Charlottesville: No Words — SheLoves, August, 2017

Do you find yourself at the limit of things right now? I do. Here are my reflections for SheLovesMagazine this month — you can begin this essay here, then click over to join the conversation there. I hope you will!

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I like to think of myself as a person of words. I love to read, talk, preach and write — all of which require some facility with language. I even had a dear friend whisper in my ear a week or so ago, “You know what I love about you? Your vocabulary!” My what?? Well, okay, I’ll take it!

But at this particular moment in time, in the aftermath of the horrors of Charlottesville this past weekend, I find myself at a complete loss. I discover very few words anywhere within my usually active brain. I feel unmoored, uncertain, frightened and deeply, truly sad.

I am a person who does not understand cruelty. So deep is this lack of comprehension that I often feel powerless and rudderless in the face of it. I’ve known a few people in my lifetime whose currency is cruelty. Blunt, thoughtless, critical remarks are their stock-in-trade, and every time one of those remarks is directed toward me, I stutter and stumble around, trying to find a comeback, a simple sentence that will stop the flood of vitriol.

Nada. Nothing. No words.

What is with that??

It’s not that I want to be cruel back. Honest and true, it is not. It’s that I simply do not know what to do in the face of it. If it’s directed at someone else in the circle, I can sometimes muster an objection or a clarification, but I never make it as far as a firm, clear, push-back that stops the ugliness. More often than not, I beat a retreat as quickly as I can and then ponder it all for days and days. What could I have said? What could I have done? What should I do next time?

Today, I am past pondering. I am done. And the one word that keeps coming back to me, over and over again is this one: ENOUGH. Stop. Just stop. Put away your swastikas, burn them all. You may have a legal right to your misguided opinion, but you do not have the right to name-call, bully, harass, or drive your automobile into a crowd of folks who disagree with you, and are brave enough to stand up and say so.

There are no more cheeks to be turned, my friends. None. And I refer you to the fine work of Walter Wink, written decades ago, about the subversive nature of the words of Jesus that have been so abused in the centuries since they were uttered. Turning the other cheek and walking the extra mile were acts of resistance to an intolerable government and they are beautiful things when rightly understood. They are not useful as tokens, bromides, or any other sugar-coating of evil words and deeds. Evil demands resistance. Full stop.

And what we witnessed this past weekend, what we’ve seen over and over and over again in the systematic killing of people of color, is evil. It is an evil that has its roots in fear, the ‘elephant in the room’ I wrote about last month, but it is evil, nonetheless.

Continue reading at SheLoves today, friends. I’d love to hear how you’re doing and, even more importantly, what you’re doing about our national sin and need for repentance. And if you are not a resident of the USA, your comments and insights are always welcome — we clearly need help. Just click right here.

In the Wilderness — with SheLoves

And it’s Saturday again, SheLoves Saturday. Please begin this piece here and then follow the link over to that lovely place to read the rest. Our theme for the month of March is: “I see you.”

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As I write these words, we are one third of the way through Lent, and I am deep in the wilderness over here on the west coast. If I look out my window, I don’t see wilderness around me, but I know I’m in it nonetheless. It feels a little bit like all hell has broken loose as I sit in my office, or at the local coffee house, or in the office of another who has asked me to come for conversation and encouragement.

I’ve been listening to lots of different people lately. I do that all the time, truth be told, and some of those people even pay me for a particular kind of listening, a listening together called spiritual direction, which I spent three years learning. I continue to learn how to do this with each of the twelve different people who visit me, in person or via Skype, for a one-hour session each month. Every one of those persons is unique, with his or her own set of questions and wonderings; each one a distinctly individual person, with their own gender, age, marital status, life experience, spiritual struggle, need for discernment and companionship.

Yet they are all alike in one central and important way: they each want to be seen.

I believe there is a deep-seated desire built into us, a desire to be known and understood. And for my money, the phrase, “I see you,” is one of the rarest and richest in the English language. To be truly seen includes being truly heard. And it implies being valued and held in high regard. To be seen in this way is to begin to understand our own, intrinsic worth, which is the most basic and important of the foundation stones upon which sturdy relationships can be built.

All of the listening I’ve been doing in recent days, however, has led me to the sad conclusion that we do not see one another very well at all. This is not new, is it? We human creatures resist the very thing we long for, and so we hide. And sometimes we do that hiding well enough to reap the whirlwind.

