...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

Friday, August 21, 2015

It's not about being perfect

The beautiful and fruitful vineyards near Westfield, N.Y.

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 with baggage in English that distorts the original meaning of the Greek.  

Moral perfection is unfortunately what  often comes to mind. Garrison Keillor once quipped that when a pastor mentions to the congregation that "I'm only human," 95% of the congregation immediately thinks adultery.  While character does matter, the point of the exercise is becoming aware of and integrating our character flaws, instead of denying them or projecting them onto others.

Teleios means reaching the end for which we are created. It is not about exercising flawless judgment or always making the best decisions. It is about finding our completion in God's love and fulfilling God's purpose. Being restored  in God's love centers on our intention, because action flows from what we intend and what we want. The question teleios asks of us is simply, how are my actions being shaped more and more from loving intention?


When Clarence Jordon used the word "be mature" in the Cotton Patch Gospel, he described the goal of Christian spirituality. A mature plant is ready to fulfill the purpose for which it was created- to bear fruit: "You didn’t choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you could go and produce fruit and so that your fruit could last." John 15: 16
 
Possible evening examen:
  1. In what ways did I fulfill God's purpose today?
  2. How was today unfulfilled or incomplete?
  3. In what ways were my intentions formed, transformed by God's love?

 

 

 

 
 
 



Thursday, August 20, 2015

Shadow Missions

Interesting topic, omitting the dark side of Esther
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 spiritually mature and centered.

I like Ortberg's development of this theme, though his reading of the Bible is more personal and pietistic. For example, though he details the personal stories of Esther and Samson, among others, what could be a very legitimate case for shadow missions of nations, is left out. That, in my opinion, is a critique that is not without relevance for the church in a world where people and nations uncritically rely on violence and sing gleefully about bombing other countries.

So while Esther is a great character study about overcoming the shadow mission, is Esther's heroics subverted by the larger shadow mission of a nation that is not only allowed to defend itself, but also, given the right to kill all of their enemies, including women and children (read, Esther 8:11-13)? In this case, it's the wounded and terrified who then become those who would wound and terrify others. The fruit of this thinking is more dead bodies (9:5-17), and one of the goriest passages in Scripture.

Reflective Christians will enjoy Ortberg's talent in telling the story of the shadow mission, but I believe will be left hanging as a result of screening out the rest of the story.

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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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