, even living together and never truly explore and share with each other the grounding of our beliefs.  Why wait until we have completed this life? What would happen, even change in our communities if we could talk about what we value and why?

At last, do our financial wills and trusts express our deepest values and commitments?  Indeed where our treasure lies, there are our hearts.  I was moved today by the story of a couple who left their entire estate to Disciples Divinity House at the University of Chicago.  The monetary gift was generous and significant, but not huge by some standards.  What moved me was that they, at times, would hold off turning on the air-conditioning in order to save so that their gift to DDH would be greater.

In our society we avoid talking about money because it is a ‘private’ matter. We must learn how to examine the stewardship of our resources from the perspective that our resources — financial and ethical — are not private. They are given to us by God and all that God does is for the whole of God’s people.  How we share our values, beliefs, money, land, and hearts has a direct effect on our families, communities, and world.

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Religious Community and the Church

Mechtild of Magdeburg, 13th century mystic, longed to live in religious community. As a young woman she applied to a traditional convent; however she was unwilling to take the accepted route in which a young woman was brought to the convent by her parents who gave a significant dowry. Mechtild chose to apply on her own and without money. When she was rejected, she then became a part of the growing community of Beguines. The Beguines were an “idealistic association of relgious women living communally … a spontaneous local outgrowth of the urge to apostolic life.” (Beer, Frances. Women and Mystical Experience in the Middle Ages, Boydell Press) They were a less formal community without the vows of the convent, and often the women lived in poverty. The women of the community worked to help support themselves, and sometimes the communities were aided by wealthy patrons. Mechtild was a woman who gave up the wealth, privilege, and security of her family to live in the community of faith.

Mechtild wrote: “When I can no longer bear my loneliness, I take it to my friends. For I must share it with the friends of God. ‘Do you suffer?’ ‘So do I!'”

Today when the congregation gathered for worship, I witnessed the depth of care that is surely one of the marks of true community. Friends gathered around one who is in treatment for cancer; by their presence, hugs, and laughter giving her the assurance that she is not alone. A longer time member moving over to sit with someone worshiping with the community for the first time. People sharing their lives in such gentle ways that through their actions they say, “Do you suffer?” “So do I?”

The church congregation is not the same as the vowed religious community. Yet I live with the tension of wanting the church live the kind of commitment embodied in healthy religious communities. In my own process as a Co-member of the Loretto Community, I have realized that my true longing has been for the church congregation to live with the depth of covenant found in the religious community. The church, by its very nature cannot be such a community. However I do believe there are gifts and characteristics that may be shared.

The Church can grow as a community of prayer so that a part of our vocation is to live in prayer for the world.

The Church can grow as a community bound together in Christ in a way that transcends and works through our differences.

I pray that we will continue to be formed into a community of God.

Thanks for Firefox!

I’ve been unable to access the posting/writing part of “Faithstones” for several days since suddenly everytime I would click on “write” or “post” my Safari web browser would crash. It was awful! Then the good folks at WordPress apologized for the problem, told me they were working on it and suggested a couple of different browsers that do not have that problem. One of them was Firefox. Then the very next day a friend suggested Firefox. Ugh, I thought … I hate dealing with this stuff, and way too many programs are a pain to download and get working. But without other options on the horizon, I tried it. This is marvelous! Firefox downloaded with no problem and then transferred all my bookmarks and “stuff” in an instant with no problem and was up and working. It’s a miracle! And its interface is so clear and useable! Who knew?!

Okay, no thoughtful reflection today — just grateful for a working browser!

Iona Longing

At this time last May I was a resident in the Abbey on Iona. It is difficult to describe the longing, yearning I have for that place. This past Saturday, I was so intensely aware of the feeling on that Saturday a year ago when I first saw Iona and then walked from the ferry landing to the Abbey. The day was cold (as days in May tend to be on Iona) and though cold, I wanted to be outside as the Ferry approached the island. The spray of the water chilled us to the bone. On the walk up through the village, past the Nunnery, and down the road toward the Abbey, I remember fearing that I would surely freeze during the week there and yet somehow it did not matter. I was on holy ground.

When we reached the Abbey grounds and walked past St. Martin’s and St. John’s crosses, we were led through the Cloister and up the stairs to the dining room. There we were greeted with hot tea and bisquits. It seems like such a small gesture, but I knew in that moment that the Iona Community knew something about Christ’s Hospitality. They knew was it was like to arrive in the cold and the wind, to be in a new and strange place, to be getting our bearings. That cup of tea was truly a gift. When we had warmed up a bit, we were told that we would be shown to our rooms, and then we had the rest of the afternoon to settle in. We were told to ‘come back to this room at 6:00 o’clock and we will feed you.’
“Come back to this room … we will feed you.” I have not forgotten those words. I felt safe, welcomed, assured. I did not need to know everything at that moment. In fact, we could hardly absorb more. The Iona Community knew how to welcome without overwhelming; how to provide a safe place and the time and space to let our souls catch up with our bodies (as an old African story describes a journey).

My sense is that I will write more in the days to come as I long for Iona and continue the journey in my heart.

My prayer is with my friend and colleague Nancy who is currently spending 6 weeks working in the Abbey kitchen and making home and worship in that place.

An Open Invitation?

Sunday worship in this inner city congregation is full of surprises. Some days, I confess, more than I can imagine. Yesterday, I left church wondering what was happening; what God was doing in the events of the morning. In our Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) tradition, worship includes a “Call to Discipleship” which is an open invitation for anyone to come forward to either proclaim faith for the first time and prepare for baptism, or reaffirm faith, or become a part of the congregation through transfer of membership from another congregation. The positive part of this tradition is that people can respond to the Spirit in that moment. One does not need to have gone through a class or prepared ahead of time in order to respond. The other side of the coin is that anyone can come forward to join the congregation and really have little or no idea about the beliefs and culture of this particular church.

We as a congregation and I as pastor have struggled with this tension. It often means that people state a faith commitment, but never return or leave in a short period of time, because of assumptions made about who we are and what we believe. Usually it is that someone is much more conservative than either this congregation or the CC(DoC). Or that the person is looking for an evangelical worship style, and we have more of a liturgical style.

Yesterday, at the Hymn of Commitment, two people came down the aisle. Neither person had ever been in worship with us before. I had never met either the man who was vision-impaired nor the woman who had been assaulted and was in both emotional and financial crisis. As I talked with them and then received their confessions of faith, I was uncomfortable; wondering what purpose this would have if they have no ongoing relationship with the congregation, or with the Church in any place.

Then I realized that though we want to nurture faith within the community, we also touch the lives of those who may be moving through on their particular journeys. We do not need to attempt to control the spiritual expression of those who come our way. I say this all the while valuing the commitment of the church to a faith that is understandable, socially conscious, and ethically responsible. I say it while valuing the structure and the theological basis for our way of worshiping God.

I am certain that I will continue to experience the tension inherent in hospitality to all, openness to the gifts and the faith each brings, and commitment to ministry grounded in a theological perspective that we find to be faithful.