Thursday, July 29, 2010

Pirates of the Carribean 4 : In my backyard

I've seen some strange things in my day but this recent one might top the list. Last week I noticed there was an odd looking vessel floating on the bay. It had the shape of an old pirate ship, but whoever thinks that one would ever see one. I mean really! And that's what it was.

Landlubber that I am, I soon realized it was the pirate ship featured in the film series Pirates of the Carribean. As you can imagine, the film has created a ton of energy and excitement in these parts of Hawaii. I like to invite you to see some of the sights and share some of the local impressions.

Part of Pirates is being filmed off a small dock called Keeia Kea, a small out of the way harbour about two miles from my home. Been there a dozen times to fish, or to picnic with my wife. The dock is transformed. They've been filming at night, so when it gets dark, giant lights lighten up a huge part of the bay. And man-made smoke casts an errie sight on the surrounding volcanic hills. It's really something to see.

Last night curiousity got the best of me. I ventured out at 9pm to check things out. I was surprized when I got to Keeia Kea. There were so many people there I had to park about five minutes away from the dock. And once there, I had pass a few checkpoints and hundreds of people, who were lined up hoping to spot either Johnny Depp (Jack Sparrow), or Angelica (Penelope Cruz) drive by.

This was the first time I've been near a movie set,  so it fascinating to see just what goes on. There was a certain energy and excitement there. Kind of reminded me of a circus. I was impressed just how organized things were, and in particular of the support services. On one side of the dock were a dozen trailers which provided food, carpenters-anything that could support the production of the movie. There was even a food tent. Anything a pirate would want.

The coolest thing was the ship itself. I travelled back to Keeia after work today, just to snap a few  pictures of the ship. I ran into a smaller crowd, and there was a viewing area about fity yards from the ship.

I provide these as evidence and to let you know I was not telling a tall tale!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Celtic Way of Doing Church

"First, a host of New Barbarians substantially populate the Western world once again; indeed, they are all around us. Many of them are "secular"; that is they have never been substantially influenced by the Christian religion; they have no Christian memory and no church to "return" to. Many have never acquired a "church etiquette" (they would not know when to stand, or where to find Second Corinthians, or what to say to the pastor after the service)...these populations are increasingly simlar to the populations that the movements of Patrick, Columba, and Aidan reached as the New Barbarians become increasingly postmodern" (pg. 96)

I first read George Hunter's The Celtic Way of Evangelism (2000) in 2002. The book made a big impression on me, and was one of the first books that got me hooked onto Celtic Christianity. This is an important book, and I often go back and reread sections just to make sure I'm reading it right. There is something distinctive about Celtic Christianity, and Hunter's book does an excellent job in explaining  what that "distinctiveness" is.  Hunter begins his story by focusing on the uniqueness of Patrick's mission to the Irish. The "single greatest lesson" is that Patrick went out of his way to understand everything he could about the Irish. He took an active interest in the Irish people, taking the time to learn and understand their language, their habits, their thought forms, and their culture. I've lived in other cultures and these graces are not easy ones. Patrick demonstrates an amazing humility, and  understood that to be effective and make a real impact, he had to be both genuine and sincere. Patrick had all these qualities and more

Secondly, Celtic Christianity was more of a movement, a way of life, an "experience" instead of a religion of Empire, or something linked to an institution or church building. Moreover, the movement stressed the importance of the laity and not the clergy. Hunter remarks that the Roman visitor would have encountered a faith group which was more imaginative, less brain centered that Latin Christianity.  The Celts also had a creation based theology which stressed the "immanence" and "providence" of God.  A major reason for these differences were the Celtic roots in Desert and Monastic Christianity. Celtic Christian communities were focused around the monastery and abbot instead of the bishop and cathedral. Monastic communities tended to be less individualistic and more community orientated. Hunter believes the Celts communities were better integrated and focused not only on the "utlimate" issues of life, but also the "middle-level" issues of life, including life's daily struggles.

