A new start – A Dangerous Community?

The cloisters of Iona Abbey.

The cloisters of Iona Abbey. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well, a lot has changed since I wrote last. I decided to move to a new blog and a new look for the blog, as well as a new title. When I first conceived of doing a blog, I was taken with the idea of developing a virtual “outpost for the heart” as inspired by the story of St. Columba and his friends as they set off away from his beloved Ireland in search of a place to plant a “heavenly community.” Ironically, the original motivation for him to set sail was to impose a self-punishment for his responsibility in the death of many of his kinsmen as they attempted to place him in his rightful place of royalty in Ireland. He was so chagrined and seized by shame because of his prideful actions, he decided to exile himself from his beloved Ireland. He eventually landed on an island called Iona and it became an “outpost for the heart.” There he and his mates created a little community, and eventually from Iona his disciples set off into northern England to evangelize the countryside by establishing what he called “heavenly communities” into which people could come to find rest, safety from the terrors of the land around them, and a peace that only Christ could give. It was this story that inspired my initial stirrings of a ministry that I called “The Iona Project.” Unfortunately, or fortunately (depending how you look at it) God had other ideas, and the ministry died a somewhat painful death. Along with that death, a little(maybe a pretty big piece) of my heart died, and I lost hope of ever doing ministry again in any capacity. The ministry died, but the vision for a community of people who could live life dangerously, redemptively never really left my heart.

Yet, here I am and I will forgo the details to fast forward to today. There appears to be another stirring of a small community people on CCU’s campus who long to live in real time with one another. A community of people who are committed to shedding the appearances of “doing okay” or “How are you doing? Fine!” way of doing life. They all long for a place where they are safe to bring into the open the things that they are sure would get them condemned anywhere else. As a matter fact, many of these people are already condemned in their own hearts, and simply can’t believe that if they revealed this to anyone else, they would only be condemned in public. It is against all hope, and against all reason that they would find grace, hope, and truth. At least, that’s what they believed (past tense). For many already, they are experiencing grace in a way that they never really thought was possible. In spite of all their confusion, doubt, skepticism, disappointment, disillusionment, joy, happiness, exhilaration, despair, all of what they only whisper and hide, they have found acceptance and grace. The kind of acceptance and grace that not only sets one free, but empowers one to live more fully the life he or she was called to live. The abundant life that Jesus promised.

This is what I am calling a dangerous community. It is dangerous in the sense that it threatens our usual way of doing things. It threatens our spiritual status quo, and challenges us to lock arms and learn to live courageously committed to the truth while clinging to grace. It is a messy undertaking, and it rarely provides the answers we are looking for. But, this undertaking, this endeavor against all odds does provide us with the kind of community that strengthens us to hang on to our firm and unrelenting belief that God is not only good, but also good enough for our circumstances even if it doesn’t feel that way. In a dangerous community we must face ourselves in truth, in brutal and unvarnished truth not to condemn ourselves, but to catch a vision for what Jesus is forming in us. And, if we can’t see it for ourselves, we can be assured that there are others around us who will hang on to the vision and hope while we wrestle with our “demons,” cheering us on and encouraging us to continue the fight even if it feels hopeless.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I want this kind of community. I don’t want a community of people that encourages me to maintain the status quo. I desire to live on an edge that will challenge me to go deeper, and grow stronger even while sometimes teetering on the brink of disaster and despair. Will I fall? Maybe. No, probably. Yet, in a community like this, I will have those who will cheer at fact that I have “come back,” rather than point out that I fell. They realize that I really don’t need any help to criticize and condemn myself for my shortcomings. However, I do need help hanging on to the amazing grace that will empower me to get up, brush myself off, lick my wounds, and slowly try again.

Here’s the vision for such a dangerous community stated by one of the visionaries (of all places) that developed Alcoholics Anonymous:

There are, I should say, four elements in a redemptive community.  It is personal, with things happening between people as well as to and in them individually; it is compassionate, always eager to help, observant but non judgmental toward others, breathing out hope and concern; it is creative, with imagination about each one in the group and its work as a whole, watching for authentic new vision coming from any of them; and it is expectant, always seeking to offer to God open and believing hearts and minds through which He can work out His will, either in the sometimes startling miracles He gives or in steady purpose through long stretches where there is no special “opening.”  It may fairly be said that unless one enmeshes himself in this “redemptive fellowship” of the church, he lessens his chances of steady growth and effectiveness, in his Christian life and experience. – Sam Shoemaker, Experiment of Faith

Personal… compassionate… creative… expectant. Now, that’s a dangerous community. You in? I am!

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What’s the point?

imagesSo, what’s the point of love? What’s the point of engaging in relationships when we know they are going to end? An interesting question to be sure given that I am now in the wake of the grief and loss class for this year. Those questions were posed during a gathering of students who desired to figure out a way to “do life” together in a safe community of people who are committed to be open and honest with themselves and with each other.

Needless to say, I am far from the one to answer that question (it’s above my pay grade), but I will reflect a bit on perhaps what is important to the journey of discovering the important parts of answer. I think we have to start with trying to answer the question, “why do we engage in relationships at all?” I mean, really… Unfortunately, or fortunately we are driven toward each other because the very essence of who we are, our DNA if you will, can be found, defined, and refined in our relationships with each other. Now, you might be thinking, “yeah but what about the people who aren’t “driven” to other people?” The answer is found in what are they driven away “from”. It’s still relationships with people. Even people who are the isolationists among us are still interacting and reacting to the people (whether in their head or actual people in their lives). You see, what is important to understand is that not only our responses, but our withholding of responses are an indication of the things and people who are important to us. Our tendency is to pay the most attention to that which we can see — the behavior of avoiding people, for example. But, we don’t pay much attention to the behavior we can’t see (what’s going on in the person’s head), or the behavior that he/she is choosing to restrain. Therefore, why have relationships at all? Because we were designed for relationship, and in some ways, it is consoling that we are not alone and that we “can” be known for who we are instead of who we “should” be. Our souls long for the grace that being known carries with it as a potential. Of course, it doesn’t mean that being known has an automatic connection to grace. We all have more than enough evidence to the contrary. The tremendous irony is that we still try… it’s almost as if we can’t help ourselves or stop ourselves from it. Given that, I think that propensity toward relationship betrays the image of God stamped on everyone’s soul whether they know it or not.

