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Thursday, March 31, 2016

Spiritual Disciplines Series: Submission

I have posted 8 of these articles here, originally written in 2012 for the Center for Youth Ministry Training, and have 4 left. Re-reading each one of these is a humbling reminder of how much I still have to learn about "living into the depths," as Richard Foster calls it.

Just a reminder that these were originally targeted toward youthworkers in the church. But all of us need to grow in spiritual disciplines.... right?

Lastly: in the midst of this year's election insanity, I love reading again about the transformative power of submission. As Trump keeps declaring that we need to "win again," I will think of the downward mobility and call of the true Christian life.


As I write this I am finding myself sucked in, day by day, to the Summer Olympics of 2012. If I’m not careful, I find myself watching sports I have never cared about (or even heard of!), simply because I LOVE the heat of competition. Don’t we all? How many times have we been with students and jumped right in as they create bloodsport out of seemingly harmless games like Slug Bug or Foursquare? The human propensity for competition at all costs is evident in the Genesis story of Cain and Abel (further immortalized by Steinbeck in his magnum opus East of Eden), seen in classic films like Gladiator, and glorified in countless other myths, fables and stories.

My morning devotions often include some time reading through Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, written by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Shane Claiborne, and Enuma Okoro. A recent reading touches on a remarkable example of competition:
Ignatius of Loyola (1491 – 1556) was born to a noble Spanish family. As a young man, he joined the military, but a war injury ended his military career. While recuperating, Ignatius became bored and asked for novels about knights and battles. But all that could be found in the castle where he stayed were books on the life of Christ and the saints of the church. Legend has it that Ignatius read these stories in a competitive manner, imagining how he could beat the various saints at practicing the spiritual disciplines. He soon found that his thoughts on the saints left him with more peaceful and satisfied feelings than his daydreams about the noble life he had known before his injury. After his illness, Ignatius began practicing his competitive notions of rivaling the saints, and wrote about his experiences of Christian disciplines. His scribblings became the spiritual classic The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius, used by Christians for centuries in the practice of discernment. 
I smiled as I tried to picture competing with the ancient saints in the practice of spiritual disciplines, imagining what a strenuous and crazy endeavor that would be! Nevertheless, as I write this ninth in a series of twelve articles on spiritual disciplines for youthworkers, I want to use this opportunity to remind you (and myself) that the pursuit of spiritual disciplines is not yet another burden to add to the pile of so many other “to-dos” in your life. Spiritual disciplines are not something to “excel” or compete in, but instead are great gifts learned from the faithful throughout church history as ways to grow in our eternal intimacy with Christ. As Richard Foster reminds us in The Celebration of Discipline,
The classical Disciplines of the spiritual life call us to move beyond surface living into the depths. They invite us to explore the inner caverns of the spiritual realm… We must not be led to believe that the Discipline are only for spiritual giants and hence beyond our reach… far from it. God intends the Disciplines of the spiritual life to be for ordinary human beings.
I bring up competition because I find myself most confronted in my tendency to jockey for position in this month’s spiritual discipline, that of submission. While every single one of the disciplines provides its own challenges, Foster tells us “of all the Spiritual Disciplines none has been more abused than the Discipline of submission. Somehow the human species has an extraordinary knack for taking the best teaching and turning it to the worst ends.” He goes on to point out that we can err in making a discipline an end in and of itself, rather than understanding that it is simply a tool to gain more freedom in Christ: “They are not the answer; they only lead us to the Answer.”

Submission is such a great challenge because it addresses my deep need to get my own way, because for me, getting my own way means that I “win.” Yet I am continually humbled by the realization that most of life is not about “success” or “winning” or “being the best.” In Christ, we are called to something entirely different:
If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. (Mark 8:34)
Don’t forget that self-denial does not permit loss of identity, self-contempt, or abuse, and that is where Foster has some harsh words for “a mutilated form of biblical submission.” Instead, he reminds us that in God’s gracious economy, self-denial actually leads to self-fulfillment, as described in the next verse of Mark 8:
For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. (Mark 8:35)
This is where I believe the gospel has the most impact, in addressing head-on the American notions of greatness and power. Foster states it succinctly: counter-intuitively, as followers of Jesus Christ, “Leadership is found in becoming the servant of all.” This has been the greatest challenge for me, yet also the deepest joy, in being a youthworker. We can only persevere in this calling as we learn to delight in the success of others. That requires ongoing pursuit of the spiritual discipline of submission.