Hunter also explores the "missionary ecclesiology" of this ancient church and identifies five themes. First, the Celts took a relational, and team approach when sharing their faith story. Before sharing the message of the gospel, they first tried to relate to the people, identify with the people, and engage in friendship, ministry and witness. What a sharp contrast to the confrontational evangelism often practiced in the church both then and now. Second, monastic communities helped prepare people to live with depth and compassion. The Celtic communities were places of great learning, an Open Univeristy with ongoing adult education hundreds of years ago. Hunter also asserts that Celtic Christianity helped prepare people through a "fivefold" structure of experiences including almost every realm of life. These stages included voluntary periods of solitary isolation, time with a "soul-friend" (spiritual direction), time in small groups in a monastic setting, participation in the common life such as meals and prayers, and an environment where people were seeing ministry all around them. These were vibrant, rich faith communities, where learning, art, poetry, and storytelling were all valued.  Hunter also notes how important hospitality was in the Celtic monastic community. Celtic communities were welcoming ones. Within many of the monasteries, a place was always set for a guests and seekers who come to the community.

The sharing of one's faith is important and needs to be done tactfully. As the Christian Church huddles, and reviews its standing in the world, it would be wise to look to lessons of the past, and learn how one church, the Celtic church,  took new and bold steps centuries ago. For instance, there are several clear "takeaways" people can apply to their own churches. In true Celtic fashion, how welcoming is your church to newcomers and strangers? And second, if you have congregations with different ethnic backgrounds, what is being done to help understand their culture? If you're looking for a blueprint on how "to do" church in our own day, you'll find The Celtic Way of Evangelism worthwhile to read.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

St. Andrews and the Open

"St. Andrews by the Northern Sea,
That is a haunted town to me!"
Andrew  Lang

Every five years, the tiny university town of St. Andrews, Scotland is transformed into the greatest golf show on earth when it hosts the British Open, or "the Open" as the Brits fondly call it. But what else would you expect of the "home of golf" located on the isolated shores of the East Neuk of the kingdom of Fife.

I was fortunate enough to spend two and a half years at the University of St. Andrews where I studied  the Victorian novel and escaped with an M.Phil. And what a great town, and a great time that was! St. Andrews is the third oldest University in Britain, behind Oxford and Cambridge, and the oldest in Scotland. Nothing about St. Andrews disappointed, except perhaps the drab weather, and endless stream of brussel sprouts that adorn almost every dish.  But who's complaining. I got a great education!

St. Andrews is such an interesting place because there is so much of important Scottish history wrapped up in the town, and it reeks of history, and significance. There is the University and students to this day, wear bright red gowns to class, or black if you are studying divinity. St. Andrews was also the ecclesiatical capital of Scotland, and the ruins of what once was a magnificent cathedral remind you of this proud past. The town is also linked with the father of the Scottish Reformation, John Knox, who was once imprisoned there.

And then of course there is golf. St. Andrews, the "home" of golf, is the place where the sport began, and where many a player come and dream of playing and winning golf's most famous tourament. Ironically the American golfer, Arnold Palmer, rescued the Open from obscurity, helping to shape it into what it is today. Palmer encouraged other golfers to take the trip and over time the tourament grew in popularity. One of my fondest St. Andrews memories, was of the Open of 1984. It's the only golfing major I've ever attended, and I recall bright sunny weather, colors and golf stands both near and far. On the last day, a group of us were lucky enough to be sitting at the 17th hole where the eventual winner, Seve Ballesteros was able to make some magical shots to win the prized Claret Jug.

This week, the Open is again being hosted at St. Andrews. Each time it is, I love to sit back and remember the old town, and University once more. I can't wait to see what the Old Course and Chapel look like once again.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Carl McColman: Blogger, Author

Every few months, I like to take some time to pause, and devote a blog article to some of the major writers of Celtic Spirituality today. This morning I want to share an interview I conducted with Carl McColman, who is a well known blogger and writer on the Celtic tradition.