The other part of the questions asked are perhaps what disturbs me the most. Not that the person asking the question disturbs me, but what the question implies. “What’s the point?” Certainly, we have all heard that question, and probably nodded our heads in silent agreement. Of course, the question is asked after the relationship has changed (i.e., come to end or something that has brought a sense of loss upon us) rather than before (often). It is often an expression of futility and despair at the outcome we are now experiencing. I guess what grabs my attention is the emphasis on function in a relationship more than anything. In other words, if a relationship doesn’t serve some function, or produce some desired outcome, the logical conclusion is, why do it? Let me put it in more practical terms. Let’s just say that I’m attempting to build something like a wooden cabinet (which I wouldn’t since I know only enough to make a mess!). And I assemble all the necessary tools (here’s where my colossal ignorance is going to show) like a saw, a hammer, a level, etc. Basic stuff. I head off to the local Lowe’s or Home Depot and purchase the necessary wood to create this cabinet. I get the wood home (with much effort mind you), and begin to make all my measurements and follow the necessary instructions/design plans (oh ,yeah, that… ugh). Once I have everything ready, I pull out my trusty hammer and start wailing on the wood in an effort to cut it. After getting a good workout for my money, I proclaim, “what good is a hammer if it won’t do what I want it to?” As ridiculous as that sounds… and lest you think I’m that much of a dunce, I would at least use the saw… see I’m already interacting with all of you in my head! Duh… I got that much figured out. I’m not that stupid… just saying… ;-). Let’s see where was I? Oh, yeah, the question… what good is a hammer if it won’t do what I want it to? Of course the problem is that I’m asking it to do something it was never designed to do. Perhaps, there is some germ of truth in that example to help us tackle the question, “What’s the point of a relationship when we only know that it will end someday?” What’s important here is to think through is what relationships are designed for. Are they designed to replicate what our hearts long for… to never be left? Or, are they designed to allow us the opportunity to experience something that is anchored in a divine reality — that of love, grace and truth?

Let me cut to the chase… our problem is betrayed in our question about relationships. We see all things around us as objects to accomplish some end that we desire… people, relationships, and other tools we use to get something done. Yet, the dirty little secret is that it isn’t about what function they play for us as much as how important they are for us to learn something in the journey we take with others in our lives (a.k.a relationships). It’s not about what someone can “do” for us, as much as it is who they are to us. Either we value their “being” or we value their “doing”, just to put it another way. If that is the case, then it’s not about the destination or the contract fulfilled in our relationship with others, but the journey we are privileged to be a part of, and they with ours, and the covenant we enter into as we enter into another person’s life.

Will our relationships end? Ultimately, yes. Of course the “ultimately” can be a long time or a short time. Will it hurt when they do? Yes, unequivocally, yes. Will it be worth the pain? Now, there is the real sticking point, isn’t it? Of course, we are more than happy to say (while the relationship is going), “Absolutely it’s worth it!” But, the problem is that while we are enjoying the benefits of the relationship we really don’t think much about the cost that might be coming when it changes or even ends. I’m reminded of a statement that Joy Gresham (played by Debra Winger) made in the movie, “Shadowlands.” Joy and Jack (C.S. Lewis) are out for a walk and a rainstorm breaks out so they take cover in a barn. While they wait, Jack is enjoying the moment of their time together, and indicates that he really didn’t want to be anywhere else at that very moment. But, Joy senses that Jack is avoiding something… her impending death. She pushes back on his revelry gently, and ends with a profound statement that defines what we often experience in all significant relationships. “The pain then (in the future) is part of the happiness now.” We struggle and struggle to attempt to make heaven on earth in our relationships. No pain, no struggle, no hurt, no disappointment, no confusion, no despair… all of them are what we want to rid our relationships of. What I don’t think we (I) don’t see is that we are trying to rid ourselves of pain, and by doing so we are ridding ourselves of a fuller understanding of joy. Because we are human, all our relationships will be riddled with both. Somewhere along the way, we have concluded that there is something fundamentally wrong when that happens. Yet, when we attempt to rid ourselves of pain (not that I’m advocating a form of spiritual masochism), we will also be ridding ourselves of the kind of depth that makes our relationships rich. When the pain occurs, we needn’t rush to make it all go away by spouting off some spiritual platitude in order to control the pain. Our pain is a testimony to love. Our pain is an indication of the depth of our relationship with another. Our pain reminds us of our humanity, and a faint, dim glimmer of what we were ultimately designed for… “where every tear will be wiped away, and there will be no pain.” Until then, we are faced with a choice. To be or not to be… that is the question? Famous words from Shakespeare, but every bit as profound now. Will I choose to “be” in a relationship which doesn’t mean present, but “all in” come joy or pain. By the time we get to whatever the change might be, we will be fundamentally changed, and perhaps the kind of people who say only after they have grieved what they have lost… it was worth it.

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Self acceptance as an act of trust

It seems to me that we spend a lot of time trying to avoid doing something wrong. I know that may not seem like a profound statement which on its face it appears to be obvious. Yet, the reverse may also be true: we spend a lot of time not doing something “right.” Hmmm what to do?

Recently, I had a most fascinating and enlightening conversation with a group of students around a campfire. Of course, there is nothing like a campfire to trigger conversation, and an occasional profound thought or two. Our conversation ranged from wrestling with what being loved by God means, grappling with the bloody realities of just living life, to self-acceptance. On this last topic, self-acceptance, I left the students with a thought. “Self-acceptance is an act of trust” was my assertion. I thought I would take a few moments (or many) to unpack this further for anyone who wasn’t there and might be intrigued (or horrified) by this assertion.

The journey into self-acceptance starts with grasping the nature of truth in our lives. I have often spoken of an artificial division of truth that I use to fully expand on the nature of this “thing” we call truth. This artificial division is something that I refer to as big “T” truth and little “t” truth. The moment I introduce this concept there seems to be an almost immediate reaction that big “T” truth must be bad, and little “t” truth must be good. This is particularly true of those who have been taught that the only way to live is to live by big T truth. There are those who also gravitate to the little t truth because it seems to capture the realities of where they are living, and there’s an internal sense of failure and even hopelessness of ever being able to live up to the demands and commands of the big T truth. Those reactions, unfortunately, only point up the reasons that I had to make this artificial distinction more clear. The bottom line is that there is only one truth and that is what God has given us in his Word, and all the implications that has for seeing and understanding our lives, relationships, pasts, and futures. Yet, while that is true (there I go again!), we aggravatingly use the same word (truth) for both reality and God’s truth, and the realities of our own lives. When I am brutally honest and forthcoming about the realities in my own life, I’m not speaking God’s truth but I am lining my life up with His truth since He calls us to image Him – the Truth. Then the question arises, “What do I do, or how do I describe the truth of my heart? That’s where I gravitated to the idea of little “t” truth. Is this little “t” truth God’s truth? No, of course not, unless I can find my name among the prophets and authors of the Bible – which, to my relief I do not! But, it is truthful because it is an accurate description of my inner life. It is a revelation to others of what is going on in my heart.

