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Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas Call Cards

If you want to know something about a person’s call, read their Christmas card.

By now you have received many Christmas cards. You have heard how the children are doing, and seen their picture. You have heard about the highlights of the year, including the trip to Europe. You have heard about the move, the wedding, and the health issue.

My uncle and aunt used to send a humorous letter, a satire of the “My kids are all perfect and let me brag about them” kind of card. Their Christmas letter would talk about how their son managed to stay out of jail, or that their daughter got a “C” in math. One year they simply gave the route that their son in law would drive to work.

In many of these cards, I see the hints of people’s call.

Ron Farr defines call this way:
God’s call is not something ‘extra’ that we slip into our already busy schedule. It is not an interruption of what we normally do. It is not even ‘doing one’s part’ or fulfilling one’s obligations at church or any other place. God’s call is the basic organizing principle of our lives. It wells up from our deepest priorities and inspirations, and determines how we manage our time, focus our energies, relate to others, organize our day, and make plans for the future.
~Ron Farr

Defined this way, travel can be a call. Spending energy on a health issue can living your call too. Raising children certainly is. I would even speak of my uncle and aunt’s humorous card as a call—they are called to make others laugh, and they usually do.

My favorite Christmas Call Card so far this season comes from Wini White, a past Lumunos Board member. In her letter she reflects on some reading she has done about getting lost. She writes:

Getting lost can be of ones own volition such as choosing to drive on a different street or changing a job or moving or it can be thrust on one such as by the loss of a job, the death of a spouse, a physical ailment, or an economic downturn. Either way it can be an opportunity for new experiences. For me, the periods of getting lost in my life have led to new adventures, periods of growth, certainly pain and grief. But out of all of them a sense of movement, of maturity, of growth. However, the past few months, in fact most of this year, I have felt a complacency, a comfort but also a feeling of waiting for the next time I would “get lost”. In November I learned about a Celtic Spirituality Pilgrimage scheduled for next May and I got goose bumps. I think this is the nudge from God I have been looking for.

What are you learning about call from your friends’ Christmas cards?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Advent, Beer and Room at the Inn

What does Advent mean for a man who is losing his business?

Mike is sitting across the aisle and a row or two up from me in church. I can just see him out of the corner of my eye as I look up to the pulpit. As the preacher begins his sermon, I find myself hoping that something he said will be of comfort to Mike. I want to freeze the action, walk up to the pulpit and whisper in the preacher’s ear: “Mike is having a rough week. Not sure if you were planning John the Baptist, or prophets today, but Mike could really use some words of comfort.”

I talked with Mike briefly before the service, and I had seen the articles in the paper earlier that week. I knew that the small, organic brewery that bore his name was going to be sold to a larger company. Mike told me that this information had been leaked prematurely, so he hadn’t been able to talk to his employees in advance. They found out that their company was being sold by reading the same morning paper that I did. I knew that this was not a “win-win” sale, but one borne of economic necessity. I knew Mike’s own future was uncertain. I knew that this caring business man who had worked hard to tend to multiple bottom lines, was hurting. Does the pastor know this? Will he say the right words?

Midway through the sermon, I have my own epiphany. I’m sitting here hoping the preacher will say something of comfort to Mike. I want him to fix it. But what about me? What is my role? What can I do?

Now as I’m listening to the sermon, I begin to pray for Mike… “Spirit, connect the words of the sermon with Mike’s need. Nudge me if there is something I can do for him, some way to be Christ’s hands and feet as he navigates the complicated path he walks in these next few weeks.”

I am not exactly sure what the meaning of advent is to a man who is losing the business he has lovingly tended for many years. But as the sermon winds to a close, in my mind’s eye I see Mike walking alongside Mary, Joseph and the donkey. He too is weary and discouraged. He too needs room at the inn.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Looking for Loopholes

I have a rule that if any new clothes come in the house, then something has to leave the house. I will add more stuff only if I’m willing to subtract stuff as well. I’m always looking for loopholes to this rule: if I get a pair of boots as a gift, then I didn’t really purchase it, so nothing has to leave the house, right? (And yes, I did ask my sister to give me boots for Christmas. Oi.)

We people of faith have been looking for loopholes for a very long time. Maybe this is why Jesus spoke so clearly about it, at least in Eugene Peterson’s version of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:
25Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. "Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?"
26He answered, "What's written in God's Law? How do you interpret it?"
27He said, "That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself."
28"Good answer!" said Jesus. "Do it and you'll live."
29Looking for a loophole, he asked, "And just how would you define 'neighbor'?"
30-32Jesus answered by telling a story. "There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man.
33-35"A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man's condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, 'Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I'll pay you on my way back.'
36"What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?"
37"The one who treated him kindly," the religion scholar responded.
Jesus said, "Go and do the same."

I suspect that when it comes to material goods, I will always be looking for loopholes. Maybe especially around Christmas time. It’s helpful to know that Jesus fielded questions from those people like me so long ago, and WOW did he have an answer! We are all neighbors? Shoot. No loophole there!

NPR reported last week that people would rather have a big screen plasma TV, regardless of its energy cost (which is $200 a year, the same as a refrigerator (the Daily Green) than make a more energy conscious decision. Looking for a loophole, maybe?

Here in the DC metro area, we know that much of our energy comes from coal mined by Mountaintop Removal methods – watching those new plasma TVs that Best Buy has cute carolers so joyously singing about literally comes on the backs of our neighbors in West Virginia. How does that fit into the message of the One whose birth we celebrate this month?

Because I’m not alone in both my desire to live as Christ would have me, AND in my desire to look for loopholes, I’m sharing a few links I found helpful; see what you think:

>>>>The Story of Stuff shows the whole picture of our buying habits. We live in a closed system, no matter what marketers say!
>>>>Advent Conspiracy, provides ideas, resources and a helpful conversation to “take back” Advent as the season to “Worship fully, spend less, give more, and love all.”
>>>>The Faith and Money Network (their website is currently under construction, but check back with them - they are good folks!)
>>>>PBS ran a great show called "Affluenza". Two factoids: the average American parent shops 6 hours a week and spends 40 minutes a week playing with their kids; working couples talk with one another on average only 12 minutes a day. Maybe a good Christmas gift would be play time, or face to face time!

