...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

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Terror of the Gospel

I think back on my own life and I think, Why did I waste it? I wasted it. And all kinds of wonderful things, believe me- pastoral ministries, theological enterprises, liturgical services, etc., etc., etc. The more occupied we are with the things of God, the more likely we priests are to forget what God is all about- and the more complacent we're likely to become. That's the story of Jesus. Who got rid of Jesus? The priests- who else? The religious people. That's the terror of the Gospel, see?

Anthony De Mello, Rediscovering Life.

Holy Thursday: when we betrayed him, Jesus offered covenant love.
Jesus' own disciples were not there for him. The clergy leadership manuals often assert that Jesus CEO did a great job in cultivating his inner circle.  Really? Much of the suffering of Jesus in the days and hours leading up to his execution has to be the scattering of his closest friends that Mark describes so well.

They were terror-stricken, running for their lives:  "And all his disciples left him and ran away. One young man, a disciple, was wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They grabbed him, but he left the linen cloth behind and ran away naked. They led Jesus away to the high priest, and all the chief priests, elders, and legal experts gathered." 14:50-53  

The terror is we are no great improvement on the people who put Jesus to death, and we are infinitely closer to everyone we meet in the gospels than we are like the Lord. Still, we can also learn something life-giving about ourselves and about God.

We can learn that our love has a long way to go beyond just doing good to those who do good to us. We can realize that what passes for love is often more about control and payback. We can discover that in the worst betrayals of our best self, God is the only One who will never forsake us.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Choose Freedom, Love over Fear- Driven Ministry

It's fear that sets these tests and proofs, not love.

 -- Malcolm Guite, excerpt from the poem, "On the pinnacle," Sounding the Seasons.



Underneath the need to prove is the fear we will never, ever measure up. Who hasn't tried to amass academic degrees, personal accomplishments, and professional successes only to look for an even grander achievement to provide the same momentary zing that the earlier results did?

The bigger my personal achievement was, once the excitement faded, the deeper was my emptiness. It's called workaholism and its the most reputable of all compulsions. But like other addictions, it's a disease, and its end is more painful than any short lived high that another achievement can bring.

Prove yourself. It's one of the ways in which Jesus was tempted, from the desert badlands to the cross. Because once is never enough, Jesus would have had to spend his whole ministry proving himself, placating others by providing continuous signs of his identity, the Son of God. His refraining from giving a sign attests to his being tempted, but not fooled, by the deception that he was nothing without performing supernatural signs on demand, whether at the insistence of Satan (Luke 4) or the crowds (Luke 11), or from the onlookers, telling him to get down from the cross. (Matt. 27)

Even in the sign-driven Gospel of John, the effect is ambiguous. Jesus begins with a distaste for providing them, retorting to his mother when the wine ran out at the wedding feast, "Woman, what do I have to do with you? My hour has not yet come." John 2:4 NAS  Five thousand men, women and children are fed with the equivalent of two and a half Happy Meals. This is Jesus's assessment of the great sign, told in all four Gospels: “I assure you that you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate all the food you wanted." (John 6: 26 CEB) Folks were driven by their bellies, not belief. The miraculous feeding apparently wasn't persuasive enough anyway. Instead of believing, the crowds asked for an encore! (John 6:30)
 
Can relying on signs in ministry be fear based? Results and signs have to do with my survival and competing for scarce resources. How far is that from Jesus' own words about practicing love without hope of reward: if I do only good to those who do good to me, so what? Even the irreligious folks do that. That may be more about my feeling good about myself, more about control, manipulation, coercion, or flattery. But Christ's love isn't about getting a return.  

We all know about the need for results in ministry. But at some point, I cannot escape the fact that the practice of my calling is taking me farther and farther away from what Jesus actually taught and lived. Jesus' temptation means that in the presence of fear, he nonetheless chose love. It's not about the eradication of all fear- it is about choosing God's love and grace as my center, from which any and all good- and freedom to love- follows.   

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Spiritual progress is usually hidden

But when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing  so that you may give to the poor in secret. Your Father who sees what you do in secret will reward you. Matt. 6:3-4 CEB

Then those who are righteous will reply to him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink?  When did we see you as a stranger and welcome you, or naked and give you clothes to wear? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ Matt. 25:37-39 CEB

But wisdom, where can it be found; where is the place of understanding? Humankind doesn’t know its value; it isn’t found in the land of the living. The Deep says, “It’s not with me”; the Sea says, “Not alongside me!” But wisdom, where does she come from? Where is the place of understanding? She’s hidden from the eyes of all the living... God understands her way; he knows her place; for he looks to the ends of the earth and surveys everything beneath the heavens. Job 28: 12-14, 20 ff. CEB


God sees our progress  
Like the inextricable wisdom hidden deep in the earth, our actual growth in wholeness and holiness seems inaccessible at times. Even if you engage in, say journaling, the actual signs of deepening in love can be far away.

I once kept a journal as apart of a D. Min. class. One reason given for keeping a journal is to look back and see what  "progress" has been made. But in this instance, when I read prior posts, what I really saw was not movement, but stuck-ness: it seemed I was repeating the same struggles from month to month.


What is it about transformation of spirit that is so hidden from our  eyes? Remember Jesus' remarkable parable about the seed growing secretly, in hiddenness? (Mark 4:26 ff.) "In secret" is akin to "hidden" in the New Testament.  Could being "rewarded" in secret be something that is actually invisible to us?    
 
A better question might be, why do we need to see our progress? Jesus is describing a mystery organic to the Kingdom. The sphere of God's reign frustrates our best efforts at controlling God's movement of grace, which is at work within us, yet far exceeds anything we can ask or imagine. (Eph. 3:20) Or see.    

All attempts at "measurable results" in the spiritual life are a dead end, or at best, a detour. The ego invests everything in its programs of success, including the tangible results of our spiritual methods. But if Jesus is right, our reward is usually hidden from our eyes, off the excel chart of spiritual production.

Just because we can't make the reward a commodity like everything else doesn't mean that we don't receive it. Like the leaven that is hidden in the dough, God's rule of grace is active in us: it pops and sizzles and transforms us, often in spite of our best attempts at changing ourselves.

The "reward" of less ego is experiencing more of God's abundant love. The Apostle Paul's vision is that our life will culminate in the experience of knowing as we are known by God, loving as we are loved by God: "Now we see a reflection in a mirror; then we will see face-to-face. Now I know partially, but then I will know completely in the same way that I have been completely known." (I Cor. 13:12) That could be considered the true fulfillment of our lives in God.

Give us, loving God, our true reward: more of you, more of your love, peace and grace, both now in the days to come.    
 

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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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