Liturgy for A Political Divide…

This is a re-posting. It seems especially pertinent this election season…

Blue Eyes Seeing Clearly

I just returned from the Face 2 Face component of my online seminary program at George Fox Evangelical Seminary in Portland, Oregon. Part of the program entails travelling to the seminary campus in Portland, for a more traditional classroom setting. This occurs each semester, and allows us to come together with the members of our cohort, meet the professor and online coordinator, and other members of the seminary community. Face 2 Face is always the highlight of each semester. The document below, was written for a class I am taking: Christian Ministry for Reconciliation. The class is about the process of reconciliation; whether it be in a marriage, racial divides, societal issues, gender issues, or whatever division needing reconciliation. The document below was drafted by myself and two classmates for an assignment which required us to draft a liturgy for a public worship service. My group had to choose the…

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I Am Hearing…

I hear God speak…

 

…in the natural world…

 

“That same day, Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. As he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty. Let anyone with ears, listen!”[i]

 

The story above is a parable told by Jesus on the banks of the Sea of Galilee during one of his treks through Galilee.

(If anyone reading this blog doesn’t have much…or any…experience reading the Bible, please know that I will keep that in mind as I write. Also…if that is the case, I would invite you to purchase one…you can get one in a used-book store pretty cheap…and read through it. The Bible is arguably the most historically foundational piece of literature ever written. It would be worth your time and money.)

A parable is a fictional story constructed about ordinary events with a larger meaning that must be interpreted by the ones listening or reading. Jesus used parables all the time, and when asked why he used them, he said it was because…

“(although) seeing, they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.”[ii]

 

He continues with the explanation by quoting an ancient prophet: Isaiah…

 

“You will indeed listen, but never understand,

And you will indeed look, but never perceive.

For this people’s heart has grown dull,

And their ears are hard of hearing,

And they have shut their eyes;

So that they might not look with their eyes,

And listen with their ears,

And understand with their heart and turn—

And I would heal them.”[iii]

 

It seems Jesus thought people were so busy living their lives, that they were blind and deaf to the meaning of their lives, so he told a story to externalize normal events in a way that meaning was perceived from listening to it.

The parable above was taken from the normal activity of people farming the land; which was a common way people fed themselves in Galilee, in conjunction with fishing in the Sea of Galilee. I have had some experience living in a predominantly farming and ranching community, so the parable speaks to me in great depth. The primary interpretation I learned growing up in my ancestral faith tradition explained that each type of soil was symbolic for different types of people. In fact, Jesus explains the parable to his disciples in this way:

 

“Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom (of God: where God’s intention for the way life on the earth is to be lived is actually lived out) and doesn’t understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what is sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”[iv]

 

However, I have recently understood, or “heard”, a different interpretation for the types of soil. I have begun to realize how each type of soil can be illustrative of different areas in my own life. In effect:

I am the soil!

Each soil metaphor helps me understand that I can be resistant to Eden’s balance in many ways. I also correspond to the seed sown in good soil, in that there are areas of my life and personality, in which I bear fruit.

And yet…

…I often feel like some of the seed sown in my life, personality, and body…in the form of talents, interests, relationships, and experience…now lie dead and deteriorating deep within. “That time and opportunity in my life is past. Its history!”, I think to myself, as I try to make peace with its passing. However, God challenged my assumptions about the dead seeds earlier this year…

In my back yard, just outside the back door, lies a small patch of ground on which nothing grew for the first 3 years in which I occupied the house. The patch is a perfect rectangle, measuring roughly 5 feet by 8 feet. It is bordered by the walls of the house on two sides, the concrete patio on one side, and a path made of 6-sided concrete landscape pavers that are especially popular on older properties in Florida. Since I moved in, I have wanted to fill the space with some kind of living plant. Part of the challenge to grow something in the space is that it is partially covered by the overhanging roof of the house on one side, and the branches of a tree on the other. So, it is shaded, sandy, and portions of it can be quite dry in all but the wildest of rainstorms.

Finally, last spring, I decided to find a plant that would act as a decorative cover for the patch. I went to Home Depot, and found a plant that the label indicated would grow and spread quickly. I bought 12 of them and planted them after adding topsoil and compost (chicken manure…I forgot just how bad it smelled until I watered-in the plants) to the sandy soil of the patch. For the most part, everything I plant in the yard must fend for itself. I try to use plants that supposedly will work in the Central Florida tropical climate and soil. I then give it a push start with water in the beginning and in dry spells, but after that: it grows or it doesn’t. After the summer of that year, 2 of the three landscape projects pretty much failed miserably. I wasn’t completely disappointed by the results, though, because I learned a lot from the long term process.

