Lenten Fast from Facebook

Below is a reflection from Lindsay Fowler who has inspired me by deciding to fast from Facebook during Lent!

Lindsay writes:

Before Lent began I noticed that I was checking my social media pages very frequently and also wasn’t doing things that I had on my self care list as much. I could feel some tension, anger, fear and issues with comparison creeping in. I knew that in order to refocus I needed to eliminate social media. During this time I have focused on a quote from Bob Goff :

We won’t be distracted by comparison if we are captivated with purpose.

I also focused on Col 3:2 “set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” I wrote out my prayer lists, kept books and art supplies at my desk and every time I wanted to take a 10 minute break to check social media I took that time to pray, read or do art. I’m half way through my fast now and I feel so much lighter and positive and focused. I realized how easily our minds are distracted and how 10 minutes every hour or two ends up being hours a day that we are watching other people’s high light reels instead of praying or doing things that uplift our spirits.

It has forced me to start actually calling and texting people to check in instead of assuming I know what’s going on in their lives and it has given me a deep peace not focusing on what others are doing. I encourage everyone- even if it’s just for a week to take the time off of social media and use it to refocus your energy and time and priorities.

Some questions that might help you:
1) Do you find yourself comparing your lives to others when you check social media?
2) How often are you on social media each day? Each week?
3) What practices or activities could use more attention in your life? Could you use that time away from social media to pour into those areas?

The experience of love

This past Sunday One Church celebrated our four year anniversary. I am grateful for both the work of those who have gone before me and for the work of those who continue today.

As part of our service (which you can watch here), we listened to several people share a little about their spiritual journeys. Most people find One Church for one of two reasons (or both). Either they are looking for a church that is open and affirming to all LGBTQ persons, or they are looking for a church that is more open and allows space to question, disagree, doubt, or see things differently. As the pastor, I hope everyone feels the freedom to disagree with me at times. I am certain of very few things in life, but one of the things I am certain of is that I surely don’t see Reality, Truth, God, or anything else through a perfect lens.

A consistent theme as people shared at One Church was the idea of unconditional love and acceptance. One Scripture that was shared is the well known John 3:16:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

There is a lot here to explore, too much for one short Lenten devotional, but one thing to point out is that when many read this they assume that “eternal life” means “going to heaven when you die,” which is does not. The message translation more accurately describes this by stating, “anyone can have a whole and lasting life.”

Like I mentioned, there is a lot here to unpack, but let’s move to the following verse, which is often overlooked.

17 Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Or, as the Message translates this:

17 God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.

While Christians are well known for being judgmental and condemning, our Scriptures instruct us to do just the opposite. As this text was shared I couldn’t help but think how important this is for us to reflect upon during Lent. As we journey inward toward greater self awareness, perhaps we should be exploring the following questions:

  1. In what ways am I critical or judgmental of myself? (We tend to treat others the way we treat ourselves. If we are critical of ourselves, this will be reflected toward others.)
  2. Who do I tend to judge? (Let’s be honest, we all struggle with judging others. The question then isn’t do I judge others, but who are those “others” that I judge.)
  3. In what ways do I feel invited or called to partner with God to help put the world right again?

 

Additional thoughts to reflect upon:

I was reading some of Julian of Norwich’s writings this past week. Julian was a Christian mystics who lived in the fourteenth century and wrote the first book written in English by a woman. Thomas Merton called her one of the greatest English theologians!

In Julian’s writings, she refers frequently to God as Mother. While this might be a stretch for some, I find her writings to be refreshing because her focus is on God’s nurturing, motherly love. This is most clearly seen in chapter sixty and sixty-one of the Showings. Below is just a couple of quotes from these chapters:

The kind, loving mother who knows and sees the need of her child guards it very tenderly, as the nature and condition of motherhood will have. (Chapter sixty)

But often when our falling and our wretchedness are shown to us, we are so much afraid and so greatly ashamed of ourselves that we scarcely know where we can put ourselves. But then our courteous Mother does not wish us to flee away, for nothing would be less pleasing to him; but he then wants us to behave like a child. For when it is distressed and frightened, it runs quickly to its mother; and if it can do no more, it calls to the mother for help with all its might. (Julian exchanges the masculine pronouns he/him with Mother to refer to God.)