So God bless us, everyone, both as we seek the loopholes, and face anew each day our choices to love our neighbor... with what we buy, and what we give, and what we don't buy and give.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

An Invitation to Advent Prayer

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and soul. These instructions are not things one can neatly wrap in pretty paper and tie with a bow.

Long-time friends (and now guest bloggers!) Tracy and Terry Moore wrote this invitation to Advent prayer to the Lumunos Prayer team, the group that intentionally prays monthly for persons in our network. It was so well said, we want to share it with you.

Advent, what an interesting season this is. As a child I don’t remember it being of much importance, in fact, I’m sure I didn’t even know this time of year had a particular name. The weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas were strictly a time of waiting for Christmas morning and what gifts there might be under the tree – oh and of course a trip to the Hudson’s store downtown to see Santa. Strange, as I went to Sunday school regularly, one would think I would have gathered some information about Advent there.

That was long ago – now we have three Advent candle wreaths; two were gifts, one we purchased. The one we are using this year has a word written by each holder – Peace, Hope, Joy, Faith and Love. It feels comforting for me to sit with the idea each week represents. This week is Peace and in the midst of this weeks announcement that another large contingency of troops is being deployed, Peace for our world seems far, far away. This is not anything new for Christians and for our Hebrew ancestors. Peace most often seemed only a dream, a promise always waiting to be fulfilled. Next week is Hope and I am reminded of the Hebrew Testament stories of Hope – Hope for an heir; Hope to be freed from slavery; Hope to arrive safely in a new land; Hope for a Savior who would bring about Peace. Joy and Faith are still a couple of weeks away and I look forward to discerning what they mean for me this year.

Christmas Day brings Love and at first glance, this seems an easy one – family, friends, pets, and all those things we say we love – like ice cream and cake; chocolate; a favorite sports team; a game, like golf; our neighborhood, our community, our country. In our language and culture the word ‘love’ is thrown around like confetti at a parade. Yet for us who are to be Christ-like, Jesus taught us that Love means much more. Unconditional and abundant Love is what we are to strive for. Love your neighbor as yourself. Love your enemy. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and soul. These instructions are not things one can neatly wrap in pretty paper and tie with a bow. They are not – nice and easy does it. The Baby whose birth we celebrate each December 25th represents those in our society, in all societies who are marginalized, homeless, outcasts and untouchable. The gift we are invited to accept is to LOVE all these, unconditionally and abundantly. In the person of Jesus we see how to live and love divinely. Though this is no small task, we believe it is the one thing that will someday, somehow, bring each of us to the heavenly place where there is always Peace, Hope, Joy, Faith and Love.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Waiting, still waiting...

Waiting is always a part of call. Our friend Alan Ward writes: "I think I told you guys that I had sent a query to "Leadership Journal" about one of my articles back in the fall. The Editor responded that he would read my manuscript a while back, but no further word as of yet. I'm praying this plays out the way it's supposed to.

But I'm not sure how to interpret it when after waiting a month or so (longer than it was "supposed" to take to get a response) an Editor of a publication sends brief e-mail saying "I would be happy to read your manuscript. Please send it..." and then I wait again ... Maybe it is exactly how the "business" works... Probably so... Editors are busy people...

It occurred to me today that this can be viewed as a "living lesson" about the value of time spent "waiting." It kind of preaches Advent. I imagine people waited longer than they expected, longer than they were comfortable waiting, longer than they would have preferred, for the coming of the Messiah. I suppose when the Light finally came, it was all the more powerful in the darkness.

Trying to stay positive and view this development "half-full" (because I in fact think it is!) and not "half-empty"... But I confess waiting drives me crazy sometimes. And so much of life is waiting....

Brian McLaren has a simple song that speaks powerfully in times of waiting...

Wait for the Lord
Wait for the Lord
And be strong

Wait for the Lord
Wait for the Lord
Let your heart take courage.

Just be still,
just have hope,
and wait for the Lord....

Alan Ward was a member of the Make a Living, Have a Life groups, and in the process we learned of his heart for writing about the spiritual journey. We're glad to have Alan as a guest blogger; you can read his article on Spiritual Home Improvement on our website.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Need to Go for a Walk?

This Thanksgiving, maybe you'd enjoy getting outside a bit. Want to go on a walk in the woods with us? This walk is both real - via video, anyway, - and a metaphor for spiritual journey. You might be surprised by invitations to reflective "pause points" in this 5 minute video, and you're joined by some companions on the way!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Connecting with the Wonder of the World

What are your spiritual practices this fall? Here's a 1 minute, 10 second invitation to pause and reflect. These moments are so necessary for living a call-based life!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Simple Spirituality of Everyday Life

Fall is in full swing, for sure - but if you want a break with delightful themes, try UP: “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24). Out on DVD Nov 10th.

Pixar’s tenth movie, Up, co-directed by Pete Docter (Monsters, Inc., Toy Story, WALL-E) and Bob Peterson (Ratatouille, Finding Nemo) continues this studio’s string of unlikely heroes. This time, a grumpy 78 year old balloon salesman, Carl Fredricksen (Ed Asner) who is filled with grief over the death of his soul mate and wife Ellie, is cast in the role. Certainly a strange lead character for a “children’s” movie – but then, Pixar’s animated movies have always been for the whole family. Here is an intergenerational film that can provoke great discussion.

See the Trailer
On the surface, the movie is an adventure story depicting the adventures of Mr. Fredricksen and Russell, a chubby, eight year old, junior wilderness explorer who badgers the cranky senior citizen to help him get his final badge (for “assisting the elderly”). In grand Pixar style, one filled with simple, yet glorious visuals, the two take a road trip like few others. They soar to Paradise Falls, South America in Mr. Fredricksen’s memory-filled house, carried aloft by thousands of colorful, helium-filled balloons.

But like all road movies, Up is more about the relationship than the adventures on the road. The two lead characters meet up with packs of dogs, dangerous cliffs and frightening weather, not to mention an embittered explorer, Charles Muntz, who chases after them. But adrenalin is not the heart of the movie. Rather, Up is about love and friendship.