Too many friends are reaping that whirlwind these days.

In the last week, I’ve heard stories of betrayal, diminishment, neglect, fear, sorrow, loss and pain. Marriages in jeopardy, careers on the line, friendships torn asunder by cruel words and careless actions, gut-wrenching fear overwhelming solid judgment, children struggling with addiction, and a long list of serious health crises, too often exacerbated by stressful relationships at home and/or work.

Wilderness, indeed. Bleak, endless, monotone.

And then, I remember . . .

Finish this one over at SheLovesMagazine – just click here to find it.

31 Days of Aging Gracefully: Day 9 — Listening Well

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This recently finished new space is where I do my professional listening these days. I am graced with the title ‘spiritual director,’ something I began to train for during the last year of my pastoral life, continuing for two years afterwards in order to earn my certification. I’ve been listening to directees (and listening to God, I sincerely hope) for six years now, some of them for that entire time. It is one of the best gifts in my life right now.

When I’m sitting in my chair (the one on the right), I listen well. I’ve learned how, I’ve practiced and I’m getting better at it each time I do it. 

It has not always been so. In fact, in my regular life, it often still is NOT so. I had a dear and trusted friend tell me once that she felt I was always scanning the room, looking for someone more interesting to talk to whenever we engaged in one-on-one conversation.

Ouch.

That one hurt. But you know what? She was right. I began to observe myself after that comment, and her remark was spot on. Embarrassingly spot on. I was not scanning the room, looking for someone more interesting — that part, I categorically deny. I was, however, easily distracted, uncomfortable making prolonged eye contact and very busy inside my head, planning what I was going to say next. Or making a list of questions to interrupt with. Or thinking about something entirely different.

Oy vey.

So I have worked on that over these years, these later years. Without the ‘cover’ of the direction session, I am still more easily distracted than I wish I were. Part of the problem — at least in my own home, with my husband, in particular — is that I learned to read with ferocious focus when I was quite young, effectively tuning out any noise or music in my home. I have carried that with me to this day. So if I’m looking at email or texts and he says something to me, I literally do not hear him. We’re both trying to be more cognizant of the truth that we must keep on learning how to communicate well with one other.

We need to learn when to talk. And most importantly, we need to learn when to listen.

Really listen.

What about you? Are you a good listener?

Just Wondering

Asking: Am I ‘All In?’

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I was invited to participate in worship leadership yesterday, the first time in a while I’ve been asked, and the first time in a longer while when I felt I could reasonably say ‘yes.’ We enjoyed a relatively quiet weekend for the first time in too long, so there was space, both on the calendar, and in my spirit, to think creatively about a passage of scripture and attempt to lead God’s people in prayer.

The sermon was from a short text in Ephesians 6 — the two verses immediately following that long list of ‘armor’ that every follow of Jesus needs to live fully, carefully and creatively in this world of ours. The verses that talk about Paul being an ‘ambassador in chains,’ the ones that talk about being  full-out followers of Jesus, the ones that encourage us all to be people of prayer. . . all-the-time prayer, not just special-event-as-the-needs-build-up prayer.

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As always, the altarpiece helped us to ‘see’ the passage, and Pastor Don’s sermon unpacked those words very well indeed. After the sermon, the worship team led us through 3 rounds of that wonderful, small Taize chorus, the one that goes:

O Lord, hear my prayer; O Lord, hear my prayer.
When I call, answer me.
O Lord, hear my prayer; O Lord, hear my prayer.
Come and listen to me.

And then we prayed a community prayer in three parts, the first and last from me, the middle one from Don, with the chorus sung liturgically between each part. It was good to lead in prayer again; I’m grateful.

We’ve heard a word from you today, Lord.
A good word, but also, I must admit,
a hard word.
It’s hard because today you’re asking us to be ‘all in.’

All of us, all the time, everywhere.

Gulp.

Somehow, it’s easier for us to be partly in, you know?
Especially on days like today, when we can come here,
to this beautiful space, and specifically focus on you —
on who you are, on who you call us to be.

It seems simpler for us to do that when we gather with your people,
when we sing the songs and pray the prayers and hear the words.

But today, your word is asking something else entirely.
And that something is important, and inclusive,
and — let’s be honest here — more than a little bit demanding.
It feels uncomfortable, maybe even disorienting,
because you’re asking us to be ambassadors, out there, in the world.

