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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Under the Shadow of the Throne -- Remembering Claire

Given I have passed the half-century mark, I rejoice that I still live life to the fullest: exercising every day, trying new recipes, devouring books, traveling, taking on new work opportunities, stepping into new cultures and friendships... I feel remarkably blessed. 

But at the same time, I reflect daily on the many people I have known, the sadness I have seen and experienced, the lessons learned. Today provides that in spades as I remember my dear friend Claire Carey, who would have been 40 years old today. Wow.


I have posted this photo of Claire here before, but I never tire of looking at it. It captures her perfectly. The way she threw her head back for a hearty laugh, the huge and welcoming smile, the radiant red hair, the perfectly composed outfit... all of those things were so uniquely HER. Her presence drew others in, and so many -- students, family, colleagues, church members, medical personnel, friends -- considered her an important person in their lives.

Make no mistake, Claire had her faults. She was remarkably stubborn; one of my favorite phrases with her was "Now don't go redhead on me." She was ALWAYS late, in part because she was a perfectionist. Though those things frustrated me at the time, I now look back on such things fondly, as core aspects of who she was. Isn't that interesting.

About two weeks ago I went to a book release party by Anne Lamott, a favorite author of mine. I'm sure I would have asked Claire to go with me. One of the reasons I love reading Lamott's writing is that she has walked me through grief in a way no other author has. In the opening essay of her newest book, Small Victories, she does it again as she describes a friend Barbara who has ALS, or Lou Gehrig's Disease:

First of all, friends like this may not even think of themselves as dying, although they
clearly are, according to recent scans and gentle doctors' reports. But no, they see themselves as fully alive. They are living and doing as much as they can, as well as they can, for as long as they can.

The entire essay describes much of what I learned in walking through life with someone like Claire dying more quickly than they should. Granted, her stubbornness maddened me at times, but that redheadedness is part of what kept her alive for 10 years after her initial diagnosis. I appreciated, and still do, appreciate life far more deeply from knowing her in and through her death. Lamott says this:

When you are on the knife's edge -- when nobody knows exactly what is going
to happen next, only that it will be worse -- you take in today.

Exactly. Claire taught me, more than anyone else, how to take in today. And some four years after losing her, I still do that. And for that, though I still ache at the memory of her and blink twice to keep from tearing up, I am so grateful. I am changed.

I read this hymn this morning, and thought of Claire:

    Our God, our help in ages past,
    Our hope for years to come;
    Our shelter from the stormy blast,
    And our eternal home.

    Under the shadow of thy throne,
    Thy saints have dwelt secure;
    Sufficient is thine arm alone,
    And our defence is sure.

    Before the hills in order stood,
    Or earth receiv'd her frame;
    From everlasting thou art God;
    To endless years the same.

    A thousand ages, in thy sight,
    Are like an evening gone;
    Short as the watch that ends the night,
    Before the rising sun.

    Our God, our help in ages past,
    Our hope for years to come,
    Be thou our guard while troubles last,
    And our eternal home.
    ... Isaac Watts

I look forward to being "under the shadow of God's throne" with our dear Claire, and am so grateful she awaits us there. I am blessed that part of the amazing equation of God's care in my life was in allowing me to know Claire. And I pray that I may honor her memory every day by stubbornly pressing on as she did. You are remembered Claire, and missed as much as the day we lost you. God, thank you for being our help in ages past, and we lean on you again today as we think of the Redhead.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Community, Communication & Compassion 11-22-14

I am intrigued at how so many of the things I read this week, coming from a wide variety of sources, all seem to point to the intricate dynamics of relationship, community and getting along with one another.

Our world is fraught with discord, war, hatred and strife. How I wish as Christians that we could be models of unity, forgiveness, peace and unconditional love. May we look to Jesus as our role model and source for such profound transformation and witness.


If we are as busy as we pretend to be, then we are too busy to allow ourselves to be affected by the pain and suffering of our world. We are too busy to be addressed personally by the social, political or ecological disasters occurring in our relationships. We are too busy to listen to our own feelings or those of others. Our busyness insulates us from care and from compassion.
Sr. Janet Ruffing


My recent Westmont chapel message on compassion for our community
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S4t79DJdxkY


Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
James 1:17


Waiting is essential to the spiritual life.  But waiting as a disciple of Jesus is not an empty waiting.  It is a waiting with a promise in our hearts that makes already present what we are waiting for.  We wait during Advent for the birth of Jesus.  We wait after Easter for the coming of the Spirit, and after the ascension of Jesus we wait for his coming again in glory.  We are always waiting, but it is a waiting in the conviction that we have already seen God's footsteps.