In my early years I got “hooked” on youth ministry by seeing how much fun it was to directly touch the lives of students, be the “star” up front as I spoke at a camp, and lead singing in front of a crowd of hundreds. Such ego builders! Thankfully, a mentor named Stan Beard transformed my life when he taught me that true joy actually comes when I get to the point of investing in volunteers and younger staff, then feeling the satisfaction of seeing them excel. In fact, he said I should physically feel it in my gut as my soul wells up in love and spirit-filled pride to witness their development.

Unfortunately, I soon learned that my flesh would fight against this. Sure, as the years went on I pushed for my interns to take the reins of various projects and programs, but found myself inwardly envying the attention they received. Rather than want the success of others to exceed our own, I discovered I would still rather have the limelight. It is only in pursuing Jesus and his calling to mutual submission that I started to be set free to pour into others most fully.

Two Scripture passages have challenged me most in this regard:

Be like Jesus. As it says in Philippians 2:5, Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…” who knew that being God himself was not a privilege he could cling to. Instead, he knew that he needed to leave the comfort of his world and enter the world of others. As we are told in the verses immediately preceding, Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” (verses 3-4) What I love most about these words are their authenticity; we are not to utterly ignore our own needs, but rather “take an interest in others, too.” In other words, don’t be a selfish pig! The Holy Spirit will teach us how to put others first and actually enjoy it. This is utterly crucial to our own spiritual formation as the years go on.

Seek after submission in every relationship. I find the most comprehensive description of submission to be in Ephesians 5, where Paul gives this thesis statement: Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. (vs. 21),” then going on to describe the implications of this mutual submission for wives, husbands, parents, children, employers and employees. In my own journey, once I started submitting to the needs of my volunteer leaders and the parents of my students, I was humbled to realize that I still fought for my own way with my family, my colleagues, and even my friends! Yikes. In the last few years I have also grown in understanding the importance of submission to the poor and oppressed. Instead of feeling sorry for the homeless and the panhandler, I pray to have the eyes of Christ and see them as he does. Like me, they are created in the imago dei, the image of God, and they are my neighbors. I cannot be selective in whom I submit to, only deferring to or serving those I respect and like. Invite the Spirit to open your eyes to opportunities to submit in ways that will continue to bring you to the knees of the Lord.

One last thought: the act of submission becomes tricky in understanding its limits. Foster does a great job expanding on this, and I recommend you to his book for a fuller explanation. I will only mention that when it comes to situations where authority is abusive or destructive, we must act with wisdom and discernment. Our highest calling is to submit to the authority of God; beyond that, we must be prayerful and seek wise counsel in how and to whom we submit. (I've learned this lesson the hard way...)

Like all spiritual disciplines, that of submission is the practice of a lifetime. None of us will ever master it. As it says in Hebrews 10:24, “And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds…” Surround yourself with others who desire to take up the cross of Christ and live a submissive life, and enjoy the incredible fruits of intimacy with Christ in new ways.

Article originally posted here.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Spring has Sprung and a New Recipe Must Come!

Perhaps not the most poetic of blog post titles, but it makes my point... I had a few lovely vegetables sitting in my crisper and a bit of "hmmm... what to do, what to do..." buzzing through my head around 5pm. Then I looked through my saved recipes from Vegetarian Times and VOILA! This one popped out at me. I made a few small adjustments and I will brag share that dinner was mighty delicious!

Admittedly, I put leeks in the category of "grown-up" vegetables, as in, I did not willingly eat a leek (or, fill in the blank.... cauliflower, bok choy, fennel, turnip, beet, brussels sprouts...) until I was well into my 30's. But NOW I glory in such vegetables! Call me crazy, call me boring, but I prefer to call myself HEALTHY. Yessiree!

Decide for yourself, but I believe this recipe to be a keeper. And I have enough leftovers for lunch tomorrow. #ftw


Serves 4

30 minutes or fewer to prepare
Though taken from Vegetarian Times, I imagine this would also be delicioso with a bit of chorizo or bacon. Just sayin'...

