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Thursday, August 18, 2016

Quote-a-Day... 8-18-16

This is a rich passage from Annie Dillard, whom I also quoted on Monday...

Thomas Merton wrote, “There is always a temptation to diddle around in the contemplative life, making itsy-bitsy statues.” There is always an enormous temptation in all of life to diddle around making itsy-bitsy friends and meals and journeys for itsy-bitsy years on end. It is so self-conscious, so apparently moral, simply to step aside from the gaps where the creeks and winds pour down, saying, I never merited this grace, quite rightly, and then to sulk along the rest of your days on the edge of rage. I won’t have it. The world is wilder than that in all directions, more dangerous and bitter, more extravagant and bright. We are making hay when we should be making whoopee; we are raising tomatoes when we should be raising Cain, or Lazarus.
Ezekiel excoriates false prophets as those who have “not gone up into the gaps.” The gaps are the thing. The gaps are the spirit’s one home, the altitudes and latitudes so dazzlingly spare and clean that the spirit can discover itself for the first time like a once-blind man unbound. The gaps are the cliffs in the rock where you cower to see the back parts of God; they are the fissures between mountains and cells the wind lances through, the icy narrowing fjords splitting the cliffs of mystery. 
Go up into the gaps. If you can find them; they shift and vanish too. Stalk the gaps. Squeak into a gap in the solid, turn, and unlock— more than a maple— a universe. This is how you spend this afternoon, and tomorrow morning, and tomorrow afternoon. Spend the afternoon. You can’t take it with you.

Dillard, Annie (2016-03-15). The Abundance: Narrative Essays Old and New (pp. 184-185). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition. 

The truth and power in Dillard's writing is often not evident at first glance. But on vacation I have the luxury of lingering over what she writes... so as I dug a bit deeper, I discovered what she was referencing from Ezekiel. It comes from 13:5, where Ezekiel says,
Ye have not gone up into the gaps, neither made up the hedge for the house of Israel to stand in the battle in the day of the Lord. (KJV)
This didn't help! So I read some of the surrounding context, and looked into a commentary or two for this passage. The Oxford Annotated Bible says this:
True prophets would care enough about their people to go up into the breaches (like Moses, Ps 106.23), i.e., to risk their lives by arguing with God on the people’s behalf (9.8; 11.13).
Ah, now I'm getting somewhere. This is about that well-used (but perhaps little understood) phrase, "stand in the gap." Building on that, I see that Dillard is calling us to dig deeper into life, to not settle for less, to speak the truth to power when necessary, to squeeze the last drop out of life, even if it means facing deep and intimidating confrontation. This reminds me of C.S. Lewis' counsel in his sermon, The Weight of Glory:
It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
Where are those "gaps" in my life? In your life? Where do I need to go, stalk, squeak and spend?

On this vacation, when I'm not reading, resting, or enjoying the outdoors, I am watching the Olympics! Today I heard a quote used by one of the USA track women as motivation, taped to her bathroom mirror, that captures all of this succinctly:
"You do not wake up today to be mediocre."
Indeed.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Quote-a-Day... 8-17-16

Today I'm recommending an entire article today, not just a pithy quote. As I nerd out on vacation by reading to my heart's content, today's adventure takes me to exploring the realm of spirituality in California's history. As someone who seeks to develop leaders for the Free Methodist Church in Southern CA for the 21st century, I want to be a constant student of my context. Despite being born and raised in California and having lived both in Northern and Southern California, I still have a lot to learn about my state.

Through some lovely serendipity, I have come upon an interesting journal published by University of California press titled, appropriately, BOOM. It's subtitle is "A Journal of California," and that fits. Perusing the last couple of years of issues, I see some fascinating articles on various aspects of CA culture, past / present / future.

The article I recommend from it today is titled, A Golden State of Grace? by Lois Ann Lorentzen. Here are the opening lines that hopefully motivate you to read further...
Making sense of religion in California is a daunting task. California’s religious extravagance is fascinating—Heaven’s Gate, the Crystal Cathedral, Synanon, Starhawk, Harold Camping’s end-of-world predictions, Aimee Semple McPherson, Esalen, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, the Grateful Dead. Everything is here, it seems, and then some.