Waiting for God is an active, alert - yes, joyful - waiting.  As we wait we remember him for whom we are waiting, and as we remember him we create a community ready to welcome him when he comes.
Henri Nouwen


It may be that when we no longer know what to do, 
we have come to our real work 
and when we no longer know which way to go, 
we have begun our real journey. 

The mind that is not baffled is not employed. 
The impeded stream is the one that sings.
Wendell Berry


Powerful blog post about racism, Ferguson and where things are... 
This Is What We Mean When We Say It’s About Race — Theology of Ferguson — ow.ly/EzIvV


I am thankful that the Free Methodist Church - USA (@fmchurchusa) is getting it right on the love and hospitality of God http://ow.ly/EFMct


Christ, who said to the disciples "Ye have not chosen me,
but I have chosen you," can truly say to every group of
Christian friends "You have not chosen one another but I have
chosen you for one another." The Friendship is not a reward for
our discrimination and good taste in finding one another out.
It is the instrument by which God reveals to each the beauties
of all the others. They are no greater than the beauties of a
thousand other men; by Friendship God opens our eyes to them.
They are, like all beauties, derived from Him, and then, in a
good Friendship, increased by Him through the Friendship
itself, so that it is His instrument for creating as well as
for revealing. At this feast it is He who spreads the board and
it is He who has chosen the guests. It is He, we may dare hope,
who sometimes does, and always should, preside. Let us not
reckon without our Host.
    ... C. S. Lewis (1898-1963), The Four Loves


Life in community is no less than a necessity for us — ​it is an inescapable ‘must’ that determines everything we do and think. Yet it is not our good intentions or efforts that have been decisive in our choosing this way of life. Rather, we have been overwhelmed by a certainty — ​a certainty that has its origin and power in the Source of everything that exists. We acknowledge God as this Source. We must live in community because all life created by God exists in a communal order and works toward community.
EberhardArnold

Monday, November 17, 2014

Useful resources for ministry and church life 11-17-14

I do not want to inundate you with content, but these articles are stirring the pot for me as I think about and pray for the various projects and ministries I am partnering with... use or lose!

The Rise of the "Dones." Perhaps you've heard of the "rise of the 'Nones,'" those Millennials who are claiming no religious affiliation according to new 2010 census stats. Here is a fascinating article on new research arising out of work with the newly named "Dones," who are those we are now calling "dechurched." Make sure to scroll down a bit through the comments as well, at least up to the point where the author of the article chimes in. Interesting stuff, though a little discouraging at points.

Technology and Rate of Usage in American Congregations. Do not be daunted by the title. I strongly suggest that you download this 12-page PDF. It's loaded with charts and it is not overly wonky and technical. More importantly, it's produced by Scott Thumma, a respected scholar on the dynamics of church growth in the US whom I've appreciated greatly. This article will help you in figuring out where to put attention and time regarding social media, your website, blogging, podcasts, maybe even Yelp reviews.

Making great decisions. I have received a strong recommendation from one of my clients to read Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath, but if you're like me, I've already got a teetering stack of books I need to read, so adding one more freaks me out a teeny bit. However, this much more manageable article, which is an interview between two experts (one of whom authored Switch) on "change management" (who knew?) gave me a TON of things to think about. I especially liked their thoughts on how coming up with at least two alternatives when making a big decision improves your efficacy dramatically.

Starting Missional Churches: Life with God in the Neighborhood by Mark Lau Branson and Nick Warnes. (Full disclosure, I know and love Mark Lau Branson, one of the authors.) So I'm going to contradict myself in the space of a few sentences... On one hand I am saying I have too many books to read, and on the other I'm going to suggest you can't miss this book! I read this a few weeks ago on a short vacation to Yosemite, and frankly could not put it down. It's a perfect combination of theological substance and real-life application. It's warm and engaging to read the several case studies contained within the pages; I enjoyed the many voices that contributed to the conversation in this book. These were pastors I want to get to know and work with. But the meat of this book is sandwiched well at the beginning and end with solid missiological content that motivated and encouraged me. If you do have the bandwidth for one more book, pick this one.

