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Tuesday, 9 February 2010
Adding something for Lent…

If your childhood was anything like mine, you must remember your parents, your Sunday school teachers, or maybe other children talking about giving up something for Lent.


Of course giving up something for Lent is not a bad practice if it reminds us of the journey that Jesus, our Lord and Perfect Example took into the wilderness just before He began His earthly ministry; if the practice of giving something up helps us to focus on the ministries that God has set before each of us in our individual lives and together as people of faith.


But this year, I’d like to suggest something just a little bit different and perhaps just a touch unprecedented as we move towards the season of Lent. And why not? 2010 will be in many ways a year of unprecedented change - change that we will successfully meet only by drinking in a full measure of God’s Holy Spirit. For Lent 2010, I would respectfully suggest that we consider adding some things rather than giving things up.

 Odd as that may sound, it makes sense from the perspective of our role as disciples – that is to say devoted followers of Christ.  Now there were times Jesus asked his followers, or in some cases would-be followers, to give some things up – the ‘Rich Young Ruler’ comes to mind (Luke 18:18-23). Jesus asked that ‘almost disciple’ to give up everything – everything that is that would get in the way of his following after Jesus.  And Jesus has Peter and Andrew leave their fishing nets to follow Him, (Matthew 4:20) which I suppose isn’t nearly as drastic as when just a little further on up the road He has James and John leave not only their nets and boat but their father as well. (Matthew 4:22) 

But far more than the times that Jesus would have His followers leave something behind or otherwise excise that thing from their lives, Jesus above all else wants to add to their lives; wants them to take up things, do things, and be things they had never been before. Just to name a few, Jesus wants His followers – and with all my heart I believe that includes us at First Church in Orange – to ADD these things to their lives:

 -         A New Commandment to love as we have been loved. (John 13:34)-         A Cross that we must take up as we follow Him (Mark 8:34)-         His Words – the very Words of Eternal Life (John 6:68)

-         His own Body and Blood broken and Shed for our redemption (Mark 14:22)

-         The Comforter, that is, the Holy Spirit (John 15:26)

-         The Peace which the world cannot give (John 14:27)


Perhaps I am somewhat loathe to talk up giving things up for Lent this year because, not at all in the back of my mind, but rather very much in the foreground, is the knowledge that too soon we will all feel like we are giving up something very precious to us.  By now those of you who know me, know that I have tended to be very blunt about our temporal situation at First Church.  I guess I’ve never been a ‘sugar coating’ sort of person.  Hopefully I’ve been able to speak with at least as much alacrity about our spiritual condition as members of the Church which can never close its doors, never run out of resources, and never fade into history: that Church which is the whole Body of Christ.  I know that not everyone likes bluntness.  Truthfully, a lot of the time I don’t like it myself all that much.  But with characteristic bluntness I will nonetheless tell you that to meet the days ahead there are surely things that we need to ADD to our lives, not just for Lent but for all the days the Lord grants us going forward. I believe we need to pick up and fasten these things to our being.  In the words of the Apostle Paul to the Ephesians (Ephesians 6:10-18) we will need:


-         The Whole Armor of God, for we are ultimately not fighting a battle against changing times or demographics or even the lack of resources. Our real battle is with forces unseen that are trying to tell us we have no business sharing the life saving Gospel in the town of Orange.

-         The Belt of Truth, for in the weeks and months that are to come the temptation will be to attempt to affix blame on others our past or ourselves.  The very first sin the Bible records was immediately accompanied by blame, (Genesis 3:12) half truths and outright lies.

-         The Breastplate of Righteousness. In the face of loss it is easy to lash out in anger and even to dream of petty vengeances.  But such is not our call.  Such will serve no Godly purpose and ultimately not even provide emotional satisfaction.

-         The Shield of Faith. We have come this far by faith, faith will see us home – especially with the remembrance that our true home is of the Lord’s making.

-         The Helmet of Salvation. The greatest gift of all. The gift that reminds us that in Christ there are no losses. We are united with the saints that have gone before and to paraphrase a famous hymn, we shall be together with the Lord.