Keep in mind what isn't mentioned in this quote: the California Missions, Calvary Chapel and the Jesus Movement, the Vineyard, Scientology and Saddleback... and these days, Bethel Church is leaving its mark. What a fascinating, spiritually eclectic place that California is!

Given the breadth of this topic, the author only touches on several examples in the article -- and makes me want to learn more. At the outset, she gives a quick recounting of earlier CA history, and I found this powerful:
The point of this abbreviated history is to note how populations and religions change dramatically in very short windows of time. California went from indigenous in 1769 to Catholic by 1833 and to predominantly Protestant by 1860. The mix of religions in California doesn’t look the same as other states.

Check out these stats:
Forty percent of all US Buddhists live in California, as do most Hindus and most Muslims—70,000 Muslims in Los Angeles County alone. California is 28 percent Catholic, 20 percent Evangelical Protestant, and 10 percent mainline Protestant. This is in contrast to the United States as a whole, where 70 percent of Christians are Protestant. To study religion in California is to study the world’s religions.

This grabs me the most:

As goes California, so goes the nation. 
California’s present is the nation’s future.

Though I sound like an impassioned representative of the Tourism Bureau at this point, I would say that none of us can ignore this. History seems to bear out this theory, so it's worth studying in depth.
The article concludes with these thoughts:
Is there anything special about religion in California? As a teenager in northern Minnesota, I fantasized about California a lot; I knew it was special. I wanted it, the mountains, the oceans, the freedom, the diversity, the tolerance, the experimenting. Did I romanticize and essentialize? You bet! But now I am a Californian, with an ongoing love/hate relationship with this place. An academic, I’m still unsure about the answers to the questions I posed at the beginning of this essay. I have concluded, however, that California matters a great deal when we think about religion. 
Forgive me if you are not a Californian reading this. But as I vacation throughout the state this week, it still intrigues me greatly.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Quote-a-Day... 8-16-16

From Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates. As you probably know already, this is a collection of essays addressed to his 15 year old son.

That was the week you learned that the killers of Michael Brown would go free. The men who had left his body in the street like some awesome declaration of their inviolable power would never be punished. It was not my expectation that anyone would ever be punished. But you were young and still believed. You stayed up till 11 P.M. that night, waiting for the announcement of an indictment, and when instead it was announced that there was none you said, “I’ve got to go,” and you went into your room, and I heard you crying. I came in five minutes after, and I didn’t hug you, and I didn’t comfort you, because I thought it would be wrong to comfort you. I did not tell you that it would be okay, because I have never believed it would be okay. What I told you is what your grandparents tried to tell me: that this is your country, that this is your world, that this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it. I tell you now that the question of how one should live within a black body, within a country lost in the Dream, is the question of my life, and the pursuit of this question, I have found, ultimately answers itself.

Coates, Ta-Nehisi (2015-07-14). Between the World and Me (pp. 11-13). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 

I am simply listening at this point. My lips are sealed, and I'm trying to read with my eyes, ears, heart and mind wide open.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Quote-a-Day... 8-15-16

I'm on vacation and planning on lots of reading. Here's some goodness from Annie Dillard:

It is still the first week in January, and I’ve got great plans. I’ve been thinking about seeing. There are lots of things to see, unwrapped gifts and free surprises. The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside from some generous hand. But— and this is the point— who gets excited by a mere penny? If you follow one arrow, if you crouch motionless on a bank to watch a tremendous ripple thrill on the water and find yourself rewarded by the sight of a muskrat kit paddling from its den, will you count that sight a chip of copper only, and go your rueful way? 

It is dire poverty indeed when a man is so hungry and tired that he won’t stoop to pick up a penny. But if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days. It is that simple. What you see is what you get.

Dillard, Annie (2016-03-15). The Abundance: Narrative Essays Old and New (p. 152). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition. 

I am halfway through this collection, and cannot recommend it enough. I started reading Dillard years ago, but in the years since then, I've lived more of the highs and lows of life, and she feels brand new to me. This book is a collection of "top hits," and offers some new as well.