For instance, most of the plants in the small patch in the back yard died, except a small strip which was closest to the pavers; the soil of which received the most water and diffused sunlight. By the end of the year, I decided I would use different plants this spring: Foxtail Ferns. I planted them in another spot, where the conditions were similar, and they have done quite well since.

Then…

…around the end of February or the beginning of March…

…I noticed something I hadn’t expected…

Little tendrils of the plant began to pierce the soil from underground roots, which had remained dormant during the winter (a FLORIDA winter anyway). I realized that the plant wasn’t done…it hadn’t died…it was just waiting for another growing season in which it could, once again, take hold of its space and grow. Excited by this unexpected re-appearance, I bought three more plants, planted them along the path, and then watered and fertilized them through the spring. As I am writing this, it is late July, filled with the humid heat of summer, and the recurring afternoon and evening showers of the tropical rainy season which continue to both challenge and nourish the plants. Although they haven’t spread as quickly nor are they as dense as I hoped, they are hanging in there.

When I first noticed the re-emergence of the plants this spring, I was personally going through a daze of ambiguity regarding the purpose of my life. I am 55-years-old, and in a period of my life both unexpected to the younger me, and perplexing to the older me. I often feel alone, but have friends who remind me I am not. There are talents I have used throughout my life that now feel buried, and dead.

But…

When I saw the plants, God seemed to say:

“Your gifts aren’t dead they are just waiting to re-emerge in the next growing season. It is how life is designed to work. Death and Resurrection. The Seasons of Grace!”

 

Reading the parable above, in light of this…

I remember all the farmers I knew when I was young, and how they would patiently work the soil before planting the seed…

When the soil was too hard…they would till it, to open it and make it more permeable to the seed, rain, and other nutrients…

When the soil was susceptible to pests…they would tenaciously fight them…

When the soil was too rocky…they would remove the impediments, so the land could be farmed…

When weeds and other plants grew and competed with the seeds intentionally planted…they would cultivate the soil in which the newly planted seeds grew, in order to remove the weeds until the seeds grew into plants which were mature enough to fight off the interloping species…

When the soil was good…they would do everything they could to help the seeds grow and be as fruitful as possible…

I imagine how the words of Jesus must have been understood when he first spoke them. Seeds were precious in that time and place. Seeds for this year’s harvest were ones saved from last year’s harvest. Broadcasting seed just anywhere, without the soil being prepared to receive it, would have been a waste of a generative and highly valued resource. So, while I am usually most concerned by the quantity of the harvest…

“How much will the seed produce?”

“Who is at fault…who do I blame…if the seeds don’t produce, or how much they produce?”

“Who gets the credit for how much they produce?”

“How can I force them to produce more?”

“Produce…produce…produce!”

 

I firmly suspect the people hearing Jesus’ parable would have been thinking about the sower:

“What an idiot! You don’t waste seed that way! You plant a seed in order to grow a plant which multiplies the first seed into a harvest of grain to make food! Not all seeds sprout and grow at the same rate! They must be planted at the right time of year! Some seeds take time to sprout, and even longer to grow into plants capable of producing a harvest. Some seeds need the perfect conditions to grow, and if it is a dry season, the harvest is affected. It isn’t that easy! It takes a wise farmer that prepares the soil, plants the seed at the right time, and gives the plant what it needs to be healthy and reproductive. The farmer works WITH the seed, and WITH the land, and WITH the plant, and WITH family and neighbors to get the work done, and WITH GOD who provides the rain and sun….

Ahhh…..I understand!”

 

God was the first Gardener…

A wize Gardener…

 

My life is a jumble of soil types and qualities, all in different stages of preparation. I often…ok…usually…believe it is my responsibility for the condition it is in, and to prepare it to be fruitful. I am also quite critical of the quality of seed, too.

Talents…

Giftedness…

Passions…

Insights…

I am especially critical of the quality of the seed, how I let it germinate, and the quantity and quality of the harvest. But the soil doesn’t GROW the seed planted within it. The life present within the seed does that! God places within each seed the qualities and power necessary for life and reproduction. The soil receives the seed, nourishes it, and has…in its very composition…everything it needs to allow the seed to sprout and begin to grow. It could even be said that the soil is a Sanctuary for the seed. None of this is surprising. Seed and soil are meant to benefit each other, and facilitate the growth of new life. It is a naturally recurring process.