-         The Sword of the Spirit. This is the only ‘offensive’ weapon Jesus would have us take up. But what a weapon it is, for before It, all the powers of darkness fall. 

As we enter the season of Lent, let us fix our eyes upon the bright days of New Life that Christ has promised: New Life promised not only in the age to come but for each individual believer, here in the world in which Christ has placed us for the purpose of ADDING His gifts to our lives.

Posted by amlamort at 12:00 PM EST
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Friday, 20 November 2009
Light in the Darkness

the people living in darkness
      have seen a great light;
   on those living in the land of the shadow of death
      a light has dawned 
(Matthew 4:16)


A world of darkness?  The world into which Jesus was born was very dark.  Society languished in the grip of a cruel and corrupt government.  Racial and religious prejudice abounded. Ignorance was rampant. What’s more is that the faithful began to doubt God.  It had been four centuries since the Word of the Lord had last been heard from the prophet Malachi – nothing from the Lord of Hosts but deafening silence.  If there  really is a God, why would he abandon us like this?


Into this world of hopeless despair Jesus was born. In this time and place of sin and deep darkness the living Word who moved across the waters on the day of Creation and hung the most distant star in the night sky chose to enter our world.


And when He did, the silence was shattered and the Light chased away the darkness. Beginning with the humble and most likely frightened assent of a young girl from a dirt water town, the Good News of Light and Love and Life reclaimed turned the world upside down:  


 Mary said:
   "My soul glorifies the Lord
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
      of the humble state of his servant.
   From now on all generations will call me blessed,
    for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
      holy is his name.
 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
      from generation to generation.
 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
      he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
      but has lifted up the humble.
 He has filled the hungry with good things
      but has sent the rich away empty.
 He has helped his servant Israel,
      remembering to be merciful
 to Abraham and his descendants forever,
      even as he said to our fathers."
 (Luke 1:46-55)


I hear it said that we live in a time of darkness:  Economic woes, unemployment, environmental worries, and daily violence in much of the world all lead us to believe that we are living in a place of shadows.  Even on a congregational level, we are confronting what in many ways are unprecedented issues.  As a church we are struggling through a maze of uncertainties that seem mostly to be leading us into an inevitable dark night.


It is probably small consolation that the same thing has perhaps been said in every era. Five centuries ago Martin Luther felt that the world had reached such a height of evil that it could not go on for another 50 years.  But then again, the Millerites and Shakers of the 19th century knew the end of the world was imminent at the turn of the century and in 1965, Bobby McGuire was convinced we were all standing on the eve of destruction.


Perhaps every era in our world is one of darkness.  Perhaps much as Jesus spoke of the poor, the darkness will always be with us. (Matthew 26:11).  Perhaps St. Paul was right when he said that the Devil is the power of this present world (Ephesians 2:2)  Do we wonder, as the people of Jesus’ day, “Where is God?”


A Light in the Darkness.  It’s been said that a light shines most brightly in the darkness.  Jesus day, for many reasons, was very dark.  Our day, for many reasons – some the same – some different also may be very dark.  But Jesus is coming into our midst to dispel our darkness – Jesus is looking for us to, like Mary, give our assent – meekly; boldly; with certainty or uncertainty, but just to say ‘Yes’ to His birth in the stable of our hearts.


The Good News is no less capable today of turning the world – our world; our towns and cities; even our church upside down.  The Light can still lift up the lowly and put down the despots.  The Lord can still do wondrous things in us!


As we enter this Holy Season, I pray that we may all be mindful of the Child of Bethlehem, Who still comes to be born that all may live in the Light:  Let us worship together, pray together and move forward together in the ways that our God has prepared.


Wishing you all light, life, love and the peace that goes beyond  all understanding,


Posted by amlamort at 9:42 AM EST
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Wednesday, 26 August 2009
The Glory that God Intends

...continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life... From Philippians 2:12-16

We have only to look as far as our local newspaper to come to the realization that we live in a world very far from the kingdom of God.  Looking to social systems, political leaders and governments for peace, security and certainty is more than likely to result in disappointment.