Dillard is not for the faint of heart. What I mean is that she is a precise and thoughtful wordsmith. I cannot read her the way I read a magazine article or blog post. I have to slow down, often re-reading a paragraph, to drink in the imagery and point of what she is saying.

The essay titled "Seeing," taken from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, is a tremendous way to start this vacation. I want to have my eyes (and ears, and heart, and mind, and soul) WIDE OPEN to the wonders all around me. Indeed, the world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside from some generous hand. Let's do this!

Friday, August 12, 2016

Parenting, Prayer, and Papa

I'm heading out soon for a much-anticipated week away on vacation, but before I drop the mic, I wanted to share a few resources that I found especially useful this week. Not sure how they all relate to one another, but they sure reflect the varied things I'm always working on.

Common Prayer ~ free app! In my post from the end of July, I noted some reliable devotional resources I have taken advantage of for years. Soon after, I received an update about one of my favorites, generated by New Monasticism leaders Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and Shane Claiborne. I've used my hardcover copy of Common Prayer since the day it was released in 2010, and access the website almost everyday. But this past week I received news that their app for iPhone/iPad had recently been released for free! Pass along this great news to everyone and use it to create spiritual connection and intimacy among your friends and leaders.

Child Leaving for College is Like Labor All Over Again. This was published in our local alternative weekly, and I thought it really captured the angst that many parents feel especially at this time of year as their beloved offspring enter this crucial transition into adulthood and leave the nest. The subtitle says it all: "Hey, can I get an epidural here?" If you work with youth and their families, this article provides a good laugh (and perhaps a few sympathetic tears), and best of all, an invitation to talk more.

Two Homes, One Childhood: Co-Parenting After Divorce. Another, more jarring parental transition comes when parents separate and/or divorce. Perhaps through your work or maybe in your own life, you have to walk with someone through this painful journey. This podcast episode provides some excellent, though at times poignant, insights.

Need Help with Your Writing and Editing? I'm working with a client on crafting a mission statement, and I always see the first draft or three as an opportunity to throw all the spaghetti on the wall and not wordsmith too much. But eventually you need to be brutal with your precious creation and get real. I found this great page of Hemingway quotes to get my editing groove on, and sent it to my client as well. This also feeds my eternal English major heart! You may or may not know that Hemingway's nickname was "Papa" ... I had a professor in my 20th century lit course who described Papa's writing style as "never use ten words when one will do." As someone who can tend to suffer from "verbal diarrhea," this website is a great motivator (and wake-up call?)

Final thoughts. I read this this morning:

He prays well who is so absorbed with God that he does not know he is praying.
    ... Francois de Sales (1567-1622)


As I noted in my journal, "I have brief moments of this, but certainly pray for many more." Ironically, to pray like this is something like becoming humble; the second I actually achieve humility, all is lost! In other words, it is a goal that I cannot reach consciously or willfully. Such connection with God comes on his terms, and through ongoing relationship and intimacy rather than through goal-setting or to-do lists. So my wish for you is to... be absorbed with God, I guess. Godspeed!

Friday, July 29, 2016

Quotes, Quests, Quandaries

This has been a very full week for me as I finish up my sixth summer of interns. What a lovely lot! I pinch myself at the thought of getting to do what I feel like I was built to do. What a creative, generous God we have!

In the midst of that, I also worked through some helpful resources... here are some highlights:

Quotes that Feed My Brain, Heart & Soul. One of my very, very small contributions in daily life is to post thoughtful, challenging, convicting, encouraging, uplifting, wise quotes on social media... rather than cat videos (though I love cats) or what I've accomplished in Pokemon Go.

Two came into my view yesterday, and they were strangely resonant, though from different sources:

It is my opinion that art lost its basic creative drive the moment it was separated from worship. 
It severed an umbilical cord... 
In former days the artist remained unknown and his work was to the glory of God... 
Today the individual has become the highest form and the greatest bane of artistic creation. 
(Ingmar Bergman)

Love has nothing to do with what you are expecting to get—only what you are expecting to give—which is everything. What you will receive in return varies, but really has no connection with what you give. You give because you love and cannot help giving. If you are very lucky, you may get loved back. That is delicious, but it does not necessarily happen. 
(Katharine Hepburn)

The interesting connection for me was in the sources -- both artists, but speaking deeply spiritual, even theological truths. I will confess mostly unfamiliarity with Bergman's work, but I am aware that he had a father who was a Lutheran pastor, and his films contain profound spiritual questions and themes.