I mentioned earlier about compost…

The soil in my little patch is very sandy. It doesn’t hold moisture very well, and I figured since nothing grew in it in the preceding three years, it might need some additional soil and compost. Compost is a mixture of organic materials which are being naturally broken down in composition to become a rich addition to soil. It is filled with helpful bacteria that break down formerly living and growing organisms into nutrients in a more usable form for new seeds and growing plants. Compost also helps to conserve water so it doesn’t run off and leach away the nutrients you are trying to add to the soil. To make compost, you add plants, table scraps, leaves, and miscellaneous garden scraps in a pile or a container designed for the purpose and add three things:

Additional bacteria to help the process of breaking down the material…

Water intermittently…

And air, by turning over the material with a pitch fork.

These four components cause the mixture to heat up as the process takes place…

…and sometimes produces an unpleasant, distinctive odor…

Yes…

It stinks!

Additionally, you will often find twigs, and the occasional small rock in compost. These objects either take longer to break down, or are more resistant to bacterial action. A benefit of these harder objects in the soil is that they help the soil stay loose, and create small pockets of space in which air and water are located.  Loose soil is beneficial for planting, because it is easier for the seeds to take root and for new growth to push through the surface into the open, then continue the ascent to maturity. Most plants grow both upwards, and downwards. Roots push through the soil in all directions to support the needs of the plant for water, but also to provide a strong physical foundation underground to keep the growth above ground anchored to the earth. It is important to know that good soil is full of life and activity both where it can be observed in the landscape, but more fundamentally, below the surface; where it takes some digging to detect. To judge soil only on the surface production, neglects where it all begins: below the surface.

Nature is patient. There are rhythms to the natural world. Seasons of growth, but also of dormancy. It is often in the dormancy of winter, or apparent dormancy after a fire, that the soil is being prepared below the surface for new life in the growing season.

If we describe Nature as patient; how much more so, God? Just as a forest takes decades, or centuries to be considered mature, I must remember that my life isn’t defined by what I consider to be “Production”! I am beginning to understand that there will be aspects of the fruitfulness of my life which are so deeply buried, that it won’t be available for harvest until after I have died. Also, just as in good soil, I find certain “hard” elements in my life that I am not sure what to do with. There have been experiences I don’t understand, and about which I feel dissonant. They don’t fit nicely in line with my previous expectations of life and fruitfulness. However, I am realizing that the hard elements…

Hold…

Space…

The space surrounding the dissonant memories are where…

Air and Water…

Grace and Mercy…

Meet the Dust of my Flesh.

These spaces are where God’s Spirit invites me to tenaciously trust that the Seeds God has placed in the soil of my life are and were intentionally planted. The hard places do not detract from the ultimate fruitfulness of my life.

Another word for it:

 

Incarnation…

 

Where the separation between Seed and Soil becomes imperceptible.

 

The Ecology of Eden…

The trick is to remember that when life stinks!

[i][i] Matthew 13:1-9. New Revised Standard Version of the Bible.

[ii] Matthew 13:13.

[iii] Matthew 13:14-15.

[iv] Matthew 13:18-23.

God Continues to Speak…

God speaks…

…in the heat of the day when my shirt, hat,  and top half of my trousers are soaked with sweat, and I am wondering why 94 in Florida is so much different than 94 in Kansas City, as the sweat pours into my eyes behind sunglasses so fast that my shirt sleeves are eventually useless to dry them, and my vision is blurry and eyes stinging from the salt.

God speaks…

…as I roll down the window while I drive to my next appointment so I can smoke a cigarette, and realize simultaneously how good the hot wind feels against my wet skin and how thankful I am to feel God’s…

…patient…

…persistent…

…nudge towards the day that I will quit smoking…

…not because God is angry that I smoke…

…but because God’s love is…

…patiently…

…persistently…

…convincing me that I am both worth loving, and worth having around on earth for a few more years.

God speaks…

…as the workday ends, and I drive home listening to Bill Withers knowing full well that when I get home, and after I organize my schedule for tomorrow, that I will argue with myself about whether I will go to the gym to sweat some more.

God speaks…

…while my mind composes beautifully articulated, well chosen words and phrases that communicate perfectly what I would like to write, except I am driving, so cannot record them, and the only ones to hear them are God and me…

God stops speaking…

God listens…

…and I realize…

I am praying…

God Speaks…

God speaks…

…in the early morning, during the final dream state of the night, as my Unconsciousness magically expresses my deepest longings or greatest fears in a symphony of emotions, free from the…

commanding…

demanding…

structuring…

influence of Consciousness.