The world we live in, and study in.
The world we shop in, and work in,
the world where we converse with other people, all kinds of other people,
some of them really difficult.
The world where too many problems seem to have no answers,
where ugly things happen — things that scare us and overwhelm us.

But that is the world you made, the world you have set us in, the world you love.
And if we’re going to call ourselves your friends, then that’s the world where we must be.

Will you help us, please?
Lean in close and whisper words of truth and courage,

remind us of the depths of your love,
tell us the truth of who we are as your called,

and gifted
and empowered
representatives.

We have good news to share, to live, to offer.

Make us bold in our living, wherever we are,
from the kitchen to the boardroom,
from the study hall to the golf course,
from the baby nursery to the retirement home.

Wherever we are, whomever we’re with,
help us to radiate your love and grace,

in every conversation,
transaction,
encounter,
and circumstance.

Help us to be all in.
Lord, hear our prayer.

Part Two.

Lord, we confess that we are not always prepared for the battle.
We expect things to be nice and polite and to go our way.
We confess that we get wounded too easily and fight with others too harshly.

And the weapons we use to do battle just don’t get the job done.

So today, O God, would you re-arm our lives with your full armor?

  • Would you belt our lives with your eternal truth?
  • Would you cover our hearts with your breastplate of righteousness?
  • Would you put on our feet those fast shoes that spread the gospel of peace and reconciliation anywhere and everywhere we go?
  • Would you put in our hands that strong shield of faith that can absorb and quench the fiery attacks that often undo us?
  • Would you cover our heads and minds with that strong helmet of our salvation that cannot be taken away?
  • And give us your sword, your Word, anchored in our hearts, that Word which can fell and undo Satan and all his lies.                                                                     Lord, make us strong.                                                                                                     Hear our prayer.

Part Three

Some of us, Lord, have been doing this discipleship thing for a long time now.
Others of us are newer to the journey.
But all of us still have so much to learn about prayer.

About settling into that place where we do what the epistles call us to do with that impossible sounding phrase: “pray without ceasing.”

Maybe we find prayer difficult because we’ve misunderstood the richness of this gift, this means of communion with you.

Maybe we’ve been stuck in a rut of list-making,
and detailed itemizing.

Or maybe we think prayer is some strange specialty that’s better left
to the pastors and the wordsmiths.

Whatever the reasons, Lord, will you help us, right here and right now,
to just relax?

To sit here, in your presence, and say as little as possible.

Maybe a, ‘thank you!’
Or a, ‘bless them.’
Or a, ‘you’re amazing, Lord!’

Because that’s at the heart of it all, isn’t it?
Moving through our days with an awareness of you,
with a spirit of gratitude,
with an eagerness to find you, already at work in the midst of the details
that fill our time and our minds.

So as we sit here in this quiet space, and as we sing this lovely small song,
will you help us to unkink,
to let go of our need to be ‘good’ at things,
and just discover the simple joy of
being quiet, with you?

Thank you, Lord.
Bless us, Lord.
Praise you, Lord.

Amen.

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We visited with some old friends and met a few new ones, too; we picked up some mail at our former home, and then we turned the car around, drove further than we’re used to on a Sunday morning, and spent the rest of the day enjoying the quiet beauty of our new space. I sat on a chaise lounge, in the sunshine for two hours, just being grateful for the ways in which we have been blessed in this life of ours. Not many words were said. And I was happy to be ‘all in,’ if only for an afternoon.

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Slowly, but Surely . . . and My Word for the Year

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Already, this has been an interesting year, marked by events both painful and rich. 

And it’s barely three weeks old.

A dear friend is facing into a difficult cancer diagnosis — for the third time. A young father I love just endured surgical removal of a cancerous body part, prognosis very hopeful. . . but still, difficult and frightening. Another friend discovered some challenging news about her unborn child. My mom forgot where she lived the last time I took her back to her room. And I am swiftly approaching a milestone birthday. 

On the brighter side, we have these tidbits: A grandson is off to Budapest for a semester. BUDAPEST! We have a great family vacation coming in July. I am walking, gradually building up strength and endurance, and managing about 1.5 miles every other day. This after six months of either NOT walking at all or moving very slowly and carefully everywhere I went. Also? I am swiftly approaching a milestone birthday. (Some things are both painful AND rich in this life.)

And so we inch along, moving from shadow to light, putting one foot in front of the other, one day at a time.

