...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

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Catch the Lift of a Full Sail

Nothing like the sight of spinnakers in full bloom!
"Perhaps one day it will be a pleasure to remember even these things."  
The Aeneid, as quoted in Souls in Full Sail. 

With wit, wisdom, and imagination, author Emilie Griffin has penned a Christian spirituality for the later years in Souls in Full Sail. Published in 2011, the volume is a great example of two of the oft mentioned gifts of years, living reflectively, and creatively telling your story.  The book is a spiritual memoir, one that introduces readers to author's family and mentors, as well as the important seasons and places of her life. The overarching theme seems so basic to Christian spirituality: how can I grow closer to God?   

Early in the book, Griffin writes on her own mother's life, and how caring for her mother in the years before death changed her. It's often and only in caring for others in their winter seasons that we recognize our own aging. Perhaps for the first time we see our lives limited by a myriad of relationships, responsibilities, and necessities.  

The sailing metaphor for life's journey is well chosen and developed throughout the book. Especially easy to appreciate for anyone living near a great body of water, Griffin's use of  "eastering" in chapter 9 is a stirring metaphor for the spiritual journey in Christ. The term is nautical in origin and simply means to turn one's craft toward the east. But it first came to Griffin from a poem by Gerald Manley Hopkins, where he writes:
Let him easter in us
Be a dayspring to the dimness in us
Be a crimson cresseted east.

If this is what it means to live with a depth of purpose and soul the only life we are given, then outside of Scripture itself, how better can you describe it? 

There's also solid teaching on the basic Christian spiritual practice of prayer. Prayer becomes less and less a "clinging onto to the experiences of consolation and desolation" and more "a fastening onto the Lord." Getting older is another surrender, the author states. But it's a gift having it's own unique complexion. A great catalyst for discussion is the seven "moods" of prayer that Griffin sets forth in her chapter on the spiritual life.

Perhaps the best chapter is the chapter on our fears. The question Griffin asks, "When was I ever free?" is one with which every wise adult needs to grapple.  Because many of the temptations that would lure us are false promises of freedom: the affair and the business or financial transgression. And then there's fame, which Milton called the "last infirmity of noble mind." In the end, our search for freedom is found in a relationship "where we are loved, accepted, and in the deepest sense, secure." Thus, "coming to know God is a move toward freedom."

The book will be very useful in spiritual direction, both with individuals and in groups. There are some excellent questions for reflection at the end of each chapter, plus notes pointing readers to Griffin's spiritual and literary mentors, with the possibility of further reading in any or all of the sources cited.  

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Age of Shooting from the Hip

Posts, once they are out there, cannot be recalled.   

Bud Shaw, a writer for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, has written something honest about generation Twitter:  "Twitter is the Wild West. The posse always travels with a rope to facilitate dragging you through town behind a horse"     

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Sign- Driven Spirituality is a Trap (2)

“Numbers aren’t important.” Really? Tell that to Jesus and his parables of growth and fruitfulness. Tell it to the Acts of the Apostles. Tell it to John Wesley. Will Willimon 

Why do we treat God's grace as a measurable commodity?
Maybe numbers are truly important, but a fixation on the measurable- where does that lead us?  Do we begin to lift up the sign as the main measure of ourselves- and God? 
"Elijah, how many really witnessed Yahweh showing up Baal when that altar sacrifice was zapped? How many real prophets of Baal were slayed today? Are those good numbers?"

 These are the questions of a sign-driven faith. The effect for Elijah was spiritual desolation. I Kings 19:4.  Once Elijah hears from God, it isn't in any of the normal ways of weather, plate tectonics, or pyrotechnics, but in the white noise or "sound the sheer silence." I Kings 19:2 

What if living in the Kingdom of God is more about dropping our categories of what is cost effective and leveraging scarce resources- and adopting God's economy of grace? If we decided to live into God's realm, we'd have a chance to be more generous and grateful, because with Jesus' God, there is always enough grace and love for everyone. 

This God enables the good stewards to let go of "their" talents in the first place- in order to invest it, so that it can make more. Matt. 25  Acts? The Acts records that "the Lord added to their number those who were being saved." Acts 2:47  So, while telling people how popular you are helps, one thing Acts teaches us,  the fact is, that the Lord is the One overseeing the harvest and adding to the numbers. 

No I cannot reduce any New Testament parable or the Acts of the Apostles to a call to simply add more numbers to our church rolls, or not to.  Once you have done that, you lose the radical message of God's over-abundance, and the generosity of the Spirit's gifts. You ruin any chance for fruitfulness because you have made everything about yourself, your survival, not about the One who is super abundant with grace and goodness. Psalm 23 

If we only learn to read the numbers, we'll be all right, we're told. But sharing the life to which God has called you does not first require better measurable data. In fact, it may first require only one or two others with whom you can be yourself, gathered in Jesus' name. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

Sign-Driven Spirituality is a Trap (1)

Over time, the addict is forced to "up the ante" when the fix does not work. You need more and more of anything that does not work. If something is really working for you , then less and less will satisfy you. On my good days, a grasshopper can convert me.

