Hidden Toxins…

Below is a paper I submitted for the class: Spirituality, Shame, and Grace. Some of the formatting may be a little messy…. Sorry.

Hidden Toxins

 

 

In 1962, author Rachel Carson published a book that was to become a hallmark in the environmental movement: Silent Spring. The book outlines the effects of chemical insecticides of that time period, in particular DDT, on not only insects, but also upon the entirety of a biological ecosystem. At the time, DDT as well as some chemical defoliants were commonly used not only for industrial applications, but also for home use. Silent Spring began with the premise that environmental systems were linked in an intricate dance in which all living things were connected, and when toxic chemicals were used for the control of one organism, they didn’t stop in their toxicity with just the intended species, but continued to poison all the way up the biological line until their effects contributed to the ill-health of humans, as well. The intension of becoming free from relatively minor irritants, caused the unintended consequence of actually limiting the healthy freedom of a balanced environment, which provided for the physical needs of a multiplicity of living things.

The freedom of disease killed the freedom of health.

In Genesis 2:7-3:24, the story is written about another instance where the perfectly designed balance of the creation is burdened with the choice of a freedom which kills over a freedom which heals. The scene is a garden where the inhabitants live in harmony within an environment linked in healthy balance, not only in a physical sense, but also in a spiritual, and emotional sense as well. The relational balance is generative and co-creative, with each being sharing and expressing their unique, and innate value in the beauty of love and mutual respect. As with all designs, there were boundaries with delineated responsibilities, and where mutual respect was part of the design. The overarching value was one of love and trust. God created the beauty of a garden, and invited people to be partners in its maintenance and expansion: a healthy freedom.

However, as the story goes, an adversary approached the people, offering a larger, more expansive freedom; or so the marketing schpeel went. The promise seemed to be attractive, yet it was based on the toxicity of lies:

“Did God say, ’You may not eat from any tree in the garden?’”

“You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

The toxicity of these lies is in the deviance of their hiddenness. They are pervasive and invasive lies:

You cannot trust God to have your best interests at heart.

You are not enough, as you are. You should be more than you are.

The people freely ingested the lies, and the fruit of these seeds of doubt was shame.

Although the story is set in antiquity, it is always a present story, because the toxicity of shame is hidden within each of us. In these few pages, I will attempt to explain how this class has revealed to me both the disease process of my own hidden shame, but also the freedom I am finding in new understandings of grace which are clearer now than before the class. I will also write of how these new understandings have helped me in a ministry context.

 

 

Personal Experience:

It seems like I have spent most of my life waiting for the other shoe to drop. No matter how I presented myself, the success I experienced, the loves I shared; my feeling was that sooner or later, it would be gone… I would be found out. The voice in my head assured me of that. I’m not sure the voice was originally mine. In fact, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t. But as the years progressed, the voice became mine. Sometimes the voice spoke in words, but most of the time, it was just a deep feeling of personal, innate failure. I never really knew what to call it. I called it guilt for most of my life. However, I am now able to call it by its real name: Shame. Jeff Van Vonderan defines it nicely:

Let me clarify something. Shame is often confused with guilt. But they’re not the same. God created you and me so that when we do something wrong we experience a sense of guilt. Guilt is like a spiritual nerve-response to sin, an emotion in response to wrong behavior (“I acted in a way that was wrong and I feel guilty”). Those uncomfortable impulses that stab our conscience are meant to turn us away from the wrong we’re doing and turn us back to God. In that sense, guilt is a healthy thing. Because guilt comes as a result of something you and I do, we can do something about it–change our behavior– and the guilty feeling will go away.

Shame on the other hand, is not just a feeling, though we often speak of it that way (“You ought to feel ashamed of yourself!”) Shame is the belief or mindset that something is wrong with you. It’s something you can live with and not necessarily be aware of. It’s not that you feel bad about your behavior, it’s that you sense or believe you are deficient, defective, or worthless as a human being.

Consequently, you develop a shame-based way of looking at yourself. You accept the view that others might slip up and make mistakes once in a while, but they’re still basically worthwhile people. You, however, are like a mirror image of that: No matter how many times you get it right ( whatever it is, according to the standards of your environment) you will never be acceptable. Deep down, you believe something is wrong with you.”

My parents were wonderful people. Dad was an old-school evangelist during the beginning of my life. That meant that the whole family would travel by car from one revival meeting to another. I have two older (much older… and I love to remind them of that fact) siblings who were essentially raised traveling in this fashion. It was a difficult life for my mother, especially. About every 9 years, she would have an emotional break. We have since learned that she has Bi-polar disorder. Speaking to my siblings, I learned that she was different after I was born. She was an older mother when I was born, and had one of her depressive breaks shortly afterward which required hospitalization, so I was cared for by friends of the family while my father, brother, and sister traveled to revivals. I noticed throughout my life, that I had emotional peaks and valleys periodically. Although they are not extreme enough for me to question if I am bi-polar, they have been a fixture from childhood. Infants learn emotional habits from their primary caregiver. These ways of feeling about the world and themselves are the first messages they receive about whether they are safe and if their efforts of communication will be successful or not. While the intellect isn’t developed enough to understand these messages, their brains make neural connections in the limbic region. Since this region is also the center of the emotions, the messages are related to feelings, rather than thoughts. I believe my fluctuation in emotions through the years are simply emotional habits carried over from infancy.

In contrast to these inward, emotional habits; I learned (as does every preacher’s kid) how to perform and make a good first impression. While this wasn’t something I remember being verbally taught, it just seems something I have always known. From the age of 2, my siblings and I began to sing publicly, as part of the music in each revival service. I was somewhat shy as a child, and since we moved frequently, I never really developed skills of intimacy which long-term friendships require. My companions were my immediate family, or most typically, myself. I now see how these two contrasting experiences developed a type of emotional dissonance within. I became good at performance, and could get along with people for short periods of time, but knowing how to allow someone to come inside my private world to the feeling level was especially difficult. Understanding the normal give and take of relationships was not something I learned. My perceptions of what others thought of me, was based on surface issues.