Life is like that, isn’t it? A crazy quilt of the hard and the lovely, all of it forming us, shaping us, sifting us. And it’s that sifting part that we resist, not at all sure we want to release the things that need releasing, to let that chaff be winnowed out and blown to the wind.

I’m wrestling with a few small personality issues in my life these days, letting my feelings get hurt too easily and worrying excessively about the underlying agendas at work in some of the smaller groups I belong to. I spend way too much time wondering what I should say, how I should intervene to insure that everything turns out the way I’d like it to turn out.

But here’s the truth of it: it’s not up to me, is it?

This much I know: I am asked to reflect the Savior I serve wherever I am and whomever I find there. And in each and every situation, to trust that ultimately, ‘all things will work together for good,’ that God knows what God is doing, and as long as I enter each tender place with my heart in the right space, nothing further is asked.

But I gotta tell you — for a control freak, like me? Someone who has long believed that competency, clarity and harmony trump just about anything? Yeah, well. Sometimes, it’s hard to let go, to trust that things will work out just fine, even without my intervention and/or feeble attempts at manipulation. It’s tough to keep my mouth shut when it needs to be shut and to speak when I need to speak and leave it at that.

I am a slow learner, it seems, because these are lessons I have to keep learning over and over again. This letting go stuff requires a daily — sometimes hourly — response in my spirit. Will I cease and desist from obsession, over-worry, hyper-sensitivity? Will I breathe in and out, and with each inflation and deflation, make space for the Spirit to rule? Ah, yes. THAT is the question.

So when I asked for a word for 2015, it took a while for me to hear it.

Last year’s word was obedience,  and that proved to be a tough one for me on many levels, perhaps beginning with the very physical act of relinquishment required for that foot surgery mid-year and the long recovery that followed. But there were other areas of life where I watched God do God’s thing in me, asking me again and again, “So . . . is you in or is you out??”

So in the midst of all of this, the word that came to me for 2015 was a strange one, at least to my ears. I like it, but I’m not quite sure what to make of it, and I haven’t a clue what to expect because of it.

So you wanna hear it? Here goes . . .

S T R E T C H

After a year like the last one, that particular word felt wonderful, to tell you the truth. Yes, yes, yes! I want to stretch myself, to reach out physically, to walk more and with greater confidence. To take more trips, see more of this grand world, enjoy these years of retirement and relative good health. Goody, goody!

And then I began to remember that stretching, as great as it as, as good for me as it is, can sometimes hurt. Sometimes it’s difficult to reach for something just beyond your grasp. And God has this way of pushing against the very places in me that are resistant, that curl up in a ball and hide away from the light, that whisper self-protection, isolation, and fear. 

Maybe I’m going to be asked to stretch in ways that are scary, to step outside my very familiar comfort zone and do some things that I’m afraid to do. 

Am I willing?

I want to be . . . I think. 

Interestingly, the very first way in which I think I’ve been asked to stretch is to take a step back, to unsubscribe from a long list of blogs that I’ve read for the last 4-5 years. Not because I no longer wish to read what I find there, but because I sense I’m being asked to simplify, to pare down.

Why?

Because I am being ever-so-gently-but-ever-so-firmly pushed to tackle some things that are (to me, at least) big projects. These are major challenges to me, they are the Large Overwhelming Anxiety-Producing Things. And in order to stretch into those areas, there has to be some give in my schedule, and in my spirit. 

I promise to keep you posted as the year progresses. Should be interesting, right? Let me know your word for 2015, if you have one, and tell me what you think it means now, as the year is new. Maybe we can check in again at mid-year and in December and see what we’ve learned. What do you think?

Linking this with Bonnie, the FaithBarista 

Everyone Has A Story

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Oh, man! I can so easily forget this truth. Yes, it’s very true — people do cruel things, betray others, or otherwise make me wish I weren’t human. And too often, my first response can be negative, judgmental, and critical; I can find myself making snap decisions about people based on a moment or two of difficult behavior.

But you know what? Everyone has a story that they carry around inside themselves. And some of those stories might help me to understand why a person is acting the way they are — if only I knew what they were.

Slowly, slowly I am learning that when I feel frustrated, impatient, even angry at someone’s behavior or their choice of words, saying this simple mantra inside my spirit somewhere can make a difference: everyone has a story. I’m finding that simple discipline to be both important and helpful — psychologically and philosophically profound on the one hand, and plain-ole practical, on the other. In my ongoing (and never-ending) journey away from reactivity and toward responsiveness, this simple 4-word phrase is slowly changing me from the inside out.

