Showing posts from 2015

Try Hard to Come Before Winter

Say hello to Prisca and Aquila and the household of Onesiphorus. Erastus stayed in Corinth, and I left Trophimus in Miletus because of his illness.Try hard to come to me before winter. Eubulus, Pudens, Linus, Claudia, and all the brothers and sisters say hello. II Timothy 4: 19-21 CEB

You will never look back and regret that you were too present to a frail and failing parent, grandparent, or friend. You will never wish you hadn't attended your daughter's recital or your son's little league game. You will never wish you hadn't served the Sacrament to a senior friend in hospice.

The plea from St. Paul to his younger friend and partner in ministry, Timothy, is one that echoes down the centuries to counter our lack of urgency and timeliness: "Come to me before winter." Paul was staring at his impending end, and a last visit with Timothy could not be put off until better traveling weather permitted.

There are some things we can choose. We learn to do what is in our …

Opposite of Love- Complete Indifference

If it be so, O listener, dear to him in all his visions, try to bear in mind the stern realities from which these shadows come; and in your own sphere- none is too wide, and none too limited for such an end- endeavor to correct, improve, and soften them. So may the New Year be a happy one to you, happy to many more whose happiness depends on you! So may each year be happier than the last, and not the meanest of our brethren and sisterhood debarred their rightful share in what our Great Creator formed them to enjoy. The Chimes: A Goblin Story

A Christmas Caroland The Chimes are two of Dickens' masterful Holiday works. The Chimes is a darker piece, set on the eve of a New Year, it's about indifference and passivity in the face of social misery The people of privilege, those of repute, try to ease their guilty consciences. For example, Sir Joseph serves pudding on New Years to the "deserving" poor, where the recipients are truly at the mercy and whim of the "Poor Ma…

Deconstructing the "Good" Leader

Gradually I came to see that the results which can be called good are few. And they cannot be the criterion for whether or not what we do is worth-while. It is hopeless to try to weigh up the good, the bad, the futile, and the merely harmless, and hope that there will be enough of the justify all the rest. Elisabeth Elliot, quoted in Servants and Fools In Servants and Fools (2015), Arthur Boers launches a sharp critique of the Christian leadership genre- and constructs a consistently Biblical theology of leadership. Boers, who holds the R. J. Benardo Family Chair of Leadership at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto, describes the inadequacy of the endless supply of church leadership volumes, presenting easy to follow recipes for effectiveness and success.   So many books are simply business manuals with an anecdotal use of a Moses or Nehemiah thrown in: " 'best practices' drawn from Moses leading people from slavery through the wilderness do not translate neatly to what…

Holiday Self-Care: N-O-E-L

›Notice the effect of environment and activities on your energy level

›Observe your normal routine. Keep doing the things that support and strengthen you.

Expect and accept changes in the way you celebrate and keep an open mind.

›Limit your expectations you place on yourself and others. If old traditions don’t work, try starting a new one.

Praying Aidan's Compline this Advent

Compline reminds us to face our fears, give thanks for protection from harm, and pray for a restful sleep and good dreams, releasing our trust to the Almighty.
Kenneth V. Peterson, Prayer as Night Falls.

With all the darkness in the world, how do we sleep well at night? How about replacing an anxious hearing of the late news and a rehashing of problems- with- praying the Compline? In Compline, we get to choose trust over fear and anxiety. No, the idea is not to get a measurable of "better sleep" over taking pills, etc.  But think of this: when Compline is used in monastic communities, it is the last word spoken or heard until daybreak. Each night, we too, can let the last words on our mind be the words of Compline.   A better order for corporate Compline is here. The prayer below is The Compline of Aidan adapted for private use, from the Northumbria Community.

 O Christ, Son of the living God,
may Your holy angels guard our sleep,
may they watch over us as we rest
and hove…

We want answers, Jesus tells stories

  A disciple once complained, "You tell us stories, but you never reveal their meaning to us." Said the master, "How would you like it if someone offered you fruit and masticated it before giving it to you.  Anthony De Mello, The Song of the Bird
Who has not found the Heaven below Will fail of it above. God's residence is next to mine,
His furniture is love.
Emily Dickinson

The disciples came up and asked, “Why do you tell stories?”  Matthew 13: 10 The Message

In the insightful movie Lincoln, the President's frequent break amidst an anxious deliberation- to tell a story- becomes a source of irritation for some of his cabinet insiders, especially those who want clarity instead of a story.