The big T truth is something entirely “other” than the little t truth I’m speaking of above. The big T truth is not only God’s truth that He has provided us in His Scriptures, but it is also reality. I think it can be said that big T truth is the body of knowledge, wisdom, and commands that God has given us to live within. Clearly, it is not at all meant to “hurt” us, but it does “hurt” us since it painfully points out behavior, thoughts, and motivations that do not come into line with His word. This big T truth is also reality, like gravity and the vast body of knowledge we have developed as a result of us being made in God’s image – a desire to know, and study, and accumulate knowledge to more fully enact the responsibility that God gave to us from the very beginning of time. So, we can look into God’s word and pronounce the words, principles, and implications as true because they line up with God’s truth. This is big T truth.

The question has to be asked, then, how do these two truths interact? Or do they interact at all? Is there any intersection between these two truths? Or, do we live one, and describe the other? This is where it gets both exasperating and interesting all at the same time. We do live out small t truths, and we do live out, or at least strive to live out, the big T truths. Yet, it’s not nearly as simple as that. It’s not simple because these two domains of truth do interact, and often we determine how they will interact. Let me describe the two sides of this coin of truth. On the one hand, big T truth is often where many people live, and using this big T truth they frame all of life that way. And, that’s a good thing. As a matter of fact, that is what all Christ-followers do. We take the word of God and apply it to our lives in order to gain understanding and wisdom about how to live life and experience the abundance about which Jesus talked. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there. When they begin to grapple with the “bloody realities” of being human, fallen and broken, they often use the big T truth in order to bludgeon those little t truths into submission. Thereby, they gravitate further and further away from realistically and brutally facing this brokenness that is inherent in being human. As a matter of fact, they reject their humanness. If you need a picture to capture this, think of the vertical beam of a cross as the big T truth that anchors our understanding of ourselves, our world, and our relationships with others.

There is a vast group of people who are the mirror reflection of the big T people. These are the little t truth people. As I indicated above, the little t truth is an honest reflection of the confusion, disillusionment, disappointment, anger, depression, joy, happiness, and contentment that is daily part of our everyday existence. In the society we live in today, many people define reality only by this little t truth. That is how they get away with the retort, “Your truth is your truth, and my truth is mine. What right do you have to judge my truth?” This approach is taking all of life and defining it solely by the little t truth. Ultimately, life was never meant to be lived this way. That is why Christ came. He came and died for us to free us to live realistically and honestly with our brokenness (leading us to the conclusion that we can’t do life alone, and we can’t save ourselves) while at the same time affirming His ways and truth as the anchor that allows us the courage to face ourselves truthfully. In the case above, the little t truth people condemn the big T people for being hypocrites and judges, and yet the little t truth people are simply doing the same thing just from an opposite perspective. For a picture of this way of doing life, think of the cross beam of the cross I described above. It is the horizontal plane of life that is full of the messy, confusing, disappointing, frustrating, joyful, and fulfilling realities of our lives.

There is one last group of people who are not only broken and broken by their fallenness, but who also try to figure how to live life honestly with the big T truth of their lives. These are the people who Brennan Manning referred to as ragamuffins. They were the people who upon looking at themselves pronounce themselves unworthy and broken beyond repair, and yet still hang on to the hope of the truth and grace of Jesus. These people live life as honestly as they know how, and live in the tension of the intersection between big T truth, and little T truth. For them, it is not as simple as pronouncing the big T truth, and concluding that everything is better. For them, it is living a life bravely that is incredibly and maddeningly messy. They fight the thought that they are simply “too broken” for God to “fix.” In spite of that thought, they cling to the big T truth while allowing themselves the grace to make mistakes, to be a “hot mess,” to hate themselves and wonder why to even keep living, or to keep hiding because they are sure that people will just hate them the way that they do.

This is where the issue of self-acceptance raises its ugly head. How is it that “self acceptance is an act of trust?” One last bunny trail… Let me clarify for a moment what self-acceptance is, and what it is not. Self-acceptance is not a resignation. We were never called to resign ourselves to the finality of our brokenness. As a matter of fact, Jesus came and died in order to free us from this brokenness (something he called death and enslavement), and to empower us to live differently… powerfully. When we resign ourselves to our brokenness, we are withdrawing from the fight, and allowing things to happen to us rather than engaging life and acting for ourselves and those we love with the power Jesus gives us.

Self-acceptance is not condoning our sin either. All too often we confuse this idea of self-acceptance as condoning our sin, and adopting the motto of the ancient Romans who suggested that we can sin all the more so that grace may abound even more! Paul had one answer to that, “May it never be!” In other words, “don’t go that route you knuckleheads!”

Self-acceptance is the opposite of self-rejection. Henri Nouwen once said, “Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the “Beloved”. Being the Beloved expresses the core truth of our existence.” I would go so far as to say, self-rejection is far easier than self-acceptance. Self-rejection sets a course for an addictive level of control over me, over others and what they think of me, and over the world. Never mind the obvious fact that I have no actual control over what others think of me. Never mind the fact that I don’t have any control over the world around me. These are mere technicalities. I may not have control over these things, but that won’t stop me to pursuing it anyway. Anyway, the pursuit distracts me from just how messy things in my life really are.

Self-acceptance is an act of trust because it does what Nouwen referred to above… it affirms the sacred voice that calls me His Beloved. But, wait a minute! (the big T truth people speak up here) “Isn’t that just giving me license to sin?” Maybe… or just maybe it refocuses my sight on what is my motivation to trust God at all? Either I can keep working real hard doing everything that I can to avoid doing something wrong because, of course, the hammer of the big T would descend and crush me, Or, I can trust what God says about me, and what Jesus did for me, and live as bravely and courageously as I can with plenty of mess to go around. Trusting always involves risk. Self-acceptance involves risk. Self-rejection involves control, and risks nothing. Self-acceptance calls me further into a motive of loving God with the choices I make even if they are flawed. I’m willing to do the best that I can. Self-rejection calls me into a motive of “toeing the line” because by doing so I’ll be “okay.” As long as I hit the line, I won’t feel what’s lurking in the shadows.

