Dr. Ty Sweeting

dr. ty sweeting | PRACTICALLY SPIRITUAL

One of Ty's passions is the practical application of spirituality in daily life. He is a member of Mainstream Voices of Faith and vice-president of Interfaith of Topeka.

Said Yes Lately?

November 19, 2009

Then Mary said, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word."

— Luke 1:38


The Divine Spirit of God fills and empowers us all on an ongoing basis. These continual infusions of divine strength serve to repeatedly fuel our resolve. It is precisely this spiritual strength that allows us to continue chipping away at the walls of injustice and oppression, day after day, year after year. It is what allows our determination to be unshakable and resolute. However, even with that awesome empowerment, it still requires something of us to be effective. It requires that we say yes, yes to God and yes to our own role in God's unfolding realm of justice and peace.

Try this affirmation for your life as you journey through this upcoming Advent season: "My life is overflowing with the Divine presence and power. It flows through me and from me to reshape the world."

Meaning in the Symbols

November 16, 2009

“When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was.”

— Matthew 2:9


For many people, the idea of a wandering celestial body, much less one that moves slowly enough to be followed by travelers on the earth, is a difficult pill to swallow. Much of the description of the events of Jesus' birth are like that, as in the star stopping over a designated location. Such behavior defies the laws of physics. Many of the details of the birth story make more sense when viewed as interpretive portraits than literal history.

For example, the main point of this account need not be the celestial mechanics recounted, but the fact that such starlight shines on the whole world rather than one nation or group. It is there for all the world to see. Divine love is like that, universal! See anew truth in the old story.

To see this more clearly, try an affirmation like this: I am open to the fullness of divine truth and I earnestly seek it in all its forms.

Eucha-what?

November 9, 2009

Question:
Some people say “Holy Communion.” I've heard others call it “The Eucharist.” What do they mean? Is there a difference?

Answer:
Although there are many ways of referring to the celebration of the bread and cup in the context of Christian worship, they all essentially refer to the same words and actions, customarily in some way recounting the words and actions of Jesus at what most people refer to as the Last Supper. The difference, however, between our understandings of what happens in that moment is striking.

For some, most often those who would likely use the word Eucharist, there is often a sacrificial view of what happens at the table and that by receiving the sacrament (after confessing) we are restored to a state of grace. As such, it is offered on a weekly or sometimes daily basis.

For some, on the other end of the liturgical spectrum, often those who would use the term, Lord's Supper, it is quite simply a reenactment and a remembrance of the words and actions of Jesus at the Last Supper. In many of these traditions, the celebration of the bread and cup has less urgency and as such is celebrated on a monthly, quarterly or annual basis.

There are other traditions that fall between these extremes. For us in Metropolitan Community Churches and particularly at MCC of Topeka, there is no monolithic understanding of what happens at the table. As such, we have chosen, quite intentionally, to focus each month on a different aspect, drawing from historic sources and relating them to both our human experience and our relationship with God. Consequently, the flavor and meaning of this celebration can change dramatically over the course of the church year.

Do you have a question about faith, religion, spirituality, or tradition that you would like to have answered? Then email your question to Pastor Ty at pastorty@aol.com. Your identity will be withheld, and only your question itself will be printed.

Joy and God at Play

November 6, 2009

Psalm 8:3-4, declares, "When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?"

I remember as a small boy growing up in the Bahamas that I saw God everywhere I looked. No matter where I turned my gaze, evidence of the divine presence was everywhere. Alan Watts points out that really there is no rational or logical reason why the universe should exist. God gained not a thing by doing it. He concludes that the universe is the physical expression of God at play. God created what we call reality for fun, for the sheer joy of doing it.

Whether we consider the swirling tips of the farthest galaxies or the smallest single celled organism, we are witnessing the joy of creation. In the vast sea of space and time, we can feel quite small indeed, were it not for the fact that we — like everything else — also bear that same joyful, divine imprint. In fact, we become co-creators of our world with God. That is the special role we take on with an attitude of humble stewardship, caring for our world and each other. As we consider the awesome power of the role in which God has cast us, sometimes we doubt we are up to the challenge. Yet, God seems to always have a special relationship with us, with all of us. And the divine Spirit empowers and informs us, guiding our steps.