As a master teacher knows the students best of all, you have to wonder if Jesus was sugar lacing the bitter pill of the disciples' own lack of understanding. It's not the crowds, lacking in seeing, hearing, and understanding, who need the rather simple metaphors of…

It's not about being perfect

 Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete. Matthew 5:48 CEB
There is a softening of heart that comes with age, not out of our virtue so much as out of experience. By seventy, we not only know that no one is perfect, we know that no one can be. Not we, not they, not anybody. In fact, we learn as the years go by that life is nothing but a series of exceptions to be reckoned with, to be mediated, to be understood. Our standards are only that- standards. They are not absolutes, and those who seek to make them so soon fall in the face of their own rigidities. Joan Chittister, The Gift of Years  (bold added for emphasis)
The Common English Bible nails it. In using "complete" to describe the character and example of the Heavenly Father's love, the translation is congruent with the New Testament understanding of teleios. Other versions have "perfect," such as the RSV. The truth is that perfection comes…

Shadow Missions

John Ortberg, in Overcoming Your Shadow Mission, is relentless in developing this theme as the pitfall of many a promising leader. That he follows the experience of the shadow mission as it appears throughout Scripture and describes how shadow missions function in individuals, groups, churches, and organizations is one of the strengths of the book. The exercises he provides for persons and groups seem to be workable or at least adaptable, as well.
What is a "shadow mission?" I see a shadow mission as anything that diverts our energy and focus away from the ultimate purpose or mission of our lives, or the life of a congregation. And it appears a little differently for everyone. We loose sight of why we're doing what we're doing. The ego is endlessly creative in subverting the holy and life-giving in our lives to some meager purpose, self-serving as well as short-sighted.
For spiritual types, the shadow mission could be present in a narcissism that boasts in being s…

Covenant Friendship- are you a rescuer?

But I have heard many people tell about having people stop recuing them, coming to the end of themselves, and finding God and sobriety at the bottom. In fact,  rescuers have often been the thing that kept these people from hitting bottom, finding God, and sobriety! Jim Jackson, Covenant Friendship
In Covenant Friendship: An Ex Loner's Guide to Authentic Friendships (2015), Dr. Jim Jackson brings his many seasons of pastoral ministry and recovery to bear on the topic of friendship. The result is a rare coalescing of rich biblical insight and pastoral wisdom hard won.  
The persistent theme of the book is simply put: "We need friends- people- who choose to share their lives with us. Without this chosen intimacy, we are spiritually and emotionally malnourished." p.68 Jackson admits that there's only space in our lives for a few covenant friends, so while the book is about friendship, most of the content will relate to intimate friendships: "We all need four intima…

Dechurched: "The Done-s"

In Church Refugees, Josh Packard and Ashleigh Hope have written a ground breaking analysis of the "dones," those who are done with church but not with God. These folks are not dropping the Christian faith- just their affiliation with churches. The book does introduce us to the Dones, and more importantly, what we can begin to learn from them.  
The study summarizes the themes that coalesced from 100 in depth interviews. Interviewees were of all ages over 25, included laity, former church staff members, and clergy. This is not a book about numbers, but rather, a "description of the processes people go through when they decide to leave the church, what they do when they leave, and what they ultimately want out of church." Who are the Dones? They are reluctant to leave, and try many churches before leaving church altogether. They are not angry, nor are they driven by one negative experience. Authors discovered, "almost without exception," that they were &quo…

Whatever Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stronger- really?

Even if these words of Nietzsche function as an encouragement for some, their actual truth is debatable. Too, the phrase is not necessarily helpful to anyone who does not gain strength from trauma.

Because trauma is stored in the body's memory, the "limbic loop," one does not just "get over it." Repeated head trauma does not make the brain stronger but rather, it can severely and permanently disable it with certain dementias.

Hyper- vigilance can be a lingering effect of surviving traumatic events. Hyper- vigilance places the body in default fight or flight mode. Hans Selye, the endocrinologist who pioneered the physiological basis of the stress response, concluded that stress hormones do not strengthen the body but weaken it. With the body on regular high alert, panic attacks break through- seemingly out of nowhere.   