Richard Rohr,
Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps

Living by hype puts a soul at risk. That's probably one of the reasons Jesus seemed impatient with sign-driven faith. The religion of the next fix burns itself out, not unlike the seed in rocky soil. See the Parable of the Sower in Luke 8.

The good thing about signs and wonders is that they attract big crowds and make mega churches. Increasing crowds is measurable, a gold standard of success, fruitfulness, and effectiveness for church leaders and pastors.

It also makes for idolatry. And Jesus thought very differently about the crowds attracted to him, many who were there only to catch the latest magic show. Before he ever started preaching, Jesus squared off with the satanic source of the temptation to reduce his mission and ministry to a circus. Once Jesus' ministry is rolling along, the temptation is ever-present. Luke 11:29 ff. and Matthew 12:38 ff.

Isn't this really about our penchant for making everything in the universe about ourselves? Living in the uproar, we can reinforce the worst in us. We try to decipher what is really life-giving from an exploding Twitter following, and how the noise we create can make our lives more, not less, free. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

Draw Water for Your Spirit

For we are God's bliss, for God delights in us without end, and so, by God's grace, will we delight in God.

Julian of Norwich

...we exist because of an utterly unconditional generosity.

Rowan Williams

Joy's very being is lost in the great tide of selfless delight- creation's delight in the infinite loving of God...joy is a fruit of the Spirit, not of our gratified emotions.

Evelyn Underhill

More saturated than a sponge soaking with water, you have been absorbed by the Divine mystery, by absolute bliss, joy , and happiness. You live, breathe, and work in a creation and world that is God-immersed.

Edward Hays

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Hospice and Palliative Care

Hospice provides comfort care for terminally ill patients with six months or less to live. People who receive hospice care typically do not receive curative treatment for their underlying disease.

Palliative care is symptoms management for anyone with a serious illness. It can be provided at any age and any stage of an illness, along with curative treatment. Palliative care is not dependent on prognosis.

Palliative care normally addresses issues related pain, discomfort, nausea, appetite or weight loss, shortness of breath, depression, confusion, weakness, and sleep problems.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Confidentiality is not secrecy

Appropriate confidentiality breeds health in a congregation. It fosters confidence in the leaders, trust within the congregation, and encourages healthy behavior and accountability that builds up people and strengthens relationships.  Secrecy fosters fear, anxiety, mistrust, gossip, and dysfunction in the congregation. It destroys accountability and gives space for untruths to develop which produces many victims.  Secrecy affects church growth. Finally secrecy hampers the congregation’s ability to come before God and allow the Spirit to move in the midst of the faith community.

Nancy Kauffmann, Denominational Minister for the Mennonite Church, USA

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Taxonomy of Resilient Pastoral Ministry

In Resilient Ministry, we are given a comprehensive formula for clergy recovery. Written by Bob Burns, Tasha D. Chapman, and Donald C. Guthrie (2013), the volume is presented like a doctoral project. It reports on seven years of research coming out of their Pastoral Summit meetings with pastors. Their research includes the authors' own experiences and literature surveys. The book is probably as impressionistic as it is scientific.  

The "Pastoral Summits," and subsequent reporting were funded largely by the Lily Endowment. The book discusses the main themes which the authors argue arose out of these group experiences: spiritual formation, self care, emotional and cultural intelligence, marriage and family, leadership and management. 

There are plentiful quotes from Pastoral Summit participants, in fact, nearly everything in the book is referenced by multiple quotes. Along with the themes discussed, the book explains in painstaking detail the selection rationale for Summit groups, and offers the same guidelines for starting your own clergy/cohort group in one of the Appendices. 

As thorough an argument the book supplies for their recommended design for clergy groups, it seems  finally limited to the evangelical culture of the authors, such as including - requiring- spouses to be participants in the Summits. In many evangelical churches, the husband and wife are considered to be the pastoral team. Yet, the book still cautions against the bad habit of dumping on the nearest available person you trust, which is usually spouse.    

My conclusion is that the book will possibly be more popular among academics and administrators and committees who look for a diagnosis of resiliency and improved retention in the pastoral ranks. Some words church bureaucrats love to throw around - like fruitfulness- are in these pages too. However, for the sake of our own survival and more- we need not- nor should we- wait until all the authors' conditions are in place before we get serious about the health of our own soul and reach out to others in community. 

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Having been in ordained ministry in the UMC for 34 years, I've experienced the truth that although, clergy are frequently present for others, no one can offer what they don't have.That's why if you're a clergy person, you need someone who will listen to you. Not the random 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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If you want a formula for making the best of the less-than-perfect and making the most of what you have been given, then begin to compare your lot to what you were before you were born, and it will empower you with wonder every time. John Claypool

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