Thursday, April 23, 2009

Giving/Generosity- the stuff isn't mine

This week's habit of the heart is giving- practicing generosity with our money and time. It seems a natural extension of simplicity because uncluttering frees us to be more generous with people.

We become whatever we worship. What we worship is not about being in church on the weekend, but what has our attention most of the time. It's our ultimate concern. As we think, so we are. If our mind is filled with possessions, other people, responsibilities, then we will take on the nature of that stuff. We will be possessed by whatever owns our thoughts. Addictions destroy our humanity, our freedom. If you're an addict, you're decision making is radically compromised. And so is God's image in you.

But becoming dispossessed includes the additional, proactive step of giving away. In worship of the One and Only, we are free to do so. Because of the affirmation in Psalm 24 that earth is the Lord's- and everything in it- we don't really own anything or anyone.The stuff isn't mine! So our relationship to possessions can be healed to one of caregiver, regardless of whatever we learned and experienced in our family of origin regarding them.

One of the most helpful ways of practicing this habit is, of course, doing it. Donate your stuff, your time, your services, your money if you can. Also, discipline your self in a regular practice of gratitude of some sort. Gratitude is a vaccine for the entitlement virus which saps our spirit and twists our relationships. It's not only good for us, it does good.

Try revisiting one of the prayer practices we have already experienced for this week: daily breath prayer, a prayer walk, or prayer and fasting.

Simplicity/Uncluttering: Need a Detox?

Becoming like a child in wonder and amazement is basic for the spiritual quest. We are overwhelmed by the clutter of too much. Many businesses use "clutter" consultants who will help you detox your living and work spaces- cars, offices, and homes- crammed with junk. My metaphor for this clutter are gatherings of single socks with no mates. Since I do the laundry most of the time, the thought of what do to with all this mismatched stuff is symbolic of all the energy lost wondering about it. And brain energy is not recouped in multitasking- instead, the process of refocusing our attention makes our brains "start over" continually.

To me, the virtue of the child we lose as adults is energy and learning. We clog our life reserves on clutter. Too, there's a cultural bias against being a beginner. Most managers need to know how to provide quick answers and to be able to explain things to people up and down the ladder. But if you can't be a beginner, then you miss what he child has to offer- the new eyes that leads to mostly unexpected discoveries! And one of the great gifts of the spiritual quest in Jesus Christ is the continual invitation to start new, fresh, as a beginner, to be recreated and renewed in God's image.

Practicing the habit of simplicity suggests that we do something that allows us to detox from clutter and for me, giving stuff away that is no longer useful to me, such as books, magazines, etc. Prayer/fasting is the recommended spiritual practice, appropriate, because fasting done right is known for purifying our bodies of unwanted toxins- clutter. But wherever you are with simplicity, the invitation is always there for us.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

God Won't Give You Anything You Can't Handle- Really?

How the heck did this little ditty come to be as familiar as the Apostles Creed in popular American Christian belief?! I'm not even sure it's something that Ben Franklin would say, even though most people think the happy Deist's "God helps those who help themselves" is somewhere in the Bible, maybe Proverbs 3 or 4.

No, the unfortunate phrase is a very loose paraphrase of I Corinthians 10:13 which states that when we are tempted, God will not allow us to be tempted beyond our ability to endure, but with the temptation will provide a way out (exodus). These words follow Paul's illustration of the Israelites' idolatry in the wilderness as an example not to follow.

Some conclude, as the saying suggests, that God therefore gives us trials and temptations and that these cover anything and everything- events like hurricanes and earthquakes. To me it's clear that it's in the temptation that God provides a way out. Temptation is not from God- it's humanity's problem. "God tempts no one," James wrote. So I have a basic disagreement that God supposedly "gives us" really bad stuff-- just enough so that we bend but don't break!

Besides theological concerns, I also have practical, pastoral concerns with this line of belief. What about the stuff God "gives us" that we cannot handle? We- all of us- are so easily broken and overwhelmed. "Whatever doesn't kill me makes me stronger" is a lie. Instead, as traumas are experienced throughout life, we may well become more, not less, fragile. With PTSD and other anxiety disorders, there is and can be recovery and healing- physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

But please don't discount or deny the real human-God work required in that recovery by using this line on others. If it works for you, well then, it's for you. And neither Ben Franklin nor St. Paul said it.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Trusting/Faith When I Have Learned to Distrust

The biblical sense of faith is more accurately stated as the unword faithing. We don't "get" the faith we need for our journey at one time. We don't "have" the faith required to complete our life immediately. Trusting is about taking the next step we need to take, not about finishing the race.