Allow me to come full circle… the campfire discussion I had with those students was the most gratifying and exciting thing I had happen in a long time. Little by little, they were discovering that they really weren’t terminally unique and different from everyone else. In their honesty and willingness to be known in a way that they rarely risked before, they found something. They found something exceedingly rare these days — the wonder of living in the tension between big T and little t truth, the wonder of living with both truth and grace, the wonder of a small band of people who all know that they’re jacked up, but they are also powerfully and irrevocably pronounced by Jesus as His Beloved.

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Silent Retreat Spring 2014 – Being or doing?

Well, we got off to a rousing start given the fact that a train derailment derailed our trip to the retreat house.  We ended up going two hours out of our way just to get back “on track” to the retreat house.  Interesting way to start a retreat… makes you wonder why the derailment, and what God might be up to with the students who participated.  What is waiting for them to find that our enemy so wanted to “side-track” us.  We will see indeed.

Inevitably, when I take students on a retreat like this, they are usually asking what they areWeb-IMG_7478_000 supposed to do with their time.  Additionally, that also means that the conversation about the difference between doing and being comes on the radar.  So much of what happens here is a microcosm of life outside of the sacred grounds of this retreat house.  We struggle with what next thing we need to “do” to move further in our journey.  Even our spiritual development seems to be riddled with things to do!  After a long walk this morning, I came to the realization (although this is probably not news to others!) that the starting point matters.  What do I mean?  The struggle is between cultivating our being, vs. cultivating our performance or doing.  It’s a dilemma of “inside out,” or “outside in.”  Our tendency (me included) is to develop of list to accomplish whatever that list is meant to develop.  We, at least in the west, are driven by performance, production, and outcome.  The quality of the work that is done is determined by the outcome of that work.  In many ways and in many spheres of our lives, that is true.  Yet, when it comes to developing our hearts, I think that approach falls apart simply because we don’t have all the tools or the power to do it ourselves, no more than we could conduct surgery on ourselves.  If that is indeed the case, then, the questions becomes, “how do I reverse the polarity of my efforts, and begin to develop from the inside out?”  I don’t know about you, but I seem to be way better in asking the questions than I am in answering them!  As a matter of fact, I begin to realize that the more questions I ask, the further and further away I get from having to do anything about them.  It’s ironic to me that I tend to use questions (as good as they might be) to avoid making the kind of choices that would provide me with the evidence I need to answer them.  In other words, the bottom line is that I want to avoid making a choice in which I can be wrong, or do something wrong.  I’m just not willing to take that risk.

So what does all that mean?  Ultimately the question comes up, “then how do I just quit doing, and learn to be?”  What I realized as I walked this morning is that the question is all wrong.  It’s not a matter of not doing, but it is a critically important from where the doing comes.  I know that probably sounds incredibly obtuse and convoluted, but if the doing emanates from a being that is anchored in the full grasp of humanity and the value of oneself because I exist, then that doing will probably look different and maybe even feel different.  On the other hand, if in the doing I depend on it to define and develop my being, then I’m on a colossal exercise wheel that you might see in the gerbil’s cage.  There is no end, which actually echoes the words of the author of Ecclesiastes

The eye never has enough of seeing,

nor the ear its fill of hearing.

What has been will be again,

what has been done will be done again;

there is nothing new under the sun. (Ecc. 1:8-9)

We are all prone to jump back on the wheel since the speed and quality of what I do on that wheel is completely within my control.  I can slow to a walk and actually tell myself and believe that I’m “slowing down.”  Or, I can pick up the beat and say something like I’m “pursuing hard after God.”  While all those are true, I’m still on the wheel!  I’m still buying into the notion that I have to “do something” in order to be acceptable to God.  Instead, I need to find a way to step off the wheel, and allow myself to develop the unhurried patterns and rhythms of grace.  Behaviorally, that may not really look any different, and for those who are concerned with how they are appear the temptation becomes strong to get back on the exercise wheel.  On the other hand, if I grow less concerned with how it all looks, and more concerned with the internal landscape of my heart and what needs my attention, then I stand a decent chance of cultivating a state of being that is expectant, creative, personal, compassionate, and ultimately redemptive.

At this point in my writing, I begin to hear voices… no not of the hallucinating kind, but of all the people with whom I’ve talked over the years about this issue.  It’s always the same question… “Yeah, but what do I do now?”  As if adding the “now” makes it any more powerful!  What I realize time and again is that we are intransigent in our commitment to our own special brand of Phariseeism.  Whatever is worth doing is worth measuring.  If it can’t be measured, then it isn’t worth doing.  It is a life of quantity rather than a life of quality.  Additionally, it is a life bent on controlling outcomes instead of depending on God for the outcome (even if it doesn’t match what I think it should be).  Now, I will be the first to admit that that last parenthetical statement is probably the most annoying part of the whole thing.  I want to be able to determine what outcomes are worth rather than God.  But even that temptation – to be the one to determine the worth of certain outcomes – places me firmly back into the Pharisee track that takes me back to the exercise wheel.

So what do I do to cultivate this inner, unhurried rhythm of grace?  My own first blush attempt in answering that question prompts me to conclude that I have to confront the lies that I believe about the journey with Christ.  Is it a matter of engaging my heart and being(the noun) first, or is it all the things I have to do to be worthy of staying on the journey at all?  Maybe it’s just me (probably is), but my hunch is that one of the reasons that Jesus attracted the rabble he did was because he had the same kind of rhythm, and that drew people to him who were on the exercise wheel of life and were exhausted, worn out, beat up, feeling like a failure (probably even convinced of it), who had slowed to a slow crawl because they figured that if they went a little slower they wouldn’t make as many mistakes.  I don’t know about any of that for anyone else, but I know for myself my heart longs for that kind of pace.  Anyone in?

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Now, I am the father…

Here I sit at my computer this Christmas morning, contemplating my life and events over the last year. Something that has been weighing on my mind this morning is the phrase, “Now, I am the Father.” It’s a strange twist in time that today, I sit here on a Christmas morning probably much like my dad did over 40 years ago. Cup of coffee in hand, he sat at the dining room table waiting for Christmas to begin with the wonder of his young son’s excitement over Christmas. My dad loved surprises like the Christmas morning when he and my mom gave me a set of walkie talkies. I remember opening the present, and in wonder saw a single walkie-talkie — just like the ones that GI Joe would use (I was a GI Joe fan at the time).