What of our church?  What of God's Church -- the whole Christian Church on earth? I've heard sentiments like this too many times.  Perhaps you have too:

If the church is so great, why are there so many [hypocrites, insincere, angry, bigoted -- fill in the negative quality of your choice] people there?

or worse yet:

If there's really a God, why does He allow so many bad things to happen -- especially in the Church? Why do so many churches seem to be struggling?  Even dying?

As I think about it, I would go so far as to suggest that you may have had and may continue to have thoughts like these. At least I suspect you do if you are anything like me.  Indeed, as one who teaches and preaches the Gospel, and maybe even more so because of it, I find these doubts cropping up, generally when they are least welcome.  Mind you, if this is the case, you -- we -- are not alone, for many men and women of faith have, while recognizing their ultimate trust in God, still wrestle with their nagging doubts: "Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief." (Mark 9:24)

If you find yourself right now doubting God, doubting God's sovereignty over our seemingly chaotic world, or moreover doubting the often  all human church to which we have been called, perhaps this story which I recently heard will help illustrate the point:

There was a certain minister of a small, struggling congregation. He worked very hard to preach the Gospel and tend to the needs of his flock. This minister was most delighted to discover one Sunday morning a new face in his congregation.  The newcomer continued to attend faithfully for several weeks and then one Sunday he simply wasn't there.  And then he wasn't there the following Sunday and the Sunday after that.  The minister wondered what had transpired.  Was it something he had said?  The type of worship music?  The time of service?  

Deciding to pay a call on the now absent newcomer, the minister was warmly welcomed into the man's home, "Oh no, it's nothing you've done, Reverend," said the man, "I like your sermons well enough and the music is okay.  It's just that... well..." the man hesitated for a moment, as if he were waiting for permission from the minister to continue, which he got in the form of an encouraging of weak smile, "You see, I'm not really sure about God, and Jesus, and the whole Christian thing.  At least I wasn't.  But something told me I should try it out, so I came to your church.  And things were going along fine until I entered into a business arrangement with one of your church members.  The fellow turned out to be a complete crook!  Utterly dishonest!  If that's what church and Christianity are all about, well, I'm sorry, but I want no part of it."

The minister, at a loss for words, thought for a moment, then, noticing a piano in the corner of the living room said, "Well I'm so sorry to hear that.  Not to change the topic, but... who plays the piano in your household?"

The man was surprised at the question, but probably glad to talk about something else and most definitely glad to brag a little about one of his children, "My daughter has been taking lessons.  Only for a couple of years now, but she's really pretty good for a little child." The man was clearly beaming with pride.

"That's wonderful," the minister replied, "do you think I could hear her play?"

The man called his daughter and she, perhaps a bit shyly appeared in the room.  Not the first time she had been called upon to play for guests, she dutifully sat down at the piano.

The minister walked over to the piano and picked up a thick book of music. Paging through it for a moment, found a nocturne by Chopin, "Here.  Would you play this one?"

"Oh no sir, that piece is much too hard20for me," said the little girl.

"Would you try anyway?" asked the minister, smiling warmly.

"Okay, I'll try," said the little girl.  And try she did.  Valiantly. Though in truth, she likely played more wrong notes than correct notes.  The tempo and rhythm bore no resemblance to the composer's intentions.  The piece was simply many years beyond her state of development.  Perhaps, with continued guidance from her teacher, and diligent practice, she would one day play Chopin's elegant music beautifully.  But not today.

After the little girl ceased her efforts and retired to her room, the minister exclaimed, "Well now, who wrote that? Chopin was it?  Clearly not a ve ry good composer was he?  What a poor excuse for music..."

No further explanation was required. The man realized the minister's point:  Much as his little girl, while certainly a pianist, was still very much in the process of perfecting her art.  The fact that she could not execute the most advanced of repertoire did nothing to diminish his fatherly love and pride. In the same way, whereas we have been redeemed by Christ, we are all very much in the process of sanctification -- the process of being made more and more like Jesus.  We, and the whole church, may be said to be a work in progress.  Just as the little girl's faltering attempts are not truly a negative reflection on the great composer, so too our faltering attempts as seek to learn to hear the Master's voice, as we endeavor to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit are not negative reflections on God or on God's intent for the Church.

