Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Virginia Satir Encounter

Virginia Satir, a mentor of a seminary professor and pioneer in marital and family therapy, authored many books. My favorite, Making Contact, provides an excellent "road map" for couples to grow in the quality of their communication. Too, it's applicable to any and all stages of friendships.

When I was 1-2 years out of seminary and serving a parish, I grabbed the chance to attend a weekend Family Therapy Seminar led by Satir. For the limited number allowed in the audience, the content and method of the seminar was to observe this amazingly gifted person at work leading a family of two parents and two adult children in therapy throughout the three days.

For those who attended, the event seemed a little surreal. But Satir had been doing these kind of events for years and in fact, I had seen part of one on tape in seminary. She was, it seemed, far ahead of her time. At the same time, it was the only time I ever had the opportunity to actually see psychotherapy happening before my eyes, to learn by being the fly on the wall, albeit at a safe distance. Attending the weekend allowed me to see how all families and family members have their own struggles with dysfunction, pain, and disharmony.

I long remember a simple exchange Dr. Satir and I had. I was trying to express my amazement and gratitude for her willingness- as well as the family's- to risk being out there on display so that others could see it and learn from it. All I could say when I finally shook her hand was just, "This- what your doing- is beautiful." In response, she told me, "It's there- you see it- because it's in you." The beauty of her own unique therapeutic art could be seen just because beauty was in the eye of the beholder.

God, give me the eyes to appreciate your own image in the face of my neighbor.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Psalm 18: Of Deliverance and Resistance

Our Lord is like a good-hearted nurse whose only job is to see the safety of her charge.
Julian of Norwich

Christ is the shepherd and guardian of our souls. (I Peter 25). The fact that we are here is evidence of God's shielding from enemies that seek to do us harm. (Psalm 18:17, 48) If you are survivor of trauma or domestic violence, your physical, mental, and emotional health is grace sufficient for gratitude and thanksgiving.

God is the advocate not the adversary. God promises to be our light so that we can see the path ahead- enough to take the next step. God is pure in love with no hidden agenda, even as we seek God with the one purpose of following, not controlling God. (Psalm 18:25 ff.)

God is the shield not the attacker. (Psalm 18:30). God makes our way safe (18:32). The present is where we face the true enemies of our lives and where we encounter our own self-sabotaging practices that daily threaten to throw us off the path entirely as well as the life we know in God.

But whenever we embark on a path, or seek to continue a journey, the adversary's words are all about diminishing the hope and joy that is set before us. Guilt and shaming play their part and, if we're not careful, they will carry the dreadful melody our spirit ends up singing.

Just because we discover that continual maintenance of the false self is not the way that leads to life doesn't mean we are free from being enticed and choosing the path of least resistance. Choosing to grow into God's image rather than cobbling a false self is difficult if not treacherous going, precisely because it's painful, even terrifying, to face your inner hindrances, sirens, and filthy messes. And to own them as yours is not fun or easy or comforting or convenient.

I choose to look at the warrior parts of Psalm 18 (much of verses 31-45) more as descriptive of a spiritual and inner combat that is daily and persistent. The fight is for our best self in God's love. We are the battlefield and the fight is over us! It's the work of God's image being recovered and renewed and restored in me, a journey that is life-long. The gift of resistance to the false self is the shield God gives us to stay on the journey, to keep moving forward.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesdays Past & Lent 2010

There was an Ash Wednesday several years ago when much of Houston was overwhelmed with rain. No hurricane or even tropical storm, just a rain of over 8"and I was unlucky enough not only to be out in it all day, but also to have had an accident, then flooded the floorboard of the car I rented.

Thanks to the driver of a pickup who nudged and pushed my rented vehicle out of over-run bayou waters, the car's engine was not damaged. I finally made it home in time to exchange my wet shoes for dry ones, then on to church to lead a service of Holy Communion.

My first experiences of Ash Wednesday were as a child- observing parochial school children on their walk home, marked with the ashed cross. By the the time high school rolled around, many wore their ashes for the whole school day, in front of us all. But growing up Methodist, it was a foreign thing to me, the imposition of ashes for Ash Wednesday.