It seems to me that God is beyond gender, yet I think we should be aware how our words influence our views. I think many people have rejected the masculine, domineering, demanding, Zeus-like-deity, but are still open – and perhaps longing – to receive the kind of nurturing love that Julian experienced and wrote about.

  • Have you experienced this motherly love?

Perhaps this week is an invitation to open yourself up to see God in new ways and experience God’s nurturing love. I believe it is this very experience that forms us and allows us to become less judgmental.

As we experience love, it transforms us and we are better able to extend love toward others. 

Christ is all and in all

If your walking through Lent, right about now it is becoming difficult, redundant…dare I say boring?

Every time we make a decision to enter into a new season and make changes, it is exciting at first, but usually several weeks into it, that shine wears off. As I continue to journey through Lent, that time is right about now and I doubt I am alone.

I stumbled across a text from Scripture that spoke deeply to me.:

In that renewal, there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian[1], slave and free; but Christ is all and in all![2]

Amazing how many times I have read that text and yet not realized how progressive – even provocative it is! I was recently listening to a podcast on the progressive nature of the Bible[3] and it became even more clear how the Bible itself is a movement, a journey, a migration.

It is a human tendency to create lines – an us-vs-them mentality. Unfortunately, religion is often used to feed this desire. When religion does this, I would call this unhealthy forms of religion. We see a healthy form of religion above because it is tearing down any walls, anything that separates, there is no us-vs-them – there is only us!

Christ is all and in all?

What this is saying is that there is no separation between the sacred and the secular. Christ is in all things. There is no place and no person where the sacred does not permeate. No exclusions! There is not a single person, a single nation, a single ethnicity, a single orientation, a single religion where the sacred cannot be found.

This also means that the sacred is found in mundane things like folding laundry, cleaning the bathrooms, running errands etc. Being a pastor is no more sacred than being a teacher, working in an office, or being a stay-at-home parent. As a pastor, one of my jobs is to continue to point out the sacred in all this things – to remind people that God is found in all places and to encourage people to become more aware of this sacred invitation available to all people at all times.

Here is an ancient prayer that I leave with you for today:

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.

May you become increasingly aware of the sacredness of each moment.

 

 

 

 

[1] Scythians were ancient nomadic people commonly thought of as the ultimate barbarians. Let’s just say they were not thought highly of.

[2] Colossians 3:11

[3] Pete Enns podcast with Rob Bell which you can find here.

Knowing Self

The goal of the spiritual journey is the transformation of the self.[1]

I have wrestled with the idea of knowing self much the last several years – it often feels selfish. Yet, as Thomas Kempis once wrote, “A humble self-knowledge is a surer way to God than a search after deep learning.”

Let that sink it for a moment.

Often, we strive for more information, thinking that if we can just check off all the boxes or answer all the questions correctly then we are spiritually mature. This mentality has caused so many to strive to be seen by others as righteous, knowledgeable, and all together; yet it has caused many to lack in humility.

I cannot help but notice that when religious people focus on the external, they quickly become rigid, judgmental, and hypocritical – I must confess that I have seen this within myself more times that I would like to admit!

This struggle also seems to be the great struggle Jesus had with the religious leaders of the first century. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus confronts this tendency by saying the following:

25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup,  so that the outside also may become clean.

27 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. 28 So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”[2]

I think it is easy for us as humans to focus on other people’s junk – in fact it’s not only easy, it boosts our own ego and sense of self-righteousness. It is easier for me to see the places and areas where others should grow or change than it is for me to notice, see, and accept the areas where I have messed up or have room to grow; accepting the shadows within us is a necessary part of our transformation.

Genuinely transformational knowing of self always involves encountering and embracing previously unwelcomed parts of self.[3]

Once we begin to notice things within ourselves, the second and even more difficult step is to accept these things. This is painful for several reasons. First, I would rather ignore these dark places. Second, once I am willing to look at and notice these areas, I struggle with shame and unworthiness, in other words, I struggle to accept these parts of myself.

