Saturday, January 12, 2013

A Move Forward Dynamic Spirituality

A Move Forward, Dynamic Spirituality

            Sharks are the most powerful and agile creatures of the ocean, but they have to keep moving forward to live. A slug on the other hand looks simply for moisture and sits. We always have the choice to sit like a slug or move through life like a shark. I love to read about Jeremiah who is called to become a leader, but he has every excuse in the world why he can’t take on the responsibility.

            Yet, he must face the call from God to move forward. Furthermore, he is not only called to move forward, but he is also called to lead his people forward. Jeremiah is told that he will be given the strength to move forward from God.

             If he does not accept this strength to move forward, he will lose his heart, and he will become like a shrub in the desert, “Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the Lord. They shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when relief comes. They shall live in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is in the Lord. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes and its leaves shall stay green.”

             In other words, God expects His people to be like sharks; he wants us to keep moving forward. If we are children of God, then we must be people who are always moving ahead with our lives, and, at the same time, we are pulling others along with us.

            In the eyes of the world Jeremiah would be considered unsuccessful. In responding to his call from God, he was only to know rejection. He would spend his life in poverty, prison and rejection by his family and friends yet he continued to move forward. Even in his sense of failure and disappointment, he continues to move forward with a message of encouragement,           

            In Mark 10, we meet Bartimaeus the blind beggar who is sitting at the roadside and hears Jesus is coming, so he shouts out, “Jesus, Son of David have mercy on me!” Everybody said “Be quiet,” No, he kept moving forward and Jesus answered “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus gave the man his sight and said, “Go your faith has made you well.” We could say that Bartimaeus kept moving forward in faith.

            We have this picture in our minds and hearts of this Jesus who is standing still. We see Jesus on the cross, but He is still. We see pictures of Jesus in our churches, but He is a still image. Back in the sixties, we began to realize how important it was to express Jesus in a dynamic art form. I can remember the exhilaration that I experienced, when for the first time I heard the musical Jesus Christ Superstar. It was a bold proclamation about the true nature of Jesus Christ. In the musical we met a dynamic Jesus. We met a Christ who had come to move people ahead. He brought a dynamic message that the world could be better if only we accepted His teachings. I am afraid that we are getting complacent, and we are no longer like Christian sharks, constantly moving ahead in life.

            The psychologist Madeline Uddo who is with the Southeast Louisiana Veterans’ Health Care System in New Orleans finds that it is “dynamic” people who can take action and face any situation in life, no matter how oppressive. These Dynamic Move Forward people have three things in common:

 1) They embrace a challenge

 2) They do not run from long term commitments

 3) They believe that they can get at least some small control of the situation.


            An expression I often use is, “When you are in hell, the worse thing to do is stop. Don’t give up!” It is the driving nature of the soul to move forward. Spirituality is about caring for and touching the soul. Our soul is the powerful moving force of our life. It is where we find our driving energy. We have heard the expression that person has “real soul”. When we say someone has soul, it means they have the ability to carry on, no matter the circumstances. Today, in Episcopal congregations, we need a spirituality of soul-based optimism that life of our Episcopal community can grow and move forward.  We must have the soul of a spiritual shark.

            Frank Lloyd Wright designed many famous buildings and when asked near the end of his career about what building was his most favorite he answered, “The next one.” He understood the principle of moving forward. God has done wondrous things for us, but God never performs his greatest feats in yesterday.

            Bartimaeus knew rejection. He lived with rejection, but he did not give into it. Instead Bartimaeus learned that from his greatest rejections by the crowd came his greatest direction from Jesus, “Go, your faith has made you well.”


            In our Episcopal journey of hope let us have a spirituality of a shark. If we have a dynamic Move Forward spirituality, in all our concerns about the future of our denomination and its congregations we will:

1) Embrace the challenges in front of us with a dynamic shark like spiritual energy,

 2) Will not look for easy answers; we will continue, like Jeremiah and Bartimaeus, to move

     forward in the face of all small and great obstacles,

3) We will take some small action step everyday towards solving the problem.


            As a result, if we are asked about the best year our parish ever had, we will not say, “Oh, our best year was back in 1980. We had 400 hundred members, and everything was flourishing.” Instead, we will answer like a spiritual shark, “Oh, our best year as an Episcopal parish is next year.”





  1. The last paragraph says it all. Thanks.

  2. Shark is an apt metaphor given pecusa's litigious nature. I would think that given the diminishing numbers within pecusa that a biblical spirituality might be better than an earthy one.

  3. Tony, I thought that Jeremiah and Mark were biblical. What do you mean by biblical spirtuality? I sense that we may have a false dichotomy. By the way, diminishing numbers are not necessarily a sign of a lack of spirituality.

  4. I'm learning so much since reading these blogs! I find myself wanting, as a layman, to help address the problem of declining membership. A frustrating and challenging proposition. Recognizing the superior theological education of the writers, and commenters here, I've been compelled to do some reading I otherwise would not. I appreciate recommendations. I have Leonel L. Mitchell's "The Meaning of Ritual." (for me to consider the relevance of ritual to today's average person) and a few others to bring me up to date... Byron D Stuhlman's "Eucharistic Celebration 1789-1979" (as I observe celebration of the Eucharistic is the one almost universal participation point in the service, know that observance rules were changed in 1979, and I have set in Church wondering if there were something to make it more meaningful to a layperson not accustomed to thinking in an allegorical sense) and I thought maybe Carl F. George's "Prepare Your Church for the Future." (as the Meta-Church concept seems to incorporate forward thinking principles.) I still have to study them.

    Now to address this thought-provoking piece:
    Of course, Ron is right that the last paragraph is an excellent summary, and Tony is right that Shark is "an apt metaphor" however I think the statement that we must continue "to move forward with a message of encouragement." is the real key.

    And Bill, you write that we must pull "others along with us." I understand this in the context of shark aggression, but wonder if compelling others to WANT to move along with us isn't a little different. I think of such songs from Jesus Christ Superstar as "I don't know how to love him," and Judas song "Heaven on Their Minds." Both addressing doubt and the difficulty of embracing the message. I think many today find the concept of accepting the message of salvation on "blind" faith to be difficult. They understand deductive reasoning and the scientific method, but need a compelling path to follow. I know addressing music is being successful to draw some members, and I know supplying other needs (day care, satisfying activities through mission work, and personal improvement through yoga and educational classes) are also attracting members, but still can't put my mind on to a single key to making the message of Christ an attractive paradigm for many in today's world.

  5. Ed, again for your fine response, thank you for being so thoughtful. Re. your last idea of finding a single key for the message of Christ as a paradigm in today's world, wow, if you had!!;)) We are all together in this quest, and Bill's image of the constantly moving shark is for me the pilgrimage for us to discover Christ in each other and our journey, during which we occasionally take a moment to celebrate in thanksgiving of Love together.

  6. Everyday we have to get up and start swimming. If we don't, we die. The shark metaphor fits the needs of the church today in terms of endurance and perserverence. Spiritually the church is swimming the pretty dark waters, not knowing where its going or whether or not it will survive. However, to live courageously through this darkness while we return to God (repentence)is the modus operandi of our present generation.

  7. Church is such a boring waste of time.