Perhaps the deepest lessons there are for us to learn are not the onerous ones but rather the ones in which we share in the inexplicable joy of creation.

Just the beginning

October 16, 2009

It will seem like all hell has broken loose — sun, moon, stars, earth, sea, in an uproar and everyone all over the world in a panic, the wind knocked out of them by the threat of doom, the powers-that-be quaking.... When all this starts to happen, up on your feet. Stand tall with your heads high. Help is on the way!"

— Luke 21:25-26, 28; The Message


Recently, I heard about two incidents; oddly, both happened in Louisiana. In one case, an individual attempted to swap exotic birds for children. In the other, a justice of the peace refused an inter-racial couple's application for a marriage license. In 2009, it makes one wonder what the world is coming to. We find it unbelievable. The good news is that these aberrations in behavior are the exception when once they would have been the rule. Our world has indeed made progress in a positive direction. Still, when we see injustice occurring, we know that the very reign of God we proclaim is still breaking into our world through us, transforming hearts and minds, ushering in the positive future that God wills for all of us.

To understand this better, try this affirmation: Even though ignorance still exists in the world, I place my hope in the ever-present, in-breaking reign of God and its transformative power to improve quality of life for all.

Consistently Inclusive

October 13, 2009

Question:
It seems that Metropolitan Community Church is often radically inclusive in its ability to genuinely welcome all sorts of people. This is very different from my experience in many other churches. Why is that?

Answer:
The apostle Paul says in Galatians 3:28, "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus."

The month of October has wide ranging significance for us as a faith community. In the month of October we celebrate World Communion Sunday, National Coming Out Day, National Clergy Appreciation Day, MCC Fellowship Sunday and Reformation Sunday. October is also Breast Cancer Awareness Month as well as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender History & Diversity Month. This month we also call to mind some sad recollections as we remember the 11th anniversary of the brutal killing of Matthew Shepard.

In fact, with so much going on it's a perfect time to consider the fullness of who we are as God's people in the world. It's a great time also to consider that every choice we make has consequences for good or for ill, not merely for ourselves but also for the world around us. Our beliefs and our actions always need to match up seamlessly. As Freya Stark observed in The Lycian Shore, "There can be no happiness if the things we believe in are different from the things we do."

So, who we are as God's people is measured by the impact that we have on the world around us, in ways both great and small, subtle and gross. Paul was not trying to say that in coming to God in Christ we lose the distinctions that define us, make us unique and give us our flavor. Rather he was making the point that in coming to the life of faith we take on an additional identity that is greater still, one that unites us with others who may be very different indeed from us. It is a clarion call to embrace a broader vision of humanity, to realize that all people are members of one human family, with a common heritage beyond the mundane distinctions we often draw. Just how would the world be different if we all viewed each other as fellow children of the one God? I can only imagine.

Do you have a question about faith, religion, spirituality, or tradition that you would like to have answered? Then email your question to Pastor Ty at pastorty@aol.com. Your identity will be withheld, and only your question itself will be printed.

Put a Little Love in Your Heart

October 8, 2009

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.

— Luke 6:32-35


It is so easy to love those who love us, who treat us in ways that are supportive, encouraging, uplifting. When life is rolling along as we feel it should, it feels like all is right with the world. If only we could feel that way all the time! Unfortunately, the world is not solely composed of people who love us and treat us with positive regard.

In addition to those who love us, the mix of the world's populous also includes those we would call strangers, those whose response to us might be characterized as unknowing indifference. Additionally, the world also includes people who may be outright hostile to us, who treat us with hatred or contempt. These sorts of folks are much more challenging for us to love.

Yet the challenge presented to us by Jesus is to treat everyone with the same positive regard, whether they wish us well or wish us ill. At its core, the challenge calls upon us to maintain respect for the basic humanity of the other. It often goes against our human grain, but Jesus knew that love begets love, and when we behave in ways that are universally loving, we increase the amount of love in the world, and that creates a healthier situation for us all. While doing this and "expecting nothing in return" is an obvious affront to our innately human economic sense, it is precisely the sort of choice we need to make to open us up to the Divine.

Got a Light?

October 6, 2009

Question:
Why are candles used on the altar — and do they have any meaning?