Brene Brown writes:

We protect ourselves by looking for someone or something to blame. Or sometimes we shield ourselves by turning to judgment or by immediately going into fix-it mode.[4]

She continues to explore the relationship between self-acceptance and extending acceptance toward others:

The heart of compassion is really acceptance. The better we are at accepting ourselves and others, the more compassionate we become.[5]

 

Questions:

  1. Do you struggle to accept yourself?
  2. What parts of yourself do you struggle to accept? Why?
  3. Do you believe that God accepts all parts of you?

 

 

 

 

[1] David Benner, The Gift of Being Yourself, 14.

[2] Matthew 23:25-28

[3] David Benner, The Gift of Being Yourself, 52.

[4] Brene, Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection, 16.

[5] Brene, Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection, 17.

Week 2 of Lent

I hope that gives some of you permission not to like some Scriptures. Frankly, I think many of them are regressive and small-minded. – Richard Rohr (p 53 of the devotional)

I appreciate Rohr’s honesty in today’s meditation from Wonderous Encounters. I grew up in a tradition that taught that all parts of the Bible are without error and speak the very thoughts or words of God in all things. Because this way of thinking was so built into my mind (theologically speaking it was part of my embedded theology), it was extremely difficult for me to question some parts of Scripture. I was to accept all of it – if I rejected any parts of it I was rejecting God. You can see why this was such a serious thing!

In our One Groups (our version of small groups) we are reading through Brian McLaren’s newest book called The Great Spiritual Migration. It has been so refreshing and the conversations enlightening! McLaren echo’s a similar sentiment as Rohr when he writes:

I could leave the genocidal God of some biblical passages behind and honor the generous God revealed in Jesus…the exclusive-we Supreme Being God of conventional religion can be found in the Bible, controlling, excluding, harming, killing, and animating various forms of oppressive human supremacy – religious, racial, political, gender based. But repeatedly, insistently, from Genesis to Revelation, the exclusive-we God is challenged, and a grander vision of an infinitely compassionate, generous, and gracious God rises into view…a God ‘who would never murder or kill anyone.’[1]

Some might argue that there is one, correct way of viewing God (and ironically their way is always the one, correct way), but it seems like nothing in life is static. Life itself is dynamic – that’s what it means to grow! Our view of God has evolved since the beginning of time. Why would we somehow think that would stop now?

  • Perhaps this Lenten season is an invitation to let go of outdated or violent images of God, and exchange them for new, non-violent images of a more inclusive God?

If you have experienced this evolution or change in how you view God (what McLaren might call a shift from God 4.0 to God 5.0), why did this happen? What would you say to someone who is struggling with older, more violent views of God, but want to find new, more accurate ways to see/understand God?

 

 

[1] Brian McLaren, The Great Spiritual Migration, 121.

Second Sunday of Lent – Rev Bill Schnell

This past Sunday at One Church, Rev Bill Schnell gave a wonderful sermon (you can watch here).

Many things spoke to me, but perhaps one of the things that jumped out at me was the idea that humans use different words to speak about the same thing. Rev Schnell gave an example of a chair. There are multiple ways to say chair in English and on top of that we have different languages – each one with different words that are trying to define or point to the same thing.

  • Could it be that different cultures, religions, and wisdom traditions use different words to all point to the same Ultimate Reality?

For some, this question is challenging because they hold to a belief system that argues it is the one, true system. I was raised in such a tradition, but it now seems to me to be arrogant to think that any one faith tradition could have it all right. Even people within this kind of tradition will usually admit that God is indescribable or beyond comprehension. Doesn’t it seem reasonable then to conclude that God may be working in faith traditions other than one’s own?

Others may struggle with this because they have experienced something that has formed them deeply and have a great desire for others to experience this as well. I get this, but should we discredit the very real experience of people from other faith traditions and ways that tradition has formed them?

I think we can be true to our tradition, while simultaneously being open to people of other traditions.

Let’s take the image of a bicycle wheel. A bicycle wheel has many spokes, but each spoke is leading in the same direction.

  • Could it be that all the wisdom traditions lead us in a similar direction?
  • If all the wisdom traditions lead us along a similar path, why be a part of any one singular tradition?