The faith tradition I was raised in was conservative, focusing on legalistic outward appearance, all the while preaching a message of pursuing God, and holiness. Evidence of personal holiness was especially defined in external life style. However, the emphasis was placed more on what we didn’t do, rather than how we lived as Christ would in the world. I must say that my father didn’t preach in this manner, or live that way either, and although Mom wouldn’t have held other people up to these standards, she constantly fought her own demons of shame. I have always said that Mom always fought feelings of guilt in her own walk with God, and was a great purveyor of guilt to her children, but in a very subtle way. I have always been very intuitive, so it wasn’t hard for me to catch her subtle references that there was something wrong with me.

Actually, I now see that there have been both inward and outward voices of shame in my life. The origins of these voices have remained hidden until recent years. As a result of these voices, my ability to feel God’s love for me became essentially non-existent across the totality of my life. I felt God’s love for me when I performed well, but in the weak areas of my life, or in my sin… I waited for the other shoe to drop.

I lived most of my adult life by an equation:

Church + Family + Performance = Worth.

Eventually, after years living in the “Try harder/Give up” cycle Van Vonderan describes, an unsatisfying marriage that ended in divorce, difficulty in being able to stay in a career I seem best suited for: ministry, and recurring financial issues; all the factors on the left side of the equation collapsed in a heap. I was left with a deep, personal sense of failure, and huge pockets of hidden, toxic feelings of shame.

Through the midst of it, though, God has been speaking to me in metaphors which reach to the deepest parts of me, to redefine fundamental terms of the Christian faith in ways I can understand, and feel. I have found that shame is peeled away, layer by layer. God has spoken to me in powerful ways through the natural world, through the bible– yet in ways radically different than I learned before– through books– both secular and religious– and in popular media– including movies, plays, and music. God has also used both old and new friends to allow me to see glimpses of the value God sees in me and created in me: the Imago Dei. These friends have spoken good into my life. I have finally come to know that I worship God, while before, I worshipped god: a religious figurehead of morality, who is quite emotionally unstable, and unrelenting in his expectations. The God I now know is both Father and Mother, although it is taking time for me to relate more fully to Mother God.

I found the most powerful ideas for personal change within the class, to be:

Van Vonderan’s discussion of the Rest cycle. Although his manner of communicating the message of renewal of our mind to the actions of Christ on our behalf, was so close to what I’d always heard that I had difficulty stepping outside my tradition; the diagram was helpful.

Justification by Grace. David and Sandra Rhoads’ article in Robert Jewett’s compilation was powerfully helpful to me, especially David’s explanation of the different models of redemption:

Justification by grace is not the only, nor indeed the most common view of redemption in Christian churches. The most common view of redemption among Christians is that Jesus died for people’s sins to be forgiven. This is the abbreviated formula: All people have sinned and, as such, they deserve judgment and death. Through Jesus, God forgives their sins and saves them for eternal life. There is a tendency to collapse justification by grace into this popular formula of forgiveness, as if they were the same thing. After a recent lecture I gave on this subject, a former Lutheran bishop acknowledged that it had never occurred to him that justification and forgiveness were not the same.

Justification and forgiveness are, in some sense, quite different models of redemption. One way to understand the difference between justification and forgiveness is to realize that forgiveness works within a system. Forgiveness leaves in place the legal/moral system that is used to make ourselves right with God and others. It affirms our successes in meeting the lawful standards and addresses only our sinful failings. So, we do our best to follow the laws and be good moral humans– and God forgives us when we fail to live up to that system. The system remains in place and also our efforts to justify ourselves before God remain in place. We make it in the system because we get help from God, who forgives the failings. The status of the legal/moral system is reinforced in the process of forgiveness. And the performance principle– our efforts to justify ourselves before God by our actions in living up to a system of law– is also reinforced.

By contrast, justification by grace is an action by God (not by us) that justifies (sets us right with God) by (God’s) free choice to do so as a gift– based neither upon a system of standards nor upon human performance.”

I find Rhoads’ description of justification by grace most powerful because, while the forgiveness model of redemption views humanity as being innately wrong so that we need a system to be right with God, the justification by grace model views our perception of our value as the problem. Justification by grace speaks with powerful clarity regarding God’s belief in our value. Justification by grace with action by God, speaks and acts powerfully to address the Edenic lies of the snake:

“You can’t trust God…”

“You aren’t enough…”

by accepting the consequences of believing and living out those two statements: death alone, and shame. Thus, the need for the cross of Christ, and the resurrection which acts like a bridge to a return to relational Eden, with the values of love of God, love of self, and love of others.

Although this counteracts the power of shame, and neutralizes the hidden toxins within; living in the new reality takes practice, as Van Vonderan states:

“ The battle to recover from shame and live a life of freedom and fullness is waged in two primary arenas: the renewal of the mind, and the fight of faith.”

Ministry Experience:

A major source of the power of shame is that it is hidden. There are at least two aspects to this:

Sometimes it is hidden to us…

Other times it is known to us, but hidden from others…

It is God’s grace to make known to us the origins of our shame. Until we can know why we feel shame regarding our body image, for instance; we have great difficulty counter-acting the inward and outward voices which reinforce it.

Secondly, it is important for us to find a safe place with safe relationships where we can reveal our places of shame. Being honest about our pain is the first step towards healing. I believe this courageous action on our behalf, and the gracious listening of another person, is a practical act of confession. Twelve step groups have learned the power of shared incompleteness and shame, without the need to try and “fix” the other person.

I led a divorce support group where we tried to provide just such a safe place, where people could be honest about their feelings and speak openly about their perceptions of reality as they saw it. Just the act of listening can release the power of shame.