Hepburn's words capture the stunning beauty and difficulty of truly unconditional love. Which I have found is only possible when God's Spirit inhabits my love. As an eternally recovering English major, I am grateful for these gentle reminders of the power of art and how it is a powerful (though often neglected) means of grace.

If you want to receive daily surprises for your devotional and thought life, these are what I turn to each morning (along with scripture):
  • Christian Quotation of the Day: never cheesy, sometimes a little dense, but often surprising. Drawn from Christian history.
  • Common Prayer: An excellent devotional guide that is thought-provoking, occasionally off-putting, always earnest.
  • Henri Nouwen Society: His writings have blessed my life for decades. I read things that I underlined years ago and they still capture me as if I'm reading them for the first time.
  • Inward/Outward: I like this one because it draws from a very wide range of sources. I don't always "get" them, but when I do, I am often rattled to the core.
  • Pray the Hours: I sometimes go to this when I want a guide to prayer during my day. This whole website is an excellent resource for contemplative practices.
New Podcast Addiction. As I have mentioned in an earlier post this month, I've started learning more about Enneagrams. Not only have I read Discovering the Enneagram by Richard Rohr, but I've also happened upon a new podcast that I am enjoying greatly: The Road Back to You. Hosted by two experienced folks who lead retreats and serve as spiritual directors, the first few episodes have been interviews of people who help to describe each one of the nine Enneagram types. Super engaging conversations! So far, I'm seeing that Enneagram could serve as a tremendous tool for those who want to press in further in their quest of ongoing intimacy with God and understanding of self and others.

Resources for Families. In my many years of working with youth and their families, something that came up often was the reality that whatever program or event I was running could never substitute for the deep foundations that needed to be provided at home. Yet when I would meet with parents about how to do that, we would often be boggled together! Not having grown up in a home with "family devotions" or a regular life in the church, I sure had no experience in this arena. Yet when I started digging for resources to recommend, I also found slim pickings. Most stuff was ridiculously cheesy and overly simplistic.

Yet this week I've come across two interesting possibilities:
  • Parents' Major Role in the Religious Lives of Young Adults. This first one is rooted in research, but I feel that it sets the context for the "why" of this conversation. This really made sense to me: "Yet the assumption that parents are irrelevant in the religious lives of teenagers – replaced instead by peers – is a myth, research shows. Several studies have shown that the religious behaviors and attitudes of parents are related to those of their children."
  • 10 Tips for Family Worship Time. I have not test-driven this, but it looks promising. Perhaps gather a few families to do it together for a few weeks and then discuss? 
Final thought. This flew by me at some point this week. I sort of like it!

I must be a Mermaid:
I have no fear of depths
and a great fear of 
shallow living. 

Get some rest this weekend, OK?

Monday, July 25, 2016

Spiritual Disciplines: Celebration!

Last article being re-posted today. Hope these have been encouraging and helpful. Scroll through this blog and find the other ones. I started re-posting them at the end of Sept 2015.

The original for this one was first posted here. Enjoy!

Editor’s Note: This is the last in a 12-part series on spiritual disciplines for youth workers, based on Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline.

As I write this I am preparing to head out to the birthday celebration of my favorite one year old in the world, Bryn, who is the daughter of dear friends of mine. She was born on 11/1/11, and we all giggle at that because she is definitely number one in our hearts.

At the same time, I know I will sit back at some point during the day and chuckle at how many adults are there, celebrating an event that Bryn will most certainly not remember! In some ways it is tempting to ask, “What is even the point of having a birthday party for a one year old?!”

I can tell you the answer: Because everyone loves a party! Personally, I can never have enough cupcakes. How about you? We are wired to celebrate with those we love, whether it is a birthday, an anniversary, a graduation, and even a life well-lived as we grieve the loss of a loved one.