God speaks…

…as my mind slowly climbs out of the clinging, inviting arms of slumber, and the enticing gaze of the snooze button, then regretfully instructs my arm to wrestle the covers off my body, and swing my legs over the side of the bed.

God speaks…

…while my muddled steps wind their way to the waiting coffee maker, and my fingers fumble with the filter after partially spilling water poured into the reservoir, followed by coffee spilled both in the filter and into the water on the counter.

God speaks…

…as I grumble about needing to clean the spill, but lose the argument, push the “Start Brewing” button, then wander to the bathroom to brush my teeth.

God speaks…

…when the aroma of brewing coffee  brightens my optimism for the day, all the while trying to desperately grasp, or shake loose the retreating emotions of my final dream.

God speaks…

…when I remember that the dream wildly leapt from one unfinished storyline to the next in a disconnected ramble which elicits a response of, “What was THAT all about?”, while the toothbrush rumbles away in my mouth.

God speaks…

…in my first taste of coffee…

…which energizes me to clean the mess surrounding the coffee maker, and order my thoughts about the day before me.

God speaks…

…when my thoughtfully constructed plans for the day work perfectly, and I begin to progressively feel like I have a handle on this thing called Adulthood.

God speaks…

…as the events of the day conspire to crush my thoughtfully constructed plans for the day, and I am left hearing Life laugh at my audacious attempts to control the future.

God speaks…

…graciously, on the days I have NO plan, and events work perfectly in SPITE of my incomplete preparations.

God speaks…

…when I am listening…

God speaks…

…when I am NOT listening…

God speaks…

…when my response to Parker Palmer’s wise counsel to “Let Your Life Speak” is, “But my life speaks a language I don’t understand, and I could use either an interpreter, or a ‘Life-to-English’ dictionary! Is there a Gibberish interpreter in the house?”

God continues to speak…

…and I will too…

Later!

 

 

Peace in the Present…

One morning this past week, as I was beginning my morning routine before heading off to work; I was sitting outside on the back patio drinking a first cup of coffee. I woke up a little early, so my mind was active for some reason. In recent years, my mind is slower to get running in the morning, and slower to shut down at night. On this particular morning, however, my thoughts seemed to be reaching out for….something.

There is a cat that usually meets me on the back patio. My neighbors told me the cat was part of a herd of cats fed by the woman who lived in my house previously. Some of them were feral cats that she fed in a little workshop which borders the patio on the left. She cut a hole in the door to install a cat door, and left food inside for them to eat. Although this seems nice at first glance, once she moved, she left them without the food source they had come to depend on. The last time I saw the woman, she asked if I wanted to continue the practice. I responded, “No. Although I love animals, my life style doesn’t allow me to be a good pet owner.” So she put a piece of plastic in the door, to obstruct entrance to the space.

(Eventually, I found another reason not to keep feeding those cats. I bargained with the property manager to allow me to clean, and re-paint the interior of the house as long as I could choose the colors. I had help with both the cleaning and painting. My sister and brother worked with me to get the house ready for me to move. One task that I accomplished on my own was removing the carpet… It was a heavy Berber carpet, and it STUNK from cat urine! The lower parts of the walls bore the stains of male cats spraying their territory. By the time we were finished cleaning, I was CERTAIN I made the correct decision about feral cats outside!)

The cat that meets me when I go out on the patio, is interesting. Reportedly, it was born in my house. That is easy for me to believe, because the manner in which it first approached me was as an offended owner of the house. All the other feral cats eventually left the yard (someone else in the neighborhood started feeding them), but THIS cat walked into the yard, and immediately began to yell at me! I had to respect that, so…..I eventually began putting cat food on the patio in the morning.

Yeah…

I know…

I’m a sucker for anything showing pluck!

Now, part of my morning routine encompasses putting food out for the cat…which also becomes food for birds….and the occasional opossum and raccoon at night. On this particular morning, as I was drinking my coffee, a dove flew down and lighted on the roof of the house no more than ten feet away from me.

Four years ago, shortly after I moved into the house, I noticed the yard seemed to be a haven for doves. At the time, I was attending an online master’s degree program in Spiritual Formation from George Fox Evangelical Seminary, and my vision for using the degree, was to become a Spiritual Director and develop a program for Spiritual Formation specifically for the pastoral staffs of churches. The presence of the doves in my yard spoke to me about the house being a place of peace for others as we learned together how to experience and pursue Shalom. One day, when my brother was there the doves returned. I said to my brother,

“I want this house to be a place of peace for other people.”

