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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Our World Today: Choosing Sides or Stepping Back

by Lauren Van Ham

And just the moment when you are all confused leaps forth a voice hold me close I’m love and I'm always yours.
- Rumi

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Matthew 5:9

I had already begun to blog about a fun adventure my Mom and I had undertaken in May, when the NPR sound waves interrupted my train of thought.  My hands left the keyboard as I listened to the reporter interview Palestinian families who were registering with U.N officials at a shelter site, near Gaza. 

With a sigh, I sat back from the computer and felt my chest tighten in the way it does when I experience the discomfort of having so much, when others have so little.  I thought about how I had taken a bike ride that morning, through a gorgeous, protected expanse of preserved land; and how very soon, I would be joining friends in their cozy home, to watch the final World Cup game, all in the safety and freedom of a neighborhood adjacent to my own, where there would be plenty of good food and water and anything we could possibly need.  And then my thoughts went to all the people around the world today, who aren’t able to count on any of this.  Whether recovering from a natural disaster, or trying to survive in land torn by civil unrest and war, I found myself in that moment, sending prayers to all points of the earth, asking God to ease the suffering, to end the fighting, to provide humans with the courage and willingness to forge peace.  And, at the same time, I expressed gratitude for all that I have, for how blessed I feel.

In that moment, I realized that I, “should” be writing about the sadness I feel about the Israeli-Palestinian impasse.  And that thought was immediately followed by my confusion about what I could possibly say that hasn’t already been pondered, which then made me think of all the activists who - throughout the ages - have tirelessly persisted, continuing to talk about things that have endlessly been pondered, simply because it wasn’t (isn’t) okay for everyone else to be sitting back and not taking a stand.

Granted, it’s not as simple as saying that my taking a bike ride or watching the World Cup means I’m, “sitting back.”  There are, however, undeniably difficult realities surrounding the things I enjoy, quite possibly happening at the expense of another.  Carbon bikes are manufactured in Asia.  Can I guarantee the working conditions for the employees at those factories?  I cannot.  In the weeks before the World Cup, there were horrific headlines about FIFA and their dismissive treatment toward the Brazilians.   What would Jesus have said to FIFA? 

Hhrmphf.  This world can feel so complicated. 

In recent months, several Christian denominations have implemented their decision to divest from Israel.  Maybe, in reflecting on impotency we typically feel, when facing something so large as a decades-old argument, in a country and culture not my own, the first step is to simply say, “I’m not supporting either side.” Maybe by stepping back from the particulars of one side or the other, we can begin to see the people, the faces and lives of our fellow humans. 

When you find yourself caught up in “making it fair,” or choosing a side, what helps you regain neutrality?  What have you been part of recently that (large or small) was a peace-making effort?

About Lauren: Lauren lives in Berkeley, CA.  She serves as Dean at The Chaplaincy Institute (ChI), an interfaith seminary and tends her private practice as a spiritual director.  You can read Lauren’s blog at: http://www.laurenvanham.com/


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Another Prayer for the Meadowlarks

by Angier Brock


In the last five weeks, I have gone every day but one to watch for the Eastern Meadowlarks that are nesting on a section of the Yorktown battlefield. While Meadowlarks are not endangered, their population has been decreasing at an alarming rate. Because they are ground nesters, they are vulnerable not only to other animals but also to the human appetite for manicured green spaces. This year, however, rather than being mowed every few weeks, the grasses on part of the battlefield have been allowed to grow up into a meadow, thus accommodating the Meadowlarks’ breeding season. What I watch for and report each day is the birds’ behavior, from which we can infer where they are in their cycle—and hold off the mowing until the season’s offspring are able to fend for themselves.

I have learned a great deal about Eastern Meadowlarks, not only from reading books and visiting websites but also from making and recording my own observations. But I have also learned a great deal from the Meadowlarks. They have taught me the value of physical presence. They have confirmed the goodness of watching, waiting, being patient. They have affirmed the merit of showing up, open to the moment, fully present.  