Another way the community can counteract shame, is by speaking good into the life of another. I don’t mean trite statements which deny the experience of another– as in pithy, syrupy statements to those in the middle of personal devastation and crisis– rather honest observations about the value and strengths of another person. While these statements may be caught in the “shame grid” of the other person, and they may have difficulty believing your observations of good in them; the Holy Spirit can keep them in the unconscious mind, until they are ready to be retrieved and “heard” by the person.

The church in the individualized West has lost the power of a shared community of faith. I believe we are so acculturated by both the redemption system of forgiveness, rather than justification of grace, and we each feel that salvation is an individualized act of individual faith; that we have denied the power of collective faith. Edward Wimberly explains this powerfully:

“As indicated before, the experience of guilt is not the dominant experience in our contemporary society. The experience of shame is by far the most prevalent experience. This lecture takes seriously that our contemporary experience is not the need for forgiveness for wrong behavior. Rather, ‘our contemporary experience is one of disconnection, of being unloved, of being overwhelmed by information, of experiencing nihilism or the loss of meaning, and of being inept and clumsy in human interaction and interpersonal relationships.’ The age of shame is the loss of love. It is the loss of meaningful community. It is the feeling that one is unlovable and will never be loved. The point is that a juridical model of guilt over sin and wrong behavior makes no sense when the dominant experience is being unloved. The guilt model presupposes an intact community where one’s sense of connection is not threatened unless one commit’s a heinous crime. Shame, however, is based on disconnection and a breakdown in community. Moreover, shame is a fundamental experience and is prior to guilt in the developmental cycle. Guilt, however, comes later in the developmental cycle when relationships are better formed.”

We currently live in a culture of division at every level of American society. Disconnection is a component of everyday life for many, if not most of us. And we feel alone because of it. Could it be that this is the natural outgrowth of strident individualism gone to seed? However, rather than face the pain courageously, embrace it, and allow it to drive us back into community; we seem to be self-medicating. In fact, I would contend we self-medicate in at least three ways:

Consumption as Self-Medication:

-We seem to make a commodity out of everything external… people, experiences, food, alcohol, tobacco, religion, art, career, etc… It seems that we feel like if we can just consume enough, the emptiness on the inside will be filled. While the emptiness is actually an echo of believing the Edenic lies of the snake. It is our innate value that we feel like we have lost. While that isn’t true, we are created with innate value… the Imago Dei… we can’t seem to believe it, so we cover our shame with consumption.

2. Money as Self-Medication:

Wimberly puts it well:

“The predominant impulses behind our desire to rise in the social hierarchy may be rooted not so much in the material goods we can accrue or the power we can wield as in the amount of love we stand to receive as a consequence of high status. Money, fame and influence may be valued more as tokens of–and meant to– love rather than ends in themselves.

Love is no longer defined relationally. Rather, it is defined as the pursuit of things, and such a pursuit starves the soul and makes people shallow.”

3. Morality as Self-Medication:

This seems to be especially rampant in the church.

Now when people ask, ‘What would Jesus do?’ they mean ‘What would a twenty-first century American Jesus do?’ The fact is there never was a twenty-first-century American Jesus. With a sense of anachronism and ethnocentrism, the question means what would a first-century Mediterranean, Israelite Jesus do. For most Bible readers, this is an insuperably unanswerable question. The only Jesus they know is one in their own U.S. image and likeness.”

The American church often seems to act towards the larger culture in fear that our value is being threatened, especially as it relates to what we say we believe, and our over-arching world view. We respond in anger to voices within our culture which espouse ideas which we interpret as being counter to our world view. Why would there be a need for anger, if we believed in a God who is perfectly capable of protecting Godself, and if our belief system were based in reality, rather than an attempt to protect our own beliefs, and perceived self-worth which is based on these faith-assumptions? Is our anger really about Truth, or about what we believe to be true? Is it about God, or ourselves? Do we fear that what we believe is not true? If all Truth is God’s Truth, why are we not open to interpretations different than our own? We act like a “truth junkie” who must do everything possible for our “truth fix”, no matter what we have to do and who we have to hurt in order to get it. Are we trying to make religious clones of ourselves in order to impress upon ourselves our worth?

One of the ways I hope to minister to the church is by encouraging and engaging in conversations about the manner in which we in the individualized West interpret the culture of the bible, and the cultural context in which Jesus lived. By learning the world and society in which Jesus moved and spoke, I think we are better able to identify the differences in our own context, and enliven our message to the cultural voices of shame in our part of the world. Perhaps one of the reasons Christianity is growing in the technologically emerging world is due to the communal nature of their society. Maybe they understand the bible better than we because the cultural contexts are similar. It might benefit us in the West to engage in cross-cultural conversations with brothers and sisters in these world areas about how they read and interpret the bible.

In conclusion, I would like to see communities of Christian faith which redeem and reframe our experience in ways that hold interpersonal respect, responsibility, and healthy, personal boundaries in tension with grace, unconditional love, and personal freedom. How does that happen? God knows, but I suspect it looks suspiciously like Eden, before the snake. A redeeming community allows exploration and embraces the dissonance of the moment in hope and assurance of future resolution in the Kingdom of Heaven, whether that be on earth, or in the next realm

1  http://thebestnotes.com/booknotes/Silent_Spring/Silent_Spring_Rachel_Carson04.html 

2 http://thebestnotes.com/booknotes/Silent_Spring/Silent_Spring_Rachel_Carson03.html

3 Genesis 3:1; New Revised Standard Version, HarperOne, San Francisco, CA; 2007

4 Gen. 3:4-5

5 Jeff Van Vonderan; Tired of Trying to Measure Up; Bethany House Publishers, Minneapolis, MN; 1989; Pg. 18

6 A General Theory of Love; Thomas Lewis, M.D., Fari Amini, M.D., Richard Lannon, M.D.; New York, NY, Random House, Inc., 2000, Pg. 148-153

7 Van Vonderan, Pgs. 90-103.

8 Van Vonderan. Pg. 115-117.

9 Justification by Grace, David M. Rhoads and Sandra Roberts Rhoads in The Shame Factor: How Shame Shapes Society, Edited by Robert Jewett; Cascade Books, Eugene, OR; 2011. Pg. 88-89.