Even as I type the word “celebrate” I have many fun memories popping into my head: lighting fireworks with students during service trips to Guatemala; a surprise birthday for me put on by friends; hearty laughter, to the point of tears, when hearing a really funny story…These are foretastes of heaven, where we will be free of suffering because God “will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)

In anticipation of such a blessed eternity, as believers we are called to practice for heaven now. The spiritual discipline for this practice is called celebration. Richard Foster, who has guided our discussion for these last twelve months, defines its crucial role:
Celebration is central to all the Spiritual Disciplines. Without a joyful spirit of festivity the Disciplines become dull, death-breathing tools in the hands of modern Pharisees. Every Discipline should be characterized by carefree gaiety and a sense of thanksgiving.
He goes on to say that celebration is an expression of the fruits of the Spirit, especially that of joy. But as we well know, joy is not the same as happiness. Joy comes from living a life of obedience, conforming to the call of God on our lives, seeking to be fulfilled by service to Him and selflessness to others.

What does this look like for us who serve in youth ministry? Sadly, I believe we have erred in thinking our primary job is to show our students that being a Christian can be fun, and proceed to fill our meetings with gross and wacky games and little else. While I have used my share of shaving cream over the years for a pie or two in the face, I know that silly games are going too far when that is what students are talking about at the end of the night, rather than whatever discussion was a part of the evening. I believe that is setting the bar far too low when it comes to serving the young people we know.

Instead, see the spiritual discipline of celebration as an opportunity for us as youthworkers to really make a difference in the lives of the young people we work with. As you already know, “partying” is highly valued by youth culture–they think they already know how to “celebrate.” Rather than letting them settle for shallow expressions of fun, I believe the last chapter of Paul’s letter to the Philippians give us an outline of how to do this:

Respect

I will be the first to admit that it is so tempting to trivialize the concerns of teens, whose drama every week can tend to focus on the ups and downs of friendships or who’s dating who. Nevertheless, these are the immediate concerns of our young people, and to dismiss them is to ignore what swirls around them. Instead, respect their young and limited perspective, coaching them into sharing their concerns, though seemingly trivial at times, with God. As it says in 4:6-7, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” As young people sense they are known and heard, they feel loved.

Recognize

Verses 4:8-9 are straightforward: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” Time and again I have had students thank me for remembering their birthday, attending their performance, or noting one of their achievements in front of the entire group. I had a parent tell me the other day how her children noted the difference between two different youth leaders in the community: one of them only saw their daughter if she attended his activities; the other leader made it a point to go to as many of her games as possible. Not surprisingly, she felt most connected to the latter. Active attendance at students’ events becomes a real challenge as your group grows, but it becomes all the more crucial for us to equip our volunteers to understand how much this means to the teens we know.

Reality

We are being dishonest if we pretend that life is always puppies and rainbows with our students. I never fail to be stunned at the gravity of issues that I have experienced with young people over the years: suicide, cancer, deathly car accidents, addiction, eating disorders, abuse, pregnancy, gang violence, sexual affairs with adults…the list goes on and on. To teach our students to celebrate, we also have to show them how willing we are to be with them in the depths. Paul teaches me so much in these few verses (4:10-13): “I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.  I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

As we walk through all of life with our students, we then “earn the right to be heard” and can teach them how to truly “rejoice in the Lord” (4:4), opening themselves up to true and eternal celebration. What a privilege!

This concludes the year-long series on spiritual disciplines. The goal from here is to seek after deeper intimacy with Christ on your own and in community, teaching the youth around you to do the same.

My challenge to you

Set aside some time soon to review all twelve of the classic spiritual disciplines. Even better, pick up a copy of Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline and learn more for yourself. As you read, listen for the promptings of the Spirit as to which discipline(s) you need to grow in next.
Remember, for us as followers of Christ, the church year begins the Sunday after Thanksgiving with Advent, which is coming soon. What if a new goal included the intentional practice of the spiritual disciplines? Take some time to pray over this question and make covenant with God.