These are not new lessons. For years, teaching writing classes, I have harped on the importance of showing up regularly at the blank page, even when (perhaps especially when) you think you have nothing on your mind, nothing to say. Likewise, for years I have heard people who give instruction in contemplative prayer stress the same thing. The first step is always to make oneself available, and to keep making oneself available day after day, even if it seems that nothing comes of the effort.

I know these things. But I forget. How good it is to be reminded that there will be a payoff. That if I stay with the process and show up, a poem will emerge. Or that if I stay with the discipline of prayer, there will be an inner shift, and with it perhaps some guidance, or healing, or peace.

I feel deeply grateful for my time with the Meadowlarks.  As I continue to keep watch, sooner or later I will notice that they are doing something different from what they were doing the day before. Perhaps they are gathering sticks for a nest. Perhaps they are carrying in food for the hatchlings. Perhaps they are standing sentinel, calling the fledglings out of the tall grasses and into a mown swath on the perimeter of the field to gather seed on their own.

What about you? Where are you called to watch, to wait, to listen? I pray that the Meadowlarks will thrive here on our now peaceful battlefield. May you also thrive in those places and among those people where you are called to live, to work, to be present. 




Thursday, July 10, 2014

Jesus and email: Do Unto Others

by Tom Pappas

I am going to try to convince you that Jesus had email in mind when he spoke to us, through the Gospels, “Do to others as you would have them do to you!” Luke 6:31 NRSV

The Golden Rule seems to be a cultural admonition that has made its way into devout families and those that score 0 on the faith scale, because it is the right thing to do.

The reason this issue is on the tip of my awareness is that are three groups that I send blast emails to frequently.  The response rate is so pitiful that more than once I have checked the Sent Folder to see if it ever went out. 

Be advised, I am not complaining because I can describe each and every one of their non-responses by my own rationales and behavior as I scroll through the day’s email.

  • Noted. Glad to know.
  • Noted. I need to come back to that after thinking it over.
  • Oh, man, that means work for me. I’ll have to craft an answer.
  • Junk – Delete

The problem lies in the ones I put off and are driven deep down the queue and should have some form of reply. Rarely do I scroll down far enough to keep the promises I made to myself when I saw them the first time. Clearly, that is where my unanswered emails reside on the computers of the people on my lists.

Our local newspaper had a recent piece that posited, “Voicemail is Obsolete”. When I tried to find it in the archives I found several like it going back 3-4 years. The phenomenon seems to support this blog and, as parents of adult children, we have had return calls that begin, “I see you left a voicemail.” This means the careful message we left hasn’t been listened to. No offense, we can learn – simpler message next time.

Jesus would answer his emails.  With his own words in mind, wouldn’t he want us to answer the ones he sent to us? Do to others! He clearly would.


And I am answering a call of my conscience to do likewise. There is a Reply button on every email that I get.  My new discipline will be to craft an immediate “thinking” response to the ones that require it. Time Management tells us to handle once; makes sense. That, in my view, is what Jesus would do.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Grow with the Flow: Bask in Your Breed


Don't ask what the world needs; ask what makes you come alive, and go do that.  Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.  
Howard Thurman

When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy. 

by Lauren Van Ham

With the Summer Solstice just behind us, we’re enjoying now, the longest days of the year.  It’s the season when in places like Alaska, growth happens around the clock, and backyard farmers race to keep up with lawns, tomatoes, watermelons and beans.  What’s fun for me about this time of year is how it happens so effortlessly.  The plants can’t help but to grow, to creep, to expand and reach.  It would take more effort to hold back, than to expand out.
 
Last week, riding my bike through a neighborhood park, I laughed out loud as I watched two Sheep dogs playing fetch with their owner.  You can picture it, right?  The way they, with extreme focus, run out in front of the ball and, “assume the position,” preparing to launch and circle at just the right moment.  It’s like the Huskies, who tremble with anticipation, as their owners prepare to attach them to the sled…or more likely a leash.  And the Terriers, jaws locked and drooling, who nearly rip humans’ arms from their sockets, as they tug-o-war with their chew toys.  When functioning from their breed, a dog’s joy is boundless.  And, like the growing plants, restraining their instincts would be far more difficult than doing what comes naturally.