10  Van Vonderan, Pg. 109.

11 “The mind begins with the belief system, or what I earlier referred to as the ‘shame grid.’ This means that you have a belief system that perpetuates shame.” Van Vonderan, Pg. 92.

12 Edward P. Wimberly; No Shame in Wesley’s Gospel, in Jewett. Pg.107.

13 Wimberly in Jewett. Pg.108.

14  Bruce J. Malina, Anachronism, Ethnocentrism, and Shame: The Envy of the Chief Priests; in Jewett. Pg.144.

 

 

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Hopefully Lost…

This is another paper I wrote for a class on personal transformation. It might be a little long….

Hopefully Lost

 

Let me lose myself and find it, Lord, in Thee.
May all self be slain, my friends see only Thee.
Though it costs me grief and pain, I will find my life again.
If I lose my self I’ll find it, Lord, in Thee.[1]

 

Christian transformation is the ongoing, lifelong process whereby the character, spirit, and behavior of Jesus Christ is uniquely expressed in and through the life of a person. The overwhelming value associated with Christian transformation is love. Love continually changes us into who we were originally created to be and makes us change agents in the world to facilitate similar transformation in the lives of others. The primary barrier to Christian transformation is fear. Mistrust of God, our self, and others leads us to react defensively in ways that lead to division and withdrawal. Our personal life devolves into self-absorbed consumption rather than one characterized by growth and humility. The spiritual leader’s role is to continually cultivate personal practices which promote their own healthy growth by responding to the activities of God in their own life, while encouraging others to do the same through interpersonal interactions and attempting to build healthy community. A commitment to communal growth confronts the current culture’s preoccupation with reactive division based on fear and defensiveness. In an affluent society, the physical environment can be designed to enhance division as it clings to the priority of personal privacy and comfort to the detriment of community. Healthy community often includes periods of close proximity between people and open, physical interaction. Without these qualities, the possibility of giving and receiving love to and from others is limited.

Home

I suppose all of us have an idealized vision for what “home” should be. A place where:

  • The best and worst of who we are is known and they celebrate the best and give grace in the worst…
  • We are valued and deeply loved…
  • We are understood and known from our earliest moments of life…
  • Feelings are validated and our pain is acknowledged…
  • Respect guides inter-familial relationships…
  • Forgiveness is given and received…
  • Provision is made for healthy growth…
  • We are loved and our love is received warmly…

 

This is our dream of a place called “home”. My own dream certainly would have a place, but what truly defines “home” for me, would be people and relationships. “Home” is where those you love and who love you are, no matter the location. Our relationships fundamentally influence us at the deepest levels of our being. Place is important as it enhances or detracts from relationship building. Place also carries the echoes of our most primal relationships, either for good or for bad.

The Christian faith has the dream of home at its beginning and end. Christianity could be described as a collective journey from home to home. Our journey began in the beautiful design of a garden where our most fundamental relationships were characterized by openness, generosity, and shared mission. Our primary relationship: with God, was a generative co-creative partnership in which we gave and received love, and within which we expressed our unique individuality and value. Our secondary relationship was based on mutual cooperation; allowing and enjoying the individual differences between each other. In fact, the fundamental differences between us brought the joy of the God-like capability of creating life.

However, as is true in the reality of our earthly homes and relationships, we got lost. Our relationships with God and each other became infused with fear and mistrust. The place within which we lived became a wilderness rather than a garden, and we began to believe that we were alone and would have to fight in order to survive. Yet everything within us sought to return to the home of our dreams. We still do. Christian transformation is the journey home.

“What happens to us over a lifetime of Christian practice and growth amounts to nothing more than becoming what we already are in Jesus Christ. We are a new creation. It is for that reason that we can become a new creation. Paul captures this paradox perfectly: ‘Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached my goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own’ (Phil. 3:12).[2]

In a very real sense, our personal experience of home, with its relationships and memories, can be a barrier to personal transformation. From the earliest moments of life, our brains are building emotional habits of feeling about the world.[3] “Trains” of aligned neurons are formed, and the couplings between cars of the train harden and are reinforced with each experience. This is especially true in the earliest days, weeks, months, and years of life.

“A child’s brain cannot develop normally with the coordination influence that limbic communication furnishes. The coos and burbles that infants and parents exchange, the cuddling, rocking, and joyous peering into each other’s faces look innocuous if not inane; one would not suspect a life-shaping process in the offing. But from their first encounter, parents guide the neurodevelopment of the baby they engage with. In his primal years, they mold a child’s inherited emotional brain into the neural core of the self.”[4]

In effect, we each develop an inner emotional map of the way the world works as we experience our earliest relationships with our primary caregiver. This map is fixed in the trains of neurons. We then relate to the world according to this map of internal expectations. Changing these expectations is extremely difficult… but it is possible. Love and our experience of it is the key.

The difficulty of changing our mental map is metaphorically exemplified in the following:

A sighted person lives in a room with furniture which is always in the same position. With each day, the person’s movements are governed by the position of each piece of furniture, until they develop an inner, visual map of the floor plan with such acuity that they could close their eyes and move about the room with only the occasional smack of their shin on the coffee table. Repeated practice of moving in this fashion removes even this intermittent brush with pain. Eventually, the person’s eyesight begins to dim until they go completely blind. As long as they stay in the same room, however, their mental map continues to guide them with very little pain. But living in one room is a very narrow life.

A loving friend, hoping to expand the world of the blind person, comes one night and moves all the furniture in the room. When the blind person awakes the next morning and begins their normal trek across the room, they immediately fall over a chair which isn’t supposed to be there, according to their trusted mental map. The friend of the blind person approaches the fallen person and offers to lead them through the room, acting as a sighted guide. The next choice of the blind person is both simple and complex: Do they choose to take the hand of their loving guide, or continue on their own, being injured by their old mental map which has been rendered obsolete by the changed environment?