If you find yourself discouraged by the world, by the Church, by your fellow Christians, perhaps that is the best opportunity to ask God to help you become a part of the ongoing process of transforming the church into the Glory which God intends.  


Posted by amlamort at 5:34 PM EDT
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Friday, 19 December 2008
Do they know its krissmiss...?

Do They Know it’s Krissmiss?


“We Have Seen His Glory, the glory of the one and only Son…”  from John 1:14


By the time you read this is will have long since begun.  As a matter of fact, I suspect it will be nearly over.  Christmas…  (or Krissmiss, as it is often pronounced!).  It seems that every year it begins earlier and earlier.  And by the way, it also seems that every year the talk about how it starts so much earlier begins, well, earlier.  This year, my first seasonal sighting took place just before Halloween. Right there in the drugstore, next to a bright green Frankenstein monster mask complete with perfectly flat head and what looked like carriage bolts protruding from the neck, a bevy of Little Mermaids and a few other things I was pretty sure were cultural icons I’m a little embarrassed to say I couldn’t quite identify, was a shelf full of hundred-pack ‘mini-holiday blinking lights’ and next to that, were boxes of gold tinsel, and then some truly lovely glass ornaments.  Some time during the week before Thanksgiving I came across a local radio station proclaiming itself “Your home for the holidays” and all of a sudden we were seated next to Miss Fanny Bright while Jack Frost was nipping at our noses and Rudolph was being maligned by his unsympathetic cohorts.


Now I know what you are probably thinking: “Oh, here we go again with another “Shameful Commercialization of Christmas” diatribe. 


Well, the truth is, like nearly everyone who’s spent time serving in America’s churches; I have found myself railing against the corporate co-opting of the Nativity of our Lord.  Yes, I too have scoffed at giant inflatable Santa’s and snowmen in stovepipe hats in suburbanite yards. I’ve found myself muttering all too self righteously, “Gee, nothing says ‘birth of Christ’ like 140,000 kilowatt pseudo North Pole tableau that, along with the great wall of China can actually be seen by astronauts residing in the international space station.”

 But I’d like to present a slightly different view point.  There are moments when I have learned to be thrilled with the high decibel, frenetic admixture of sacred and mundane that is the American Christmas; and here’s why: 

The society into which God chose to send His Son was in many ways like our own:  It stood in the midst of economic crisis and political upheaval.  People were losing what little faith they had maintained in the tried and true practices and institutions of old. But there was also most definitely a cultural zeitgeist of searching… searching for something to provide meaning and direction.  There were promises and prophecies handed down from of old – poorly understood, often misinterpreted, but nonetheless part of the common consciousness.  Everyone from the scholars in the synagogue to the prelates in Roman palaces to foreign practitioners of arcane astrology were looking for, indeed, were expecting something to happen.  Though the message was warped by politics, greed and fear, and the profound Grace of God was frequently obscured by blind adherence to long dead traditions,  there remained a grain of truth that some, however imperfectly, might find quickened to their hearts.  Or, to put it another way, no matter how hard man’s world might try, the still, small voice of God would not be overcome by the clatter of human endeavor.


