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Tuesday, July 29, 2014


by Doug Wysockey-Johnson

He probably doesn’t know it, but New York Times columnist David Brooks recently wrote a great OP-ED piece on calling.  He was writing about something so many of us are feeling these days:  our lack of focus.  We are losing what he calls the “attention war.” 

Brooks confesses:  “I text when I should be paying attention to the people in front of me. I spend hours looking at mildly diverting stuff on YouTube. (“Look, there’s a bunch of guys who can play ‘Billie Jean’ on beer bottles!”).” 

And I confess that I relate to his confession. I haven’t seen the ‘Billie Jean’ video, but I have watched my share of funny cat episodes.   Not to mention whatever it is my friends on Facebook want me to read or watch.  Not to mention what ESPN tells me what is important news of the day.  Make room in the confession booth David, there are a lot of us who are feeling more than a little distracted these days.

But more than his confession, I relate to his conclusion:  the answer to our distraction is not sermonizing and prohibitions on screen activity.  “Just say no” has never been a great change strategy.  Brooks concludes:  “The lesson from childhood, then, is that if you want to win the war for attention, don’t try to say “no” to the trivial distractions you find on the information smorgasbord; try to say “yes” to the subject that arouses a terrifying longing, and let the terrifying longing crowd out everything else.”

I remember a time when I was asked to be on a volunteer committee.  I asked for a week to think about it. In that week, I noticed that ideas continually emerged for what we might do on this committee.  I couldn’t not think about it.  The ‘terrifying longing’ was crowding out everything else, and I said yes. 

I imagine the superficial chatter in our world is only going to increase. I predict more funny cat videos, not less.  (And lest you think I am a total scrooge, I hope to continue to enjoy internet fluff now and then.)  But it is worth taking time on a regular basis to get below the chatter, listening for what is a little deeper in us.  You want to be more focused?  Pay attention to what gets your emotions going and what you can’t help thinking about. Pay attention to your call.

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/