I was first introduced to Carl through his blog "Anamchara, The Website of Unknowing" which is linked here. "Anamchara" (which is Gaelic for "soulfriend") is one of my favorite blogs and has the robust task of covering the great mystical writers in the Celtic and Christian traditions. A tall order if there was ever one. The blog is a gem, and I can assure you that once you visit "Anamchara"  you will soon find yourself adding it to your favorite list, and stopping by several times a week as I do.

Carl is not just a blogger, but he is also a serious writer of spiritual topics and has something important to say. The mission of the blog is "to explore the spiritual life". Anamchara tackles many different issues related to Christian mysticism and to the emerging church. For example, you will find page after page dedicated to specific Celtic and Christian saints, with pithy and delicious quotes. Many a morning, I have sat with a cup of Hawaiian coffee in hand, music in the background, or better yet in silence, reading, reflecting and praying over some of the best that has been thought and said by the Christian mystics. You find yourself reading quotes and stories from mystics that are household names such as Evelyn Underhill, and learning about others you don't know such as Walter Hilton. Either way, you'll find yourself coming back for more of these mindwakers, again, again and again.

Carl has had an interesting spiritual journey, with some pretty unique credentials. His own path has taken him through a variety of spiritualities and along the way Carl has written books on Wicca, Druidism, Paganism, and most recently on Christian Mysticism. I've read two of those books, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Paganism (2002), and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Celtic Wisdom (2003) and found both to be great introductions to difficult subjects. Carl is imminently qualified and "experienced" to be writing on these issues. Along the way, Carl was a leader of a druid grove. Now, Carl works in a bookstore in a Cistercian monastery where he is a "monastic associate". How cool is that!

As a fellow blogger, I had to ask Carl about his blogging habits. He responded, "I try to live a regular life. I work, I have a family. I spend time in silence and contemplation. I like to write best in the morning. And when I haven't been able to write or blog, like today, I feel the same way as when I haven't showered or brushed my teeth". Not sure I'm at that point yet, but I know exactly what he means.

Our discussion then turned to the Celtic tradition and why it is so popular today. Carl noted "The Celtic or Insular tradition has many things to offer today. It's use of language, the storytelling tradition, devotion to the natural world, beauty...and by beauty I mean art...the high crosses at the monasteries, the Books of Kells, the Ardagh Chalice. It was a great flowering of both saints and culture. Some have tried to construct Celtic spirituality into something romantic and something it never was. Like all spiritual traditions, the Insural traditon was a mixture of light and shadow...even so, a wonderful tradition". Favorite Celtic saints include Kevin, Brigit, and George MacLeod, the founder of the Iona Community. A side bar was a discussion of what Celtic Christianity looks like in the world today. Carl spoke of the inner city work in Glasgow that the Iona Community is doing.

Part of Carl's personal call, is to help spread the message that Christian mysticism is for everyone. He remarked, "I call myself an aspiring mystic, and live as a Christian who tries to conduct my life by following the mystical path. Many Christians aren't familiar with the Christian mystical tradition or think it's reserved for the few, like the Marines. Part of my work is to bring more people into the conversation". And reading Carl's blog and books will do just that. You will find yourself gently brought in and welcomed as guests in true Celtic fashion.

Carl's most recent book, just hitting bookstores now, is The Big Book of Christian Mysticism (2010). I've provided the link to  Amazon here so you can check it out and hopefully purchase it. The Big Book took three years to write and I can tell you that it will be the best $15 you will spend this year. If you don't know anything about the long Christian mystical tradition, the book will provide you with an wonderful and inspiring introduction. It may change your world as well as your Christian experience. Carl rightly calls, Christian mysticism "the best kept secret of the Christian Church" and who better to tell that story than one who has been living and writing about it, both in blog and book, for nearly a decade.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Next Christendom

I had some extra time last week and was able to browse through a book I've been wanting to read for some time. Philip Jenkins's The Next Christendom (2002 created a stir when it was first published in 2002 and then reissued in 2007.