Fast forward 2000 years: Those who lived during the moment of Christ’s entry into human history are a lot like us, and we are a lot like them.  We too are fearful.  We too are in the midst of trying and fearsome times. And it’s all too clear that the world around us is frantically searching for something – just walk through the mall, or better yet, New York City’s Times Square.  A proliferation of lights and sights proclaim the potential answer to all our earthly woes, all while the national debt clock declares each families share of indebtedness to be well beyond the means of an average lifetime to repay, and the news media proclaims wars and rumors of wars.  All of this to the accompaniment of fully orchestrated, frequently pop-rock versions of Christmas hymns and ‘seasonal songs’.  The words of Isaac Watts, and the music of Handel blend with Gene Autry’s flying reindeer, Eartha Kitt’s Santa Baby, and once again, for reasons known only to the late great Charles Shultz, the ‘bloody Red Baron’ refrains from blowing Snoopy’s ice besotted WWI biplane out of the Teutonic skies when he hears the bells from the village below.  Some measure of God’s truth is found amidst the glitter, consumerism and frantic quasi-traditionalism.  Beyond Dickens’s ghosts and Seuss’ Grinch, in a world that has not advanced very far from the one where there was no room, save a stable, for a very pregnant woman to have her baby, and the leaders of the government insist that ‘all the world should be enrolled’; in a world where the day after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday and the celebration is marked by stampeding a mega-store shop clerk to death in order to be the first to score a good deal on a plasma screen television; in that same world  the Lord of Life waits to be born.  The same Word that moved over the face of the primordial waters is waiting to be born in our hearts.


When you hear Bing dream of a White Christmas, Band Aid ask if “they Know it’s Christmas”, The “Barenaked Ladies” (yes, that’s the name of a rock group – they’re all men, and they perform fully clothed!) mash God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen with We Thee Kings, perhaps pause, and give a moment of thanks that our Lord is speaking as He always has – in the most ironic places and through the most unlikely people. Be mindful that as the stars in the heavens – mute soulless balls of fire a trillion miles away, declare the glory of God, as a rogue star that had no business shining in the light of day announced the arrival of the world’s Savior, so too God is speaking today, in spite of, or maybe even through the superficially luminous ‘stars’ of our little space and time. Take a moment to look into the manger of your heart and see that it’s ready for Christ to be born there.

Posted by amlamort at 10:40 AM EST
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Monday, 10 November 2008
why I write poetry (a personal essay)

I’ve been asked from time to time why I write poetry, and moreover why I write the way in which I do.  After I get past the flippant answers I am usually tempted to provide as rejoinder to such inquiries, and at last give the question something of the thought it warrants, my response generally is something like this:


My greatest hope and my greatest joy in writing – what one might term my purpose – is to illuminate my topic: the shedding of light, so to speak, on whatever it is I might be writing about.  I desire to do this for both myself and for anyone who cares to read/listen to my offerings.


Another way of putting this is that through my poetry I want to, in whatever limited way I am able, bring the “huge issues,” the “eternal questions,” if you will, to a level where we ground dwellers might at least begin to make sense of them. Perhaps it is the apex of hubris, but in my poetry I strive to tether the bright immensities – G-d, the Universe, Time, the Spiritual Realm – to the “lesser” creation here below.


I further hope through my poetic ramblings, to cast the light of wonder on the seemingly simple things:  How often a leaf or some passage of bird song, or a child’s smile is about far more than just what they by their being present. Or maybe those things are only about themselves.  But if that is the case, I know at least I need to be reminded of the beauty and wonder in yes, the simple elements of life.


If I could be allowed to encapsulate my purpose in a single thesis statement, my poetry is about making the complex simple and the simple... not necessarily complex but full of wonderment.


And now the bad part:  I know that most of the time I fail miserably.  Sometimes what I create has been called beautiful, but I am fully aware of its shortcomings. Like Isaiah and St. Paul, I know only too well that my “righteousness” is worth about as much as a heap of filthy rags.  And therein lies the reason for all the striving – the grappling with words and forms and meters.  But then again, maybe that’s not all bad – maybe we humans are not quite prepared for perfection in this life, neither paradise nor nirvana.  Maybe that is why we keep striving – why there are so many “crappy” love poems, so many poems about the universe, or time, or a single blade of grass.  Maybe that’s why there are so many pictures of the same landscape, so many novels and plays with essentially the same plot, so many schools of thought, divergent ideals, religions, and political parties.  If ever it – whatever IT is, could be done to perfection, why would the rest of us even try?  And yet again, maybe it isn’t about perfection at all, but simply about some unique perspective.  Maybe there can be several disparate perfections and an infinite number of roads to all of them.  Maybe.