Lost:

The experience of the blind person is that of getting unexpectedly lost. The biblical narrative includes many stories with characters in much the same situation. The bible is infused with people who get lost in order to go home:

  • From protected garden to the wild world: Adam and Eve
  • From resident to wanderer: Abraham
  • From preferred son to slave; from slave to prisoner; from prisoner to ruler: Joseph
  • From slavery to freedom: Children of Israel in the Exodus
  • From citizen to alien: Children of Israel into exile
  • From riches to poverty: Job
  • From heroic confrontation of evil to fearful running from evil: Elijah
  • From exile to rebuilding: Ezra
  • From wisdom to meaningless: Solomon
  • From heaven to earth: Jesus
  • From an ascetic (John the Baptist) to a partier (Jesus): The Jews
  • From home to a faraway country to home: The Prodigal son
  • From legalistic Judaism to Christian evangelist to the Gentiles: Paul

 

There are certainly other stories of how God lead people from a stable reality into instability. Becoming lost forces us to look around and find the new reality rather than “bend” the map of reality to fit our own past experience. So, sometimes getting lost can be a very good thing which leads us to re-engage the world in ways which are healthier for us. We “lose our self” and “find it, Lord in Thee”. We find ourselves in these stories, but the overwhelming message of scripture, is that we find ourselves in the life of Jesus. Jesus is the model of Christian transformation. At the end of his “normal” home life and the beginning of his journey of ministry towards the cross and home, Jesus entered the wilderness for a period of fasting and limbic/spiritual warfare with Satan.[5] This detour into the wilderness seems to be in scripture as a teaching story about how to get lost without getting lost. With each temptation, Satan attempts to seduce Jesus into acts which frame Jesus’ life in the context of fear and being a victim:

“Stone into bread”- Fear of suffering

“Throw yourself down”- Fear of death

“Worship me”- Fear of obscurity

The faithful, self-differentiated Jesus refused to fear the wilderness temptations, because he knew his Guide. His response affirmed his own responsibility to continue the mission and not allow his emotional map to be co-opted into anxious reaction to fear-inducing suggestions. His response also acts as a template upon which we can lay our lives and experiences when we are tempted to retreat into victimhood.

Getting lost can also be a bad thing. We are all fully capable of walking off the trail and into a wilderness of our own making.

“Being lost, then, is not a location; it is a transformation. It is a failure of the mind. It can happen in the woods or it can happen in life. People know that instinctively. A man leaves a perfectly good family for a woman half his age and makes a mess of it, and people say, he got off the path; he lost his way. If he doesn’t get back on, he’ll lose the self, too. A corporation can do the same thing.”[6]

 

Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal son[7]portrays a father love which is strong and respectful enough to allow his son to walk away and waste the blessing he has been given in consumption. Neither does the father attempt to rescue the son. However, the father’s love is gentle and deep enough to respond with joy when the son returns in repentance. Neither does the father hold the sojourn into “a faraway country” over the head of his son by treating him like a slave nor employee until the inheritance is repaid. He places the ring of family identity on his finger. You could say that the father gets his son lost in the father’s love by such unexpected behavior.

Another parable earlier in the same chapter tells of a lost sheep[8] which Jesus told in response to religious leaders angry at how much time Jesus spent with people who had no interest in religious activities. The shepherd knows a sheep is lost and acts in such a way as to esteem so much value in one sheep that he leaves the 99 in the fold and conducts a time consuming, exhausting search for the one who wandered away. I suppose this story isn’t that big of a deal for the sheep in the fold. They are safe and content. But for the sheep that is hurt, caught in a tangle, and hears the howls of the wolves nearby, knowing you were missed can be quite comforting… transforming, in fact.

Travelling Companions:

When I was a child, my father was an evangelist in the days when churches would schedule a series of spiritual renewal/evangelistic services twice a year. The services were called revivals.[9] Dad would schedule each meeting as close together as he could, both in time and distance. Many times, however, we would have to drive until late in the night, or even all night, in order to get to the next meeting. Typically, our trip would begin with loading all of the equipment into the car, hook up to the travel trailer we lived in at each destination, and begin driving. When we finally got out on the highway, Dad would say to my mother, “Pray for us, Momma…” My mom would then ask God to protect us as we drove. She invited God to travel with us. During all of the years of travelling…thousands of miles…our family never had an accident in which any of us were injured. Actually, I can’t remember any accidents of any sort, other than when a guy in Michigan ran a red light and plowed into the side of our car. Nobody was hurt, although I think the other driver was too medicated to feel any pain anyway. But I digress….

Prayer is a primary means of both recognizing and inviting God to travel with us in our journey from home to home. I have come to believe that one of the values of prayer in Christian transformation is that the connection with God changes us deeply. Prayer is limbic revision with God.

“The sine qua non of a neural network is its penchant for strengthening neuronal patterns in direct proportion to their use. The more often you do or think ore imagine a thing, the more probable it is that your mind will revisit its prior stopping point. When the circuits are sufficiently well worn such that thoughts fly down them with little friction or resistance, that mental path has become a part of you—it is now a habit of speech, thought, action, attitude. Ongoing exposure to one person’s Attractors does not merely activate neural patterns in another—it also strengthens them. Long-standing togetherness writes permanent changes into a brain’s open book.

 

In a relationship, one mind revises another; one heart changes its partner. This astounding legacy of our combined status as mammals and neural being is limbic revision: the power to remodel the emotional parts of the people we love, as our Attractors activate certain limbic pathways, and the brain’s inexorable memory mechanism reinforces them.

 

Who we are and who we become depends, in part, on whom we love.”[10]

 

The idea that prayer changes us isn’t new. However, the manner in which it has been articulated in the past infers that we are changed in what we think, and is an intellectual process. Limbic revision changes how we feel and who we are and will be.

