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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Soul-saving Practices in a World that’s Not Ours

by Lauren Van Ham

When we look beyond appearances, we see oppressors and oppressed people, in all societies, ethnic groups, genders, social classes and casts; we see an unfair and cruel world. We have to create another world because we know it is possible. But it is up to us to build this other world with our hands and by acting on the stage and in our own life.
–Augusto Boal

I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.
-  John 17:13-15 (NRSV)

In the season of Pentecost, the gospels invite us to observe the difference between heaven and earth.  Seeking the kingdom within and bringing heaven to earth have been among Jesus’ instructions; and now, too, is his radical reminder that we are not of this world.  

Perhaps you don’t find this so “radical”… but humor me with a quick reality check: in my daily life, this earthly existence feels pretty real a lot of the time.  A laptop in my backpack, a smart-phone ever in arm’s reach, billboards and sound bites calling my attention this way and that, and a calendar chronicling plans and commitments, I am highly caught-up in the world.  I fall prey to action all around me, and become uncomfortably full with the fire-hydrant-spray of information flowing 24/7.

I love my meditation cushion and prayer time each morning, I value my periods of “e-sabbath” on weekends, AND still, I am sneakily arrested and driven by what feels like the very real world around me.

Is some of this true for you, too?

But we’re NOT of this world.  And, thankfully, there are moments each day when I can be rattled back to that truer, deeper sense of Belonging I believe Jesus was talking about.

Twenty years ago, I was a theatre intern for a most incredible company in Washington D.C., whose projects included mounting theatre pieces with incarcerated populations, partnering with public school teachers, and cultivating creative play space for kids in the foster care system. On the wall of the theatre was an enormous sign, “Art Saves Lives.”  

Said differently: art recalls us to our True Nature, the divine stuff of which we are all uniquely, wondrously made.  …And don’t let that word, “Art,” scare you away for fear you lack the proper techniques.  When art saves lives, so, too, does play: Play saves life.  Creativity saves life; moreover, it IS life.  Consider those times, in your existence, when the world’s pace and monotonous messaging has become deadening.   

What creative act, what art-fueled oasis alerted you, once more, to the Greater Web of Creation?  Paint, Dance, Sculpt, Sing, Move, Act, Write…Make it up, do it soon and then do it again… and then share it with the rest of us.  Our soul life depends on it!


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, May 12, 2015

I Got to be in a Bible Story

by Tom Pappas

As I drove out my long driveway I heard a power tool at the front of my neighbor’s property. I guessed that he was edging the grass parkway between the sidewalk and the street. (Parkway is what we call it in Lincoln, NE.)  He was not edging, but in fact he was blowing the remaining leaves from winter from his property into the street. I did not like what I saw.

Here’s what went on within me. That’s so illegal. That’s so lazy. What does he think will happen to those leaves?

I came home a couple hours later to find this: Some of the leaves were back on his parkway and sidewalk (deserved). Lots of the leaves were on my driveway, because the direction of the 35 mph traffic whooshed them in the direction of our property. Lots of the leaves were past my driveway and in our rock garden, and lots were past the rock garden in the bed between the sidewalk and our front fence (all undeserved). Grrr.

I gathered tools: a rake, a broom, a wheel barrel, and my giant dustpan. While I collected my neighbor’s renegade leaves I was trying out my speech to him. THIS I would not let go.

In the midst of raking, sweeping and collecting, God somehow gave me the Luke passage where Jesus talks about being mistreated by your enemy. For the record, my neighbor is not my enemy, but I took to heart what I believe to be the nugget of Jesus’ message, and decided I would both turn the other cheek AND give him my coat by raking the 90’ of his parkway. (I coached high school baseball for 9 years and chalked the baseline from home to first enough times to know that distance by heart.)

While I raked, I put together a great script for my “heart to heart” with my neighbor.

TOM: I want to talk to you about leaves.

NEIGHBOR: What is it?

TOM: I got some Karma that was supposed to be yours the other day.


TOM: Last Wednesday when I drove out you were blowing leaves into the street and when I came back they were partly back on your parking but mostly in my driveway, Laurel’s rock garden and our front bed. I was shocked and angry that you did that. It’s illegal.

NEIGHBOR: I didn’t know. I’m sorry.

TOM: The good news is that I got to be in a Bible story.

NEIGHBOR: How’s that?

TOM: In Luke, Jesus said if your enemy takes your shirt, give him your coat. You’re not my enemy, but I decided to rake your parking.

NEIGHBOR: You didn’t have to do that.

TOM: I didn’t do it for you; I did it for me. The Bible works - I’m not mad anymore.

NEIGHBOR: Thank you

It turns out that in real life I said every one of my lines fairly closely to the way I wrote them above. My neighbor, who was not present at the rehearsal, did not. He did say he would not do it again.

Luke 6:27-30 “To you who are ready for the truth, I say this: Love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer for that person. If someone slaps you in the face, stand there and take it. If someone grabs your shirt, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously."        The Message  

Revenge is in our culture’s DNA. From my experience last week, I say revenge is a really sad option. It’s so tempting but I don’t see it melting the anger. I don’t see it putting closure on a simple dispute. Revenge doesn’t feel as good or right as letting Jesus’ teaching bring out the best in me. What a good choice it is to live generously. And I got to be in a Bible story!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Prayer for Good Timing

by Angier Brock

What a difference a few days can make. While I was away for a week, the grasses in the meadow I have been watching grew a foot or so (thereby giving the Meadowlarks plenty of cover in which to hide their nests), and the glorious Blue Grosbeaks returned. Meanwhile, one of the two Bald Eaglets I have been keeping an eye on since early March apparently fledged, and the lone remaining eaglet looks as though it will take off any time now. Over and over it stretches its wings, flaps them, and lifts a few inches off the nest. Through my binoculars, I catch a fleeting glimpse of daylight under its feet when it rises up. It settles again mid-nest. Then it hops up onto the nest’s edge and looks out over the tops of the trees toward the river, and then down to the forest floor, and then out again.

I wonder what it sees. I wonder what it thinks about what it sees. I wonder if it has any inkling of what it will soon do. I wonder if it feels excited or fearful—or both—about leaving the nest and flying. Mostly I wonder about the timing: how it will know when to let go so that it can soar.

Such wondering has particular poignancy for me this year. Two family members—my sons’ paternal grandfather and my daughter-in-law’s father—are house-bound and in hospice care. In a sense, their task is the opposite of the young eagles’ task. Their call is not to leave their respective “nests” and become independent. Rather it is to stay centered in their nests, to let themselves be cared for and loved. And yet in some ways their work is the same, for in the end, like the eaglets, they will need to let go and fly into a world they cannot yet completely know.

And so, when I hold them in my prayers now, I lift them up not as two frail old men on the verge of dying but as two eaglets on the verge of learning a new way of soaring into a new kind of life. For both of them, and for all of us as we take the next steps on our journeys, I pray for the courage to let go of the old so that we can soar, and I pray for good timing.