Category Archives: Spiritual Growth

Are we there yet? Perhaps there is never a final destination on the journey of spiritual growth but it’s nice to know we are headed in the right direction.

From Secular to Sacred

From Secular to Sacred

forest road 2

A favorite worship practice we experienced while living in Tucson was the regular use of secular music. My kids easily identified with many of the popular songs shared and when we’d hear that song again on the radio, they’d remember our worship time.

Brilliant.  Truly brilliant.

It taught me, and hopefully planted spiritual seeds within my son and daughter, that faith and daily life should be inseparable.  Messages of hope, or solace, or inspiration are all around us.  We simply need to pay attention.

Our move to Oregon three years ago had a rocky start.

I came up a month ahead of my family to prepare the way–to find housing and have it up an running by the time they arrived.  And I did just that.  Well… half of that.  I found a house and after a very quick tour, rented it.  I would discover, only after picking up the house keys three weeks later, just a few days before my family with all our belongings were to show up, that the home was mold-infested.   My family arrived Christmas Day to the news that we were temporarily homeless.

A very stressful week followed, a far more expensive rental was found, and our lives began to take on a new rhythm.  For a few month at least. And then my husband’s job abruptly ended.  Higher rent, less wages.  Not exactly what I had planned for my family and me.

And a song, which I’d heard dozens of times before, struck me with new meaning one dreary morning on the way to work :

Hold on, to me as we go
As we roll down this unfamiliar road
And although this wave is stringing us along
Just know you’re not alone
‘Cause I’m going to make this place your home

Suddenly I was being serenaded by God.

I’m going to make this place your home…”  I needed to hear that. I needed to be assured that I had not made another mistake by once again uprooting my family.

And then these words followed.

Settle down, it’ll all be clear
Don’t pay no mind to the demons
They fill you with fear
The trouble it might drag you down
If you get lost, you can always be found

Just know you’re not alone
‘Cause I’m going to make this place

(Song title: Home,  co-written by Drew Pearson and Greg Holdensong)

The overwhelming negative thoughts were certainly filling me with fear.  I was running scared, afraid to face another day of uncertainty.  “Settle down,” whispered God’s spirit in that familiar melody, “it’ll all be clear.”

As we rapidly approach our third anniversary here in Eugene, we have indeed made this place our home. It was a rough and tumble first year but we are making our way.  I am ever grateful for the many ways God whispered “You are not alone.  Keep the faith, be at peace, and have hope” in the times when I languished and longed for such assurances.

As I think about my children whose young lives are unfolding, it is my vision that they will have a faith so imbedded in their very beings that they too will constantly sense in the midst of the Secular that which is Sacred and be carried by this Presence through the easiest and hardest of times.

In the End, It’s all Grief

In the End, It’s all Grief

Lately I’ve been working on a theory that under all the emotional baggage we carry—the regret, anger, control issues, fear, resentment, and shame—there actually lies grief or sorrow.  I experienced this first hand recently.

I was cleaning out my files and came across the summary of a church survey from 10 years ago.  The survey had been the beginning of the end for me as pastor of that congregation.  Even before the unsanctioned survey was sent to church members, my anxiety had been through the roof, my health was deteriorating, and my attempt at doing it ALL (from full time ministry to parenting two small children to managing our home life) was failing miserably. It was such a painful, difficult time for me.

As I read the comments in my kitchen, both positive and negative, the emotions came flooding back:  the regrets in all that I did not accomplish; the deep shame in having let people down; the resentment of those who spoke critically of me; the fear of failure and rejection I carried into the jobs that followed. Regret, shame, resentment, and fear.  Powerful emotions. But in the end, all I could do was quietly weep. Until seeing that survey summary, I had no idea that grief had been buried so deep. I had dealt with all the other emotions, but grief—she had lain dormant.

And so it is with much of life.

We move through it often numb to the losses we have experienced, oblivious to the ways our emotional baggage weigh us down. I’m grateful for those kitchen tears and pray I continue to grieve the many losses experienced in that ministry.  More than that, I am moved to remember all of the blessings that came out of that time—the incredible landscape and seasons of Vermont we experienced, the life-long friendships gained, the lessons learned, the spiritual growth attained.

No longer remain in denial about the baggage you, too, are carrying. 