How we view prayer is important. When we approach prayer as a part of our life, partitioned off from the rest of our activities, we lose the immediacy of its impact on our self. It then becomes easier to build internal walls which affect behavior and interactions with the world. However, when we see our entire life as prayer, the walls are dismantled, and we allow God to roam free within us. Our entire being becomes the home we long for. We take home with us, even when we are lost.

Christian transformation requires the presence of others in our life, as well. In the story of Eden, God intermittently calls the preceding work which was accomplished, “good”.[11] Then God made an individual, and the two of them shared life within the garden, but eventually, God finds something within creation which was “not good”: the individual who was alone, without another person.[12] So, once again God created another person, using the rib of the first person.

Each of us needs another person to come beside us and share the journey. The creation story infers that living with God alone isn’t sufficient to our physical, emotional and spiritual health. Alone is not good…even when God is with us. We need each other in order to give and receive love. Giving ourselves to a loving community is imperative to our journey. The early monastics eventually seemed to find this to be true. In Water from a Deep Well, Sittser writes about people who sought a deeper faith by leaving the cities and moving into the desert in order to seek God, more fully.[13] However, I notice throughout the chapter and the book, that so many of the sayings of the Ammas and Abbas about growing in faith were part of a conversation they were having with a student… So… they left community to move out into the desert to know God more deeply, but community followed them… God’s grace brings others into our life when we are alone, no matter the purpose of our prolonged solitude. We need other people in our life. God speaks to us through the heart of another, and God speaks to another through our heart. Love changes us. Mutual love changes us both.

Not only does love change us individually, but a loving community benefits and changes the culture.[14] When we love each other… sacrificially love each other… our community is a living, communal witness to the love of Christ. When we do not love each other, but separate into ghettos of :

  • Race
  • Socioeconomic layers
  • Marital status
  • Ideology
  • Political persuasion
  • Sexual politics
  • Theological understanding

 

…we also are a witness to the “love” of Christ. The surrounding culture defines God by the behavior, attitudes, and approachability of those calling themselves by God’s name. How the church speaks and acts towards itself, and the people surrounding it, defines God. When the church exhibits “love” in exclusivity, defensive reactivity, and fear of differences in people; then God is that way.

Is that the message we want to portray?

Is that what we experience from God?

If we have experienced grace and love from God, then why are we so angry?

Do we know God at all?

When a Christian leader asks questions which the surrounding culture is asking, why is he labeled a heretic by other Christian leaders, when they haven’t even read his book?

Leading The Journey:

It could be said that our country is in crisis. A crisis of leadership. That statement isn’t a personal indictment of the intelligence, efficiency, or even creativity of the leaders in our culture. It is an observation of the depth of division within our culture, and the propensity for leaders to make decisions based on public opinion or self-interest. Edwin Friedman writes about the need for self-differentiated leaders:

“I want to stress that by well-differentiated leader(s) I do not mean an autocrat who tells others what to do or orders them around, although any leader who defines himself or herself clearly may be perceived that way by those who are not taking responsibility for their own emotional being and destiny. Rather, I mean someone who has clarity about his or her own life goals, and, therefore, someone who is less likely to become lost in the anxious emotional processes swirling about. I mean someone who can be separate while still remaining connected, and therefore can maintain a modifying, non-anxious, and sometimes challenging presence. I mean someone who can manage his or her own reactivity to the automatic reactivity of others, and therefore be able to take stands at the risk of displeasing. It is not as though some leaders can do this and some cannot. No one does this easily, and most leaders, I have learned, can improve their capacity.”[15]

 

Personal differentiation, as a Christian construct, is a growing sense of friendship with God. Friendship with God involves two separate personalities who relate to each other honestly and openly. The relationship cultivates a growing understanding of our distinctiveness, and personal mission. Leaders must lead themselves first, by accepting their continuing responsibility for personal growth. They must also acknowledge the responsibility for the persons under their leadership to grow, and give opportunities for them to express their gifts and talents, with the understanding that these opportunities carry inherent responsibilities with them.

I think it is imperative that Christian leaders treat themselves and their families with respect by living a sustainable lifestyle. A spiritual leader’s lifestyle models to the faith community what God expects from them. One mark of self-differentiation by a pastor is to create room in his/her schedule and calendar for God, family, and themselves.  I would suggest that pastors err by attempting too much rather than too little. Allowing other people to be responsible for ministry is both effective and healthier for everyone involved. The CEO model of the pastor leads to dysfunction for everyone, in my view. I take Friedman’s point for a leader to be: “Grow, and allow others the space and responsibility to do the same.” Jesus modeled such a lifestyle, although his definition for family wasn’t always the same as ours might be.

Summation/Personal Response:

  • Most of the content of this class hit me between the eyes. I have been challenged by all the books, and most so by Friedman. Learning to remember and practice self-differentiation as a life skill takes practice. I believe there is freedom in personal responsibility, and I am trying to practice new mental habits of remembering that.

 

  • Influencer was also new material for me which impacted me so much that I want to read their other book. I especially personally resonate with influencing people by helping them get lost in a story. I have had an intuitive attachment with that idea. That has been why I have been so interested in writing stories to help people reconnect with spiritual concepts. I think Jesus used parables in much the same way.

 

  • We are in an explosive period of discovery surrounding the workings of the human brain. New technological techniques allow scientists to make rudimentary progress into observing how the brain works. A General Theory of Love helped me understand the importance of human relationships. I am trying to order my life and activities from what I learned.

 

  • I am a child of the church. Honestly, I don’t always like that. However, I have been able to maintain a love for the church. I saw so many lives change when my family was in evangelism, and I remember so many times after the final service of a revival when the pastor’s family and our family would sit down around a table, eat together, and then talk. I miss that community. My observation now is that people don’t make time for those interactions anymore. There is always something more to do or to prepare for. We have become entombed within our culture, and I am praying for resurrection. Sittser’s book helped me see how our historical experience of the church is both similar and radically different in terms of relationships with each other and culture.