There's a thoughtful post in support of this quote, suggesting that, while Post Traumatic Growth is possible, it is not automatic. We have …

Recovery: You had those ruby slippers all along

Ever since Dorothy's farmhouse landed on the Wicked Witch of the East, Dorothy had the vaunted ruby slippers- and the way home- already available to her.

She could have returned home anytime she wanted, good witch Glinda finally revealed. It would have made for a very short movie if Glinda had divulged earlier. 
Half asleep, we mouth affirmations and sing those songs with their baby pablum-like words that loop around without end.  Does it all function as the counterpart of wearing the mysterious slippers? Are we totally unaware of the gift and possibility they bring?
We go back to find our way home, because it's in the beginning that God created us in God's image and likeness. There nothing to be added or deleted to make that any more - or less- true. This was true when God called us out darkness into light and life, and it is true to this moment.    A beautiful parallel to this affirmation in the Gospel is when Jesus declares that we are light. He doesn't say we ha…

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.

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 disci…

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- 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. An addiction proves you can never get enough of what's not working.

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 …

Spiritual progress is usually hidden

But when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doingso 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

Like th…

Engage Practices for Self Awareness & Authenticity

Be careful that you don’t practice your religion in front of people to draw their attention. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 6:1 CEB  After the hedonism of Mardi Gras, it's that time of the year when the spiritual practices will soon be in vogue. Again.

The reading from Matthew 6 is a reminder that the practices are really nothing in themselves. After all, prayer, giving, and fasting are practices embedded  in  many religions outside of Christianity. If the practices buttress my spiritual accomplishments, they are just another occasion for hypocrisy and pretense. Anything we do in the name of faith can be subverted by our own ego, our need to say, along with Little Jack Horner, "what a proud boy am I." It's too easy to present ourselves in way that is overblown- where the image we project goes far beyond where we're actually living. Others can see through the pretense, and Jesus called that hypocrisy. According to Jesus,…

Joy is in letting go

Almost every negative emotion you experience is the direct outcome of an attachment.
Anthony De Mello, The Way to Love
This is one of the many great stories that Anthony De Mello tells. It's in his book, Rediscovering Life. The book was published in 2012 to mark the 25th year of his passing.
 A man who was moving from one village to another sees what is called in India a sannyasi.

Here was this wandering sannyasi, and the villager, when he meets him, says, "I cannot believe this." The sannyasi says, "What is it you cannot believe?" The villager says, "I had a dream about you last night. I dreamt that the Lord Vishnu said to me, 'Tomorrow morning, you will leave the village around 11 o'clock and you'll run into this wandering sannyasi.' And here, I've met you."
"What else did the Lord Vishnu say to you?" asks the sannyasi. The man replies, "He said to me, 'If the man gives you a precious stone he has, you will be…

Dementia: What Congregations and Clergy Can Do


Articles: (review of book,the Second Forgetting) congregations can do)
Congregations and Faith Communities:
Trust that there is a monumental need in your area, if not also in your congregation. Estimates (Powerful Tools for Caregivers) state there are approximately 100,000 family caregivers in the Houston metro area alone. Advocate for this ministry in your parish. Start a conversation. A solid ministry to the frail elderly is an authentic witness, and a much overlooked path to reach adult children and their families. Provide practical help, such as respite care with option for support groups for caregivers.Provide educational resources for families (financing care, legal and medical). Learn to partner with other groups, such as Interfaith CarePartners (Houston), the Alzheimer’s Association, and others. Suggest a free care consultation with the Alzheimer’s Association…

Hope & Healing are possible


One problem with depression of all kinds is diagnosis. Because shades of darkness surround me like the Rothco Chapel paintings, how am I to discern what level of darkness I'm experiencing? Ignore the words said in ignorance: You're too young for depressionPastors are not supposed to be depressedDepression is a sign of moral failure and spiritual weaknessDon't be so selfishI can gut it out on my own
Listen to words that can truly encourage you:
Help is availableTaking care of myself is not selfish or weakI don't have to live like this I can get better   I am worth it Our system clearly needs healing, if it is producing more sickness and burn out than health. Clergy depression is taboo and a problem to be fixed if you listen to anyone concerned about clergy retention. Not too long ago, I heard a seminary dean bemoan clergy taking prescribed anti-depressants.

But compassion can be described as feeling with someone in their pain. Do clergy have some sort of invisib…