My brother responded simply, “I am hoping it will be a place of peace for YOU!”

In the succeeding years, I have found this statement to be both insightful, and prophetic.

Prophetic, not in the sense of telling the future, but in the biblical sense of confronting people with Truth which is dissonant with their current perceptions, actions, and life.

Ok…

Back to the dove on the roof…

I began to talk to the dove, telling it that it was safe, and that I wouldn’t hurt it…

…and eventually, a second dove lit on the roof next to the first. The two moved impatiently upon the roof while looking at the patio and the grass next to it, as if seeing all the insects in it…..food. Finally, the late-comer lept softly down onto the patio, and began feeding on the grass seed, or insects, on the concrete. At this point, the dove was within five feet of me, and about six feet from the cat which was facing away from the bird and feeding on what I had put out.

Quietly, I spoke to the dove…

“You better be careful… you’re awfully close to this cat!”

When the cat moved, the dove on the patio softly flew upward to a limb of a tree beside the patio and patiently watched me, the cat, and probably the cat food.

At this point, my attention was distracted by a bird sitting on an electric line about 30 feet away.

I thought, “That looks like a dove, but it looks different, too.”

While I fixated on the bird in the distance with features like a dove but also not like a dove…

…the doves closest to me flew away…

Disappointed, I realized how the experience felt like a metaphor for my life to this point.

I have often become so…

distracted…

fixated…

obsessed…

by a shadowy future, that I miss out on the beauty closest to me.

I often ignore and neglect the gifts of the moment in my pursuit of a fantasy built by an unhelpful definition of perfection, and the comfort I believe will be…

…in the future…

I don’t like this habit…

I am robbed of the present by this habit…

Now…to be fair…

Dreams and visions are not bad.

They help us imagine how the world could be.

That can be a VERY good, and generative, perspective…

But…

Dreams occur when we are asleep…

and visions occur when we are transported out of the present…

So, in some ways, dreams and visions are a criticism of the reality of the present, and when we are transfixed by them, our mindfulness of the present can be distracted so that we are blind and deaf to the ways God comes to us in THIS moment!

So…

What can I do differently?

What can WE do differently?

We can:

Observe our peace…

It would be easy to say that violence is the opposite of peace, but that’s too easy. As I have thought about it, I have come to believe that being numb is the opposite of peacefulness. Peace does NOT mean the absence of conflict. Peacefulness is a process which involves a recognition of conflict, and a determination to look for generative and sustainable resolutions to conflict. Living peacefully is a way of seeing and living life in a way that acknowledges all the tragedy in the world surrounding us, chooses to embrace the uncomfortable emotions we feel in response, and learns to find God in the midst of it all. Often, our best way through conflict, or tragedy, is to wait…

Stop…

A good practice is to allow the emotions and thoughts to wash over us without trying to deny, numb, or ignore them. I realize that some people during crisis events must act immediately in order to protect others or themselves, but eventually there needs to be a time we acknowledge how these events have affected us personally. We need to carve out space to “feel what you feel.” I’m not saying that life will stop to wait on us, but we must realize that what we feel is a biological part of being human, and denying them will NOT stop them from being expressed in a physiological way. Acknowledging our own emotions is a step of trust, in ourselves, and in God.

When I am conscious about my life, I notice how often I try to run from my feelings by numbing them rather than acknowledging them, feeling them, and soothing, resolving, or expressing them. If I numb them, they don’t go away. Often, they sneak out when I least expect them, which can be embarrassing, given the circumstances. Peace invites me to let down my guard, become honest about and identify what I feel, and in vulnerability, express them.

Look… 

Its amazing how often I miss seeing things that are right in front of me. I have always used the metaphor of a bulletin board when I talk about becoming more observant of our life. A bulletin board is a tool used to communicate something visually to people. However, it is my experience that a bulletin board, because it is so “normal” becomes part of the wall. Often, I view it as part of the visual blah, blah, blah of an external space, such as in a break room at a jobsite. So, that which is meant to communicate important information is ignored, because I am pre-occupied with something else. If I am not careful, I can become so pre-occupied with the visual cues in the world…

the media…

an angry driver…

the sameness of my physical surroundings…

that I miss entirely the beauty and significance of the gifts I have been given:

health…

a job…

a home…

family…

friends…

the world around me…

To guard against this, I have to find ways to slow down my constantly shifting gaze. Photography is one way I do this. When I have a camera in my hands, I slow down and take in the world around me, not just to absorb and enjoy it personally, but also to capture an image of what I see in order to share it with others, as well as with myself at a later time. When I view one of the images I have captured with my camera, I am reminded of the experience of that moment, and I am thankful…again. This tool has helped me recognize the beauty when my hands are empty, too. I see everything with new eyes and in greater depth, so that I feel part of the world around me. I realize that I am in the picture.