So I'm a latecomer today- not to Lent but Ash Wednesday. The most helpful thing I've heard about the forty days that follow is to discern one habitual pattern of sin to work on, and find someone you can report to regularly, like a spiritual director. It's about turning away from our obstacles toward God. It can also be a barrier in your relationships- or- whatever you're doing that's defacing God's image in you.

The discerning and self-honesty piece is the most important, because even if we take on new spiritual practices, it's way too easy to use them in a way that may contribute to self deceit instead of self awareness. But whatever you do, however you proceed, don't go it alone. Take advantage of trusted clergy peers or a trained director- or both- for support, accountability, and confidentiality.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Clergy Gateway Commandment

In the regionalism that is U.S. United Methodism, my cluelessness betrayed my rust belt roots when I first heard the phrase, "I covet your prayers." What?!? As a student pastor of a North Carolina textile mill town parish, I was a second language learner. Whenever I hear that phrase now, I realize that it's mostly southern pastor-speak for "I need and appreciate your prayers."

Still, it seems that, generally, the biblical prohibition on coveting is dangerously underrated. "You shall not covet," commandment #10, is deceptively listed last. Like so-called gateway drugs leading to deeper addictions, in our American "I want therefore I am" culture, #10 is THE gateway commandment. Or sin. As pastoral leaders, could it be that "you shall not covet" is the hinge upon which the commandments turn-- for our behavior as well as our spirituality?

Remember when Jesus talked about the Decalogue, he noted that adultery was first a spiritual state of wanting and lusting for what's not yours (coveting) before it was really a physical act. And Jesus called this heart- state adultery in fact. (Matthew 5:27-28)

King David's story? His pattern in I Samuel 21 and 25 of wanting what's not his, and devising plans to take it, is illustrated best in the Bathsheba narrative, beginning in II Samuel 11. Here, the sin of coveting leads to adultery, stealing, and murder.

Wanting what's not theirs becomes the downfall of both the Ahab and the Queen in I Kings 21. Here, coveting is a gateway leading to false witness, murder, and finally, the stealing or seizure of the vacated property. We like David's story because of the soap-opera dimension, however, coveting is the beginning of the end for both David and Ahab/Jezebel.

It could also be that this spiritual state of coveting makes it impossible to be grateful for our blessings or to discover our true gifts. Especially for those who work professionally on church staffs, it's too easy to want what others have. Or for pastors to crave an appointment to Trinity Cathedral instead of Chitlin' Switch.

So--- admire others' spirituality, gifts, and ministry. Above all, appreciate your God- given gifts and the life God has given you! In love and holy purpose, own the one and only ministry to which the Spirit is inviting you- YOURS!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Weekly Moravian: The Virtue of Trying

Last Sunday after the Epiphany
Transfiguration of our Lord

Watchword for the Week -- And when they looked up,
they saw no one except Jesus alone. Matthew 17:8

Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.
Ephesians 5:10

Corporate Lumburgs say, "Before we do anything, we should first ask ourselves, 'Is it good for the company?'" What about Dunder-Mifflin?

The apostle Paul directs that we first "Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord." It's the question that spiritual direction and discernment asks. This one simple movement, if practiced regularly, has the potential of transfiguring us. Like leaven, if and when added, it will change the dough of our existence.

Before you try anything else, make the effort to discover and discern what the Holy Spirit wants. Not what pleases the institution or even what makes for a good survival strategy. We miss out on spiritual aliveness because we replace seeking God's way with favorable results. The power that permeates and transfigures our life lies in at least trying to please God.

What can transform the relationships I have with people, self, God, ministry, money, church, family? With what shall any of us come before the Lord? I have grand designs- just think of all the neat stuff I can do to show that I am real and hence prove my true discipleship of Jesus.

Try this first: "God, what do you want me to do?" Ask the question. It will change your life. And doing so may be the most appropriate beginning- and ending- for whatever disciplines we take up this Lent.

God of the whole universe,
you chose to reveal yourself to us in Jesus.
In Christ, your love for all is plainly seen.
Guide your church toward a vision illuminated by this love,
a vision of peace and justice.

Oldies but Goodies