Two small examples:

Example Number One: 

I meet with several people monthly for spiritual direction, some in person and some by Skype. All of them come with such rich stories, and many different life experiences. The discipline and training for becoming a director has helped enormously in my own journey as I learn how to listen prayerfully to each person I see.

Sometimes, it takes many months before the most important pieces click into place and light shines with fuller depth and beauty on who they are and how they’ve gotten to this point in life. Details rise with time, with prayer, with intentional listening and learning. Suddenly, perhaps many months into our relationship, there it is: the missing piece, the small story that helps me to see more fully who they are and where God is moving in them. I cannot tell you what a privilege it is to sit opposite these remarkable people, learning from each of them how to more fully inhabit my own story, my own life. “You never know,” I tell myself quietly. “You just never know.”

Example Number Two:

I’ve been going to the same nail salon each month for several years now, a place that is fully staffed by immigrants from Vietnam, many of them related to one another. Each and every person I’ve had the delight of working with fairly brims with story. This morning, I heard two — from people I’ve worked with before, and with whom I’m slowly building trust and confidence. Their life stories are so completely different from my own — except — they aren’t.

ALL of us come from families, some of them healthy and connected, some of them, not so much.

ALL of us deal with professional woes of one kind or another — even those who have never been paid for a job must learn to get along with those who are not related to us in some kind of ‘work’ setting.

ALL of us carry both pain and sorrow around in our bodies, our spirits. And it is when we find the courage to share some of those pieces with an empathetic other that we can begin to know who they are, and who we are. We can rehearse our own story as we listen to someone else telling theirs.

Today I spoke with a gentle young woman who is pursuing a PhD in depth psychology — yes, you read that right. She and I talked carefully as she did her best to help my feet look and feel better. I don’t have too many pieces of her story yet, but today she told me something, very quietly, that helped me begin to better understand her reserve, her cautiousness. She carries a wound, one that is not yet healed.

Don’t we all? And yet . . . we forget what we know so quickly!

The middle aged man who worked on these gnarled hands told me more of his own immigration journey today. He talked matter-of-factly about fleeing his home, landing in a refugee camp in Indonesia, going to Singapore when U.S. Immigration gave the green light, then flying across the Pacific with his younger sister at the age of 22.

He began college here, then returned to his homeland to find a wife. “How many kids do you have?” I asked. “Two,” he replied, “my son is 19 now and attends our local community college.” Something about him has always radiated competence and efficiency, the ability to quietly take charge and get things done. Now I have a little clearer understanding of how those qualities came to be.

Some of us can point to one or two defining moments in our lives that have permanently shaped and changed us; others of us have lived a life with a little less drama, but can talk about a steady accumulation of small things telling a story of movement and growth.

Some of us have gotten stuck along the way — maybe because of illness, or hardship or the untimely death of a loved one. And getting stuck is a story in and of itself! But how will we ever learn these things about one another if we don’t take the time to listen, to ask careful questions, to learn from each other?

This is one of the things I love about the internet, this blogging community we’re all a part of: we tell stories. And, believe it or not, the simple act of commenting, of offering encouragement to the storytellers we read, is a step in the direction of becoming a better listener. Taking the time to read carefully and then respond with a word of thanks and/or hope — this is good stuff. Important stuff. 

Which is exactly why I do not have plans to close down my own blog (even if it might feel that way on occasion, when I take a L O N G break!) and why I hope the rumors of blog-death are exaggerated and misplaced. Yes, of course, it is important to be listening to one another IRL — in person, by telephone, in email conversations. But writing in these funny spaces called weblogs is a great start, filled with potential — if we take care with our words, tell the truth, and release expectations.

So, I hope you’ll continue to join me here. And though I won’t be reading as many blogs as I have in the past (got a bigger project or two that need more time), I fully intend to continue to read several and to engage in conversations when I do.

Because everyone has a story,  right?

Stepping into the Shoes — SheLoves

It’s the last Saturday of the month – so it must be my turn to offer a contribution over at SheLoves Magazine! You can start that piece right here and then follow the links over to finish it off . . .

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I’m not quite sure how I got pegged as a leader, but somehow, it happened. Not in my school or social settings, however; it happened at church, after my family moved and we began attending a church with a large youth ministry.

