Monday, January 31, 2011

Wait, wait, there's still time...why spiritual direction matters to clergy

Toward the end of Working the Angles, Eugene Peterson touched on the changes he noticed when he began meeting with a Spiritual Director.

First, he experienced an increase in spontaneity. someone was now shouldering part of load to attend to his spiritual condition, assessing health and pathology. It wasn't just his responsibility. I take this to also mean that he could also afford to be less super serious.

Second, in spiritual direction, he found more concern for who he was as a person, not what he did (and I add not what someone else wanted or needed from him). He could bring the totally mundane and ordinary stuff to the spiritual director and not bore others with the nuances of his every day life. The third thing Peterson mentions is the immediacy and timing and intimacy of a conversation- as opposed to reading the pages of a book, albeit a spiritual classic. This is not to say that spiritual reading is unimportant- it just cannot offer what spiritual direction can.

What I like most about spiritual direction is its ongoing call to live life at a deeper level, where the water currents are stronger and more life-giving. For the pastor who works, ministers, and lives from crisis to crisis, that invitation is very attractive. Because pastors do think in terms of the next crisis. Thank God, we share many joyful moments with others too. Yet spiritual direction offers an invitation to not be so driven by the extremes of crisis and jubilation. We can easily feed off of these two poles. Does that really work long term? No, life is mostly made up of faithfulness and love on just another Monday, the content of spiritual direction.

In our relationships too, it's just not fair to expect spouse, child, parent, friend, or parishioner to provide for us what a spiritual director is trained and called and equipped to do: listen to the stirrings of our spirit, and to pray with us and for us. We do this in a setting where the wisdom offered is for our spiritual benefit, where we are the recipient and not the initiator and provider.

If you do not have someone in your life who can listen to you in this way, whether or not you have a spiritual director, the easy suggestion is to find someone who can. It is normal to speak with several spiritual directors before finding one that will work best for you. Take your time- there is no crisis, remember? Besides, it's only January 31, 2011, which means your search can begin while it is officially a new year!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Why the Bad Reputation of "Lone-Ranger" Ministry?

Being a "lone-ranger" in ministry has long been one of the deadly sins of church consultants and leadership gurus. I just have to ask, why?

After all, the guy did good. Stop beating up on him. The metaphor is a poor one and a misnomer anyway. Dude was not alone. He hung heavily with Tonto, his Native American friend, companion, and guide.

Like steroids in baseball, we get it: lone-ranger = baaad, non-lone ranger= goood. So if the lone-ranger wasn't really that bad as a super-hero, why does the metaphor to ministry keep happening. I can only make a guess that those who use the term really know what they're taking about by being there themselves. Maybe they haven't seen the show.

No, I really don't think Lone Ranger was ever a worthy model for ministry, for good or ill. We could say the same thing for Superman and Superwoman and the Power Rangers. It seems that many, many more clergy of all ages and genders and ethnic backgrounds are really closer to patterning their work after these super-heroes, with all the dangerous messianic pretension that implies.

Too, a posture of messiah-ship, where the universe unravels or revolves around "my" ministry, is the real precursor to spiritual boredom, malaise, and deadness. And there are harmful consequences for everyone else who has to live and work with the messiah- in- you!

All this is is to say that the center is not in anything I do or can do. The center is whatever ministry God in Jesus is already doing, first in you. And my choosing to listen and act in concert with that movement constitutes my part.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Joy is Possible Wherever You Are on the Journey

Last week, January 6, or Epiphany, marks the culmination of the kings’ long journey from the East, their long-awaited arrival at Bethlehem, at the child Jesus’ house. When the star finally stopped, the narrative in Matthew 2 notes that these wise ones were “filled with joy.” It's too easy to completely miss joy at this point in the narrative and maybe at this point in January, 2011.

There’s a certain relief in finishing anything. But the text clearly states that the outcome of the trip was one of joy as the travelers were finally able to present their gifts to the boy king. This has helped to assess things spiritually at least. How did December go? Was there something life-giving in it? Did I receive any of the peace and love and joy that I wished others and also sang, taught, prayed, and talked about over the last month?

It is God’s joy in us, an overabundance of it, that moves us toward joy. Authentic joy is our birthright as beloved children of God. It's too easy to miss the result of the journey. Part of the journey is receiving joy. Or at least, agreeing with God. And if whatever spiritual practice we’re observing isn’t bearing this fruit, maybe it's time to discover something that can help us move closer in the direction of joy.

Oldies but Goodies