I end with this, a glorious reminder from this morning's reading:

Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 
(James 1:17)

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Selflessness, Soul Care & Simplicity 11-16-14

Since 2009, I have tried, in large and small ways, to simplify my life. Examples:
  • I try to eat locally, organically and sustainably, seeking to eat more according to what God has provided to me in my context, rather than what I "want." 
  • I sold my car in 2010, and rely on my bike and scooter for all local transportation (with an occasional bus ride, and car rentals for out of town). This has taught me a lot about the luxury we have as First World people to be everywhere we want to be on our own terms. 
  • Whenever I purchase something, I do my best to get rid of something. If I buy a pair of shoes, I give away a pair of shoes. If I buy a new coat, I give away an old one. And if I find it too unbearable to part with something, that indicates to me that what I have is just-fine-thank-you-very-much, and I do not need that other "thing."
  • I seek after Sabbath weekly in order to STOP, slow down, reflect, rest and reboot. Life can get going so fast that I can quickly forget my priorities and even my core identity. 
I have found that in simplifying even a little bit, and slowing down, that I can cultivate more discipline in my life. In other words, if I seek after ways to respond more carefully and according to what I truly need rather than what I want, I find that I am that less self-absorbed and more aware of those around me. This in turn also deepens my appetite for God: as I grow in self-control (not trying to meet my every whim), I am able to respond to still, small voice of God, who speaks truth and peace and love into my life in so many ways. Yes.

The quotes that struck me this week all tended to speak to this pursuit of simplicity. Hope you enjoy them.


Fifth-century monk Nilus of Ancyra wrote, “We should remain within the limits imposed by our basic needs and strive with all our power not to exceed them. For once we are carried a little beyond these limits in our desire for the pleasures of life, there is then no criterion by which to check our onward movement, since no bounds can be set to that which exceeds the necessary.”


"This [1 John 4:19] is the sum of all religion, the genuine
model of Christianity. None can say more: why should any one
say less? or less intelligibly?"
(John Wesley, 1703-1791)


We love because he first loved us. 
1John 4:19


Check out this powerful blog by the former president of InterVarsity and Columbia Theological Seminary, Steve Hayner, on his battle with cancer and what he's learning about
faith, God and calling.


Twentieth-century peace activist A. J. Muste often said, 
“There is no way to peace, peace itself being the way.”


There is a manifest want of spiritual influence on the
ministry of the present day. I feel it in my own case, and I
see it in that of others. I am afraid that there is too much of
a low, managing, contriving, maneuvering temper of mind among
us. We are laying ourselves out, more than is expedient, to
meet one man's taste, and another man's prejudices. The
ministry is a grand and holy affair; and it should find in us a
simple habit of spirit, and a holy but humble indifference to
all consequences... The leading defect in Christian ministers is want of a
devotional habit.
    Richard Cecil (1748-1810)

Desert father John Cassian wrote, “If we go into the desert with our faults still hidden within us, they no longer hurt others, but our love of them remains. Of every sin not eradicated, the root is still growing secretly within. If we compare our own strict discipline with the lax practices of another and feel the slightest temptation to puff ourselves up, it proves that the terrible plague of pride is still infecting us. If we still see these signs within, we know that it is not the desire to sin but the opportunity to sin which has vanished.”


If you want to know who you are, watch your feet. 
Because where your feet take you, that is who you are.
Frederick Buechner


We will not doubt that that kingdom has existed from the
moment of creation and will never end. It cannot be "shaken"
and it is totally good. It has never been in trouble and never
will be. It is not something that human beings produce or,
ultimately, can hinder. We do have an invitation to be a part
of it, but if we refuse we only hurt ourselves.
    Dallas Willard (1935-2013), The Divine Conspiracy

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Comfort Food 101

I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver in 2009, and I was sold! I dove head first into eating seasonally and locally, and have not looked back. Admittedly, given that I started in the spring AND I live in Southern California, I got off to a rollicking good start, eating myself silly with smug joy as I chowed through avocados, citrus, berries, tomatoes, corn, loads of spring mix lettuce, tomatillos and so on.

I was so proud as I pushed myself, learning to love kale (before it was the superfood that it is now), collard greens and beets. Everything clipped along smoothly until January, when my CSA basket started containing the same ingredients every week: broccoli, radishes, turnips, parsnips, kohlrabi, cauliflower. These were fine the first week, and maybe even the second, but it started feeling like a really hard slog by the end of the month, and February wasn't much better. They were all rather colorless and bland, chunky and a lot of work...