And I went to everything.

I loved church. I felt safe there, secure, even confident. Church attendance was always a part of our family story. Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, Wednesday evenings, social events, weddings, memorial services. Yeah, we went to it all. I was an eager middle school learner with a sweet, college-aged Bible leader on those Sunday evenings. And that woman was among the first to identify leadership and teaching gifts in me.

Those gifts got put on the sideline after college, at least for a few years. We served overseas together and had our 3 kids pretty quickly. And when they were 7, 5 and 3, we shifted to a more local congregation, and it was in that place that my gifts were recognized, affirmed, identified and labeled as gifts belonging to a pastor.

A pastor? Me?

I had never seen a woman lead in worship, unless it was a visiting single missionary or the local leading layperson in youth ministry. Never.

That idea, which was in many ways the natural progression of what began when I was twelve years old, never entered my mind.  So my decision to go to seminary in my mid-forties was based on what I experienced as a call to seminary, a desire to become a better Bible teacher, a more experienced worship planner. Even while there, I honestly never thought about leading a congregation in a pastoral role.

But two of my male professors called me out on that. “We see the gifts, Diana. Why not pray and consider whether or not God might be preparing you for exactly that?”

And so a long discernment process began during the second of my four years in school. And one late afternoon in year three, while taking a long walk around my neighborhood and earnestly seeking God’s wisdom and will, 

Please click here to join me over at SheLoves . . .

Love and Fear

“There is only one metric for discipleship, only one call: to go beyond being polite, subdued, civil and nice to practicing real, even dangerous, love.” – Pastor Don Johnson, in this morning’s sermon, “Sifted,”
based on 1 John 4:7-21

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Twenty-nine times in fourteen verses — that’s how often the apostle John uses the worn-out, overused, mostly ignored word, “love,” in the 4th chapter of his first epistle.

Twenty-nine times.

I think this guy believes what he says, you know?

And I think he has the street cred to back up his instructions, his analysis, his hopes, his commands.

You remember John, don’t you? The ‘beloved’ disciple, one of three pulled out for special events, the one to whom Jesus gave responsibility for his mother while he was dying on that cross, the one who stayed around through the whole awful crucifixion scene and then showed up early at the empty tomb and immediately believed? 

Yes, I think this man’s words can be trusted. I think John knows whereof he speaks. 

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So from our perch in the balcony this morning (it’s where the scooter fits best), I sat and pondered this tableau of sifting things — fish net, colander, strainer. And as we moved through the sermon, I could see — again! — that the one thing Jesus uses to sift the wheat from the chaff in our souls is love. 

Nothing else works, you see. Only love can separate us from all those things that get in the way of deep and true relationships, that keep us from living out the peace and justice that God asks of us, that infiltrate our spirits and keep us suspicious, reactive, judgmental and jealous. Only love.

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We’ve heard that word so often that most of the time, we don’t even think about what it might mean when we see it, hear it, think it.

What does it truly mean to love? To choose love, to practice love, to live in love? Where does it come from? How do we grow it in ourselves?

It is, after all, the one thing that Jesus commands us to do, right? Love God, love one another.

And John picks up the song right where Jesus left off. Pastor Don outlined for us the powerful truths that are buried in this long list of ‘love’ words in 1 John 4 and the ones that stood out to me are these: 

Love comes from God because God is love.

God is therefore the source of love, we are the reflectors of it.

God chooses to use us as instruments of God’s love in our interactions with one another.

Our love for one another is the primary — perhaps even the only — way in which those who do not yet know God can see God at work in the world.

The clearest demonstration of love ever let loose in this world is Jesus.

When love takes over, fear flees.

Loving God and loving others are non-negotiables.

Even though I wasn’t feeling particularly well this morning, I knew I needed to hear this sermon, to ponder it and pray through it and learn from it. For lots of reasons, but primarily because of my own ongoing battle with anxiety and worry. That particular journey is a two-steps-forward-one-step-back kinda trip in my life, and I needed to think again on these words: “Perfect love casts out fear.”

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When you think about it, fear is at the bottom of a whole lot of ugly, scary things in this world. Every bomb dropped, warrior wounded, child enslaved, bit of food hoarded — all of it comes back to being afraid of something. Afraid there won’t be enough, afraid we’ll lose face, afraid we won’t get all our wants/needs met, afraid of the nameless/faceless ‘enemy,’ wherever and whoever they are.