Answer:
The use of candles on the altar (or Communion table, depending on your tradition) in Christian worship probably dates back to very early in the life of the first Christian communities. In that time, Christian worship services had to be conducted in secret and as a consequence needed artificial lighting. This actually tied into the developing liturgy quite well also because of the image of Christ as the "light of the world."

Typically, a pair of candles is used. Over the years I've heard a number of explanations offered as to why two candles are used. The one I've heard most often is that we commonly use two candles to celebrate the two natures, divine and human, that Christians traditionally believe were present in Christ. Of course, some church traditions heighten the drama of worship for special occasions by using sometimes six — or even more — candles.

Also, during the early years of the AIDS pandemic, many Metropolitan Community Church congregations added a vigil candle, sometimes called a "candle of hope," reminding people of the need to pray for a cure. In many congregations, the meaning has been progressively expanded to include breast cancer and other life threatening illnesses.

Of course, we use other configurations of candles at different times of the year. For example, the lighting of the four candles of the Advent wreath, counting down the Sundays left 'til Christmas, is always a significant part of our holiday celebrations. In the center of the Advent wreath is typically found a more substantial candle which is lit at Christmas and kept on or near the altar through the celebration of Christ's ascension, representing the earthly life and presence of Jesus that we recount in the first half of the church year. Then there are the seven candles that are consecutively extinguished during the Good Friday Tenebrae service, calling to mind the death of Jesus on the cross. While hardly exhaustive, I hope this sheds some light on the practical and liturgical reasons why we use candles in worship.

Do you have a question about faith, religion, spirituality, or tradition that you would like to have answered? Then email your question to Pastor Ty at pastorty@aol.com. Your identity will be with-held, and only your question itself will be printed.

Attitude Says a Lot

October 1, 2009

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

— Philippians 2:5-7


At last night's midweek worship service, I shared with those in attendance an observation gleaned from the writings of the Apostle Paul: "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by God." (1 Corinthians 8:1-3). And it's a truism that nobody likes a know-it-all.

When we act like we have all the answers to every conceivable question, we become people who frankly are not much fun to be around. This is not to denigrate learning or study, but when knowledge leads us to a place of smugness, it has gone too far. As a result, it compromises our relationships with those around us. Consequently, I'd rather be known by God than to be a know-nothing know-it-all. It's about pursuing a right relationship with the divine and my neighbor, not about persuading my neighbor of the rightness of my position or the wrongness of his or hers. The idea is that a correctly lived example is worth a billion words.

The important thing for Paul and for us appears to be attitude. Paul encourages his readers to have the same attitude "as that of Christ Jesus...." None of us advance ourselves spiritually when we attempt do so at the expense of another. The example of Jesus cited by Paul is one of utter humility and total service. I wonder how our lives, lived in that way, might be different from that which we observe with dispassion every day.

To Robe or Not to Robe

September 28, 2009

Question:
Some of the people at the altar during Communion time are wearing robes and some are not. What's going on there?

Answer:
Generally, this practice is something of a throwback to the days when the substantial roles in worship services were the tightly clenched province of an elite clergy caste. As I have explained in previous columns, some vestments have particular functions associated with them historically. While the more liturgical denominations still maintain the practice for that and other reasons, many more liberal churches have either simplified or discontinued the practice of wearing robes, de-emphasizing the priestly function of clergy and focusing more on the pastoral role. Of course, in some other church branches, the suit and tie for men and the long dresses and elaborate hats for women perform much the same function, lending an air of formality or solemnity to the worship time. In Metropolitan Community Church congregations, we have typically adopted a "come just as you are" approach. While some may view this as far too casual, for us it also is empowering in that it is the most authentic and real.

At Metropolitan Community Church of Topeka, we do not require anyone to wear any special clothing to participate in a leadership role in worship. The people who do so wear it because it is, in some way, meaningful for them. One of the things I have attempted to make very clear is that we truly embrace the concept of the priesthood of all believers. For that reason, lay people do not need to "dress up" in pseudo-clerical attire, even when they are preaching or presiding at the table. Ours is a joint and shared ministry, both clergy and lay together, a cooperative model I believe bodes well for the future. That's something worth celebrating.

Do you have a question about faith, religion, spirituality, or tradition that you would like to have answered? Then email your question to Pastor Ty at pastorty@aol.com. Your identity will be with-held, and only your question itself will be printed.