The set-up, or prologue, to the road trip takes twelve minutes – twelve of the finest minutes of animation ever filmed. We see Carl and Ellie meet, two misfit kids who perfectly match. Their romance and subsequent seventy years together are as tender and sweet as anything you can imagine. In a four minute wordless montage of photos, interpreted only by Michael Giacchino’s evocative music, we experience their dance of life. Carl and Ellie’s hopes and dreams become ours, together with their all too real disappointments. In particular we see how their dream of a trip to the legendary Paradise Falls must be repeatedly postponed given flat tires, home repairs and health bills that must be paid. So when Ellie dies, Carl is left a broken man, alone in a house full of memories and a dream still unfulfilled.

Into this situation steps the roly-poly Russell (Jordan Nagai). He knocks on Mr. Fredricksen’s door, hoping somehow to help him and thus earn his merit badge. Though there is seventy years difference in age, they have more in common than one might think, sharing both loneliness and unfulfilled dreams. Though it takes most of the movie and countless adventures for them to discover what we as viewers sense early on, their friendship does blossom. As the movie ends, the two are sitting on the curb in front of Fenton’s Ice Cream (an homage to a real life creamery near Pixar headquarters which we’ve enjoyed personally), counting red and blue cars like Russell said he did with his dad. “It might sound boring,” Russell opines, “but I kinda think it’s the boring stuff I remember the most.” Love and friendship are adventure enough, something Carl has also discovered in the pages of Ellie’s scrapbook, “My Big Adventure”. It portrays in wondrous ways a simple spirituality of everyday life, one that proves more breathtaking than even soaring balloons.

The central metaphor of this movie is the house Carl lives in. In the beginning it symbolizes his shared life with Ellie. It is more than a house; it is their home. Thus, when Ellie dies, Carl holds on tenaciously to it, not letting the house be bulldozed to make room for new buildings. Failing, however, in his attempt to save their home, he chooses to put the house afloat with his helium-filled balloons. If Ellie died before they could go to Paradise Falls together, he will take their house filled with her memories to the Falls! But ultimately, when Russell needs him to, Mr. Fredricksen is willing to leave the house behind, despite its priceless memories. He cuts it loose in order to be true to his new friend. As one film reviewer perceptively observes, the house is an astounding metaphor for Carl’s journey through love, grief, loyalty, and malaise, to a final acceptance and a hard-won peace.

Life has a way of gifting us, even in our despair with new possibilities, new relationships, the blossoming of new love, even new homes. (I am writing this review having just spoken to a colleague here at Fuller whose wife died tragically as a young woman of cancer leaving him with a young daughter and a home full of memories. After several years of grief, he has just remarried. He told me he is looking for a new house to rent that will allow for new memories – a new home for his family. “Margery would have wanted this. It is good.”

In Up, the adventure is fun and the humor continuous, but it is the love and friendship that are displayed which proves wondrous. The hopes and disappointments of Carl and Ellie make you cry. Their love is set amidst dreams deferred and ambitions renegotiated, and it is all the more real for it. But the ensuing friendship between Carl (Mr. Fredricksen) and Russell proves also to be wonder-filled. Though the trip to Paradise Falls is spectacular, the enjoyment of shared ice cream is even better. “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24)

Guest bloggers: Rob Johnston and Cathy Barsotti are long time friends of Lumunos who wrote the movie review for the Faith at Work/Lumunos magazine for several years.

Cathy Barsotti is an instructor for Centro Hispano de Estudios Teologicos - a Latino Ministry training center in southeast Los Angeles.

Rob Johnston is Professor of Theology and Culture at Fuller Theological Seminary. His books include Useless Beauty (Baker, 2005), Finding God in the Movies (Baker, 2004, co-written with Cathy), Reel Spirituality (Baker, 2000) and Life Is Not Work/Work Is Not Life; Simple Reminders for Finding Balance in a 24/7 World (Wildcat Canyon, 2001). Their reviews can also be seen in The Covenant Companion.

Monday, November 2, 2009

No Masks Needed.

Two surgeons, respected faculty at a nearby medical school, came in to see Dr. Rachel Remen. Both spoke with her because they were burned out. In her office, they wondered aloud about:
***Why some surgeons got better results than others?
***Were there unknown factors that promoted survival?
***Of what importance was the will to live in outcomes?
***What did it mean to operate on patients who believed they were going to die?
Independently, they would also marvel at the strength patients showed in recovery, and how some learned to live well in spite of terrible loss.

The two men saw Dr. Remen separately. She was ethically bound not to disclose to either that the other saw her as well. These two had had been professional partners for more than 20 years, sharing an office and staff. When Dr. Remen encouraged each one to talk to the other about these things, she would get the same response: “Him? Heavens, he would just laugh”.
Who is That Masked Man?”, Kitchen Table Wisdom, p. 56

Call Question:
With whom do you wonder aloud - about your profession, or what you are passionate about?

Blog post by Doug Wysockey-Johnson

Friday, October 30, 2009

Halloween and Call, yes, they are related!

In honor of Halloween and the Day of the Dead, I wore a crazy hat today – massive white fuzzy thing. Really ridiculous, but a pretty easy costume. Isn’t that what Halloween invites? A little bit of weirdness, playing in costume? Despite my willingness to play, no one was willing to talk to me! I had not one interaction about my silly costume at the coffee shop, nor the bagel shop where I went this morning, and if I looked at someone looking at me, they averted their eyes quickly – Oh! This uptight, on-time, play-adverse world I live in!

I grew up in a house where Halloween was a positive happy time to dress up and be silly – but none of that death-ghosts-spooky stuff. Too scary. I’ve also heard people use Halloween as a chance to enact another aspect of yourself – to dress up as someone you might want to “be for a day” or that is part of you, but with whom you don’t have much connection. Over the centuries many cultures have chosen this time to honor this fall season, the letting go of life, being intentional about celebrating life (good harvest! full barns!) and all who have “gone before.” We may as well play with this season – wear a big fuzzy hat, say – because it is real!

Dying happens. We die. Our work dies. Our call ends; we put it down. We must let go in order to rest, and then pick something new up; something fresh and alive. Halloween is a time to ritually honor the letting go. We have much to learn from the cultures who celebrate and honor those who have died – crossed over – become one of the saints. I can’ t wait to get to a Mexican Day of the Dead celebration on Sunday, where we will put photos of those we love and have lost on the altar, light a candle for their memory, and bring food to share that they would have liked! Why is that so scary? It’s simply real.