I once thought differently. I used to approach God as an "it" I could grab, that being filled with the Spirit was having it all locked up, possessing everything spiritual, securing all that God had for me forever. I now know that is not only unreal and unhelpful, that is not faith. Call it certainty, call it control, but not trust. And like that unfortunate phrase we sing," Because He lives...all fear is gone," we often present faith as the eradication of fear, doubt and questioning. But some of our best decisions are made and carried out in spite of fear and doubts.

People filled with the Spirit, the Guide, are those taking their next steps. For the disciple Peter, trust was about taking the next step on a stormy lake (Matthew 14:31). But if life has taught me distrust more than anything else, relearning life isn't easy. How can I trust God, especially when people who claim to represent God have hurt me? Many who have started their faith journey with good intentions of serving others have become injured in the process. Like the servant parable in Julian of Norwich's Showings, we didn't choose to become wounded servants.

The next step for those whose trust has been damaged is to take the next step toward healing and wholeness, knowing God is life and love for you. The leap is not just a leap into the unknown, the darkness, it's a step, guided by the Spirit, into God's love and grace.

Taking a Prayer Walk is this week's practice.

Monday, April 6, 2009

JUSTPEACE and Reaching Vets

A coordinating body of the United Methodist Church, JUSTPEACE, offered an important conference on Trauma Healing and Welcoming Returning War Vets. It was April 1 and 2 in Nashville. In the midst of the blooming red buds and dogwood, we gathered at the Board of Discipleship. "We" were clergy, military chaplains, a host of veterans, many of Vietnam, some of Desert Storm, a few lay persons and even an active bishop.

There was an amazing amount of theological reflection on and physiology of trauma presented the first day with Dr. Shelly Rambo, professor at Boston University, followed by a morning of overcoming various barriers to effectively reaching vets with Navy Chaplain Bender. The closing session featured a panel with two vets (one a D.S. and the other a Chaplain), a conflict resolution mediator with JUSTPEACE, and a leader of a Veteran's group. Many from the gathering spoke of their own experience and recovery from traumatic (though non-military) events.

With the quality and the depth this seminar provided, there was no silver bullet promised, no blueprint for a successful vets ministry. Some networking was done, but mostly it was seeing our warriors differently. For a church to pick up this kind of ministry, it will take a long term commitment in order to establish trust with vets and families. It means learning military language. It will require time, attention, and showing up for them, being present at their important events.

You could probably start with the veterans you already have in your congregation, since the returnees are already more comfortable with those who have been here. If you're a pastor and a vet, then you have a tremendous gift to offer those who are re-entering a new civilian life.

For a long time, our churches have recognized veterans on the patriotic Sundays, etc. Obviously it's time to go beyond singing songs and cheering publicly to saying thank you in more personal ways. God's call is where the world's deep need and your gifts and experiences meet. The healing from war trauma is a deep need, to be sure. The gift of our own healing from trauma can be offered- a sort of learned compassion- for those possessed by the ravages of PTSD. This conference was invitation to hear that call and begin that journey.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


In the second meeting of our group (moved up to Monday, March 30 from Wed., April 1), we explored the habit of loving and being loved. In the talk, I presented the experience of loving as grounded in being loved. To know yourself as one who is loved is the foundation for offering love. Crudely stated, you can't give what you do not have.

The other possibility was raised, i.e., that, in our risking love, we learn it. In gutting it out, in leaping out where we're uncomfortable, we learn we can trust God and others. That gets very close to another habit we'll be looking at later on: trust/faith. One way or another though, we experience what is to be loved in our loving others. In this case, we appreciate and learn the risk and sacrifice inherent in loving.

To be loved is to give our lives to a purpose and a passion that goes beyond us: it's to experience transcendence. Our human experience of unconditional love is limited always; the parts of it we encounter are sometimes enough to move us to courage. For many, it's so lacking that to think in terms of God's hesed/agape is a total a leap of faith.

Love often precedes courage, or in the words of Paul, "If I give my body over to be burned, but do not love, I am nothing." Your courage is "nothing" without love. With the hesed (steadfastness) and agape (unconditional love) of Jesus, we can do anything.

The daily practice is discovering your breath prayer and then, of course, using it throughout this week.

Oldies but Goodies