Open those boxes, duffle bags, backpacks, steamer trunks—any and all emotional baggage—and unpack the fear, regret, shame, anger, control, and resentments.  And when it is all said and done, grieve.  Weep for all that has been lost, all that cannot be changed.

But do not stop there.  Remember that in the midst of the sorrow, joy will appear.  She may come in unexpected ways, but she is promised to us nonetheless:

From Jeremiah 31:13 (The Message)

Young women will dance and be happy,
    young men and old men will join in.
I’ll convert their weeping into laughter,
    lavishing comfort, invading their grief with joy.

So grieve and lament…and trust that, in time, joy will come rushing in!

Preventing Mass Shootings by Going Back to Kindergarten

Preventing Mass Shootings by Going Back to Kindergarten

I have recently been using Jesus is the Question: The 307 Questions Jesus Asked and the 3 He Answered by Martin Copenhaver in the Bible Study I co-facilitate for parents of school-age children.

compassionThe second chapter of this book speaks of Compassion and the act of truly seeing someone. Honestly, it did not resonate with me when I first read it. It seemed rather mundane. I remember thinking, “Yeah, okay. Notice people. Pay attention to the stranger. Show compassion to the outcast. Blah, blah, blah.”

It felt a bit basic, like Kindergarten Christianity.

By the end of the week, however, this chapter eerily struck home. On that Thursday our local and national news channels broadcasted word of yet another mass shooting. This time the tragedy unfolded at the Umpqua Community College just over an hour south from where we live in Oregon. With my own 18 year-old son having just started at our local community college, I felt a deeper pit in my stomach when the names and especially the ages of the victims were read.

It is still unimaginable.

Do you see this woman?” Jesus asks a Pharisee who has generously dumped judgement on a woman who crashed the Pharisee’s party and proceeded to wash Jesus’ feet with her tears and dry them with her hair. Simon, the host, while busy labeling the woman a sinner had himself neglected to show such hospitality to Jesus (Luke 7:36-50).

Do you SEE this woman? Do I?

Copenhaver argues in Chapter Two that Jesus’ question comes with risks. If we choose to see the woman, really see her, we might “need to move beyond the stereotypes and preconceptions“. We might “have to stop simply labeling her a sinner,” “relate to her as a person, as one soul to another,” and “respond to her with compassion” as Jesus did.

Do you see this woman? Do you see this man? Do you see these people?

In a recent report about the Umpqua shooter, it is suspected in part that he carried out this heart wrenching, violent act to gain notoriety and be seen. In a since-deleted internet comment he left regarding the August shooting in Virginia he concluded, “Seems the more people you kill, the more you’re in the limelight.”

He is not the only one who ever sought the limelight.

Let’s face it.

So many of us long to be seen, to be noticed, to be valued and deemed worthy.

We post our selfies to Instagram, share inspirational memes on Facebook, and tweet our daily comings and goings in an effort to be seen and validated. I have realized for myself that too often I am more interested in how many people liked or commented on something I shared than in what others have posted.

Blame quickly followed the reports of this mass shooting: too little gun control; not enough guns in each law abiding citizens’ hands; too many attacks on masculinity by too many feminists; too little mental health services. I even read vaccines and medications to be the ultimate culprits.

I, however, can’t help but believe that this horrific attack was due in part to the missing sense of community in the life of shooter, Chris Harper-Mercer. Who were the core people who truly saw him and related to him as a human being, “one soul to another?” Where were the individuals with the Christ-like vision to see him with compassion?

I would wager that such people in his life were few and far between.

Sadly even in the wake of his death, most are unable “to move beyond the stereotype or preconception” of him as autistic, or mentally ill, or bi-racial, or a loner, or the child of a single mother.

loserWe prefer to label him a loser, as I’ve read in many on-line comments, or lay blame at the feet of his mother for her failures in raising him better or his father for not being a bigger part of his life.

Simon, the Pharisee, could only identify the woman who tended to Jesus as a sinner. He was unable to see her with compassion. He wanted nothing to do with her loser-self and was annoyed that she was usurping Jesus’ attention. It was all about him.

And today 2000 years later, nothing’s changed.

