Category Archives: Sprituality

How Holy Week reflects our individual stories

This past Sunday was Palm Sunday which began Holy Week. For anyone unfamiliar with Palm Sunday, it is the day when Christians celebrate the time Jesus entered into Jerusalem and people shouted,

“Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

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Now, what’s going on here? A little context I think has helped me.

If your living during this time, you are shaped by the Hebrew Scriptures and the narratives found there. Primarily though, you are shaped by two major narratives; that of exodus and that of exile.

Exodus is familiar to most people, even those not raised in a religious tradition. According to the narrative, God, through Moses (i.e. Christian Bale:) brought about salvation (read liberation) and set the Israelites free from Egyptian oppression.

Exile, is less familiar to most people, but it is no less important and may actually be much more important to the Jewish mind. In 587 BCE, the Babylonian Empire, under the reign of Kind Nebuchadnezzar, conquered Judah, destroyed the temple, and took thousands of the most influential leaders and most of the young people and brought them back to Babylon to assimilate them into their culture. This exile lasted for about 50 years until the Persian King Cyrus the Great conquered the Babylonian’s in 539 BCE and allowed those in exile to go free. It was actually during this time that much of the Hebrew Scriptures were written. This was because the Jewish people were forced to wrestle with who they were and were God was in the midst of this. They had been conquered, their sacrificial religious system destroyed with the temple, and how they understood God was through God’s presence in the temple. Now they had to think about where they came from, who was God, how did God bring about salvation before, and how the heck did they wind of in Babylon?

In both of these narratives, God brought about salvation through a person who set the Jewish people free from oppression.

So, in the Palm Sunday narrative we see the first century Jews expecting God to bring about salvation in the same way that God had in the past, by sending a Messiah/Savior who would bring about salvation by overthrowing the Romans and establishing an earthly kingdom…only this didn’t happen.

Several days later, what Christians now call Maundy Thursday, one of Jesus’ closest friends betrayed Jesus and on Good Friday Jesus was crucified. Imagine you were one of the disciples, you have left all family and friends to follow this Jewish Rabbi for the last year, and you wholeheartedly believed that this Rabbi was the coming Messiah/Savior who would bring about salvation. In other words, Jesus was the warrior king who would overthrow the Romans!…only something went terribly wrong.

Within a matter of several days, your whole world was shaken, and you were left confused, frustrated, uncertain, and dumbfounded. You have given up everything. You deeply believed that Jesus was the Savior and now he was just killed. Your whole life was headed in one direction, and then all of a sudden the ground was ripped out from under you and you didn’t know where God was or why this was happening.

Have you ever felt like this?

Have you ever asked, “Why is this happening?”

Have you ever asked, “Where are you in the midst of this God?”

You’re not alone!

Holy Week reflects the human drama. In other words, each of us can share in this week, because I have never met anyone who didn’t go through a Friday of their own. Everyone one of us has felt lost, betrayed, hurt, wounded, alone, frustrated, uncertain, confused at some point in our life. If you are human and your heart is still beating, you have endured a hardship, a time of grief or suffering of some sort. You have experienced a crisis or loss, you have loss a job, a relationship, someone has passed away, someone close to you has been diagnosed with a life threatening illness, you have moved, someone has spoken something to you or about you that has wounded or hurt you, you have tried to obtain something – a job, a school, a grade, or even pregnancy, and it didn’t happen…we all share in this story because Holy Week reflects each of our stories.

Two simple things I have learned from going through seasons like this in my life and seeing others go through them as well. They are very practical, but I think very powerful.

1. Admit it

To admit that your struggling is not easy, but it is the first step to healing. Many of us, myself included, struggle with this because it feels like admitting that we are weak. Also, among many Christians, there can be a sort of pressure to always seem like we  have it all together and to always be “more than conquerors.” The problem is, we don’t live our entire lives in Easter…we spend our lives journeying from Palm Sunday – where everything seems to be going great, through Good Friday – where everything comes crashing down, to Easter – where God works to bring about new life among the ashes.

By admitting it, we are not admitting we are less human, less mature, or less spiritual. We all have and will endure seasons of hardship, just because you are struggling doesn’t mean that you did something wrong or aren’t good enough or strong enough. When we admit it and openly walk through difficult times, our souls expand. Have you ever met someone who seems like they were a deeply centered person? Chances are they walked through a very difficult Friday and resisted the temptation to try to skirt around it or try to pretend it’s not there. I think the key here is realizing it is a season of your life and it doesn’t define who you are.

2. Surround yourself in community.

Friends matter. Relationships matter. As much as we try to do things on our own, when we experience Fridays (i.e. times of crisis) in our lives, we often need to rely on others. This has been true in a number of different seasons of my life. As much as I would like to always have faith, hope, perseverance, and strength, I don’t. I doubt. I don’t always have hope. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed and want to give up.  We need those around us to have faith for us when our faith falters, to have hope when we don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, to continue to walk alongside us and be our strength when we feel like giving up and surrendering.