And how does this ability to – or lack thereof - honor and celebrate death as a part of life affect our call? Hugely. Can we lay down our call, knowing (or perhaps trusting) it is finished? Can we trust that new call will come? I see it over and over in our Make a Living Have a Life calls, at our retreats, and in our call small group conversations. We hate to die! We can’t let go! Surely we can keep carrying it! Surely we can keep doing it ALL! Surely if we look young, we won’t die! If I can just figure out better time management, better ways to do more, then I won’t be uncomfortable or sad at laying down my call.

We know there is a season for everything. Our wisdom literature teaches,
“There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot....
(Ecclesiastes chapter 3)

Our prayer books have prayers for this moment: “The night is dark. Let our fears of the darkness of the world and of our own lives rest in You” – New Zealand Prayer Book. (By the way, that prayer line came to use via a tweet from our facebook friend Mike Groghan. Even technology can support wisdom’s way!)

I am surrounded by a peaceful ebbing,
as creation bows to the mystery of life;

all that grows and lives must give up life,
yet it really does not die.
As plants surrender their life,
bending, brown and wrinkled,
and yellow leaves of trees
float to my lawn like parachute troops,
they do so in a sea of serenity.

I hear no fearful cries from creation,
no screams of terror,
as death daily devours
once-green and growing life.
Peaceful and calm is autumn’s swan song,
for she understands
that hidden in winter’s death-grip
is spring’s openhanded,
full-brimmed breath of life.

It is not a death rattle that sounds over fields and backyard fences;
rather I hear a lullaby
softly swaying upon the autumn wind.
Sleep in peace, all that lives;
slumber secure, all that is dying,
for in every fall there is the rise
whose sister’s name is spring.
Autumn Psalm of Fearlessness by Edward Hayes, Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim

So let’s be fearless in what we let go of, what we let die, and honest about what dies in us, and the possible loss and sadness it brings (we might ALSO feel hopeful, empty with a sense of possibility – who knows?). If we but look, we see mirrored for us in this season the invitation to let go. It is simply the truth of life, and of living a call-based life. After all, our faith teaches this Autumn season has a sister named spring. New call WILL come. It is the way of things.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Speed Racer, Jello and Call

Driving home from the office, I am a little ticked. This morning my son not only woke up but threw up. No school for him today. My wife took the morning shift with Soren (the one where he was still barfing every hour). In the afternoon she went to work and I was on (the “eat jello and watch cartoons” shift).

This is not a good week to leave the office early. I have lots on my plate; I can ill afford an afternoon at home. So my mood isn’t so good as I drive home.

On the way home I call one of the people I’m supposed to meet this afternoon. In the course of the conversation, he says, “Don’t worry about it—you are where you need to be.”

I am not sure why it takes him saying it for the truth to sink in. Five, ten and twenty years from now, I really doubt I will regret canceling a few meetings. But I will regret a pattern of consistently putting work ahead of my children.

This is what call is about: Figuring out where you need to be and when you need to be there. Then getting yourself there, sometimes bad attitude and all.

The second thing that turns my attitude around is spending an afternoon watching Speed Racer cartoons with my son. How bad can it be eating jello and watching the same cartoons with your son that you watched 45 years ago? Go Speed Racer, Go….

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

"Mr. Cub" Speaks About Call

Lots of people are teaching me what it means to "live your call" in the world. This morning it is Ernie Banks, Mr. Cub himself. For those of you who are not long-suffering Cubs fans, Banks is a hall of fame baseball player, now 79 years old. This is what I learned about call from Mr. Cub this morning:

1. Place Matters: Banks says he first fell in love with playing baseball when he walked on to Wrigley Field. It was as if the space was saying, “This is where you need to be….this is your place. It captured me and grabbed me.” Sometimes a place will do that. We don’t know what will unfold in that place, but we know that this is the place we are supposed to be.

2. Following Your Call Doesn’t Mean it Will Be Easy: Lets just say the obvious—playing for the Chicago Cubs isn’t the easiest thing if you are a baseball player. It has been 101 years and counting since they won a championship. When Banks was asked how he dealt with this, he responded: “You care, but not too much. When we lost, I would care, but not too much.”

This reminds me of something Thomas Merton wrote to a young activist:
Do not depend on the hope of results. When you are doing the sort of work you have taken on, essentially an apostolic work, you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all….As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the truth of the work itself. (Merton, Letter to a Young Activist)

Maybe Banks said it best when he said, “It is possible to win without winning.”

3. Perspective and a Desire to Keep Growing: This Hall of Famer who hit over 500 home runs, says he hasn’t accomplished anything at all. What he really would like to do is to win the Nobel Peace Prize. I hope I have dreams that big when I am 79 years old.

To listen to the interview with Ernie Banks, click here

Call Questions:
1. What place are you called to?
2. What are your big dreams?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Broken Arm Community...Heals (part 2)

With proof of his broken arm in hand, Doug Wysockey-Johnson considers how community helps heal.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Gratitude, Recession and Fold Down Trays

Why would anyone feel grateful while sitting on a crowded plane, balancing a cup of coffee on a sagging fold down tray? Read on...

The airwaves and blogosphere are crowded with stories of people who have lost their jobs in this brutal economy. This is important— recessions impact real people, and it is essential that we hear the stories.

It is important to hear good news as well. In that spirit, here is an email excerpt from a friend who is recently back to work:

"After a long period of chasing work (which is a job in and of itself), I am back in meetings. I am back to waiting for others to do their part so that I can start, continue and/or finish my part. I am back to sitting in meetings where others discuss topics that are not directly relevant to what I am doing, but are interconnected with my tasks. I am back to getting on airplanes, figuring out how to spend my time in the air. I am trying to drink hot coffee and work on my computer during a bumpy ride - everything balanced on the little white fold-down tray that sags to the left a little (I keep thinking that if I can build enough miles, I may someday be able to sit toward the front of the plane). All of those things have been tiresome in the past. They likely will be tiresome again some day . . . but not right now. It's nice to have challenges again that have an invoice and a pay check connected with them."

It is easier to feel gratitude when something of value has been returned; harder to be grateful when you never lost it. Perhaps those of us who have not lost our jobs might join my friend in his gratitude today.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Community in the Broken Arm Club

Community doesn't cure, but it can heal. We need all the community we can find; even in the Broken Arm Club! (Click below for a 3 minute Lumunos video blog.)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Faith, hope, love... nothing seems possible, but all prove real.

