Critics of the Labyrinth

Last night I spent time researching articles on the Web critical of using the labyrinth in spiritual formation.  Most of the arguments reminded me of those that were critical of contemporary Christian Music 30 years ago.  I cannot remember how many times I was told that anything with a drum beat was “of the devil”.  My answer to those critics is the same I would offer to the critics of the labyrinth: Music is morally neutral.  It functions within God’s natural physical laws.  We must give the music its meaning.

Labyrinths are patterns.  They are morally neutral.  It is we who give their usage meaning.

As I read most of the critics, their main target was Dr. Lauren Artress of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.  She is the author of “Walking the Sacred Path” which is a book about using the labyrinth as a spiritual tool.  I have read her book and have found it to be one of those books which must be read with an understanding that the author has attached some personal perspectives which other Christians could disagree with along with the Christian focus they offer.

I do believe the labyrinth can be a positive tool in spiritual formation. I do have the credentials to evaluate it from a position which holds a high view of Scripture and an evangelical motivation and desire.

The labyrinth can be used as a means of discerning God’s will for a person.  It can be a tool used for self-introspection.  It can be a means of making communion more meaningful.  It can be used as a time of intercession and thanksgiving.  It offers opportunity for worship in unique ways.

Sadly, as in the time of Jesus, there will always be those critics who view anything that outside of their comfort zone as “of the devil” and feel compelled to try and scare others into embracing their paranoia.  I feel sorry for them and the opportunities they miss.

IMAG0289

The Bishop’s Blog

The following is from the Central Texas Conference Bishop’s Blog.   I believe it shows the heart of the man God has called to lead the CTC Conference.  Please add him to your prayer list and pray for him daily.

His blog is found at:   http://www.bishopmikelowry.com/

COME HOLY SPIRIT — Report from Taize 4

June 14, 2013

Today [May 25] we left for Cluny right after worship. The great Cluny Abbey fills me with awe. It once was the “major ecclesia” – the largest church in Christendom. Cluny Abbey started over 1,000 satellite abbeys. Its influence spread far and wide. In the French Revolution, it was dismantled stone by stone down to the very foundation in most places by an angry mob. A beacon of care and compassion, faith and hope, had become a citadel of despotism and greed.

And yet, it is only a short distance from Taize, a new beacon of hope and faith, reconciliation and love. This is not a mere accident of history and happenstance of geography. I believe God through the Holy Spirit is speaking to me (and to us) in the resurrection life of Christ. Rising north of the ruins of the great Cluny Abbey is the light of Christ in the simplicity of Taize.

I came to Taize in some angst, if not despair, over the state of the United Methodist Church. Eight days before leaving, I had participated in a meeting of officers of the Council of Bishops, General Secretaries, Board and Agency Presidents, and leadership from the Connectional Table. It was a gathering highlighted by a false politeness and sabotaged by wanton political maneuvering – the church at its worst. The week that followed was filled with a funeral, two days of hard work in making appointments (appointments made without good options and in facing of difficult choices), then three more days of hard digging through administrative work. I commented to a fellow bishop that the UM church was going down (meaning the image of a boxer being knocked to the ground).

Here at Taize for the second time, the Spirit clearly spoke to me. The shadow of Cluny is being erased by the light of Taize. “A light shines in the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it” (John 1:5).

Even as vast segments of the UMC and the larger Christian witness in America dissolve in a voracious black hole of enlightenment’s legacy, God in Christ through the Holy Spirit is making something new. The soaring songs in candlelight service of resurrection called me forward in commitment to Christ.

As if compelled, for I believe I was, I found myself standing and walking forward to kneel with others before the icon of Jesus at the Table with His followers. In the time of renewal, prayer, and commitment, the words of the songs washed over me as some 2,000+ faithful (mostly young people) sing our faith.

Afterward, a surprise meeting with Christoph Benn, a doctor with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. He drove up from Geneva because the brothers of Taize told him there was a UM bishop up here and he wanted to share appreciation and offer encouragement for the Imagine No Malaria campaign. Amazing how the Spirit intervenes …. God is at work.

When Plans are Unwillingly Changed

My wife and I planned to be on my way to visit my daughter in San Francisco today.  Instead, I am writing this blog from my home office.  The reason for this change has to do with the airline cancelling our flight.  We were told of this cancellation 9 hours before the time of our departure.  Needless to say, this was quite a shock.

My first emotion was numb disbelief which began turning a a very tense anger.  I called the agency we had booked the flight with and we called the airline.  In each case it was very difficult to not be aggressively angry.  Of course, when I made the call, the first encounter was with an automated system.  It is very easy to yell at a system.  It is not productive or have any effect but it does release a little steam.  When I got a hold of a person (with the travel agency the person could barely speak English) I made it a point to be assertive but not rude.  My problem was not the fault of the person on the other end and they should not have to put up with my raw emotions.  The person on the other end of the line is someone our Lord loves as well.

After all was said and done, I discovered that there was nothing that could be done.  Our plans were unwillingly changed.

This is life.  Things do not always go according to plan.  We will be disappointed, frustrated, hurt, angered, and made to feel helpless.  We might think we are in control, but we are not.  We can only manage the situations of life that come our way and sometimes that includes a complete change of our plans.  This is when our spiritual maturity gets tested by fire.  It is when things like this happen that the depth of our inner resources of peace, patience, love, grace and faith matters most.

This morning my wife and I are reorganizing our plans.  We will make positive use of this change.  In this way we move our disappointment from depression to duty and delight.  In this way we embrace the promises of our Lord that He will work this out for good.  We accept Jesus offer to cast our cares, our anxieties, our frustrations and hurts on Him.  We take time to remember what our Lord faced and have our faith strengthened by His faithfulness.

This seems to be the best way to respond when plans are unwillingly changed.

My First Annual Conference

This past year has been a time of change.  It has been a wonderful, liberating change.  I feel the Lord has blessed me in so my ways.  I again feel the joy of ministry, the excitement of serving, and the presence of God in worship.  I could not be happier.

Yes, I understand it is not about my happiness but God’s glory that is the main purpose for my existence, but it is nice to humbly be thankful for the spiritual pleasure I feel.  I feel I have come to the place God had intended for me all along.  I feel I have come to a true home.

This last week I attended my first Annual Conference.  This is where my church membership now belongs.  I have a bishop who leads and supervises my ministry.  My bishop inspired me.  My bishop has a heart for this world.  My bishop desires to see people know and follow Jesus.  My bishop loves to sing, to pray, to preach and lead.  Again, I am blessed far more than I deserve.

My new community worships during conference.  In fact, it seemed like we spent more time worshiping than doing business.  When business was conducted there was no rancor or overt political activity but harmony.  The business of the church was transparent and accountability was paramount.

Is this perfect?  No, but we are moving toward perfection.  Are there struggles?  Yes, but because this is known we are prepared and determined to stay the course.

This is what I experienced at my first Annual Conference.