Holy Week is a reflection of each one of our stories. By reflecting upon this we can  be encouraged to know that we are not alone!

Oh…and the most powerful part about this is that God is working amidst our Fridays (loss) to bring about Easter (new life)!

shift in paradigm

If you know much about me at all, it is clear that over the last 3-4 years I have changed my views on a few things. It would take many posts to go over the ins and outs of each of these changes, but, as I reflect, I think much of the change can be summarized as a shift in paradigm.

Growing up I used to see life as the picture below.

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Truth was clear, and all the correct beliefs were filed away neatly, and could be pulled out at any moment. As seen in the picture above, this belief system had clear boundaries which made is simple to tell who was “in” and who was “out”.

The goal was to first solidify your beliefs, then organize them, and then try to convince others that all your views are correct. In other words, you are trying to get everyone else outside of your way of thinking to come inside.

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Then something happened…

this whole system no longer worked for me.

I find it quiet interesting that some have (and continue to) suggested this happened because I fell of the wagon, turned my back on God, truth, Scripture, the Spirit or was offended or hurt by someone. (Usually this is because I see things differently then they do and they aren’t sure how to handle it).

The fact of the matter is, that this shift took place while I was seeking after God’s direction, attending church on a regular basis, and attending a conservative Bible College. What happened wasn’t that I walked away from truth, but that I wrestled with the answers that were given and being given to me and found them lacking.

While it began with a few small changes, it soon became clear that the whole system or way of operating didn’t work…it didn’t make sense…I didn’t just need to change a few beliefs, but I needed a completely different way of understanding life.

I needed a new paradigm.

Instead of a “truth box”  life is much more colorful, interesting, dynamic, and complex. Instead of the goal being to try to make my beliefs stronger and then convince others I am right, I see life much more like a journey towards growth, and growth always requires change.

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What this means is that I do not see things the way I did before and I think this is a good thing.

We all start somewhere, but hopefully we don’t remain there. Hopefully we will grow, discover, come to better understandings of God, the universe, creation, purpose, meaning, the sacred etc.

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Maturity is not about solidifying all of our beliefs exactly as they were five or ten years ago, but about learning to be open – we will not see things the same way and that’s actually a good thing.

We start somewhere, but then we move.

This also means that the place we are at, will not be the place we will be at in another 5 or 10 years.

Now, in honesty, this is usually not an easy transition and often it brings with it a sort of disequilibrium. The old system or way of seeing doesn’t work and it can throw us off or put us in a tail spin of sorts. It is during this time of disequilibrium, where we choose. We choose to either go back, chuck out everything because it’s just to complex, or we fight to move forward.

Going back is safe.

Giving up is simple.

Going forward is strenuous.

In my experience, going forward can often be a major struggle, but it is worth every ounce of effort!

I now see life as a serious of movements. Each step we change, grow, and see things in different ways.

Life is more complex, truth more inclusive, and love more expansive.

As part of this process, I also see God as the force that is drawing us forward into more love, inclusion, justice, and compassion.

I think it is quite a beautiful thing!

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Lent – the death of the old and the rebirth of the new

So this Lent season I have been thinking about what Lent means to me and what it says to the world we live in today.

I was not raised to pay much attention to the church calender. Of course Christmas and Easter were always a big deal, but following the church calender through Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, and ordinary time where never on my radar.

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Lent is that time of year where Christians prepare for the death and resurrection of Jesus. Often times this comes with giving up something in observance of this season.

I have specifically been thinking about the time between Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter.

What happened in this time is one major faith shift.

I have gone through some pretty major faith shifts, but the biggest faith shift has been my picture of God.

I still remember very clearly not long ago someone on pastoral staff at a church who was suggesting that God brought about a recent hurricane to judge the “wicked”. This person quoted texts in the Hebrew Scriptures (Christian Old Testament) to prove that God had done this before and that God was doing it again.

I also remember during this time wrestling through different texts, their interpretations, and who God was when an old friend firmly tried to “rebuke” me (that’s a Christian way of saying your wrong) and declared that we should not wrestle with the Bible or God but we are to accept both as it is. Really? What this person was actually saying is that I needed to accept their interpretation of Scripture and their picture of God.

I also remember during this time hearing from an influential lay leader at a church that not only are Muslims wrong, but that they are evil and Christians need to be aware and stand against them or else they will take over our nation. This person had a very clear picture that America is a “Christian” nation and that any other religion is our enemy to be fought against.

I also remember during this time hearing from several about the importance of getting people to say a “sinner’s prayer” so that they do not go to hell and burn throughout eternity.

I remember thinking through these four examples (and many others) and realizing that I just don’t see things the same way. Each of these examples could be argued (and were) using the Bible. I didn’t have the words, or the theology, but I was going through a season of Lent. The old way of seeing and understanding God had died – I just hadn’t made it to Easter yet!