Funny, but having leafed through The Next Christendom I was surprized by what all the stirring was about. Instead it confirmed trends and experiences I have encountered in ten years of active ministry. Nothing shocking here.

What does the book say? Jenkins argues that by the year 2050, the Christian church and landscape is going to be very different than is now. By 2050, only one Christian in five will be non-Latino and white. Moreover, the center of the Christian world will be in the Southern Hemisphere, and not the United States and Europe.  White Christendom better get ready!

The Christian Church of the future, waxes Jenkins, will be predominantly orthodox, conservative, and even apocalyptic. Typical of some of the younger churches, there will be elements of mysticism, puritanism, faith-healing, and dream-visions.  However, here follows a big shift from the present scene. A majority of the Christians will be people of color, poor, live in poverty and persecution, and many will look to the church for comfort and to make sense of their suffering.

The changes are going to be drastic. A Western based, intellectual liberal tradition will continue to exist, but gradually be dwarfed by the Church of the South. And the church will predominantly consist of the poor. There will be ramifications for the clergy too. We will no doubt see a change in the way clergy are trained, and many perhaps will be paid small amounts, if anything at all.

It's errie how Jenkins describes what I see taking place in Hawaii. Many of the traditional churches have graying and shrinking memberships. Many area already experiencing financials problems. A majority of mainlain denominations are in decline, and their future is not certain by any means. Yet many of the churches that are growing consist of the newly arrived to these island, the Chuuk (in our own experience at St. Aidan's), the Marshallese, and the Vietnamese, just to name a few.  At the same time, it is an exciting time to see God at work in the world, moving the center of Christendom to a different part of the globe. And to think that many of us "restricted" God to Germany, Britain, Ireland, or the United States for that matter. Who were we kidding?

Most of us fear change, and what we are encountering is a shift in the theological winds if you will. Yet as good history students we need to recall these themes are something followers of the Celtic way are  familar and comfortable with. In our own spiritual tradition, we understand that God is not limited to or defined by our own experience, or to a church building, or even to a Holy Book. Our God is a Living God who almost always seems to wonderfully elude our grasp and best of intentions. Try to pin God down, and we are sure to be disappointed. This is what some of the Celtic writers meant when they refered to the "wild" side of God, likening Him to a wild goose. In slightly different language, it is impossible to try and tame God. Instead, He tames us. We are wrong to think that "we have Him". Rather "He has us".

The wind of His Spirit is blowing now, taking His Church in different directions. As Jenkins reminds us, we have nothing to fear as Christianity has always demonstrated the ability to transform weaknesses into strengths.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Happy Fourth of July Greetings!

Yesterdays was one of those Sundays which was almost perfect. Really, almost perfect!

What makes me say that? Great summer weather, clear skies, and warm sun. We are also blessed to have a beautiful and old chapel to worship in, Parke Chapel, and we are ever grateful to the Episcopal Cathedral of St. Andrews for being such a wonderful host. We could not do this work without their support.

We also performed two baptisms in the church. Two baby Micronesian boys, were presented for baptism and the church was filled with many Chuuk families, and the most wonderful Chuukese music. I didn't know what the words meant, and it did not matter.  It was beautiful both to the ear and heart. The harmonies were glorious.

Baptisms are wonderful events, ceremonies which I have grown to love as a priest. The Chuuk word for baptism is "papatayis" and means immersion. The image of water is important for island people, not only for the Mirconesians, but us from Hawaii as well. And as the fish is immersed in water, so the Christian is also "immersed" and surrounded by God's love and presence.  

It was a wonderful thing to look into the young eyes of Erikniwim and Daitap and to think of all the future promises that lay before them. I thought to myself, "I wonder what path they will choose, and what will God lead them to do?"

It was also a beautiful thing, to stand together at the altar of Christ, and to celebrate His love which brings us all together, breaks down walls, and reminds us that we are One Family, and belong to Him. 

Sunday was a great day, a typical day where we touch many people's lives in so many ways.

This is who we are, and what we do.