Stories rooted personal tragedies invite us, the audience, to similarly wrestle with our faith in God, given the reality of sickness, evil, and death. There is the occasional Christian-themed narrative where the telling is exceptional – the stories of C.S. Lewis and Flannery O’Connor and the movies Chariots of Fire and Lord of the Rings come to mind. But these are rare. More typical are the “Christian” movies and novels that never rise to the level of compelling art. They are sincere, but forgettable. Occasionally, however, we encounter that story which remains artistically flawed, but nevertheless proves compelling to its audience. This summer we became fans of two such “flawed” stories – the novel The Shack by William P. (Paul) Young and the movie Henry Poole is Here, directed by Mark Pellington.

The Shack is a fable written by a deeply wounded Christian. Paul (William P.) Young said he wrote the story to share his spiritual healing with his six teenage and young adult children. He does so by telling the story of a middle aged man named Mack who after living through an unimaginable tragedy and having a “Great Sadness” descend over him, is summoned to a shack in the wilderness. There, where “everything awful has been hidden away,” he encounters the Trinity. They are living in loving domesticity – a large African-American woman named Papa, a middle aged Middle Easterner with a big nose named Jesus, and a small, Asian woman named Sarayu (Sanskrit for ‘air,’ or ‘wind’). After the first one hundred pages that tells of the tragedy, the tone of the book radically changes. There is little action narrated; rather, we are given the conversation at the shack over a weekend between Mack and this nontraditional depiction of the Godhead. Mack’s anger and disillusionment is allowed voice, his pain brought to the surface, his faith examined and reshaped, and his life transformed.

me, wanting to turn parable into proposition have questioned the orthodoxy of Young’s story. How can all three persons of the Godhead be given bodies? Isn’t Young too critical of the organized church and too open to having God be present outside the Christian community? But many others, ourselves included, have been moved by the honesty and creativity of this novel. Self-published at first, The Shack has sold over one million copies and has lit up the internet chat rooms. Any Christian theology is ultimately only as good as its understanding of God – given the reality of sin, evil and tragedy. And Young’s folk theology has clearly struck a chord by centering right at this conjunction. Not all of his metaphors will work for you (at least they didn’t for us), but many will, and some will move you deeply depending on your life circumstance. This is not a book to dissect with a scalpel, but to allow your imagination to be pricked and your understanding, broadened.

The movie Henry Poole is Here (2008) tells the story of Henry (Luke Wilson) who has retreated into a shell after learning that he is dying. Returning to the neighborhood of his childhood, he tries to buy his old family home but must settle instead for a run down, empty house near-by. Again it is in a “shack” that Henry’s “theology” will be challenged.

Wanting simply to drink his way to oblivion, he is distracted by his neighbors. Millie, a six year old who lives with her mom Dawn, has been totally silent since her dad deserted them over a year ago. She tapes Henry as he talks to himself, and then plays it back across the fence on her recorder. Esperanza, the busybody neighbor on the other side, discovers that the new stucco patch on Henry’s house has a stain that looks like the face of Christ, and despite Henry’s protestations, brings others to touch and be touched by this “miracle.” One of these is Patience, Henry’s grocery store clerk who after touching the wall no longer needs her bottle rim glasses. Another is Millie, who begins to speak again.

Henry keeps saying, it’s just a water stain. It’s not a miracle, just an accident. He wants to shrivel up and die. But such reasoning is to no avail; solitude proves impossible, for “miracles” seem to be happening. As Henry struggles to remain the skeptic amidst a growing group of believers, and as his friendship with Dawn blossoms, he discovers the importance both of love and of hope. Is the “stain” a picture of Jesus? Does Henry have faith? It doesn’t seem so. But miracles have happened. “Faith, hope and love” infuse this small movie, and the greatest of these is love.

Like The Shack, there is little to no action in Henry Poole. The pace of the story telling is slow, and the script is at times hackneyed. But the movie is nonetheless infectious, both because of the winsome presence of Henry’s neighbors and because of the power of both music and image to help us connect. (Mark Pellington, the director, is an award-winning music video director.) We are drawn into the lives of Henry’s neighbors. In their quirkiness and caring, they come to matter, not only to Henry but to us. They are open to receive a miracle. In the process, we too become more open. Pellington says he shot this movie because its story and themes “said” what he wanted to say to the world, given the sudden death of his own wife, which left him to care for their toddler daughter alone. Wanting to crawl into a hole, he could not. What do you do when you question everything, when you’re not sure where you’ve been? Faith, hope, love – miracle? Nothing seems possible, but all prove real.

If theology is always a conversation between faith and life, between God’s Story and our stories, then Christian theology in the 21st century will also reflect the present context of our lives. In a world where pain, ambiguity and evil are all too often present, it is the “folk theologies” of Young and Pellington, though perhaps barefoot, that now speak with fresh power and insight. Here are “stories with intent,” to borrow a phrase from our good friend Klyne Snodgrass. If we have eyes to see and ears to hear, these modern day parables can help us glimpse the face of Jesus.

Our Guest bloggers: Rob Johnston and Cathy Barsotti are long time friends of Lumunos who wrote the movie review for the Faith at Work/Lumunos magazine for several years. Cathy Barsotti is an instructor for Centro Hispano de Estudios Teologicos - a Latino Ministry training center in southeast Los Angeles. Rob Johnston is Professor of Theology and Culture at Fuller Theological Seminary. His books include Useless Beauty (Baker, 2005), Finding God in the Movies (Baker, 2004, co-written with Cathy), Reel Spirituality (Baker, 2000) and Life Is Not Work/Work Is Not Life; Simple Reminders for Finding Balance in a 24/7 World (Wildcat Canyon, 2001). Their reviews can also be seen in The Covenant Companion.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Nightclubs and Clean Water

Here's a guy who went from a being a cocaine fueled rock and roller, to directing an organization that provides clean water to African villages. Scott Harrison lived a life of sex, drugs and rock and roll as a nightclub promoter in Manhattan (my favorite quote: “I was the worst person I knew”). On a vacation in South America he underwent some kind of conversion experience which led to a new calling. He now uses his considerable promotion and development skills to raise money for a great sounding nonprofit called charity: water

This is the kind of story that makes it into the news because it is so dramatic: bad boy becomes a saint who is helping African villagers get clean water. It is good news, and I am glad that stories like these to make it into the New York Times. It is worth celebrating.

