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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My prayer today

Empathy – the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions : the ability to share someone else’s feelings.

empathy

I have read through posts and tweets where people have called for the “whiners” to stop crying because their candidate lost. People have called to end the protests because it just shows that they are sore losers.

What? Seriously? There is that much lack of empathy from people and especially those who claim to follow Jesus?

The thing is that this goes beyond partisan politics. For many it goes beyond not liking Trumps policies (which most of us know very little of anyway). This goes beyond lying or not liking someone’s personality. Many are hurt, offended, and afraid, and they feel the system is unjust. Many are afraid for their friends and family who are Muslim, Immigrants, LGBTQ, and people of color. The only choice for many is to protest, and I think that is a healthy thing. To call for this to end is like asking someone who feels they have been oppressed to shut up and take it. You may not agree, you may see the world differently, but I will assure you they feel very strongly that they have been treated unjustly and if you refuse to listen you are contributing to the division and violence.

I have read stories and talked to people who are very afraid, and deeply hurt by the racist comments that have been made. The more I listen, the heavier my heart becomes. I will be honest, it has not gotten easier with each passing day, it has gotten much more difficult.

My prayer is not to end the protest, but to do so without violence and for all of us to listen to the cries of those who feel marginalized,  oppressed, are afraid. My prayer is not to bring unity, but to allow those who have been hurt by the violent rhetoric to be heard, only then can we begin the long healing process.

My prayer is for those who voted for Trump to actually listen to those have feel so deeply hurt by the rhetoric. My prayer is that those who feel they have “won,” will not gloat or cause more division by telling others to “get over it,” but will learn to extend empathy – to share in others’ experiences and emotions.

And if your thinking that those who didn’t vote for Trump are only causing more division by protesting, then you haven’t listened well enough.

It’s easy to sit in our own bubble and to read only those articles with which we agree with or talk with those who agree with us. This is true on both sides. If you claim to be a Christian, then at the very least you have the duty to intentionally reach out, to listen, and to extend empathy to those who are hurting and struggling. 

As is true of all other things, when you are starring into the eyes of someone who his hurting and you hear with your own ears the very reason why, it is almost impossible to tell them to just get over it or stop whining. When you take the time to listen to their story, I’m willing to bet that extending empathy will be the natural thing.

My prayer for our world, our country, and most especially those who claim to be Christians is to learn to extend empathy to one another and particularly those who are hurting today.

Dear One Church,

Dear One Church,

These past several months have been the most exhausting and divisive  season that some of us have witnessed.

Since the news came of our new president, I understand that some feel excited and hopeful, but we are a progressive, inclusive church, and I know many of you are struggling.

There is now a call for unity, but how can I call for unity when I have sat with and heard from people who have been deeply hurt?

Some are trying to bypass the hurt, pain, frustration, and anger by focusing on the good. I think people mean well, but I don’t think they fully understand. How can I bypass the very real feelings of myself and others by telling people to “get over it?” I cannot.

I try not to let despair win, but I have been on the verge of crying or have cried much these last several days. My heart is so heavy. Not only is our nation divided on politics, but we as Christians are divided – oh so divided!

So what do we do about it?

I am not sure.

I don’t know what the future will hold. I don’t know how hard it will be. I don’t know what this will mean for so many things I believe in and work for. I wish I had a simple answer, I do not.

I struggle to get along with people who see the world so differently than I. I struggle to get along with Christians who seem to be working for things so radically different than I. I think if I am honest, I struggle to love.

Ouch, that last one stings a little.

How do I love those who are so different than I?

Let me be clear, love does not require us to agree, but it does require us to be kind, patient, and open. How many times have I said something unkind? How many times have I posted something on facebook before taking the time to reflect and I regretted it later? How many times have I been in an argument and realized that the more I argued, the more closed off I became? Too many times.

If your like me, you find it all to easy to speak your mind, your opinions, and your thoughts and feel fully justified in doing so. Yet, how often do people on the other side feel the exact same way?

If you are struggling, I invite you to a special contemplative service at One Church this Sunday November 13th. We will not ask you to agree. We will not tell you to get over it. We will not tell you it is wrong to feel what you feel.

Instead, we will provide a safe place to come with whatever feelings you have as we stand together, pray together, and worship together.

If you are not struggling, I invite you to stand with those who are. I invite you to share in our hurt, pain, confusion, and anger. To me, this seems to be the loving, Christlike thing to do.

And then, we will break bread together.

When you don’t know what to do, I cannot think of a better thing than to be reminded that Jesus sat in the midst of pain, suffering, confusion, and loneliness.  Somehow this reminds us that God is in the midst of our own pain, our own confusion, our own anger, and our own loneliness.

We have much healing to do, for ourselves, for our country, and for the world. Healing begins by sharing together in the pain and struggle, and somehow we believe we will find God in the midst of all this.

My heart is with you,

Your Pastor,

Aaron Strietzel

contemplative-service

 

 

 

The morning after.

On the morning after the 2016 elections  I do not know what the future will hold, what America will look like, and how this will shape the world my kids will grow up in.

This past Sunday I gave a sermon at One Church where I shared that faith means trust – trusting that God is in some way working in and through every situation.

How is God working in this?

I do not know.

election-night-and-the-day-after-1-300x300

I know millions of people are fearful, anxious, uncertain and shocked. I know millions of others are hopeful because their candidate has now been elected to be the next president. I also know that millions of people from both sides are making broad generalizations that only divide us more. I refuse to be a part of the latter.

I have friends and family that did not vote for the person I did and see the world so different. I choose to love them anyways. I do not accuse them of being bigots, racist, homophobic, xenophobic or other.  Most of them are good people. Making broad accusations only contributes to the division and I refuse to be a part of that.

That being said, love does not mean I just accept their views or remain silent. Remaining silent is not an option. Apathy is not an option. Despair is not an option.

Some of the people I have come to most admire, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa , Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and others did not succumb to despair, but through hope gave themselves to a vision of a more just and compassionate world.

These people inspire me because they overcame many difficulties and endured much suffering. They spoke out against injustice and and stood in solidarity with the oppressed. For this, they sacrificed much.

This is our calling. This is our vocation.

To continue to work through whatever difficulties or obstacles may arise. To continue to believe that compassion is stronger than hate. To continue to believe that tomorrow can be better than today. To continue to extend grace to all.

I believe that inclusion, equality, compassion, and justice are more important than ever before.

We make these decisions in small ways every day. When we listen to others. When we make sure everyone is included. When we decide to forgive even though it is difficult. We make this decision by making sure we don’t feed the division in unhealthy ways. We make this decision by what we post on social media. We make this decision by how we raise our kids and what we teach them. We make this decision by what kind of church/religious expression we are a part of. We make this decision when we buy food, clothes, houses, and cars.

Yes, our president influences our nation in tremendous ways, but we each make decisions daily on what kind of people we will be. I think we have far more power than we realize. Let’s continue to take a stand against injustice. Let’s continue to take a stand for equality, inclusivity, and compassion. Let’s do this together, stand with each other, and encourage each other, because all the small things really do matter.

We cannot lose hope. We cannot give up.

What if Gandhi decided it was to hard? What if Mother Teresa decided it was just to difficult? What if MLK gave up? What if Rosa Parks did not refuse to move?

If you feel weary or tired you are not alone. Every one of those above felt confused at some part of their life. Every one of them felt exhausted at some point. Every one of them felt like giving up, probably many times. What they all have in common is that they refused to give up. They refused to stop fighting. They refused to let hate win.

the in-between space when the old no longer works and the new is not yet clear