If we keep with the image of the bicycle wheel, what happens when we take one spoke and follow it for a little while, but then quickly jump on to the next spoke? If we continue to do this we will find that it is not actually taking us anywhere – we restart at the beginning every time.

Perhaps being rooted and grounded in a single tradition allows us to journey long enough and deep enough to find the center point that we have been searching for.

In a similar way, the deeper I go into my own faith tradition, the more I see similarities from people of other traditions (notice how the distance between the spokes decreases the closer to the center you get!). Entering into religious dialogue does not mean watering down our own traditions, rather it opens us up to the beauty and truth found in other traditions as well. For Christians in particular, it may be helpful to remember that Jesus was not a Christian, but a Jew. The very person Christianity claims as its founder was actually a part of a different religious tradition!

Questions:

  1. Do you struggle to be open to truth found in other religions? If so, why do you think this is?
  2. If God is beyond description, why should we even bother trying to describe God?
  3. What words do you use to describe God, Ultimate Reality, Truth, or the Sacred? How do these descriptions hinder or enhance your view of God?

 

Spiritual growth is more about subtraction than addition

If your following along the Lenten devotional by Richard Rohr, yesterday you read that the spiritual journey is more like giving up control than taking control.

I have been thinking about spirituality and the idea that we grow through subtraction and not addition (I can’t take credit for that analogy as I first heard it from Richard Rohr).

This was difficult for me to grasp at first because I viewed people who were spiritual mature as those who could pray, fast, and read boatloads of the Bible. My experience, both personally and what I have seen of others, has led me to believe that you can do all those things and yet not become spiritually mature, i.e., transformed (particularly into greater love).

Perhaps spiritual growth happens more by becoming aware of our false self and letting go of this self – our fears, insecurities, desire to defend, our creation of us-vs-them, shame, anger, etc.

  • Is there something in your life you are invited to give up or let go of?

In today’s reading Rohr writes, God is always much better than the most loving person you can imagine…

For many of us, the good news was what we had to do to get God to love or forgive us. Yet Jesus suggests God’s love is unconditional. I would summarize the Good News as, “You and I are each loved by God.” Our job, our work, is to become aware of this and to walk into this.

  • Is the good news something we have to do, or is it something we simply become aware of and receive?

If Jesus tells us to “Ask and you will receive. Seek, and you will find. Knock and it will be opened…,” perhaps today you might ask for a deeper knowledge of God’s unconditional love for both you and those around you. If you are really bold, perhaps you might ask for a greater understand of this love even towards those whom you dislike.

I invite you to meditation on these texts. Allow them to wash over you as you are reminded of God’s intimate love for you and for those around you.

Romans 8v38-39

38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Ephesians 3v18-20

18 I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Reflections on the first Sunday of Lent

This past Sunday we celebrated the first Sunday of Lent.

At church we talked about the “inner life” and the “journey inward.” Both of these phrases are not frequently used and in modern western culture are usually confusing to most people.

A New York columnist sheds some light on this when he writes:

We live in a society that encourages us to think abut how to have a great career but leaves many of us inarticulate about how to cultivate the inner life. The competition to succeed and win admiration is so fierce that it becomes all-consuming…We live in a culture that teaches us to promote and advertise ourselves and to master the skills required for success, but that gives little encouragement to humility, sympathy, and honest self-confrontation, which are necessary for building character…Years pass and the deepest parts of yourself go unexplored and unstructured. You are busy, but you have a vague anxiety that your life has not achieved it’s ultimate meaning and significance.[1] 

I look at Lent as an invitation to cultivate the inner life. I understand this “cultivation” as spiritual formation. I love Renovere’s website which states:

We are all spiritual beings. We have physical bodies, but our lives are largely driven by an unseen part of us. There is an immaterial center in us that shapes the way we see the world and ourselves, directs the choices we make, and guides our actions. Our spirit is the most important part of who we are. And yet we rarely spend time developing our inner life. That’s what Spiritual Formation is all about.