It also got me to thinking: What if he had his conversion experience and continued his work as a nightclub promoter? To borrow a story from the New Testament, what if he did not ‘drop his nets’ as the first followers of Jesus did, (Mark 1) but instead went back to his work as a nightclub promoter?

This raises all kinds of interesting questions: What does a changed person look like who is working in the field like this? (Here you might add your version of what you consider to be a morally sketchy job—corporate lawyer, banker, politician, soldier, pastor, etc.) How would she do her job differently? Could someone who is navigating the complex world of nightclub promotion with a deep moral compass do just as much good in that setting as the person digging wells in Africa?

I have more questions than answers on this one. I know that Jesus wants us to care about people who need clean water. What Scott is doing is genuinely exciting. At the same time I suspect Jesus also appreciates the folks who work in morally complex places (and really, what organization or system isn’t?), doing the hard work of figuring out what justice, mercy and compassion mean in those settings. It almost seems like something he would do. Or did do, by choosing to make the earth his workplace.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

When Ideas Flow

What do you think about when given a free moment? Are there problems you find yourself solving whether or not you are asked? When do ideas flow, and what are they about? The way you answer these questions can tell you a lot about the direction your life wants to take you.

Recently in a Make a Living, Have a Life Group a 30-something woman named Katie was talking about an invitation she received to be on a web committee for a local nonprofit. Even as she was deciding whether or not to say “yes,” she had all kinds of thoughts about the work of the committee. Almost as an aside, she said to our group, “Yea, the ideas always flow around that stuff for me.”

As group facilitator, I subtly blew my air horn and sent up a signal flare. These Have a Life calls are designed to help people find work that is more connected with their meaning and passion. Katie had just identified an important trail marker on that path.

Ideas usually flow most naturally and abundantly around things to which we feel called. It is as if there is a spring of creativity that is constantly renewing itself. We don’t even have to try—as Katie says, the ideas just come. The opposite is true as well.

Yesterday I was in my back yard doing a simple carpentry project. It didn’t take me long to get in trouble. I just don’t have a lot of imagination when it comes to building projects. I can usually stumble my way through without stapling myself to a fence, but clearly the idea fountain is neither abundant nor renewing when I am doing carpentry. But today when it came time to think about a retreat and writing project, the ideas came rolling out. I didn’t really have to even try—they are just there gurgling up.

Implementing ideas is a whole other topic, and one that usually does involve blood, sweat and sometimes a few tears. But paying attention to the places in our lives where we have ideas flowing without even trying—that is a trail marker worth noticing.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Four Things I Learned From Wendy Kopp

Teach for America is a wildly successful nonprofit whose mission is to eradicate educational inequity. Its founder, Wendy Kopp, is worth listening to. Here are four things I learned about call, work and life in general from a recent interview with her. (New York Times Business Interview 7/5/2009)
  1. Desperate Funks Aren’t All Bad: It was in this uninspired state that Kopp moved to New York City to teach in the public schools, which led to her call: starting Teach for America. While desperation never feels good, it often leads to inspired choices. Some of the best spiritual and business teachers say the same thing—William Bridges speaks about the value of the neutral zone, and Richard Rohr writes about liminal space. (For a provocative exploration of this topic from the “living in the suburbs and raising two children” perspective, check out the movie Revolutionary Road.)

  2. Patience is a Part of It: Kopp makes the off-hand comment that things were “pretty rocky for the first decade.” That is decade, as in, 10 years. Just because we are doing work we are passionate about doesn’t mean it will come easy. Or quick.

  3. Boredom is a Bad Use of Energy: In reflecting on her work with Teach for America, she says, “I’ve spent not one bit of energy for 20 years trying to figure out what I really want to be doing.” I hadn’t thought much about how much energy it takes to keep yourself doing something that isn’t the right fit. One more reason to find use your energy for things you care about.

  4. Charisma is Overrated (Perseverance Isn’t): Kopp has found that the best teachers aren’t necessarily the most charismatic. The best teachers are ones who, “in the context of a challenge have the instinct to figure out what they can control, and to own it, rather than to blame everyone else in the system.” And they keep after it, rather than spending time blaming others or the situation. She sounds a lot like Jim Collins describing Level 5 leaders in his book Good to Great (Level 5 Leaders are more plow horse than show horse). This isn’t surprising, since she names his books as being most helpful to her.

Thanks to Wendy Kopp and all who have taught through Teach for America—the world is better because of you.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Translating Commencement Addresses

The last few days I have been running into commencement addresses at every turn. (That was literally true this past weekend in Hanover New Hampshire, but I’ll save that story for another time. If they got my license plate, my children will probably not be accepted at Dartmouth.) After reading a few excerpts, I have decided that commencement addresses are a great source of wisdom on living your call. Here are a few examples, with a call connection for each:

Kimberly Dozier, CBS New correspondent: “You chose a Wellesley grad who spent the first decade of her career broke, begging for freelance work…who eventually ended up with a really great job, doing exactly what she wanted to do, exactly where she wanted to do it: in the Middle East. And she got hit by a car bomb; they nearly took her legs off….
Call Connection: Following call is a lifelong process, and once you find the right thing, it is no guarantee that it will be easy.

Larry Page, (Co-founder of Google): “When a really great dream shows up, grab it.” (University of Michigan)
Call Connection: Pay attention to your dreams and other ways that your unconscious is trying to get your attention.

Laura Linney, Actress: “Remember that no matter which art you practice, there is no more valuable skill than the ability to listen carefully.” (The Julliard School)
Call Connection: Listen—to music, to your life, to God.

Deval Patrick, Governor of Massachusetts: “I can’t think of a time when I didn’t love to read.” (Georgia Institute of Technology)
Call Connection: There are clues to a call embedded in your early life.

Oprah Winfrey, Talk Show Host: “But you really haven’t completed the circle of success unless you can help somebody else move forward.” (Duke University)
Call Connection: Call isn’t just about you. It is about making the world better for others.