At Lumunos, we talk a lot about Call, the place where we bring our joy - our gifts - to meet a need in the world.  I really like the way Howard Thurman (above) talks about Call – doing what, “makes us come alive.”  In Buddhism, it’s called “Buddha Nature,” or one’s “True Nature.”  It’s the behavior that flows freely from us, without much hesitation or forethought. 

Sometimes, tending our Call takes work, darker seasons require introspection, exercising trust when illumination is sparse.  At other times, though, we are best left to heed the words, “don’t think too much,” and to just, “grow with the flow.” IN these times, we are able to rest in faith that who we are, what we bring most naturally, is precisely what’s needed. 


If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many members, yet one body.  1 Corinthians 12: 17-20 (NRSV)


What plant type or dog breed best describes you?  Have you taken time yet this Summer to bask in your breed?

About Lauren: Lauren lives in Berkeley, CA.  She serves as Dean at The Chaplaincy Institute (ChI), an interfaith seminary and tends her private practice as a spiritual director.  You can read Lauren’s blog at: http://www.laurenvanham.com/

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Retirement: Growing Old or Growing Young

by Paul Hettinga

This picture of my parents has always inspired me. At nearly 70 years old they were on a trip to Colorado to see first hand what Young Life did with kids. One of the day trip options was this incredible raft trip. They jumped at the opportunity. Wow! What a great picture of a couple who expanded their lives as they grew older, who experienced more as they grew older and who felt that each day was a gift from God. Their lives hadn’t always been so. Maybe I’ll write about that another time.

Late in life they got involved in a number of mission trips, ministry projects, embraced a steadily broadening group of people they came to love and in general ‘grew their lives’ in ways that we’re counterintuitive to retirement. Instead of doing less, they did more. Instead of shrinking their circle of friends, they broadened it. Instead of narrowing their view of politics, religion, social and cultural issues, they broadened their perspective. They became more embraced by God’s spirit of love, of growth, of generosity and of open-mindedness and embraced others in these same ways.

My dad died 10 years ago and my mom is now in Assisted Living in Grand Haven. It is such a joy to watch her being loved now in these same ways by all the people who she and my dad loved so generously all those years. In fact there is one young man who spends nearly every Tuesday morning with mom, reading to her since she has lost her sight to macular degeneration. Earlier in her life, my mom had done the same for his grandmother for many years before she died and he is now returning the favor by reading to her each week. As Proverbs teaches us, life is circular. Throughout their lives, mom and dad sowed a life of love and gracious hospitality, and now my mom is reaping all the same love and generous care from so many family and friends.

I’ve been retired from my career now for 6 months and have tried to focus on who God wants me to be and who I want to be for the rest of my life. I’ve taken the advice of many friends who have retired before me and have not made any long-term commitments yet. I’m trying to give myself and God time enough to discern these most important questions before I start getting busy again.

The example of my mom and dad’s expanding version of growing old reaches deep into me and inspires me to do no less. I’m inspired by both of them to broaden my own viewpoints, to be more accepting of those who disagree with me or with whom I disagree, to be generously loving and to live generously – not ‘holding too tightly’ to the resources God has given me, investing them in the lives God brings to me.

Finally, I’m inspired to simply be more available to the day, to being where I am, to accepting myself as being good enough just as I am. I want to live towards others in the same way. God’s gracious and forgiving love makes it possible to live this way. And here’s another even greater point; once you start living this way, it’s both infectious and expansive to the point that it becomes hard not to live this way.

So for now – it’s enough to not do too much, to take time and to let God’s quiet voice and spirit embrace me. I hope that God will plant deeply within me many of the same qualities that I saw in my mom and dad. From that place, who knows what I might end up being and doing?

Let the adventure continue!


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Resilience

by Doug Wysockey-Johnson

A dog bit me on Memorial Day.  That led to stitches which led to an infection which led to an allergic reaction to the antibiotic I was on for the infection.  And so it went for about three weeks.