 


[1] Let Me Lose Myself and Find it Lord, In Thee; Ross H. Minkler, Copyright: 1943

[2] Water from a Deep Well: Christian Spirituality from Early Martyrs to Modern Missionaries; Gerald L. Sittser; Downers Grove, IL, InterVarsity Press, 2007, Pg. 282

[3] A General Theory of Love; Thomas Lewis, M.D., Fari Amini, M.D., Richard Lannon, M.D.; New York, NY, Random House, Inc., 2000, Pg. 148-153

[4] A General Theory of Love, Pg. 153

[5] Matthew 4:1-11.

[6] Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why,  Laurence Gonzales; New York, NY, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 2003; Pg.166

[7] Luke 15:11-32

[8] Luke 15: 1-7

[9] If my explanation comes across as elementary, I apologize, but the practice and knowledge of it seems to have gone the way of rotary dialed telephones.

[10] A General Theory of Love, Pg.143-144.

[11] Genesis 1:1-25.

[12] Genesis 2:18

[13] Water from a Deep Well, Pg. 96-117.

[14] Water from a Deep Well, Pg. 62-63.

[15] A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix, Edwin H. Friedman; New York, NY, Church Publishing, Inc; 1999, 2007; Pg. 14.

Ideas….

I love ideas. Especially new ones, or old ones with a different spin. I love ideas for churches that help them reach outside their doors to help others. And ideas for churches that help teach old concepts in a new way. I also love to look at culture and try to determine what God is saying in a secular venue that the church may be hard of hearing towards. So I will periodically list some ideas I have or have come across that I’d love to see communities of faith implement. Here is the first list:

Partner with a community service organization to winterize homes for low income households in your community.

Bring back old school food poundings: taking food to the homes of low-income families or individuals throughout the year.

Develop a group of writers, photographers, and videographers to help senior adults tell their life stories. Then distribute the finished product to their extended families.

Open your church facility for 12-step groups from the community. Supply the coffee…

Start an “Off the Grid” month. Do your services completely acoustic… I mean COMPLETELY ACCOUSTIC. Encourage the congregation to bike to church every Sunday, car share, walk, or meet in smaller community groups with an outline of the pastoral sermon. Pastors bike to work for the whole month…. INSTALL BIKE RACKS ON YOUR PROPERTY. Have a picnic outdoors at the end of the month. Doing this will encourage better listening for the crowd and the beauty of  human voices in collective harmony will be another example of simple beauty. It also reinforces our understanding of the beauty of the natural world and the loss we have in not living according to its rythms.

Use part of the church property to plant a community garden. Open the garden up to anyone willing to take part and then have a support team to water and care for it. Ask congregants that have a space to donate a portion to be taken to the local farmer’s market on a weekly basis.

Start a “Wind Down Cafe.” Rent a restaurant in a local entertainment/bar spot, and open it from 3am to 6am to be used by the employees of night spots to relax and “wind down” after work. Supply live music, beverages. simple food, and people to talk to. Make friends with these folks.

Buy pizzas from pizzarias when they close, and then take them to homeless folks on the street. (Thanks to my son, Baird, for this idea. He worked at John’s Pizza in the Westport community of Kansas City, and took all the pizza they were going to throw out at the end of the night and gave it out to homeless folks down the street.)

Provide a spot for local high school booster clubs or Quarterback clubs to hold their meetings. Set up video equiptment so parents can watch game films with coaches and players.

Hold car clinics for low income families where their vehicles can have regular maintenance done. Have experienced technicians on hand to assess the mechanical “health” of their vehicles.

Partner with another community of faith on several “Habitat for Humanities” projects.

Use previously used materialy whenever possible in building projects.

Google “Meet Up Groups” in your community. Develop one that meets either in your building, or has members of your faith community.

Open a coffee house somewhere in your community other than in your building.

This list is just a start. If you have experienced a great, effective idea for being the body of Christ in your community, comment on this site. Creative ideas designed to engage the culture are especially welcomed.

Good Morning… May I Help You?

I got a second job a couple of weeks ago. I now work part-time at Babies R Us and part-time at Target. The Target job is seasonal, working nights, 3-4 nights per week. I have worked retail for the past 3 years and have found it a very mixed bag of biscuits. For some reason, people who work in retail, stay there. I’m not sure why, but they seem to.  Maybe they like helping people or the adrenaline rush of the game… trying to push up store sales. The fast pace can be both draining and exhilarating at the same time. While there is a down side to retail:

Low pay.

Companies who treat their employees as if people were commodities.

A constantly shifting weekly schedule.

Argumentative customers.

Constantly being pushed by corporate execs to always squeeze  a little more juice out of the orange…more….More…MORE…

A schedule where you are pushed to wrap your life around your job.

There are nice times as well:

The feeling of being on a team in your store.

The gratitude of a customer when you have helped them solve a problem.

Getting to see the new stuff first!

There are more of both good stuff and not so good stuff, but you get my point. Barbara Ehrenreich, a journalist/author and social activist, wrote about the difficulty of living in America while working in low-income, service economy jobs in her book: Nickle and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. She paints a very familiar picture of people not making enough money from one job to live on a financial even keel, let alone make headway. The answer becomes more jobs and the complexity of juggling schedules with competing companies as well as, in some companies, an animosity between management and employees. In my case, the management staff at Babies R Us, have been great to work with. They are under just as much pressure to perform, even when the corporate offices put significant obstacles in the way, and then hold them accountable for low sales numbers and lowering  customer satisfaction scores. The problem is, partly, the first place corporations seem to make cuts is in the hours of their employees. Yet, these same corporations have created an environment preaching that an increase in employees means an increase in sales, due to selling customers other items they may need, but not know they need, or by selling a product which is better… and more expensive. One complaint by customers is that the shelves are empty, yet the hours are cut from the employees who unload the trucks and stock the shelves. It can become a downward cycle.