So as to this issue of the simple versus the “high falutin” – well, maybe that too is really a matter of path. There are times when I will confess that ordinary words can’t quite say what I want them to say.  Maybe it’s the fault of the words, maybe the fault of my mind or most likely the fault of my skills or lack thereof, but just the same, the big, fancy five-dollar words are still a tool:  There are times and places where azure is so much more satisfying a color than blue, and good old mother earth really is a fragile island hurtling through the vast expanse of interstellar space. These are the times and places where the exact shade of meaning is, or at least should be, captured by not just what one says, but how one says it. And yes, the obverse is imbued with just as much veracity – or the other side is just as true… There are the times and places when what must be said is best said without adornment, and any verbal accoutrement would detract from the truth and the beauty of what is being conveyed.


Is it “real” poetry if it contains no big words?  Is it real if it DOES contain big words? If we can agree that it IS poetry, is it great poetry?  Who are we, poets though some or all of us may be, to call the shot?  Is one individual’s simplicity another’s complexity? Indeed, can a virgin write passionate love sonnets?  Can an atheist write about G-d? Can one write a profoundly pained poem about the lack of one’s morning coffee?  Can one write a farce based on some national tragedy?  Why?  Why not? Should we throw our lot in with Ezra Pound who stated as if it were an inalienable truth, “There are no long poems.”?


Sometimes a good altercation can be balm for a community.  Especially when it ends with no one really getting hurt.  But at least on this topic, once the arguing is done, I’ll bet anyone a good bottle of rye that nothing will be resolved.  For me, and that’s the operative part… for me at this juncture, and for you too if you happen to agree, but if not that’s okay too… For me, poetry is an infinite universe.  And in an infinite universe there are after all, infinite possibilities: In this universe we embrace, there are no end to the possibilities for self-expression.  Perhaps no one can appreciate or even approve of all of them, but we are best served when we nonetheless acknowledge and even revel in their existence.

Posted by amlamort at 9:48 PM EST
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Thursday, 6 November 2008

In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.   - 1 Thessalonians 5:18  


Thanksgiving is coming. You know… pilgrims, turkey, cranberry sauce… happens every year.  Time to be grateful again.  But on the other hand, let’s be real: life is pretty tough. Our future is uncertain, our present is often sad…  Seems like we have a lot to complain about. Still, complaining all the time is a pretty unappealing way to live.  So this year, let’s flip it around. Instead of having one day to give thanks, and complain the rest of the time, let’s take just one day and heap all our complaints together…. Really let ‘er rip! We’ll call this newly instituted holiday ‘Gripesgiving.’ To underscore the point, homemakers should prepare everyone’s least favorite meal, preferably burned, undercooked, and about an hour and a half later than expected.  In church we could have a service of Gripesgiving, where we list all the things about the church, its situation and one another that annoy us. To get us all in the holiday spirit, the organist will select utterly unfamiliar hymns and play them in an un-singable key.  On the left side of the sanctuary it’ll be so cold you can see your breath.  On the right side, it’ll be so hot as to melt the paint off the walls.  Afterwards, we’ll stage a traffic jam in the parking lot and all go home and watch video tapes of old super bowl games with particularly unpopular outcomes. 


Of course it is.  But then again, think about how many gripes you (or those around you, if you prefer to gripe about your neighbor!) have made, even if only to yourself between say breakfast and lunch.  

Just a few days ago, there were many, many individuals giving thanks over what they believe is the dawning of a new day in American life. There were parties in the streets, jubilant phone calls flashing back and forth across the globe.  Dancing, laughter and tears of joy were heard and seen in living rooms, public gathering places, and on the highways and byways of America and even around the world.  The excitement in the air was palpable.  But truth be told, there were, if you take the statistics to heart, a number not all that much different from the number of American voters who rejoiced, who were less than happy about the out come of our most recent presidential election.  On Wednesday morning, the day after Election Day, the airwaves, and I’m sure the bus stops and offices and factories, were full of nearly as much upset as exaltation. 