None of this was life changing.  It was more than inconvenient, but definitely less than a crisis. In a world where 842 million people go hungry, this barely registers. Still, an infected dog bite was not what I needed in the midst of a very busy season of work and family events.  In a small way, this episode is an example of what Scott Peck famously wrote on the first page of his book A Road Less Traveled:  “Life is difficult.”  Yep.


Which leads me to a word and movement that I find intriguing these days.  The word is “resilience” and I find it everywhere.  There are resiliency trainings for educators, fire fighters, physicians and parents. There are events to help your children become more resilient. There are academic programs and papers, workshops and retreats.  Seems everyone is in to resilience these days.  Google it and see what you get.


The dictionary defines resilience as “the ability to recoil or spring back into shape after bending, stretching, or being compressed.” I suspect this is why resiliency programs are so popular these days—so many of us feel that we are bent, stretched or compressed in one way or another.  If it isn’t a dog bite, it is the lack of time, or financial worries, or relationship strife. Life is difficult—it stretches all of us.  To be spiritually well doesn’t mean these challenges pass us by.  Spiritual wellness is about resilience, being able to come back from difficulties.


Many of the world’s religions have offered early versions of resiliency training.  Christianity is the one I know best, and it has at its core the idea of springing back after being bent, stretched and compressed. The Apostle Paul gives one of the all-time great resiliency quotes when he says  We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”  (2 Corinthians4:8) I am pretty sure he is referring to more than a dog bite there.


There are a lot of reasons I am an imperfect practitioner of a faith tradition (with emphasis on the “practice” part of that word.) I treasure community and I like to sing, to name just a few.  But I also participate because life is difficult, and I need all the resiliency I can find. I find it in faith community.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Acting & Hoping to Make a Difference

by Tom Pappas

On many occasions, something I read or hear conjures an obscure connection; then comes a different one, which leads me to an unexpected final destination. Is that something you do?

Here’s what happened: I saw a post on Facebook that indicated the Oklahoma Ponca are going to plant their sacred corn seeds on property in Nebraska that is in the proposed route of the Keystone XL pipeline.* [*For the record, my position on the pipeline controversy is that the tar sands source is ill advised; the route over the Ogallala aquifer is short sighted; the company is not to be trusted to clean up spills – which there will be; and the product will end up at a Texas port to be sent away.] But that’s not today’s topic.  

For some reason the Ponca reference triggered in my brain Chief Standing Bear and his 1879 trial where he told Judge Dundy, “I am a man”. (Or was it, “Am I not a man?”)* He was on trial because had promised his dying son, during their forced march from their ancestral lands, to a reservation in Oklahoma; he would take him home to be buried. He kept his promise, got arrested, went to trial, and was granted habeas corpus by Judge Dundy and essentially became the first Native American to be granted human being status by law.

 I looked it up on Wikipedia and found that both versions of the quote were attributed to the occasion of the Dred Scott decision, and Chief Standing bear was not mentioned. Wow.  No disrespect for Dred Scott, but I can remember in 2011 when I was reading Joe Starita’s account (“I Am a Man”: Chief Standing Bear’s Journey for Justice) of Standing Bear and the Ponca’s ordeal, saying more than once, “Every Nebraskan needs to know this story, (self-correcting) no, every American should.” Essentially African Americans were granted the same status 22 years earlier.

I did a first. I amended the Wikipedia entry for the ‘I Am a Man’ entry. You can look it up. It seemed the right thing to do and it wasn’t hard at all.

I have known that the Wiki policy is to encourage participation but have not felt qualified or passionate enough to amend an entry. Or maybe I have not noticed an error. At any rate, this is something I oddly felt I needed to do.

Now I’m interested in this amazing God of ours and how we’re made and how we develop into people who on one occasion will sit on our hands and observe, but the elements of a different event incite us to action.

I am tempted to say that I’m all about God, but when I’m completely honest, I must confess I’m all about God after I’m finished being all about me.


God bless people who lovingly and peacefully act out their passion. I know feel blessed when I do.