I’ve been afraid a lot lately — afraid I’ll never walk right again, afraid I’ll be dependent on others forever, afraid I’ll be . . . what? Defective? Hobbled? Less than?

And yet, I don’t believe that about friends of mine who deal with disabilities of one kind or another. I see them for who they are, I value their insights and their gifts. So what am I truly afraid of?

Maybe that I’ll be less than what I’ve been before. Maybe that I’ll fail to measure up to some invisible, impossible standard of perfection that hangs over my head. Maybe that no one will love me if I’m not ‘together.’ Maybe that I do not and will not love myself if I’m not ‘performing’ the way I think I should. Maybe that God won’t love me if I’m not working hard.

Ah. Now we’re getting somewhere.

I am still doing battle with that ancient enemy, that old heresy, the one that goes like this:

Salvation is to be earned.
Worth is to be proven.
What I do for God and for others is what will force God to love me and will make me more acceptable to myself, too.

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And that is crazy-making thinking, you know? Scroll back up to the list I wrote out from chapter 4. John spells it out, plain as day. LOVE COMES FIRST, God loves us, we respond in love, God’s love flows through us to others, and the pattern is repeated.

Only, we’re really, really lousy at this thing. Just reading through the comments section at some of the more public blogging sites proves that. We can’t even be civil, much less move beyond civility to love. We so often let fear win, don’t we? Way too often.

So tonight, at this end of the day, I want to start again. Again. I want to ask for the blessing and I want to be open enough to receive it. I want to hold my hands and my heart open and let the love of God flow into and through me. I want to live in love, not in fear.

In LOVE, not in fear.

How about you?

Show Me the Way — Reflections on Retirement for The High Calling

I’m writing at one of my favorite places today — The High Calling, working this time with Sam Van Eman as part of a series on transitions. Join me there to read the whole essay — and engage in the conversation.

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For nearly 25 years, my life looked like this: raising three children, volunteering in church and community, editing school newsletters, teaching Bible studies, and hanging a whole lotta wallpaper (It was the 70s, remember wallpaper?). I think they called what I did then, ‘staying home;’ all I know is that it was the hardest and most rewarding work I’ve ever done.

In my early 40s, our family life began to shift. My kids were in college, with the eldest one married and the younger two getting closer to marriage every day. I attended a day-long retreat that offered interaction with career counselors, and began to dream about possibilities for the second half of life.

I thought about teaching. I began a small floral business in my garage. I talked to God, my husband, my children, and my friends.

And then there was this pastor/friend who gently suggested that I consider enrolling in the fine seminary just five miles down the hill from our home. That idea resonated deep inside me, and I began to ponder what it might mean.

About five years later, I began my life as a seminary student. There I experienced a direct call from God to pursue ordination and work as a member of a church staff. I graduated when I was 48, took an unpaid position for three years while I jumped through hoops for ordination, and then—at 52—began a 14-year commitment as Associate Pastor about 120 miles north of our home in the San Gabriel Valley. My husband and I made the move. He commuted to his own job until we both retired in 2010.

I’m not sure I can find words to describe how difficult it was to make that last transition. Retirement. I loved being a pastor. I had done hard work to become one, and I wasn’t sure what not being a pastor would look like in the community in which we now live. I had only ever been a pastor here; a member of the workforce. No one knew me as a family person, my former primary identity. Who would I be now?

So I did a lot of prayerful listening—listening to the Spirit’s words within me, listening to my family and my friends, to my co-workers, and to the deepest parts of myself . . .

Please click here to read the rest of this post . . .

 

Q & A: Tuesday Wrap-Up, Week One


DSC00504 Oh, my! Such rich and wonderful depths to this conversation. My heartfelt thanks to each and every one of you who is reading along as we continue this experiment of pushing out, ever-so-gently, into the deeper waters that we wonder about as we live out this life of faith. And special thanks to each one who commented and/or who linked up some longer reflections from their own blogsite. I am grateful for each one of you, and grateful for the time and thought that went into your contributions here.

We have barely begun to scratch the surface of this topic, this thing we call obedience, but we’re enjoying the beauty of a shared ride along the crest of a wave, with thumbs up all round. I read every word you wrote, and these are the things that rise to the top as I reflect on what you’ve shared.

