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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Catching Up With Yourself

Jane went over her handlebars while mountain biking last week.  She got banged up pretty good, requiring a week of recovery in bed.

When I asked her how she was doing, her reply struck me.  “I could deal without this gaping wound on my face.  But truthfully, it has been kind of nice.  I feel like I have caught up with myself….maybe for the first time in a long time.”

Later that day, I thought about her words.  I have caught up with a few old friends this summer.  I have caught up with my brothers.  I have caught up on my emails.  But have I caught up with myself?

The poet David Whyte says this about a time when he needed to catch up with himself:

I was looking for David because I had become a stranger to myself and didn’t even have time for a snatched conversation about things that really mattered to me.  I was looking for David because some inner relationship had been neglected and taken for granted; I had become like an old married couple who had stopped talking years before, the inner friendship with my old self slowly tearing apart under the strain. Behind the curtain was a man who was afraid to cross a threshold of visibility needed to make his place in the world. 
Crossing the Unknown Sea, p. 126

There are many ways to catch up with yourself—walks, art, prayer and journaling to name a few.  Or here is an idea:  While taking a walk or sitting in a favorite place, ask yourself this question:  What have I felt the past few days?  (Anger?  Joy?  Energy?)  Why?  What is going on below the surface?

Our relationship with ourselves is similar to other relationships.  It can be ignored or fed, disregarded or strengthened. If we are going to make a difference in the world, we will need to regularly catch up with ourselves.

(Hopefully without flying over the handlebars of our bike.)

Doug Wysockey-Johnson
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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Different Take on the Energy Conversation

There is a much needed conversation in this country right now about energy.  The headlines tend to be about sources of alternative energy; dependence on foreign oil; drilling in the Arctic; and whether or not the president has enough votes to pass an energy bill. All of these are important topics.  But just for a moment, I would like to steer the energy conversation a different direction.

For a moment, forget oil, solar, wind, and nuclear.  Consider another energy source. It is free.  It is renewable.  Accessing it does not depend on the politics of a Middle Eastern country.  It will not foul the ocean.   It also will not power your cars or light your house.  But when tapped into, it creates enough force to change the world.

It is hard to know what to call this power source, but when we drill down into it, energy is created. I am talking here about that place within us where the things we care deeply about reside—our values, passion, and what Merton called True Self. The best name I have come up with for this is “call.”

When we hear a call, energy is released.  This energy translates into risk taking, perseverance, courage and creativity.  We are able to do things we previously didn’t think we could do. The world has been made better in big and small ways by people fueled by call energy.

As the owner of a chain of bike stores, Tom Henry, is already passionate about alternative energy.  But he also knows about call.  I once asked him why he spends time and company resources on helping his employees listen for their call.  He said, “As a leader in this company, part of my job is to find places of untapped energy.  I know that when people are working from a sense of call, there is energy there.”

A few other things about Call Energy:

1. Call Energy is Renewable Energy:  It isn’t that we don’t get tired or discouraged when we are following a call.  We do, because call is usually hard work.  But the energy returns.  Spending our time and energy on things that don’t matter to us usually leads (eventually) to burnout.  When we expend energy on something that we feel passionate about, the energy returns. I believe this is because there is a larger energy source feeding our call energy. To use an image from the Judeo-Christian tradition, we become like a tree by a river, continually fed by that larger river source.

2. Call Energy is Energy that Also Benefits Others: When we feel called to do something, it is very personal—it is about the things that matter to us.  But it is not just about us.  The Giver of this energy source (see above) cares about the common good, and so call energy is given for the benefit of others as well.

3. Accessing Call Energy is Easy; Figuring Out How to Use it is Hard:  What do you care about?  What makes you angry or joyful?  What breaks your heart?  Most of us have a sense of what is important to us.  Figuring out how to translate that into our lives is the tricky part.  It can be done, but not without compromise and community.  Compromise because following call always involves leaving something behind.  Community because without relationship, we cannot consistently access our call energy.

Are you tapping into your call energy?

Doug Wysockey-Johnson
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Thursday, August 5, 2010

Ann Rice is No Longer a Christian

While I was away on vacation, the novelist Ann Rice stopped being a Christian.  This is what she said on her Facebook page:

"For those who care, and I understand if you don't: Today I quit being a Christian. I'm out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being 'Christian' or to being part of Christianity. It's simply impossible for me to 'belong' to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I've tried. I've failed. I'm an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else."

There is a lot to talk about in Rice’s statement, more than one blog could carry.  Reading her words, and hearing the subsequent interview on NPR, I found myself feeling a lot.   The emotions range from impatience to jealousy, and everything in between.  As a churchgoer, I am impatient with people who leave because of the “quarrelsome, hostile” nature of the church.  The church, like every other gathering of human beings, is filled flawed human beings. But also as a churchgoer, I am jealous because in many ways and for many of the same reasons, I would like to walk out the door with her. Maybe she is just more courageous than I.

Ann Rice is not the first, nor will she be the last to make distinctions between being committed to Christ and being a Christian. ABC News Editor and ordained minister Dr. Timothy Johnson is not as pessimistic about the church as Ann Rice.  But in his book Finding God in the Questions he writes: “This is just one of the many reasons why I have come to prefer the phrase  “follower of Jesus” rather than the label “Christian”. The latter word too often simply indicates blind support of the various aspects of the religion called Christianity” (p.134).

I do not pretend to know what is right for Ann Rice.  I do believe that some people are called to stay within our organizations and be what John Gardner called “loving critics.”  Others are called to work for change from outside the organization.  Each has a perspective that is unique. Either can be a faithful call.

I do know that we need community to grow spiritually.  It is not possible to be a follower of Jesus (or any faith I presume) without relationships.   Killian Noe writes in Finding Our Way Home:

Just as some biological families are healthier than others, so are some spiritual families. But the fact remains: we must have some spiritual family if we are to grow up spiritually. We must have context—or what Parker Palmer calls a ‘congruent community’—if we are to become who we were created to become. If we are to become our truest selves—created in the image of God to love as God loves, to forgive as God forgives and to pour out our lives as Jesus did for the sake of the whole human family—then we must grow and mature in the context of a spiritual family…

As you may know, there is a saying in the 12-step program that goes, “We will love you ’til you love yourself.” God works through people to reveal to us the truth that we are loved, like the prodigal, while we are still a ‘long way off’ from being who we were created to be. It is tempting to separate the love of God from the love of community—to sever the head from the body—but we only come to know ourselves as truly loved in the context of authentic community, where we are both known and loved.

As a churchgoer, I grieve wounds of the traditional church today.  Clearly we have not been our best self as an organization. We can do better, and for those of us in churches there are many hard questions we need to face.

At the same time I am also excited about the new forms of “congruent community” that are springing up within and outside of the traditional church.  There are many people and places out there that are holding people as they seek to grow in faith. I hope Ann Rice has, or finds, such a place to grow.

PS:  If you belong to an authentic spiritual community, let us know…maybe there are other readers of this blog in your area looking for such a place.

Doug Wysockey-Johnson
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