Suddenly, the walkie-talkie crackled to life, and someone was talking to me! “Hello? Hello? Is anyone there?” I excitedly got the walkie-talkie in hand, and pressed the mike button, “Yes, sir, this is Skip Mitsch (my nickname). Who is this?”

“This is Santa! Ho, ho ho! I just wanted to make sure that you got your present and it was working properly”

My heart exploded, and I gasped in overwhelming delight. Santa was talking to me! This was amazing. I looked up as my dad walked into the room. He had something in his hand which I didn’t recognize initially.

“Well, Skip, I found this in the bedroom. Santa must have been in hurry, but he obviously left it for you because I think it’s part of the set of walkie talkies.” He was grinning that half-smile of his that betrayed a conspiracy that was engineered just to encourage the wonder of a small child at Christmas.

Four decades have passed since that Christmas (whichever one it was). Unfortunately the wonder has waned, the skepticism has set in, but the focus has changed. Now I’m the father. Now, I’m the one looking back over the years, and looking forward to another Christmas morning. I’m the father of four daughters. I never, ever thought I would have made it here. In some of the darkest moments, I didn’t think I would get beyond the boundaries of that year let alone sitting contemplating my life and times at 55. I’ve outlived my dad by four years. My mom is now gone and has passed into glory by three or four years. I’m alone. Alone in the sense of the family in which I grew up. The memories have faded, and the sounds of Christmas have fallen silent. That aloneness still lurks like a shadow on the edge of my memories of Christmas and the weeks around it. Sometimes, it even overtakes it like the encroaching shadow stretching from Mount Mordor into the West in the Lord of the Rings. It used to define the holidays for me. Now, it’s just a dim veil that often covers the festivities of Christmas. I’m far from alone now. My life is populated with people now. My wife of 35 years, my children, friends, and students fill my life to the brim. I’m a blessed man to have so many who look to me to be the man I often forget to be. It is a heavy burden that I’m not sure my dad felt. I wish I could know. There is far more wisdom than I possess needed for this “job.” It’s not really a job, but a calling. It’s a calling that as a young man looking into the eyes of my girlfriend and asking her to marry me never, ever contemplated. It seemed to be the next natural step to take. It was a calling that grew in size, in scope, and in power. At the time, I think I was up to it. Boy! I couldn’t have been more wrong. Today, that calling weighs heavy on me. I simply don’t have the wisdom enough to fulfill this calling. No one does, but little does that matter to me. I still hold this standard up to aspire and strive toward. I suppose this is good, but incredibly frustrating even defeating when I always fall short of what is needed in the moment.

Now, I am the father. This phrase has new meaning as my daughter, 7 years ago, brought a new little life into this world. It was a moment of incredible joy, and incredible sorrow. Because in 48 hours, that little one passed into another family to be loved and nurtured and taught about life. She was adopted, just as I had been. She was longed for and awaited, just as I had been. She was the consummation of intense confusion, longing, and dreaming in the young couple’s life, just as I had. I stood holding her in my arms, and felt like I was astride time. One foot in the past, looking into what may have been 48 years before, and looking into the future of what was to become of this little one’s life in a family without my participation. I suppose the crisis of my daughter’s well-being and brush with death was enough to distract my attention. But that single day in 2006, standing around my daughter’s bed and praying for that little one’s future, her hopes, her dreams, her new family, the words stuck in my throat and I couldn’t speak. Again, I was standing at an immense fork in the road, and knew that she would go one way, and I would go another. In this little life, I am the shadow grand-father. I’m the one in the background that is unknown, unmentioned, and just un-… As I have said before, I got and am getting a new understanding of how God must feel as He “knits us in the our mother’s womb,” saw me born, and I was “adopted” into another family. He watches from afar, waiting, lurking, and longing for my recognition of his shadows on the edge of my life. Then, at one crazy moment in time, like Lucy in the Chronicles of Narnia, I caught a glimpse of his movement, and recognized Him and invited Him back into my life. Yet, the journey continues, and I feel the pang again and again that I’m just a shadowy character in the “drama” of Bella’s dim and distant history. A person she really doesn’t know; a person who has the label of “your birth mom’s dad.” No one of any importance or significance, and that choice was made both for her and for me. I was thrust into that role, and I willingly chose it for her and her future. Yet, it doesn’t diminish the bitter pang of what could have been in other circumstances. What does one do with choosing bitterness on behalf of another? You take the long draught of bitterness so that she can know beauty, wonder, safety, delight…. peace. I took a long drink of that bitter solvent, just so that she could experience all those things, and will continue to do so. What a sacrifice. What a way to live a life. Now, I am the father.

What occurs to me is that manhood, isn’t defined by the things we do, but by the choices we make and direction we head as a result of those decisions. Those decisions define us and they define those around us. We blissfully, ignorantly have no idea of the profundity of those decisions, we just know that we have a decision to make the best that we can. It’s often a culmination of what we have cultivated up to that time in our lives, and appears to be the “next, natural step,” and in some sense it is. Unfortunately, or fortunately what we cultivate is what we will harvest. There are more times than I can count that I have wished for, and prayed for a complete “crop” failure in my life. I have known what I have cultivated, but I want the crop to fail more than I had wanted to make a different set of decisions before the harvest showed up.

Now, I am the father… I’m not the procreator. Making a baby doesn’t make one a father. It makes you a man capable of impregnating women — no more, no less. I’m the father who looks ahead, and the one who looks behind to learn what can be learned for the future. I am the father who is astride time, and considers how to care for and bless those around me. It’s sound so hyper-spiritual, but it contains within it a profound mystery and truth. I am not defined by what I do, but I am defined by the decisions I make and the direction I head. Now, I am the father my biological progenitor never was. Now I am the father that is just as confused and disoriented as I was during my last decision. Now, I am the father who longs to be more of what my family and friends need. Now, I am the father who doesn’t feel like one sometimes (often). Now, I am the father who is scared spit-less that he will muck things up because he doesn’t know how to do the job. Now, I am the father who has no model, no blueprint for what he’s supposed to do. Now, I am the father who has only one tool in his toolbox for life — trust. Trust for the “real” father who brought me into this life. Everything in me screams that the way of trust is just too risky. But, there is one thing I do know and have learned. The trust of my children and important people in my life is not only a delight and (often) a wonder to me. But, it is also a heavy burden that drives me to be careful what I cultivate. It’s the same thing that, no doubt, delights God’s heart as He sees the halting steps I make toward hanging on for dear life to the one thing I can hang on to… choosing trust over controlling everything and everyone around me.
Now, I am the father that Joseph was 2 millennia ago in Bethlehem. I can’t imagine the wonder and downright fear he must have felt when Jesus was born. He, too, had no precedent for this little bouncing baby he held in his arms. He knew that infinity was looking back up at him. He knew what the prophecies and angelic visitations had told him. He was holding God in his arms, and he had been given the charge of raising God incarnate into a cruel and heartless world — something that God in flesh had never, ever known. I don’t know about anyone else, but I think I would have served my resignation papers at that moment in time! But, he like scores of fathers before and after him, draw a deep breath and reach down into a reserve that they didn’t know they had, and chart a course for changing the course of the future by the decisions they will make.