Listen…

I have found that in order for me to hear another person, I need to attend to them…I need to give them my attention. In fact, I have instructed my sister…who I also works with…to wait until she can look me in the eyes before she tells me something.

…and then text it to me…

There is noise all around me. And much of it becomes “white noise” that I tune out. There is also noise in my head…my thoughts…which can compete with what I hear from other people. Peace invites me to listen both to my life, and to the natural world, because in so doing I often find the presence of God. One practice which can help me develop the skill of listening is engaging music, either in the hearing, or in the doing of it. I often put on headphones and lose myself in music. I become part of it, and it becomes part of me. My emotions eventually find a resonance with the style to which I am listening.  It is similar when I venture into the natural world, and listen…really listen. It is in those moments that I hear the music of God, which speaks to me on the level of my soul, and it is renewed with peace.

Protect our peace…

Boundaries…Honestly, I haven’t been very good throughout my life at either identifying what boundaries are or what I need them to be in my life. In the past 5 years or so, I have begun to understand the concept of boundaries in relationships. I now realize that boundaries are different than obstacles. When we construct obstacles in our relationships, we are essentially running away from intimacy and trust while running to isolation and distrust. Constructive boundaries in our lives actually allow us to be more available in the present to people, tasks, and activities we care about. A personal boundary is something we set and acknowledge which communicates how we choose to live. They are choices that communicate self-respect, and ways we want to be treated by others. For me, setting boundaries is difficult not because I am unwilling to defend them, but because it is hard for me to identify the need for one, and where it needs to be placed.

I am a preacher’s kid, and in my family, other people always came first. ALWAYS! The theological perspective within which I was raised pretty much sanctified the concept, even though Jesus set clear boundaries in his own life and ministry. As an adult, I often said “yes” to something that I really didn’t want to do, then felt aggravated at the person to whom I said “yes”! This was true in my personal life, as well as career. Eventually, I learned how to say “no” in my career, as well as to stand up for myself when I felt something was unfair. In my personal life…especially my marriage…I never really did. This could have been one of the reasons it was so unsatisfying to both of us, and ended in divorce.

Protecting our Peace means not choosing to place ourselves into circumstances in which we are treated with disrespect, nor to associate with people who treat us with disrespect. Although we may have to be associated with those types of circumstances or people for short periods of time or in events which occur outside of our control, the choices we make on a regular basis protect our peace when we live treating others and ourselves with respect.

Embrace peace in the present…

Sometimes I fight myself, and my expectations of myself. For instance, it is Saturday as I write this. This morning, I wanted to do several things:

Go to the gym– I have a sore shoulder, and I need to do some strength training with it.

Clean the house-I have found that I feel calmer in an orderly personal space, so when I have put off cleaning the house for awhile, I realize I am running from something, so am punishing myself by letting my space become disorderly.

Do yard work– I enjoy this, for the most part, but especially enjoy the way it looks afterward and the feel of my body with dirt under my fingernails.

Budget– I hate money…..

So…what did I do this morning? I came to Starbucks and began writing. It’s now 4:40 in the afternoon, and my day is almost over. I am feeling a mixture of emotions, and not much peace! What I am trying to do right now, is embrace the process of writing with the hope that, once I publish it, other people might find something in my experience they recognize, or that it stirs their thinking in ways that promote growth and living in healthier ways.

And…

Quite honestly….

I mostly hope someone likes it….

I also realize that once I am through with a piece of written work, I feel very peaceful about having written. Right now…that peace is what I will embrace as a gift from God. I also will embrace it because I will remind myself that it takes courage to tell pieces of your story, as well as your thoughts about it. Embracing one’s own voice is a way of embracing peace, and when I neglect to write, I am instead embracing the fear that the value of my life experience and what I am learning has no value. Because embracing peace also means embracing growth and sharing that growth with other people.