Barak Obama, President of the United States: “Did you study business? Go start a company. Or why not help our struggling non-profits find better, more effective ways to serve folks in need. Did you study nursing? Understaffed clinics and hospitals across this country are desperate for your help. Did you study education? Teach in a high-need school where the kids really need you; give a chance to kids who can't—who can't get everything they need maybe in their neighborhood, maybe not even in their home. Did you study engineering? Help us lead a green revolution—developing new sources of clean energy that will power our economy and preserve our planet.” (Arizona State)
Call Connection: Any gifts can be used for the good of God’s world.

Zainab Salbi, Founder of Women for Women International: “Sometimes you just have to jump off the cliff without knowing where you will land.” (Rice University)
Call Connection: Sometimes you just have to jump off the cliff without knowing where you will land.

Let me know if you heard a good commencement speech this spring with a call connection. Congratulations Class of 2009!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Life and Death in the Backyard

Last night our cat was killed on the busy road in front of our house. My wife and I broke the news to our two children around the kitchen table this morning. It was their first real experience with death.

A misty rain fell as we solemnly gathered around the freshly dug hole behind our house. We unwrapped Solstice from the old table cloth that now was functioning as his burial shroud. Isabel was quiet and tearful; Soren had lots of questions about how it happened and what a dead cat felt like. We each spoke about what we would miss about Solstice. Then we laid him in the ground and took turns shoveling dirt into the hole.

Twelve hours earlier, the mood was quite different. The prior evening, that same back yard had hosted 13 young kids, whooping and hollering. We had invited five other families over for a Saturday night potluck. Most of the adults had wisely stayed up on the deck, while mayhem and anarchy ruled down below. In our small yard, there was simultaneously a baseball game going, kids on the swings, stomp rockets being launched into the sky and a sword fight. Rumor has it there were a few kids in the giant lilac bush as well, but I never saw them. In the fading twilight, it was a tremendous demonstration of youthful life energy. (Aside: I am thinking about ways to transform kid activity into a renewable energy source that might be available for federal stimulus dollars. President Obama has not returned my calls on that one yet.)

In the past twelve hours, our back yard has seen life and death. Today I give thanks for the sacred ground that under-girds and sustains both. A back yard is a simple thing that I don’t often think about. But important things happen there.

Question: What important things happen in your back yard (or front yard, or porch or kitchen?)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

In Praise of Defeat

Let’s be clear—being laid off or fired from work stinks. So does bombing a test, failing a relationship, and screwing up with your children. I feel particularly in touch with that last one lately, but have tasted at least pieces of all of the above. They don’t taste good.

With that in mind, I was struck by this from Barbara Brown Taylor:

"Popular religion focuses so hard on spiritual success that most of us do not know the first thing about the spiritual fruits of failure. When we fall ill, lose our jobs, wreck our marriages, or alienate our children, most of us are left alone to pick up the pieces." Taylor, p.78 An Altar in the World
Failure stings. I would no more romanticize it than I would a root canal. But Taylor’s words jarred me with their truth. There is such a thing as the "spiritual fruits of failure". There are things that can only be discovered when we are lost.

A failure in a past job led me to the work I have now. A shipwrecked relationship was the thing that finally got me into counseling, something I had been avoiding for years. A back injury (which is a sort of failure) required that I learn yoga, a discipline that has helped my body and spirit.

But the biggest fruit of failure may have something to do with the last line of Taylor’s quote. She is right in that most of us are left alone to pick up the pieces when we fail. But the opposite is also true—sharing our failures with others can deepen relationships. How often have I felt the collective depth of a community increase as one person and then another is willing to talk about something that is not going well in their life. Far from depressing, this kind of ‘failure sharing’ is usually accompanied by laughter and hope. When the demons and fears are out on the table, they lose some of their power.

Rilke says this in his poem The Man Watching:

"Winning does not tempt that man. This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively, By constantly greater beings."

I have never praised failure when I was hip-deep in it. In hindsight, it is a different matter altogether.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Let Your Life Speak

How do you think the recession is impacting career decisions? What jobs are considered attractive in times like these, and which are decreasing? Interest in finance and banking is down (surprise!); applications to graduate schools of government and public policy are surging.

This article by Steve Lohr reminds us that things going on in the external world have a significant impact on what careers people are drawn to. In the depression, students went toward civil engineering in order to build the roads, dams and bridges needed. In the Sputnik era, students gravitated toward technology to help combat communism. The big conclusion of the article was that "pay, peer expectations, world events, and the climate of public opinion" are the things that matter when choosing a career.

Here is something else that matters: Call. Parker Palmer said it well in his book Let Your Life Speak:

"Vocation does not come from a voice ‘out there’ calling me to become something I am not. It comes from a voice ‘in here’ calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God."

Let Your Life Speak, p. 10

All our attentiveness to the current economic trends or what careers are "red hot" or "recession-proof" will be a waste of time if we don’t also listen to what we can learn from our own lives. Lumunos refers to that inner spiritual wisdom as "call", and for over 75 years we have been helping people listen to that life-giving voice.

Don’t get me wrong--what is happening in the world should be a part of listening for call. Same with our financial needs, employment trends, and all the other things we usually consider when thinking about our work. These are critical aspects of any decision making process. But too often our own voice is the one we ignore when making big decisions about life and career. It is a voice worth hearing.

If you are interested in exploring these inner questions of call, check out the new Make a Living, Have a Life Groups through Lumunos.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Getting Planted

Steve and Joanna are considering putting their house on the market. This is not just any house—it is the house that they designed together; a house that is filled to the roof with sunlight, beauty and memories. When they moved in, they gathered with friends to communally bless the space and ask that it be a place of hospitality for others.

At various times in their careers they have moved out of the area. Each time Steve and Joanna have returned to this neighborhood. The house and town have been a touchstone for them. And now they are talking about moving.

The reason is simple: they can’t afford it anymore. And not because of the recession. For the first time in many years, they are both in jobs that feel like call to them*. Their work is filled with meaning and purpose; they are using their gifts; they are growing. Steve and Joanna also believe that the world is better because of the work they are doing. But the fact is that they aren’t making as much money as they used to.

So the cost of doing this meaningful work may well be the house that they love. As I talked with them this past weekend, I was struck by their openness about putting the house on the market. We spoke about this same possibility years ago, and I could tell it was almost too excruciating to even talk about. Now it’s very much on the table. It would be painful, but it would be worth it for the fullness of their lives today.