Now, I am the father. It’s time to move into this day with a sense of wonder and anticipation. Anticipation and a little dread that a new set of decisions lie before me in what I say and communicate to my family. It’s time to draw a deep breath and find that reserve again and keep walking.

Now, I am the father.

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Fall Silent Retreat 2013 – A compilation of meaningful quotes

Web-IMG_7478_000Our silent retreat for the fall of 2013 is quickly coming to an end. It seemed that most of our conversations centered around grace and the meaning it has as we journey with Christ in our day-to-day lives. It’s easy to keep your focus when you are surrounded by the wonders of God’s beauty in nature, and the solitude that silence brings. Yet, still looming on the horizon is the return to “life” as if what we are experiencing is something other than “life?” I know for myself that I have gotten pretty proficient at living a compartmentalized existence. What that translates into is seeing a retreat like this as something other than “life,” and what we return to — the pandemonium, the chaos, the demands, the schedules, the high-speed walks to class, the deadlines — as “real life.” We add the “real” part just to add the emphasis. Yet, for me, I have to remind myself that perhaps that formulation of “life” is completely upside down, and inside out. Perhaps, what I experience here in rediscovering the rhythms of my soul is truly life — “truly” added for emphasis. I’ve been reading the book TrueFaced because it was recommended to me by a friend who is helping with the book I’m trying to birth. What follows is a compilation of quotes as requested by the students on this retreat to provide “grist for the spiritual mill” of their hearts as they return to the other life we call “real.”

“After each repeated failure, I have less confidence anything will ever change.”
“Many of us remain so wounded and preoccupied with our own stuff that we concoct our own tepid, cheap dreams and call them God’s.”

“God wants to reveal himself to us in authenticity. Because one of God’s dreams is that we would influence others far more out of who we are than out of what we do.”

When we don a mask, we convince others that:

  1. They too must live a two-faced lifeimages-1
  2. they too must present an idealized person
  3. They too must hide what is true about them.
  4. New life in Christ doesn’t really work
  5. They will remain stuck in their unresolved life issues.
  6. It is better to be unknown than to risk rejection
  7. Self-protection is their only hope

Sin-management theology is breaking our hearts. Yet, even though such harmful thinking has let us down a thousand times, we keep trying to control our bad habits and sin. But we cannot hide the reality of what is true about us, because it comes out in our behavior and gets transferred to all we influence.

Pleasing God is an incredibly good longing. It always will be. But it can’t be our primary motivation, or it will imprison our hearts. Pleasing is not a means to our godliness, it is the fruit of our godliness for it is the fruit of trust. We will never please God through our efforts to become godly. Rather, we will only please God – and become godly – when we trust God.

Of course, many people talk as if they have taken the “Trusting God” road, but in reality they live in the The Room of Good Intentions. Why do so many people say the right thing, but then live the wrong life? We call this sweeping reality in the church today “The Great Disconnect.”

“God is not interested in changing you. He already has. The new DNA is set. God wants you to believe that he has already changed you so that he can get on with the process of maturing you into who you already are. Trust opens the way for this process – for God to bring you to maturity. If you do not trust God, you can’t mature because your focus is messed up. You’re still trying to change enough to be labeled godly.”

“How does grace resolve our sin issues? These five truths of grace give us lasting answers for this question:

  • Humility attracts grace
  • Grace changes our life focus
  • Grace lets God handle sin.
  • Grace melts masks
  • Grace changes how we treat each other and our sin issues.”

“Humility requires trust. It is her core feature. Humility believes that I can trust God to teach, direct, and protect me. Humility also believes that God has provided others in my life to do the same. In this case, I am depending on God to tell me how the world looks and works, giving up my rights to notions I had before. I am “leaning into” his evaluation of reality, one I did not previously have or know. This is why we define humility as trusting God and others with me.”

“How I see myself is the most revealing commentary on my theology.

  • It tells me about my relationship with God
  • It tells me about my relationship with others
  • It tells me whether my trust is in myself or in God
  • It tells me if I am maturing into Christ’s likeness.”

Just some “food” for thought… signing off from the fall silent retreat

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Bent or Broken?

I’ve been spending the last few days (and into next week) in Southeastern Ohio soaking incover225x225 (in all senses of the word) the humidity of the Ohio River Valley. Having been spoiled by the dry environment of Denver, I feeling like I’m swimming in the humid air here! In spite of all that, I have been thinking about something that I figured I might share with all of you (whoever you might be) my thoughts. These thoughts were prompted after listening to the first of the books of C.S. LewisSpace Trilogy, “Out of the Silent Planet.” Linda and I listened to the book as an audiobook as we crossed 4 states to get here. If you haven’t read the books, you might find yourself pleasantly (or alarmingly) surprised at the contemporary nature of the discussion between the main characters in spite of the fact that the books were written in the late 1930s.