1 Tbs. olive oil
3 medium leeks, trimmed, halved, and chopped (6 cups) I used 2 leeks and 3 stalks of celery
1 shallot (my addition)
1 yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced (1 cup)
2 Tbs. minced fresh thyme, divided
¼ tsp. red pepper flakes I used chipotle pepper powder
½ cup low-sodium vegetable broth
3 cloves garlic, minced (1 Tbs.)
1 16-oz. tube prepared polenta, cut into 12 slices (or prepared from a box of polenta)
2 oz. crumbled aged chèvre (½ cup) I chose to use fresh mozzarella. Good choice.

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Heat oil in ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add leeks, bell pepper, 1 Tbs. thyme, and red pepper flakes; sauté 10 minutes. Stir in broth and garlic.

2. Arrange polenta slices over leek mixture in skillet; top with crumbled chèvre and remaining 1 Tbs. thyme. 
Bake 10 minutes, or until chèvre (cheese) softens.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

What I'm Reading This Week 3-27-16

Having just come back from a few days of vacation, I caught up on some reading I have been wanting to do. I have to say, in the midst of a LOT of junk floating out there on the interwebs, there are still many interesting pearls to be found. Perhaps one or three of these links will interest you as well...

"Nones" and Religious Identity Today. A growing demographic in the US have been named "nones" - those without specific religious affiliation. They have been polled at 20% of the general population, and over 1/3 of those under age 30 claim this status. I have posted links about this subject before, but that is because this subject fascinates me... for multiple reasons. As someone who works with young adults, I continue to be surprised by their questions, concerns and doubts. I am working hard to pay attention to what they are saying before saying anything in response. This podcast is an opportunity to do that. One person interviewed leads the Nones club at Harvard Divinity School (which sounds like an oxymoron), but her comments intrigued me. Listen and tell me what you think.

The Best Way to Fight with a Teenager. Though I have not worked officially with teenagers since 2012, I'm not sure youth pastors ever retire! Just yesterday I sat for 3 hours in the hot sun at a track meet to watch a beloved teenager compete. (Old habits never die I guess.) All that to say, I still think about teenagers constantly, and have regular conversations with youthworkers about their students. This article comes from the New York Times, and I liked it perhaps mostly because the brought up the conversation! Three decades of working with students taught me something I wish I had figured out MUCH earlier: the only thing more difficult than being a teenager is being the parent of a teenager. Both parties (the teens and the parents) have never been in their positions before, and the unknown is so intimidating... I found that parents take this uncharted territory especially hard. I consider this article no more than a neutral conversation-starter, and a helpful one at that.

Rediscovering an Evangelical Heritage. In this (dreadful? harrowing?) season of presidential politics, I am beginning to think that the term "evangelical" has completely lost its meaning, and I find cynicism welling up in me like a volcano. But before I give up completely, I decided to read this book and finished it in a week. I cannot recommend it enough! The subtitle is helpful: "A Tradition and a Trajectory of Piety and Justice." This book is part theology and part history lesson, but it all adds up to a deeply encouraging reminder "from whence we came" as evangelicals. This is a second edition, released on the 40th anniversary of the original, and I found it timely and challenging. Take the time to read about the profound social and cultural movements of the 1800's that were driven primarily by evangelicals. You will be glad you did.

Shut Up and Sit Down: Why the Leadership Industry Rules. As someone bold (or silly?) enough to have "leadership development" in her job title, this was a compelling and at times, confrontational article. I greatly appreciated the opening call-out: "In politics and business, we lionize leadership. But how much do we really know about what makes a great leader?" The article goes on to give some pithy statistics and quotes; for example, since August, the word "leadership" was used over 100 times by candidates in the presidential debates. Then the author says this: “Leadership” sums up, in a vague way, everything that’s desirable and none of what’s not." Despite these discouraging words, I pressed on, and enjoyed the survey it provides within the realms of business, sociology, history and politics. I was left with more questions than answers, but overall the article definitely pricked my curiosity and conscience. Perhaps leaders will not be identifiable until after they are gone?

Speaking of leadership, I will end with a quote that has still got me thinking and grappling with the truths expressed within it:

Oscar Romero, Archbishop of El Salvador who was brutally murdered while leading the Mass in 1980, wrote, It helps, now and then, to step back and take the long view. The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts: it is beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is the Lord’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us. No sermon says all that should be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection. No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the Church’s mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything. That is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted knowing they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that affects far beyond our capabilities. We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very, very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the Master Builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future that is not our own.”