Almost everyone has had a difficult relationship with the idea and even with the practice of obedience, especially when it was taught in the context of conformity and obligation. (One of the links had this great line: “Goodness, obedience, when looked at through the lens of conformity is a dangerous thing.”) Several different writers mentioned the weight of being the ‘good girl,’ or the ‘good boy,’ and the pressure that rises as we try to make sure everyone is pleased with us, that we’re living up to expectations, that we’re earning performance points.

There was also, however, the recognition that if we re-define the term, if we look at it prayerfully and intuitively, the emotions surrounding the word change. Finding our way to a healthy, clear definition seemed to be high on the list; it feels important to us to think through what we mean when we talk about being obedient people.

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I loved that the story of Rahab came up in one of the linked posts, and also the reflection on civil disobedience, which was linked near the end of our celebration of MLK day yesterday. Rahab and Martin Luther King, Jr., each push us to ask good, hard questions about what we mean when we say we are obedient people. Obedient to whom? To what? for what purpose?

Rahab broke one of the 10 commandments, didn’t she? She lied, she bore false witness. But most of us resonate with her choice. Why? 

MLK encouraged black Americans, and any white Americans who felt called to join them, to disobey unfair laws and to step right into the middle of the mess by standing tall for the right, the good and the just. He looked the rules in the face and said, ‘NO. No, I will not be obedient to injustice.’

They each broke the ‘rules.’ And in the process, they rid themselves of the shackles of one set of culturally imposed values for another set entirely, a higher one. Rahab lied to save lives; MLK and all who followed him landed in jail, got beaten, endured insults, for what? Because they recognized a higher authority, the authority of justice, and they stood up for it. Which is something one of the commenters at the post talked about, too: that Jesus ‘stood up’ when treated unfairly – I loved this line: “But before Christ ‘laid down’ He stood up. He didn’t knock down but merely stood up.”

Sometimes obedience looks like standing up, breaking rules, speaking truth to power. And sometimes obedience looks like holding our tongues, being gentle and gracious, leaning into the difficulties in which we live. This line hit me hard and reminded me that sometimes, brokenness takes time to mend: “I think my obedience this year involves a willingness to receive God’s comfort in the emotionally decimated parts of myself.”

Yes, yes! Opening ourselves to the comforting love of God is an act of obedience, one that too many of us deny ourselves, believing that to be comforted and loved, we must somehow earn those things. We must do All.The.Things, the important, obedient things, and then maybe God will be there for us.

But how can we ever learn to love God — as the scriptures teach us — with ALL of who we are, if we don’t allow God’s love for us to fill and comfort and change us? Before we can love well, we need to know what being loved is like. Almost always that means learning to listen. To listen to that still, small voice that whispers hope, invitation, confidence, and love to our hearts. 

“I attempted to be faithful in prayer
yet never fit the pattern
of warriors and intercessors
who tried to school me
no list of requests for me
instead I simply seek His presence
abide, wait, respond
He said

when you’re breathing you’re praying

so I relax into that.”

 More than one person mentioned the importance of having trusted others in our life, those who love the Lord and who also love us. “Experience has taught me: those who have my best interest at heart will encourage me to seek His face, not try to tell me what His face looks like.”   I think that is a central part of what it means to be in community with one another — that we encourage each other to seek the face of Christ AND that we recognize that each of us will be given a slightly different angle from which to view that face.

Over and around and above all of the difficulties, the misunderstandings, the limits of our human vocabulary, there shines this powerful truth: God is bigger than the rules. And God will never leave us to fend for ourselves, even though it sometimes feels like that is exactly what is happening! “No matter what circumstances I encounter, no matter what insurmountable obstacles appear to be in my way; and no matter, even, the dumb things I do–Christ will not relent. He will not stop. I can rest in knowing Christ remains steadfast in being for me. He continues marching forward, working all things toward his purpose and for my good.”

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We’re riding this wave well, friends. I see you ‘listening’ to one another, with comments and links, with cross-comments and follow-up words. We’re in this together, and we’re learning as we go. Thank you, thank you.

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On Friday, we’ll jump into a famous phrase that has so many levels of both difficulty and beauty, we may be surprised at what will rise to the surface. What’s with this ‘more of Jesus, less of me’ stuff? I’m mulling this one over. And over. I look forward to posting my own ‘living the question’ and some of my ‘living into the answer’ musings at the end of the week. The link will be open through the weekend.

Please take a button for you own blog from one (or both) of the ones Lyla has so beautifully tucked into the side bar here. 

 

 

 

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