Allow me to set the stage for my ruminations without completely ruining the storyline for those of you haven’t read the book yet. The main characters of this book is an Oxford don by the name of Dr. Elwin Ransom, a physicist named Dr. Weston, and college classmate of Ransom’s named Devine. Ransom is abducted, and taken on an astronomical journey to the planet of Mars, known by the native peoples as “Malacandra,” along with Weston and Devine. There 3 weeks of various interactions between Ransom, who finally escapes his captors, and the native “people” of the planet are described. Eventually, Ransom makes a journey to meet “Oyarsa.” This Oyarsa appears to be the spirit being who “rules” the planet… something like an angel or archangel that has been given the responsibility of caring for this particular planet. Eventually, Weston and Devine are captured and also brought before Oyarsa with whom Ransom had already spent time answering the many questions of the being. Ransom appears to have reasonably mastered the language of the hrossa (the animals who had hosted him for most of his sojourn on Mars) which appears to have been the language that all beings of Mars also spoke when together. The ensuing debate between Weston and Oyarsa reveals the clear motives of Weston to overcome, and despoil Mars according to his arrogant agenda. What happened next in the discussion between Oyarsa and Weston was what caught my attention. Allow me to quote the interaction so you can get a sense of the context:

        “I see now (Oyarsa is speaking) how the lord of the silent world(earth) has bent you. There are laws that all “hnau” (the spirit of a “bodied” being) know, of pity and straight dealing and shame and the like, and one of these is the love of kindred. He (the “oyarsa” of earth – otherwise known as Satan) has taught you to break all of them except this one, which is not one of the greatest laws; this one he has bent till it becomes folly and has set it up, thus bent, to be a blind little Oyarsa in your brain. And now you can do nothing but obey it, though if we ask you why it is a law you can give no other reason for it than for all the other and greater laws which it drives you to disobey. Do you know why he has done this?”
“Me think no such person – me wise, new man – no believe all that old talk,” replied Weston. (his Malacandrian was broken and that’s why his sentence sounded the way that it did)
“I will tell you. He has left you this one (speaking of Weston) because a bent hnau can do more evil than a broken one. He has only bent you; but this Thin One (speaking of Devine) who sits on the ground he has broken, but he has left him nothing but greed.”

What is remarkable about this interaction is what Oyarsa said about the difference between those bent and those who are broken. In the words of Lewis through the character, “a bent hnau can do more evil than a broken one” is equally applicable today. I would suggest that those who are broken are those who are often marginalized in many circles within the church. Unfortunately, many people within the church (not the church itself) have come to believe that their brokenness is a thing to be hidden from the rest of the people with whom they interact. It is not something to be trumpeted as if it was a badge of honor. Of course, any mention is equated with “trumpeting” one’s brokenness. What I don’t seem to grasp is that brokenness is a quality of my humanness, and at the same time it is also a result of the brokenness in our relationships and the world in which we live. The challenge, of course, is how to determine the difference between the two “kinds” of brokenness. The former is something to be cultivated throughout our journey with Christ, and the latter is something to be addressed and from which to recover with the help of the rest of the body of Christ. The moment I decide to include “the body of Christ,” is where I will stumble because it requires something of me that I’m simply not willing to risk. It is at this point, that I must wrestle with the reality of the brokenness of which I struggle, and I must either take the next step of restoration that demands brutal honesty as a payment or move back into the numbing state of denial that keeps me “safe” from the probing eyes of others who will condemn me just as I have already done.

The second form of “brokenness” which I cultivate isn’t a self-absorbed navel gazing of which so many have characterized it. These critics often reveal their own fear of looking inward and instead focus all their efforts on the infamous theory of change: the outside-in approach. Their fear isn’t of looking inward; their fear is once they begin this inward examination they will never come out of “it.” Therefore, their approach is to focus on outward behavior and spend little effort on cultivating the landscape of their own hearts trusting this process to produce fruit in keeping with the fruit of the Spirit. While there is truth to be found in this approach, the fallacy of it lies in the singularity of it. It is the only approach for anyone to take to produce the change they desire. Their focus is solely on the “big T” truth of Scripture rather than a recognition and acceptance of the “little t” truth of our feelings, thoughts, conclusions, and motives. They don’t grasp the need for an intersection between these two “truths” of our existence, and in that intersection we find the opportunity to cultivate the landscape of our hearts. It is at this intersection where I will find the annoying, irritating, and incredibly messy realities of living life in the tension between the Truth (of which God defines for us) and the truth (my definition of reality). Sometimes I get it “right”, and more often I am caught in the maelstrom of my desire to get it right, and my desire to do it my own way (the “blind little Oyarsa in the brain”).

All that I have described above is far less dangerous than the “bentness” that Oyarsa speaks of in the book. It’s one thing to be broken, but it is quite another to be “bent.” As the metaphor suggests, being broken can be repaired, even redeemed. But, being bent is far more dangerous because of the blindness of the bent ones’ awareness to their own need. As a matter of fact, a bent one is more dangerous and can do so much more damage because of the arrogance of his sense of “right” to do what he thinks is needed to accomplish his goals which he believes can be on imposed on the unwashed masses below him or her. I am reminded of a quote from Brennan Manning in Ragamuffin Gospel where he proclaimed the only difference between people sitting in the pew of any church is the ones who are awake (the broken) and those who are asleep (those who are in various states of bent-ness). While that may sound like a judgmental statement (which is an assumption of my motives), it is simply a description of many (clearly not all) in our churches today.

So, the question to be considered is: where am I along the continuum from broken to bent? The difficulty with that question is a little like trying to see your own back. There is a massive blind spot that I simply cannot see. The trick is what I do with that blind spot. Do I assume that it is no different from what I can see, or am I driven for clarity to know what is there? Unfortunately, or fortunately, the only real way to know what’s there is to have someone help you. Of course, this challenge begins as much with the person helping us as it does with us. Right out of the gate, I have to know whom I’m asking to give me such a report. I would refer you to reading “Safe People” by Henry Cloud and John Townsend to get a full sense of how to choose the safe people in your life to perform this function. The second part of this formula is your confidence in your own willingness to accept what is given you by a safe person. Your confidence will have a direct impact on your willingness to accept the report, and to do something about it. Upon receiving such a report, the next step is who you choose for traveling companions for your journey. Again, the importance of safe people in your life cannot be understated.

For me, I want to be part of the broken “rabble” that are heading on this journey. I must admit that I am most prone to follow a variety of “bunny trails” while I listen to the “little Oyarsa” in my head, but thankfully even when I’m wandering in the “far country” of my own making my Father is looking to the horizon for my return.

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A Ruthless Defense

When I examine my response to being confronted with the cold, unchanging, and non-negotiating reality of myself, I have a variety of responses. Not the least of these responses are a defense. In the account of the woman at the well in John 4, I realized that many of the strategies she used to slither out from under the discerning eye of a wandering rabbi are just like my own.