Release our peace into the world…

Peace isn’t a commodity we buy and then horde. Peace is shared. When we embrace a life of peace, we release it in the process of embracing it. Whether we realize it or not, the people around us know if we are at peace or not. Sometimes even better than do we! As I wrote previously, peace doesn’t mean the absence of conflict, and it also doesn’t mean there will be no struggle. Peace and struggle co-exist…personally and collectively. Peace means that we will fight. Personally, my most common combatant is myself. I often fight with fear, and shame, and isolation, and pride, and ignorance, and anger, and impatience, and body image, and addiction, and….numbing…

Yet what I keep coming back to, are the words of Jesus:

“In this world you will have many problems, but take heart! I have overcome the world!”

Perhaps that is why he has been called the Prince of Peace!

I Need Saturday…

The rhythms of Lent, for Christians, are an invitation for us to practice ancient lessons that we don’t yet understand. We may think we know the reasons for a pro-longed season of fasting and personal introspection which lead up to the celebratory remembrance of Palm Sunday, the participatory mourning of Maundy Thursday; the shock, anger, and desperation of Good Friday, then the Promise of Resurrection Sunday.

But…

You might notice…

How I skipped over Saturday…

I usually do that.

I have usually done that.

Throughout my life, my personal experience of Easter went directly from the commemoration of the Crucifixion of Jesus on Friday to the Resurrection of Jesus on Sunday. My habit of doing so, was basically because that was how I learned and understood the Story of Easter. I’m not saying that there weren’t Voices which articulated the importance and necessity of Saturday, or that for some reason I forgot the days of the week. Rather, we think we know the story so well, that Saturday is relatively meaningless.  A temporary emotional and intellectual wilderness we must traverse after Crucifixion and on the way to Resurrection.

Well…

Yes…

And…

More!

Saturday invites us to emerge from Story, and into Narrative.

Although my understanding of both is probably too simplistic, I have begun to recognize the difference between Story and Narrative…

A story is a contrived device which is designed with a Beginning, a Middle, and an End. There are usually characters in a story which move the tale along. Often, the characters are formed in a way that helps give meaningful voices to the purposes of the story and develop the intentions of the writer or teller for inventing and sharing the story in the first place. A story also includes a Setting, which helps to give structure to the story world, and places it in a known or unknown time and place. There is usually a Protagonist, who becomes intent on accomplishing a worthwhile goal, despite encountering and either overcoming, or failing to overcome obstacles to achieve the goal. There is also normally an Antagonist, who is intent on either stopping the Protagonist from achieving their goal, and/or has goals which oppose those of the Protagonist. Essentially, the Antagonist is the creator of obstacles for the Protagonist. Often, the Protagonist meets other characters along the route of the story which either help or hinder the ultimate achievement of the Protagonist’s goal. All of these structures move the story along in a measured way to a final ending of the story-creator’s choosing.

Story:

Beginning…

Middle…

End…

A Narrative, however, is open-ended. A Narrative leaves room for discussion about interpretation of meanings as to all aspects of it. Is there a Protagonist? Or does what might be considered at first view the Antagonist also carry qualities usually restricted to the character development of a Protagonist? Is the Setting actually placed in a particular time and a particular place, or is it timeless and possibly occurring in any place? And what about the starting place of the Narrative? Is it really the Beginning, or has the Narrator clicked into ongoing events, much like one might a YouTube video?

Narrative:

Open-ended…

Hazy intentions…

Open to interpretation…

 

Stepping into Narrative, and away from Story, I begin Saturday holding tightly to the experience of Death, and the knowledge that Death is a reality. In fact, Death is part of both Story and Narrative.

However, the power of Death as seen in the Easter Story as I remembered it, was either celebrated by defining the crucifixion of Jesus as necessary to atone for humanity’s sinfulness and dereliction of duty to a righteous God or diminished by looking past it immediately to the Resurrection.

Easter Story:

Crucifixion=God’s demand for a sacrifice so the relationship between God and humanity could be made right and since Jesus became that sacrifice, humanity is free from the limitations of death to live eternally with God after we die. So, the aim of the Crucifixion of Jesus was for humanity to get into Heaven and live eternally with God.

 

But…

An Easter Narrative understanding, for me, invites me to view the death of Jesus according to power relationships and about the propensity for humanity to use violence and manipulation in propagation of those relationships. Furthermore, the power relationships are connected to, emanate from, and propelled by Shame as both source and tool for the fight for power and use of power as a social hierarchy maintenance device. An Easter Narrative also invites me to search myself for indications of my personal relationship to power:

How do I use power?

To what purpose is my power utilized?

What is the origin of my power?