Spiritual Formation is a process, but it is also a journey through which we open our hearts to a deeper connection with God. We are not bystanders in our spiritual lives, we are active participants with God, who is ever inviting us into relationship with him.

Questions:

  1. What are some ways/practices that you use to cultivate your inner life?
  2. What does spiritual formation mean to you?
  3. How do you think people are spiritually formed?
  4. What is the result, goal, or aim of spiritual formation?

 

 

 

 

 

[1] David Brooks, The Road to Character, 92.

Ash Wednesday

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.  – Ps 51:11

Today is Ash Wednesday, a day that begins the forty days of Lent season (excluding Sundays) in the Christian calendar.  Lent mirrors the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness before beginning his public ministry.

Lent is a season of self-reflection, self-examination, prayer, and fasting as Christians around the world join together to anticipate Easter Sunday.

Ash Wednesday is a day that reminds us of our mortality. Ashes, that come from the palm branches from the last years Palm Sunday,  are placed upon the forehead in the sign of a cross while the clergy pronounce:

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

It may sound strange to think of a day dedicated to recall one’s mortality, but this can be very formative for us as we take time to reflect on the fact that we will all one day pass away. At the very least, it can allow us to become more grateful for every moment we have and for every encounter with have with beauty and with each other. It can also be a time to examine and reflect upon the meaning of our lives.

Traditionally,  Christians choose to abstain from something (i.e., fast) during Lent. Some do this as a sign of penance, others as a sign of devotion, and others as a means to create space in their lives to allow God to speak to them. Often, Christians today will engage in a spiritual discipline (e.g., a Lenten devotional or specific spiritual practice such as meditation, journaling etc.)

I have chosen to enter into this season by intentionally engaging in some of these ancient practices. While I do not pretend to know how God always works, I do believe that we can be intentional about spiritual formation by creating space in our lives for the divine to work. Are there ways you can create space by forgoing things in your life? Perhaps things that are not necessarily bad but that either take up a lot of time or energy during your day?  Or perhaps there are activities you engage in, either consciously or unconsciously, that distract you from diving more deeply into your own pain or weaknesses? If your like me, you will find it difficult to forego these things because they have become such a habit in our lives.  Are you willing to enter into Lent with the intention to create more space to engage in a spiritual practice? I believe by doing this, we increase our sensitivity to God’s work in the world and I think we can expect to be formed in some way – perhaps in unexpected ways!
On this Ash Wednesday, I invite you to reflect upon the following questions, and to see them as invitations for you during this Lent season. Feel free to write a response to any of them, or simply use them as a personal reflection.

  1. If you have been a part of a tradition that has celebrated Lent, how has this practice influenced you? Has it been positive or negative? Why do you think that is?
  2. Do you feel invited to enter into a season of fasting? (Ideas on what to fast below.) If so, what have you chosen to abstain from? Why have you chosen this?
  3. Have you chosen a specific spiritual discipline or practice to help connect you with God or the sacred in greater ways? (If you are interested in a Lenten devotional, I invite you to join us at One Church as we journey through a devotional written by Richard Rohr which you can find here.)

Ideas for fasting:

  • Fast from food – once or twice a week (sunrise to sunset).
  • Fast from certain kinds of food (e.g., chocolate, alcohol, meat, fast food, etc).
  • Fast from social media (ouch, that one hurts!) or choose to look at social media only during select times throughout the day (e.g., 2x’s a day in the morning and evening).
  • Fast from TV.
  • Fast from the internet (is that even possible?).
  • Fast from listening to the radio on the way to/from work to create some silence in your life.

Ideas for spiritual disciplines:

  • Lenten devotional
  • Journaling
  • Meditation or contemplative prayer
  • Nature walks

Suggestion to incorporate into your spiritual disciplines:

  • Spiritual disciplines can take many different forms, but consider incorporating journaling during this Lenten season. It’s not a diary, but more of a spiritual journal where you can write down what you think, feel, desire, etc. I have found this to be very powerful as I can go back and read things I have written before and see the ways that God has worked in my life that I would have otherwise been unaware of. Spiritual formation most often happens slowly – it is a process. Journaling is a way to keep track of this progress as well as a spiritual practice itself.