For example, when he engaged her in the first part of their conversation, she was already unnerved since a male, Jewish rabbi wasn’t supposed to talk to a Samaritan woman. Not only that, it was in the middle of the day, and all of her efforts to go “unseen” had been foiled the minute that he spoke. How often is it that when I am engaged in something of which I’m ashamed (and I know it even if I’m not willing to admit it to anyone), I just want to be invisible to most anyone? I would rather be hidden in my shame, than be “hung out to dry” just by the recognition of someone. I’m reminded of days gone by long ago where men had to go into a “drug store” and buy a pornographic magazine that was hidden behind the counter. Of course, one would have to get by the cranky old woman behind the counter who looked down upon the shame-filled victim with a condemning eye as she grabbed the magazine like it was infested with the Ebola virus, and slung it across the counter while “ringing up” the purchase in excruciatingly slow fashion seeming only intent on making the purchase that much more agonizing. Having gone through that experience in my youth, I can attest to the fact that more than a few young boys my age would make an oath never to do that again, and searched the side streets for a tossed away version of the magazine rather than facing the Klingon warrior behind the cash register who reminded you of Roz in Monsters Inc.

So, her “cover” broken, she begins a conversation that is filled with a variety of strategies that are meant to distract Him from revealing her for what she already had concluded about herself. Her first strategy — question His motives. “How can you ask me for a drink?” Even though she was Samaritan and Jesus was a Jew, she was already questioning his adherence to his own faith as if she knew it better than Him. The question I have to ask myself is: How often have I had someone ask me a question that opens a door to conversation that somewhere inside of me I fear will expose my shame? When that fear begins to arise, I’m already assessing the other person’s armor to figure out how to get him to spend more time protecting himself, than looking or examining me. A relatively innocent request is met with a less than frontal attack, but an attack all the same. I have had too many people, myself included, whom when asked a relatively innocuous question, turn on a dime and begins to examine my motives for even initiating the conversation. As Queen Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother, in the play Hamlet remarked, aptly fitting this situation as well, “She doth protest too much, methinks.” Of course, this had to be a “tip off” for Jesus (of course in addition to what He already knew of this woman), that here was someone with much to hide.

The next interactions to follow were just as telling as the first. When Jesus remarks to her that if she only knew to whom she was talking, she wouldn’t question his motives. His attempt here isn’t to condemn or judge, just to invite. Yet, she is still (as am I often) caught in the web of her own shame, and continues the defense. The next question is one that I often hear today amongst the students that I teach when one person begins to question the actions of another. It goes something like this, “Who the heck are you to judge me! Where do you come off as “high and mighty” to tell me what I’m doing is wrong? Or, the ever popular, “Don’t judge me!” Mounting her second attack was no doubt something that she had used before with a high degree of effectiveness, and had worked in most cases. Unfortunately or fortunately for her, this mysterious Jewish rabbi was not going to bite. That’s the strategy for most of us… get someone to bite the hook of our diversion, and then we can land them and continue in our sketchiness. He continues to describe the thirst within her soul rather than her physical need for water to satisfy her thirst. When she decides to follow this lead, she continues in her external focus because, of course, focusing on outside things is far safer than the chaos, confusion and unrelenting longing she felt inside.

The dilemma for her as well as us, is that Jesus was just as unrelenting as her need. He drives into the most broken place of her heart, and asks a question that reveals a choice for her to make. “Go call your husband and come back.” What’s revealing about this woman, is that she still had a shred of commitment to living in the reality of who she had become. For her, this reality is what had fueled her shame, but it was still living in the reality all the same. She could have, and probably had countless times before, lied her way out of the situation. Up to this point in the conversation, she didn’t know to whom she was talking. I suppose there was a certain level of curiosity growing in her, but not enough to prevent her previous attacks. She was still in defense mode. But, this single moment in time when she came into the light of truth (reality), she found something quite different from she expected — acceptance and freedom from the least expected place — a simple, itinerant Jewish rabbi. That doesn’t mean that she was done defending herself. We don’t let loose of strategies of defense that easily, and neither did she.

Her last attempt was to bait him into a debate about religion and the differences between the Samaritans and the Jews. If all else fails, draw your enemy into the mine field of religious debate! Instead of directly addressing any of her defenses, Jesus simply states the core of worship and relationship — “in spirit and in truth.” That is exactly where the woman was living — she had split herself between the reality of her life (truth), and her soul(spirit). She was living a disintegrated life because living life that way is simpler (or so she thought), and less painful. Bringing both of these things together — living in the truth, and fully in one’s heart and soul brings us into the fullness of worship because all of our self (how we define who we are) is brought into the presence of God. It really can be no other way. God sees us integrated… it is what we do to disintegrate ourselves where we can delude ourselves into thinking that our strategies work to keep life going.

One last thought. My pastor (who was the impetus behind these observations) made a comment at the end of his sermon that I found fascinating and provided me with the title for this post. He made some suggestions for people as they were embarking on allowing the Holy Spirit to explore the inner landscape of their hearts. He said, “be gentle” with yourself and with others when you have those “hard” conversations. What struck me is that in our attempts to “correct” what we see is wrong about us in response to God’s prompting, we are incredibly “ruthless.” Ironically, this way of “correcting” ourselves is actually just one more defense. The gentleness with which Jesus engaged the woman at the well was probably way more painful than anything she had done to herself in the dark hours of the night while she lay beside just one more guy. Why could something so gentle be more painful? Because when it is gentle, we will experience the fullness of what we feel (and thereby actually experience our rightful need), rather than obliterating it with pain. When we inflict such awful and devastating pain on ourselves for “being bad,” we simply drive ourselves deeper into a shame that paralyzes and thwarts any opportunity for change. Yes, I need motivation and the energy to change… but the energy to change isn’t to be found in shame. It is to be found in conviction and connection. Therefore, when we are so ruthless with ourselves, we will eventually simply throw up our hands in despair, and just quit (again). By doing so, we continue to cycle of shame that keeps us stuck where we are. I think most of us would agree that we are our own worst critic. But, the word “critic” doesn’t even begin to describe what happens when we blow it. Judge, jury, and executioner who always deliver the same judgment is more accurate. That is why grace and redemption is such a powerful (e.g., Les Miserables) theme in our lives and we are drawn to like moths to a flame. We may need to relearn the lesson of gentleness, and begin to emulate how Jesus described himself to the weary when He said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:29-30) If we have bought into the lie that the only way to motivate ourselves is through the avoidance of shame, rather than the motivation of love our spiritual lives will become increasingly desolate, and we will be tempted back into creating an appearance of spirituality rather than living fully in “spirit and in truth.”

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Comforting…

I don’t know about you all, but this is indeed very comforting…

Spotty experience of GodUnknown
This side of Paradise, people are with God in such a remote and spotty way that their experience of Eternal Life is at best like the experience you get of a place approaching it at night in a fast train. Even the saints see only an occasional light go whipping by, hear only a sound or two over the clatter of the rails. — Frederick Buechner

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