 

Saturday helps me realize that, to some extent, I have one hand holding tightly to the perceived powerlessness of Friday and one hand reaching, in hope, for the powerfulness of Sunday. Some way, in the silence of Saturday, I intuitively believe that I must hold to both an understanding of my own powerlessness, in fact humanity’s powerlessness, and my powerfulness which is enabled by the Resurrection. Saturday introduces and invites me to a healing dissonance between the powerlessness of death and the powerfulness of resurrection. But it is an open-ended dissonance…

The patience of a closed tomb…

Connected to…

The audacity of a living…

And loving…

God…

 

Making Up Ground…

The following is taken from my journal…

 

May 25, 2015…

 

When someone leaves you…

Someone who actually stuck around long enough to know the best of you and the worst of you…

It feels like they are saying by their leaving: “I know the best and I know the worst of you, and the best isn’t good enough to make up for the worst.”

While I know intellectually…

What their rejection tells you…

Or should tell you…

Is more about them…

THEIR issues…

THEIR insecurities…

THEIR immaturity…

THEIR capability to love…

Deeply…

 

What you hear instead…

In the deepest recesses of your emotional brain…

Is:

“You are not Enough.”

“The Promise of You is a 0 sum compared to the Reality of you.”

 

Coming back from that assessment to some sense of self-affirmation takes a miracle of personal tenacity. It doesn’t matter what other people say, whether…

Affirming…

Encouraging…

Caring…

The original voice is internalized and shouts down the most optimistic of valuations…

Even God’s…

And we are tempted to withhold our vulnerability from others for fear that they, too, will eventually come to the same estimation.

 

So…

 

We must grieve…

Patiently…

Thoughtfully…

Fearlessly…

Relentlessly…

Angrily…

Graciously…

 

And…

Grief takes as long as it takes…

 

“Going forward” is a phantom wish that carries with it the weight of our perceptions of the expectation of other people…

“Making up ground” is a more doable goal, and it takes more time than we want and imagine it to take.

Making up ground isn’t a linear trajectory.

It is filled with…

Zig zags…

Falling backward…

Leaps forward…

Stagnant waiting…

And…

Courage to embrace it all, with constant personal reminders of…

Where you have been…

Where you are…

And the process of asking yourself where and who you want to be.

 

Making up ground means…

Pursuing your Indigenous Self through exploration and risk, by asking questions about your personal stories and history. It is learning how to be and choose to be content with…

What was and what is…

With a conscious decision not to allow another person’s flawed evaluation of you to define you…

It is learning how the stories you tell yourself about your experience skews your perception of…

God…

Others…

And your Self…

THEN…

Telling yourself new stories…

And seeking new experiences…

That over-write the old programs.

 

Making up ground is:

 

Acting when you would rather be still…

Being still when you feel like you SHOULD act…

Speaking when you are afraid to speak…

Being silent when your mind won’t SHUT UP…

Listening patiently…

Touching tenderly…

Refusing demands, no matter how sweetly spoken…

Listening to your Self and acting in Self-respect…

Considering and granting requests modified and heard through the sound board of self-respecting boundaries…

Allowing and accepting Other’s refusals without trying to manipulate or coerce…

 

Making up ground entails:

 

Not assuming another person’s perceptions…

Allowing…

Expecting…

Respecting…

Requesting…

…others to take responsibility for their lives…

 

Making up ground means learning to:

 

Take responsibility for your feelings, and…

Realize…

Allow…

Expect…

Respect…

Request…

…others are responsible for their feelings…

 

Making up ground invites us to:

Embrace emotional discomfort rather than Self-medicate.

Allow your Self to express…

Sadness and…

Disappointment and…

Anger and…

Regret and…

 

Realize that pain is part of grieving, and an acknowledgement of the loss of unrecognized dreams and expectations.

 

Making up ground develops strengths to help us:

 

Allow guilt to lead to reconciliation…

Challenge personal shame, and work to replace it with personal validation, respect, and acceptance…

Redefine “Perfection” in terms of Being rather than Doing. Our efforts are best used to learn who God created us to be:

Perfect Being…

Rather than trying to DO in response to what we perceive outer valuations demand:

Perfect Doing…

 

Making up ground presents us with the gift of:

 

Being open to…

And learning to be amazed by…

God’s gift to the world and to you…

Of You…

This gift is:

Loving your Self for the sake of God…

The highest form of Love…

For it is upon this foundation, that…

Loving others…

Loving Creation…

 

Eden itself…

 

Is built.

 

THEN we are “going forward”!