Individual needs seem to trump what the community would benefit from as a whole. On most days I see a society that is leaning more and more toward division, public shaming, disrespect, and disregard.

We would never dream of seeing mass shootings as a communal problem.

It is too difficult or impossible to consider the impact or consequences of how we treat one another. We can’t bother to compassionately see one another, especially the outsiders or outcasts. I’m questioning these days if we even know how. We fire off our personal world-wide-web opinions with no regard for the targeted people involved. (A reason, I believe, Donald Trump continues to lead in the polls. He channels and personifies this growing attitude of disregard and disrespect.)

I listened to Monica Lewinsky’s TED Talk, The Price of Shame, yesterday as she addressed our 21st Century problem of cyber-bullying. She spoke of being one of the first to endure it and how today, even more so,

We need to return to a long-held value of compassion—compassion and empathy. Online, we’ve got a compassion deficit, an empathy crisis.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Maybe my initial thought of Copenhaver’s chapter on compassion as being Kindergarten Christianity wasn’t too far off or wrong. Perhaps as a society that has developed a compassion deficit and empathy crisis we need to go back to the basics, the kind we learned in kindergarten.

KindergartenPatti Ghezzi, in her article on Kindergarten Social Changes, admits that Kindergarten has become more about 5 year-olds being academically prepared for 1st grade.

Still,” she writes, “a primary intent of kindergarten is to teach children to work together, share, accept each other’s differences, solve problems by communicating, and enjoy playing with each other.”

Let’s hear that again class:

A primary intent of kindergarten is to teach children

to Work together,

to Share,

to Accept Differences,

to Solve Problems by Communicating

and Enjoy Playing with Each Other.

Come on people!

As a society we must acknowledge our current compassion deficit and empathy crisis and face down this destructive emotional epidemic by returning to the Kindergarden basics of cooperation, sharing, acceptance, communication, and play.

To embody more compassion and empathy requires we return to a more tender time, as children eager to embrace the world, open to the power and possibilities of community.

Let us then intentionally choose to truly see one another—

the so-called saint and the presumed sinner,

the liberal and the conservative,

the neighbor and the stranger,

the Muslim and the Christian,

the Citizen and the Immigrant,

the socialite and the loner.

May we rise above “the stereotypes and preconceptions” we have for the Other.

Let us refrain from the habit of slapping labels on people and instead relate to each other as human beings, “as one soul to another,”  as we compassionately and empathetically engage one another in the world.

 

 

The Salvation Message of Limitations

The Salvation Message of Limitations

Occasionally it happens that an unintentional theme emerges out of the random radio programs I happen upon throughout the week while driving to and from the homes of hospice patients.

LimitationsMost recent theme? Creativity out of limitations.

Perhaps along the lines of Necessity is the Mother of Invention, two stories of creative solutions stood out. One article covered the success of students at the Northwest Indian College in Washington. What started out as a simple water bottle rocket project tranformed into the robotics club’s run for national recognition for serious rocket science. The students from Northwest Indian College successfully competed against those from well financially supported colleges and universities like MIT and Vanderbilt University. Their rocket team especially stood out to NASA because of their ingenuity. Due to budget constraints, these student were using items like discarded computer parts and mouse traps to make their rockets work. “That resourcefulness, borne out of poverty, has helped the Northwest Indian College Space Center outperform some schools with far greater resources. That gumption is what caught NASA’s attention”(Why NASA Called The Northwest Indian College Space Center).

That exact concept stood out in the article that followed the next day about medical discoveries in Cuba. Unable to network with other professionals outside of Cuba, those seeking cures to diseases like cancer worked with what they had and…succeeded. The world is now looking to that small island nation for more understanding of a lung cancer vaccine that Cuban researchers have been working on. “In other words, sometimes limitations result in more creativity”(Americans could soon benefit from a lung cancer vaccine developed in Cuba ).

As I considered these stories, I couldn’t help but call to mind another article I heard in March. It spoke of the creative necessity of rumination. Studies were done that showed that employees who took lunch breaks away from their desks were more creative and productive than those who skipped lunch or at ate their desks. “So staying inside, in the same location,” according to Kimberly Elsbach, a professor at the University of California, Davis Graduate School of Management, who studies workplace psychology, “is really detrimental to creative thinking. It’s also detrimental to doing that rumination that’s needed for ideas to percolate and gestate and allow a person to arrive at an ‘aha’ moment,” (We’re Not Taking Enough Lunch Breaks. Why That’s Bad For Business.)

