...self care is never a selfish act- it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer to others. Anytime we can listen to true self and give it the care it requires, we do so not only for ourselves but for the many others whose lives we touch.

Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak

Friday, August 21, 2015

It's not about being perfect

The beautiful and fruitful vineyards near Westfield, N.Y.

Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete. Matthew 5:48 CEB

There is a softening of heart that comes with age, not out of our virtue so much as out of experience. By seventy, we not only know that no one is perfect, we know that no one can be. Not we, not they, not anybody. In fact, we learn as the years go by that life is nothing but a series of exceptions to be reckoned with, to be mediated, to be understood. Our standards are only that- standards. They are not absolutes, and those who seek to make them so soon fall in the face of their own rigidities. Joan Chittister, The Gift of Years  (bold added for emphasis)

The Common English Bible nails it. In using "complete" to describe the character and example of the Heavenly Father, the translation is congruent with the New Testament understanding of teleios. Other versions have "perfect," such as the RSV. The truth is that perfection comes with baggage in English that distorts the original meaning of the Greek.  

Moral perfection is unfortunately what  often comes to mind. Garrison Keillor once quipped that when a pastor mentions to the congregation that "I'm only human," 95% of the congregation immediately thinks adultery.  While character does matter, the point of the exercise is becoming aware of and integrating our character flaws, instead of denying them or projecting them onto others.

Teleios means reaching the end for which we are created. It is not about exercising flawless judgment or always making the best decisions. It is about finding our completion in God's love and fulfilling God's purpose. Being restored  in God's love centers on our intention, because action flows from what we intend and what we want. The question teleios asks of us is simply, how are my actions being shaped more and more from loving intention?

When Clarence Jordon used the word "be mature" in the Cotton Patch Gospel, he describes the goal of Christian spirituality. A mature plant is ready to fulfill the purpose for which it was created- to bear fruit: "You didn’t choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you could go and produce fruit and so that your fruit could last." John 15: 16
Possible evening examen:
  1. In what ways did I fulfill God's purpose today?
  2. How was today unfulfilled or incomplete?
  3. In what ways were my intentions formed, transformed by God's love?





Thursday, August 20, 2015

Shadow Missions

Interesting topic, omitting the dark side of Esther
John Ortberg, in Overcoming Your Shadow Mission, is relentless in developing this theme as the pitfall of many a promising leader. That he follows the experience of the shadow mission as it appears throughout Scripture and describes how shadow missions function in individuals, groups, churches, and organizations is one of the strengths of the book. The exercises he provides for persons and groups seem to be workable or at least adaptable, as well.

What is a "shadow mission?" I see a shadow mission as anything that diverts our energy and focus away from the ultimate purpose or mission of our lives, or the life of a congregation. And it appears a little differently for everyone. We loose sight of why we're doing what we're doing. The ego is endlessly creative in subverting the holy and life-giving in our lives to some meager purpose, self-serving as well as short-sighted.

For spiritual types, the shadow mission could be present in a narcissism that boasts in being spiritually mature and centered.

I like Ortberg's development of this theme, though his reading of the Bible is more personal and pietistic. For example, though he details the personal stories of Esther and Samson, among others, what could be a very legitimate case for shadow missions of nations, is left out. That, in my opinion, is a critique that is not without relevance for the church in a world where people and nations uncritically rely on violence and sing gleefully about bombing other countries.

So while Esther is a great character study about overcoming the shadow mission, is Esther's heroics subverted by the larger shadow mission of a nation that is not only allowed to defend itself, but also, given the right to kill all of their enemies, including women and children (read, Esther 8:11-13)? In this case, it's the wounded and terrified who then become those who would wound and terrify others. The fruit of this thinking is more dead bodies (9:5-17), and one of the goriest passages in Scripture.

Reflective Christians will enjoy Ortberg's talent in telling the story of the shadow mission, but I believe will be left hanging as a result of screening out the rest of the story.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Covenant Friendship- are you a rescuer?

We are not the messiah  
But I have heard many people tell about having people stop recuing them, coming to the end of themselves, and finding God and sobriety at the bottom. In fact,  rescuers have often been the thing that kept these people from hitting bottom, finding God, and sobriety! Jim Jackson, Covenant Friendship

In Covenant Friendship: An Ex Loner's Guide to Authentic Friendships (2015), Dr. Jim Jackson brings his many seasons of pastoral ministry and recovery to bear on the topic of friendship. The result is a rare coalescing of rich biblical insight and pastoral wisdom hard won.  

The persistent theme of the book is simply put: "We need friends- people- who choose to share their lives with us. Without this chosen intimacy, we are spiritually and emotionally malnourished." p.68
Jackson admits that there's only space in our lives for a few covenant friends, so while the book is about friendship, most of the content will relate to intimate friendships: "We all need four intimate friends who would not allow any obstacle to prevent them from helping us." p. 168 Why four? Read the story in Mark 2 about the paralytic's four friends.
Jackson finds the origin of covenant friendship in Scripture, in the covenants made between Jonathan and David, and Naomi and Ruth. He maintains that Jesus had only three such friends among all the disciples and multitudes: James, John, and Peter. Church tradition is filled with examples of covenant friendships from Paul and Barnabas to Saints such as Francis and Claire. Wedding vows, according to Jackson, have their origin in the Early Church, when covenantal rites were made between friends.  
Pastors, whether in recovery or not, may find the discussion of "friendship fatality" (7) one of the more interesting and helpful chapters. Co-dependency is not friendship. It is where one is controlled and the other is controlling. The fruit of covenant friendship is freedom and growth. It's counterfeit (co-dependency) ends in rescuing: "False Messiahs easily slip into the roles of ... help-aholic,  protector, provider, fixer, and martyr. Playing these roles makes us feel important. We get hooked on the need to be needed." p.137 
Rescuing others can easily be the drug of choice for any helping professional. By focusing on others, we never have to look at ourselves honestly. Neglecting our own self care and focusing on others keeps us isolated and exhausted. At one point, a friend had to confront Jackson, asking him, "Do you have anything left to give to all of those people?"   
Much of the content of the book was first presented in a sermon series. Maybe that's why the chapter on choosing friends (5) seemed a little how- to-ish: "Look for new ways to connect with people. Use social network opportunities...Take advantage of Starbucks bulletin boards, and even free publicity in community newspapers to find like-minded potential friends." p.98  Sure, but simply connecting with an old classmate across the country is sometimes just that.
Jackson's paradigm for covenant friendship is taken, in part, from the sponsor/sponsee relationship in AA. The sponsor is the giver and the sponsee is the receiver. Adult Children of Alcoholics mentions "fellow traveler," in addition to sponsor. It would seem that many aspects of covenant friendship, such as accountability, require mutuality. We could consider being equally accountable to each other as a kind of safeguard against co-dependency.

The role of pastor comes with a power differential which makes mutuality with those we serve more problematic. Too, looking to cultivate intimate covenant friends among parishioners may be considered a conflict of interest- since ministry is about serving others instead of our needs for friendship.

Clergy groups would do well to use Covenant Friendship as a guide for greater transparency, self-awareness, and mutual accountability with peers. We pastoral leaders need to drop the false masks of our finely tuned personas in a few safe and non-judgmental relationships- so that we can grow in wholeness and joy.    

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Clergy are frequently present for others, but no one can offer what we don't have.. That's why if you're a clergy person, you need someone who will listen to you. Not the next closest person available, but rather someone like a spiritual director, a therapist, a peer who can be fully present to you. I hope the links and posts you find here will give you ideas, humor, hope and encouragement. Scott Endress

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