Thankfully, all was well again once some early season strawberries started showing up. But I'm sad to say that the phrase "winter vegetables" left a bad taste in my mouth, and I still have to rev up the ol' yes-I-want-to-eat-seasonally-and-locally attitude when days start getting shorter and my beloved berries become off limits because now they're starting to arrive from South America rather than nearby.

HOWEVER... not all is lost. I have learned that it just requires a little more planning to realize that winter vegetables are just as delicious as the rest of the year. Tonight's meal was a perfect example. I wish you could have seen the look on my face after the first bite, the third bite, the last bite, the wipe-the-bowl-with-my-finger bite... This recipe is FANTASTIC. Take it slow and savor every morsel because every bit of it, from the melted cheese to the crunch of the breadcrumb topping to the satisfaction of each cauliflower mouthful, is not to be rushed. Thank you Vegetarian Times -- you did it once again!

Mac-and-Cheese-Style Cauliflower
Serves 8

Get all the creamy, cheesy goodness of mac and cheese—without the high starch content of macaroni. To make your own breadcrumbs, tear firm, fresh bread into pieces and whirl in a food processor or blender until crumbs form.

(Should I admit I made a half batch, but split it between 2 people?!)

Ingredients
1 large head cauliflower (1 ½ lb.), cut into medium florets (8 cups) (I added 4 brussels sprouts too!)
2 Tbs. butter or margarine
3 Tbs. all-purpose flour
2 cups low-fat milk
1 clove garlic, minced (1 tsp.)
2 cups grated extra-sharp Cheddar cheese
½ cup nutritional yeast (I added just a half tsp or so of yeast from one of those foil packets of yeast...)
1 pinch cayenne pepper
2 egg yolks
1 ½ cups fresh breadcrumbs (gluten free of course)

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Bring large pot of salted water to a boil. Add cauliflower florets, and boil 5 to 7 minutes, or until just tender. Drain, reserving 1 cup cooking liquid, and set aside.

2. Melt butter in same pot over medium heat. Whisk in flour, and cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Whisk in milk, garlic, and reserved cooking liquid, and cook 7 to 10 minutes, or until sauce is thickened, whisking constantly. Remove from heat, and stir in cheese, nutritional yeast, cayenne pepper, and egg yolks until cheese is melted. Fold in cauliflower.

3. Coat 13- x 9-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Spread cauliflower mixture in baking dish, and sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Spray breadcrumbs with cooking spray. Bake 30 minutes, or until casserole is hot and bubbly and breadcrumbs are crisp and brown.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Quips, Quotes & Questions 11-8-14

The older I get, the more complex and multi-layered my life becomes. No surprise there. But my desire to live with my eyes focused on the prize, Jesus, rather than on the circumstances in front of me, feels more idealistic and less realistic as times goes by. 

The deadly pull to live in crisis, in the "have-to's" has so much weight and gravity to it. To fight against that, to live with heavenly-mindedness, must be a daily discipline, though it seems very elusive and misty sometimes. The quotes from this week compelled me to press on in this daily tug-of-war. Set aside a few minutes to sit on these wise passages, and let them take you to where you want to live.

Life is meant to be lived from a Center, a divine Center. Each one of us can live such a life of amazing power and peace and serenity, of integration and confidence and simplified multiplicity, on one condition—that is, if we really want to. There is a divine Abyss within us all, a holy Infinite Center, a Heart, a Life who speaks in us and through us to the world.
Thomas Kelly


Christ did not come into the world to provide a bastion against suffering, disappointment and death. In his earthly life he experienced the full gamut of the world’s pain and suffering, and was not miraculously delivered from any of them…. The spiritual life is one of active participation in all aspects of earthly existence, vibrant yet terrifying in its glory and agony minute by minute.
Martin Israel



Such a follower of Christ lives in reverence of him and does not take the credit for a good life but, believing that all the good we do comes from the Lord, gives him the credit and thanksgiving for what his gift brings about in our hearts.
Benedict of Nursia, in his Rule for monastic communities



Like every human organization the Church is constantly in danger of corruption. As soon as power and wealth come to the Church, manipulation, exploitation, misuse of influence, and outright corruption are not far away.