In this era of material gluttony, data overload, and so-called multitasking, how can we even begin to believe that poverty, limitations, minimal resources, or down time could lead to creativity? How do we counter the belief that more technology, more resources and information, more accessibility, and more productivity is better and preach instead the salvation message of limitations? In a society that tells us NOT having enough is bad, could we ever be convinced that having less actually means having more?

And how does this culture of overload influence our spiritual health? Is there a benefit spiritually to simplifying our lives? Is less, more when it comes to our faith?

Absolutely!

When Jesus was asked by a rich man how he might inherit eternal life, it was confirmed by the man that he had been living by the commandments since he was a boy. As a response, “Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me’” (Mark 10:21). Go…simplify your life, and THEN you will “enter the Kingdom of God” (vs. 23).

Again and again, in scriptures it is the ones with so-called limitations–the physically ill or handicapped, the widow, the social outcast–whom Jesus singles out as the people who have the authentic, life saving faith. (And don’t forget the cast of characters in the Hebrew scriptures who all lacked something, but were called nonetheless to serve God!)

The Apostle Paul, “in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties” comes to an understanding that it is only when he is weak that he is actually strong (2 Corinthians 12:10).

This is one of the couter-intuitive things I love about Christianity.  It tells me that when I am at my lowest—when my limitations seem too many or too heavy—it is then that I will encounter ever more the creative, transformative force of my faith .  And what I know to be true in my life is that when I have placed limitations on myself—less mindless busy-ness, less keeping-up-with-the-Jones’, and less self-criticism—I open myself up to all the more possibilites of experiencing God’s presence in my day-to-day living.

In your own faith walk, do not hesitate to see your limitations as direct access to God’s grace.  Take time out from your busy-ness to be still and know God (Psalm 46:10). Let your mind wander, that your soul might discover the “ah-ha” moments just waiting around every corner.

What Story Will You Tell?

What Story Will You Tell?

Our lives leave us with stories to tell.pages_of_a_book_folded_in_to_a_heart_shape

When visiting with many of my elderly hospice patients it is very common for an individual to repeat the same story…over…and over…and over again, nearly verbatim.  I have found with many of my older men, they tell the story of their business successes—the good ‘ol days when they were able bodied and in control of their lives.  For others, it’s the betrayal they endured, or the road trips they took, or the unforgiveness they carry, or the grief they still bear years into their widowhood.

As I sit with these individuals anticipating the next part of the story, I wonder what my story will be.  What will I be fixated on?

Will I talk about my work as a chaplain or my role as a mother?  Will my monologue be made up of the same two or three pearls of wisdom from lessons of the past?

In my causal observations it would appear that our focus in life becomes the tale we tell.  Of those elderly men retelling the stories of the business years, for instance, many of them rarely speak of their familial relationships.

I also question why a particular story gets stuck in the wash, rinse, repeat cycle of the pyche.  For those who speak of their working day accomplishments, have they been unable to surrender to this season of their life that is more, as I’ve said in previous posts,  about being than of doing? Does the unfinished business of our lives become that which we relive or at least retell over and over?

How do we avoid this?  And can we?

As we age, are we doomed to be left with only enough brain cells to share that which has been burned into our memories for whatever reason—out of pride, fear, or loss?  Dementia certain plays a significant part in this story-retelling, but can it be avoided otherwise?

I do meet many people who do not repeat the same stories.   These are the ones who are not stuck in the past. Neither are they fixated on the future.  They are the individuals whose lives are lived out in the moment; who journey free of the baggage of their past and are unattached to the outcomes of tomorrow.

As we settle into 2015, let us consider the stories we are already writing in our lives.

What memories are you creating? Are your obsessions on the daily pages of your life, or are you remembering to balance your goal-chasing with purposeful play? Do you spend just as much time with your coworkers as you do your family and friends? Are you burning bridges or mending fences? Are you harboring regrets and resentments or are you setting your sites on healing from your past? Are you living by your faith?

The choices are yours.

Years from now, what story will you tell?

Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way. Colossians 3: 17 (The Message)