Last spring, I was “down-sized” from full-time to part-time, with a loss of health benefits. Sales have been down, so finding another job has been difficult and my hours have gone lower… and lower… and lower… Until November. Many retailers this year, cut staff hours during the early fall in order to save the wage dollars to spend during the holiday rush. To me, that’s like cutting your finger nails off at the first knuckle. Your own staff can’t work enough hours to buy their own families holiday gifts because they aren’t getting enough hours, so the retailer’s are losing money their own employees would spend during the holidays. People working retail may either be supplementing their income earned in a primary career, or students, or senior adults supplementing retirement income, or people hoping for a career in the field. All of those people walk a very tight rope, financially. Therefore, the holiday season becomes an incrediby hectic time with tired people serving tired people. Holiday retail can be an all-consuming, tiring and frustrating place to try and make a living. And it all begins on Black Friday… the day after Thanksgiving… the busiest shopping day of the year. Retailers explode into a frenzy of competition for sales dollars by openning earlier; I’ve heard reports of as early as midnight and 4am is common. Special sales on popular items meant to lure customers into the store so they can see each retailer’s own particular brands and styles. Sometimes, people get caught in the crossfire. Schedules that  take employees away from their family due to financial necessity. Tired and frustrated customers who take their frustrations out on store employees not responsible for either the company policy or the short-sightedness of the customer.

Blah

Blah

Blah

And… the church sits back and clucks their tongues on Sundays at the utter foolishness of materialism run amok… yet either fights to be first in line as the store opens or takes their money out of the system to do good in other world areas. In both cases, the retail employee can be the loser. Religious people can be the angriest, black/white legalist, always right customer taking their own frustration out on the employee with very little responsibility or power other than to wish them a clenched-teeth, “Have a nice day… and HAPPY HOLIDAYS!” But Christians taking their money out of the system can also cost jobs to the lowest paid retail employees. If the retailers I work for don’t have good holiday sales… I’m a seasonal employee at Target, hoping to get on in some form of permanent position in January. And that depends on how I work, but also on holiday sales. At Babies R Us, if the company doesn’t do well, hours will be drastically cut after the first of the year. So…. I have to make hay for the next month and a half, as do my retail brothers and sisters.

So…. I had a thought the other day….

What if churches brought in meals to retailer employees on Black Friday?

What if they brought in breakfast, lunch, and dinner…. served the meal, and stuck around the breakroom to meet the employees and make friends?

What if churches decided to fund both water treatment programs in Africa and bought gifts for each other, too?

What if church-run day cares actually lengthened hours and developed scholarships specifically for retail working parents?

It is sometimes easy to overlook the needs of other people standing right in front of you. Maybe there are reasons for the attitude of the cashier servicing the long line you’ve been standing in and who will continue to service the long line behind you. How can Christians become Christ standing in line? Maybe the “least of these” carried the tray of pancakes you had this morning at IHOP. Maybe they cleaned your house? Maybe they sold you the caffeine fix you needed to start this morning?

Can you hear between the lines of, “Thank you for shopping at Kmart”?

Do you see the lines of weariness on the face of your server at Olive Garden?

Do you see the long line of people coming out of Target in the morning when you are entering, and know they have been there all night putting stuff on the shelves for you to buy?

One of my facebook friends, Tim Keel, a marvelous preacher and christian thinker/communicator, posted the following status the other day:

Just read the following: “The poor tell us who we are. The prophets tell us who we can be. So we hide the poor and kill the prophets.” – Philip Berrigan. Wow.

It has been said that if you want to hide something, hide it in plain sight. And that is true. The “least of these” are hidden in plain view. The poor are hidden in plain view.

May God help us to view the plain…

A Quiet Life…

Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you,  so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

1 Thessalonians 4:11 & 12

For a lot of years, my over-riding passion was to be in a place of ministry. If I were honest, I would have to say my intentions were mixed. For about 8 months, God openned the door to be an associate pastor in Delaware. I worked in music and with the youth of the church. I dearly loved the job. It felt like I was doing what I was created to do and be. Although there were opportunities as a volunteer throughout the years in a variety of other communities of faith, and I used my talents in the best manner I could muster, I always felt divided between my responsibilities as husband/father and those of ministry. The pastor position allowed me to focus on ministry.  Ultimately, we couldn’t make it work financially. I was crushed. We moved back to Kansas City and my marriage began a slow death spiral.

One of Greta’s major complaints during our marriage was that I was never satisfied. She said that ministry became my mistress. I can see truth in that thought, yet also hear my own reverberating heartbeat to be who I believed God created me to be. I spent years trying to make it happen from my own planning and scheming. I don’t mean to say I was devious, my heart was good, but I  now think that what was beneath the surface, was a heart striving to believe in it’s own worth.

I still do battle with this demon. Last week, I received an opportunity to post on another blog: http://www.graceisforsinners.com/life/exposed/ about marriages dealing with infidelity. Greta has been honest about the last three years of our marriage in her own blog, and I thought it might be an opportunity for us to help someone else. Honestly, I also hoped for some increased traffic on my own blog. But things didn’t work out for Greta to post, and it didn’t happen. The author of the blog, Serena Woods, called this “affair week” and has allowed people to tell their stories. It has been a beautiful example of God’s grace in healing pain and bringing change in people’s lives.

I had hoped to be part of the story. I was disappointed. But God has been talking to me about why I was disappointed. I feel very vulnerable in saying this… I still seek outward acclaim to fill an inward need. I want to be liked, in order to feel loved. The striving for outward success in a ministry context, can take the place of the very humble, practical Jesus.

I am a long ways from ministry. And that is probably good. I am working two part-time jobs, in order to dig out of the financial hole I am in. But that is OK. I must meet this challenge head on and find the value in the experience… to find God in the experience… and learn to love the life He has given me to live. I don’t know what my future is. I hope to love again. I hope to be loved. My days are simpler. My hopes are also.  I want to know the fullness of a quiet life… The richness of knowing the people I meet. The confidence gained from digging out of a hole due to strength, effort, and patience. I want integrity.

I want God to say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

All the rest is just gravy…

lw