Of course it’s easy to give thanks when everything is transpiring just the way we want it.  It’s easy to evoke all manner of grateful emotions when the coffers are full, there’s money in the bank and our team is winning.  I think if we look around at our world, we will quickly realize that to be grateful under such positive circumstances doesn’t take a very spiritual individual.  A profound relationship with God isn’t necessary to be joyful when things are going well.  When it’s all going well, do we not ‘thank our lucky stars,’? ‘thank goodness’?, and in some cases, yes, even ‘thank God’?  To be happy when life seems pleasing is hardly divine. In fact, it’s basic human nature. 

Yet our Christian faith in as much it is derived from God’s living Word compels us to give thanks in ALL things: 

Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ    - Ephesians 5:20 

I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men.   – 1 Timothy 2:1 

Again and again, we are told to live in a state of eutcharistia.  A state of thankfulness, regardless of the circumstances.   So how can God ask us to do that.  Surely that is almost as nonsensical as a national day of ‘Gripesgiving’.   Nonsensical that is, until we are led by the Holy Spirit to recognize that in Chirst, we are more than conquerors…  (Romans 8:37). And that all things work together for those that love the Lord.  (Romans 8:28) 

Let us then pause to look at the good our heavenly Father has wrought for us, even now: 

-         There may be few of us, but let us give thanks for each soul who has come to know Christ in the long history of our church; each life that has been transformed; and for those who continue to gather in our midst. 

-         Though our future is uncertain, let us give thanks for what God has done in our past, and moreover let us look to what God will do in the future.  No matter what happens, he will not leave us destitute (see Ps. 25!) 

-         Thank God for our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Thank Him for the free course of His word.  Thanks Him for the past and the future, and even the privilege of striving together, in God’s kingdom, right now. 

Peace, joy, blessing and a spirit of eucharistia to all of you!

Posted by amlamort at 11:29 AM EST
Updated: Thursday, 6 November 2008 11:42 AM EST
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Tuesday, 28 October 2008
My Philosophy of Church Music

A brief statement on my philosophy of church music:

Whereas in the most pragmatic sense, I would concur with Martin Luther that music is the handmaiden of theology; serving to buttress the truths of the Gospel; to reinforce the teachings of the Church and to quicken wisdom, courage and forbearance to our hearts, I believe that music may also be a ministry in and of itself. Truth is sometimes best conveyed through a painting, a woodcut, a sculpture, a stained glass window. Wisdom may be at times best expressed through the steps of a dance. There are moments where the Gospel is conveyed most fully through a gentle smile, or the touch of warm hand. In the same way, I am convinced that the majesty, might, and even the loving kindness of the Almighty can be told forth in that language of sound juxtaposed against time which we call music.

I understand music as applied spirituality.

When spirituality is at its best and therefore its purest form, it is engendered in both the vertical and horizontal dimensions. That is to say, that while communion, or even relationship between the worshipper and the Divine is established and fostered, at the same time community and fellowship is created among the worshippers.  Perhaps that is why so many of the world’s religions tend to have a profound communal aspect. Even in traditions where the sacred is encountered with unmitigated meditative silence, there is still a zeitgeist of divinely inspired community.  I believe that a spirituality that involves only the indiviual and the object of his or her spiritual devotion is devoid of much of its incarnational power and immediacy.  On the other hand the community that does not seek to further the depth of its communion with God becomes impoverished in its spiritual nature. I am convinced one must have both: The vertical and horizontal relationships combine to form the full matrix of the human spiritual experience.

So too music, regardless of the style, scope or genre, when it is serving its truest purpose draws listeners, in some metaphysical way, one to another as well and simultaneously to That which is above, within and without. The potential exists that musical performance, even outside of the religious venue may, much like ancient Greco-Roman theater, be a corporate religious experience.

To that end, I believe that the church musician may be, in a very real sense a minister, not only because he or she is laboring at the musical craft in a sacred space or in the employ of the church, but because music itself may edify the souls of God’s beloved children.Although I have carried out and continue, from time to time, to be involved in many different kinds of ministries within the church, it is the above to which I am most led and where I believe I realize my truest vocation.AML2008

Posted by amlamort at 10:08 AM EDT
Updated: Monday, 3 November 2008 10:18 AM EST
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