How do we prevent corruption in the Church? The answer is clear: by focusing on the poor. The poor make the Church faithful to its vocation. When the Church is no longer a church for the poor, it loses its spiritual identity. It gets caught up in disagreements, jealousy, power games, and pettiness. Paul says, "God has composed the body so that greater dignity is given to the parts which were without it, and so that there may not be disagreements inside the body but each part may be equally concerned for all the others" (1 Corinthians 12:24-25). This is the true vision. The poor are given to the Church so that the Church as the body of Christ can be and remain a place of mutual concern, love, and peace. 
Henri Nouwen


When people attempt to live a double life spiritually, that is, to appear pure on the outside but are not pure in the heart, they are anything but blessed. Their conflicting loyalties make them wretched, confused, tense. Having to keep their eyes on two masters at once makes them cross-eyed, and their vision is so blurred that neither image is clear. But the eyes of the inwardly and outwardly pure are single, that is, focused upon one object, and their sight is not impaired. That’s why Jesus said, “For they shall see God."
Clarence Jordan


Do not think that saintliness comes from occupation; it depends rather on what one is. The kind of work we do does not make us holy, but we may make it holy.
Meister Eckhart, fourteenth-century mystic


Occasionally in life there are those moments of unutterable fulfillment which cannot be completely explained by those symbols called words. Their meanings can only be articulated by the inaudible language of the heart.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Quips, Quotes & Questions 10-26-14

I suggest you take the time to look over some of the lives of some of these people who are quoted. They are astounding saints and worthy role models.

Praying in faith comes from an abiding faith in the Person
prayed to -- the confidence is in Him. It is based on a knowledge of who He is, and on a trusted conviction that He is worthy tobe trusted. Praying in faith is the act of a simple-hearted child of God.



The only Christian way to treat a slave is to set him free.



Never again are we to look at the stars, as we did when we 
were children, 
and wonder how far it is to God. A being outside our world
would be a spectator, looking on but taking no part
in this life where we try to be brave 
despite all the bafflement. A God who created, 
and withdrew, could be mighty,
but he could not be love. 
Who could love a God remote, when
suffering is our lot? 
Our God is closer than our problems, for
they are out there, to be faced; 
He is here, beside us, Emmanuel.
Joseph E. McCabe


Often we hear the remark that we have to live in the world without being of the world.  But it may be more difficult to be in the Church without being of the Church.   Being of the Church means being so preoccupied by and involved in the many ecclesial affairs and clerical "ins and outs" that we are no longer focused on Jesus.  The Church then blinds us from what we came to see and deafens us to  what we came to hear.   Still, it is in the Church that Christ dwells, invites us to his table, and speaks to us words of eternal love. Being in the Church without being of it is a great spiritual challenge.
Henri Nouwen


If prayer is not a play of the religious fantasy, or a
routine task, it must be the application of faith to a concrete
actual and urgent situation. Only remember that prayer does not
work by magic, and that stormy desire is not fervent, effectual
prayer. You may be but exploiting a mighty power; whereas you
must be in real contact with the real God. It is the man that
most really has God that most really seeks God.
    ... P. T. Forsyth (1848-1921)


Andre Trocmé, who pastored the remarkable Le Chambon community during World War II, said, “Nonviolence was not a theory superimposed upon reality; it was an itinerary that we explored day after day in communal prayer and in obedience to the commands of the Spirit.”


We may have as much of God as we will. Christ puts the key
of the treasure chamber into our hand, and bids us take all
that we want. If a man is admitted into the bullion vault of a
bank, and told to help himself, and comes out with one cent,
whose fault is it that he is poor? Whose fault is it that
Christian people generally have such scanty portions of the
free riches of God?
    Alexander Maclaren (1826-1910)


Let our whole body, then, be preserved in Christ Jesus; and let everyone be subject to his neighbor. Let the strong not despise the weak, and let the weak show respect to the strong. Let the rich man provide for the wants of the poor; and let the poor man bless God, because he has given him a community that can provide for his needs.
Clement of Rome



The Church often wounds us deeply.  People with religious authority often wound us by their words, attitudes, and demands.  Precisely because our religion brings us in touch with the questions of life and death, our religious sensibilities can get hurt most easily.   Ministers and priests seldom fully realize how a critical remark, a gesture of rejection, or an act of impatience can be remembered for life by those to whom it is directed.

There is such an enormous hunger for meaning in life, for comfort and consolation, for forgiveness and reconciliation, for restoration and healing, that anyone who has any authority in the Church should constantly be reminded that the best word to characterize religious authority is compassion. Let's keep looking at Jesus whose authority was expressed in compassion.
Henri Nouwen