Is this what Jesus meant when he said “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit”? That some things need to die so that deeper, better, and more meaningful things can grow? Steve, Joanna, and Jesus are making me wonder what I need to let go of so that I might ‘bear more fruit’.

*Lumunos is currently offering groups to help people find work that feels like call. Click here for more information.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Laid off -- now what?

First, a disclaimer: I am still employed. That does make a difference, and no matter what I or anyone says about "knowing how you are feeling" when you have been laid off, we don’t. So take this with a grain of salt.

My brother once wrote this to me after going through a particularly painful experience:

"First thing I did after the shaking stopped was to get on line to family, to best friends, and tell my story, get a nod, and a wince, a gasp, hear the promise of love where it already really is, start to weave the net again."

This is what healthy people do when things get rough. They come together to tell the story, get the wince, begin to weave the net again that will enable them to move forward. It is one of the bright spots in this difficult time—people are coming together in ways they have not before.

For decades, Lumunos has been bringing people together to help them move forward. More recently we felt called to help those in job transition. Our new program is is called ‘Make a Living, Have a Life’. We have learned through our pilot group that our way of working with a group is the perfect compliment to all other things people typically do when they are looking for a new job. Online searches, resumes and networking are important. But it is just as important to help people listen to the deep places within them, finding the wisdom and guidance that is often overlooked.

One current "Make a Living, Have a Life" participant said:

"Vocation is not something I've really sought in a job before. Up to now, it has been a 'take-what's-available' strategy combined with a 'hope-it-works-out' philosophy. So far it has, but now it's time for something more. 'Deeper' as our facilitator would say. This is hard ground, and it's helpful to have a group to work things out with."

If you or someone you care about has recently lost their job or is in work transition, join a Make a Living, Have a Life group. Groups are currently forming, and we welcome you.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Objects in the Mirror May Be Larger Than They Appear

Collectively we are doing a lot of checking our rear view mirrors these days. I notice a lot of us looking back and wondering if a 1930’s style depression--that boogie man that everyone promised could never happen again--is gaining ground on us. Looking in the rear view mirror can be a very scary thing. That is the thing about fear—things tend to look larger than they are.

Looking backwards can also be comforting, even hopeful. I spoke with two elders today, one for lunch and the other on the phone. As elders, they have legitimate concerns about outliving their savings. If the depression starts to gain ground in our rear view mirror, that would have significant consequences for both of them.

What struck me was that both elders were looking back in the mirror and finding hope, not fear. Both spoke of the comfort they found in realizing that life generally hadn’t worked out the way they had scripted it. There were twists and turns and things that they never would have foreseen. Without minimizing the hard times, both indicated that what they sense now is a feeling of gratitude. Less for material things, and more for the relationships, experiences, and even struggles they faced.

I wonder if this has something to do with realizing you have made it through hard times; that the thing you thought was going to kill you made you stronger…and maybe even a sense of God’s presence in the midst of it all.

Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes. (Matthew 6:34, The Message)

What do you feel when you look in the rear view mirror?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

John Updike: Something Wanting to Be Born

Have you ever had the feeling that you had something in you that needed to be said? Something wanting to be born? Novelist John Updike, who passed away this week, described his writing process in a 1984 interview:

The moment of excitement comes before you sit down at your desk. It’s when you get the idea, and you feel it inside you as something wanting to be born, wanting to be said. And then you see the book more or less whole; then you are inspired, if ever, and feel excited about it. The rest is work… (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=99942825)

I am no novelist, but these words resonated with me. Whether the work has to do with paint, budgets, parenting or home repair, there is often a moment in the creative process when you know there is something wanting to be born. You have no idea at that point how it will be said, or how it will turn out, or the work involved. (If you did, you might never start the project. Updike is right—often ‘the rest is work’.)

Thank God for John Updike. And thank God for these moments of ‘seeing things whole’. Without them we might never sit down at our desks to do whatever it is we are called to do.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

After the Inaugural--The Power of Normal

I am thrilled that my four year old watched President Obama's inaugural speech at his preschool yesterday. I want this moment to be etched into his memory; I want him to be able to recall it 50 years from now, the way I (barely) remember the 'I Have a Dream' speech.

But beyond the celebrations of yesterday, I am excited for today, and the day after and the day after that. I look forward to the big deal becoming not a big deal. What I want is for my children to see the words 'President' and 'Obama' together, and not think anything of it. That it is perfectly normal for an African American to be president.

This kind of normalcy is important in other places. The church we attend had a woman minister when we arrived. (She has since moved on to another position). I liked that every Sunday my children's image of a minister was female. It was normal. Ministers are women or men. My daughter will have no tape inside her that says 'Women can't be ministers' because it hasn't been her experience. And millions of African American children will have no tape that says they cannot be president. It is the power of normal.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Lunacy and Prayer

Here is an idea that will either improve your prayer life, or get you locked up. Maybe both.

It comes from Henri Nouwen. The other day he sent his daily email (apparently they have computers in heaven) and said:

Our minds are always active. We analyze, reflect, daydream, or dream. There is not a moment during the day or night when we are not thinking. You might say our thinking is "unceasing." Sometimes we wish that we could stop thinking for a while; that would save us from many worries, guilt feelings, and fears. Our ability to think is our greatest gift, but it is also the source of our greatest pain. Do we have to become victims of our unceasing thoughts? No, we can convert our unceasing thinking into unceasing prayer by making our inner monologue into a continuing dialogue with our God, who is the source of all love.

I am one who has taken the practice of 'unceasing thoughts' to Olympic levels. I am the Michael Phelps of unceasing thoughts. I am also one who could benefit from more prayer. Could I actually convert my over thinking into prayer?

I decided to try it out the next time I got myself in that unceasing thought spiral. I was at the YMCA, exercising over the lunch hour. This is an intentional mini-sabbath practice, designed to step away from work for a rest. But pretty quickly I was back into my ponderings about the financial stress that nonprofits like Lumunos are under*.

I went with the Nouwen idea--converting my unceasing thought into prayer. It was a subtle difference, in some ways just talking to God about it rather than myself. I spoke to God about my fears, my hopes, my anxiety. Somehow it helped.

People who talk to God too much can be seen as a bit loopy. I'm not sure I want to be one of those people who walk down the street, speaking to someone or something unseen. Or do I?

*If you would like me to focus on the exercise machine and not the Lumunos budget, click here to contribute.