Jesus was suppose to be the Messiah (anointed one) and the Savior who was suppose to free Israel from the Roman Empire. Palm Sunday is a clear example of this as the people shouted Hosanna which means “Lord save us” – literally they were anticipating salvation from the Roman Empire just as God had saved them from the Egyptians in the book of Exodus and from the Babylonians during the Exile (587-539 BCE). So to them Hosanna clearly meant Lord save us from the Roman empire.

This makes perfect sense. As they understood God was a mighty warrior who conquered and defeated their [Israel’s] enemies. Yahweh was a God who brought about calamity, commanded genocide, and fought for Israel and would send people to hell in a moments notice.

Here comes Jesus, the one who was suppose to represent all of the descriptions above. Jesus would to be a mighty warrior who would conquer and defeat Israel’s enemies, the Romans. Jesus would bring peace to Israel through violence and the sword and would condemn to death those who oppose him.

  • Palm Sunday – people celebrated and expected this Jesus.
  • Good Friday – this Jesus was put to death.
  • Easter – Jesus was resurrected and shows a new way of seeing God.

I have recently heard that each serious Christian has one primary text that acts like a lens through which they read the rest of the Scriptures through.

During this time, and today, one of the biggest texts that I use is found in Colossians which says, “He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God”. Also a similar text found in Hebrews 1v3, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being…”.

I understand not everyone believes that Jesus is divine, but it’s difficult to argue for a more beautiful way of seeing God. The one thing, above all others, that makes Christianity unique, is this idea that God entered into our humanity and showed us who God is and how to be fully human.

Now, I realize a lot of violence, destruction, oppression, and hatred have been used in the name of Jesus (much like it has been used by a few Muslim extremist today), but when one reads the life and teaching of Jesus it is very difficult to get a picture of a God who is violent, vengeful, angry, full of hate, and ready to torture people throughout eternity.

In fact, it seems to me that one gets the exact opposite picture of God. In my experience there are many people who do not believe in God, and when they talk about the God they do not believe in, I realize that often I do not  believe in that God either.

What does this mean for today?

I wonder if we need a season of Lent in our culture. I think that there are some very horrible and destructive ways of seeing God that should be put to death.

I have a feeling, that there is a growing number of people, like myself, for whom the old ways of seeing God no longer work. These people have entered into a Good Friday, and similar to the first followers of Jesus, it is easy to experience a disequilibrium of sorts.

During this time it is tempting to through the whole thing out the window (this is what the first followers of Jesus did and what we often do as well). While some are atheist because this seems to be the most rational way of understanding the world, I think some people are atheist because they have been presented with a god that doesn’t make sense and that is actually not worth worshiping and have rejected this god.

I think the invitation during this season of Lent for today is to hold on and continue the journey. While you may have gone through a Friday, the promise is that Friday does not have the last answer – Easter is just around the corner!

drawn to the ancient

So I attended a few different church settings these last few weeks and I noticed a few things about myself.

When I was able to pick, my choice would surprise most.

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Yes, this is a picture of the church I attended. What comes to mind?

Likely traditional, rote, archaic, boring, ancient…maybe even Catholic?

Though it was not a Catholic church, it was an Episcopal Church which is the closest you can get. (I have come to admire many Catholics, esp those of the contemplative or mystical tradition – funny thing is I grew up believing they were not Christians)

For some time I have been torn…conflicted I think because I am drawn to both ancient and yet modern at the same time. I enjoy reading or watching Rob Bell or Fr. Richard Rohr both equally as much.

I could say much more about this, but I think the most intriguing aspect is that I have come to believe that our future lies in our past. I am slowly discovering the power of the liturgy, Eucharist, liturgical calender, past saints, and ancient practices that lure.

No, it’s not an instant gratification or Damascus experience, but more closely resemble water flowing over a rock – slowly carving away all the rough edges. (and if I’m honest sometimes it is uncomfortable or awkward, I think because I am so unfamiliar with it?)

What I find interesting is that many of the past Mystics seem to have been far more open, progressive, and ecumenical than many religious people today. They tapped into something (or better Someone) that was truly beyond comprehension – true Mystery.

My conclusion?

The current and future religious and cultural landscape is shaky – like a small boat amidst a massive storm.

We are moving from modernity to post-modernity. The rational ways of interpreting everything seem to be coming up short. The Enlightenment has taught most religious people to have predetermined answers to all the questions and to have all beliefs and doctrines organized and filed away neatly so they can be brought out at a moments notice.

The problem is we are moving (or have moved?) to a post-Enlightenment world.

Now, I do not think that means that we throw out our intellect, but rather it suggests that we must stretch our thinking further and deeper while at the same time realize that our rational mind cannot comprehend everything – there is more going on here.

As I  journey, I am wonder if some of the things needed to navigate these tumultuous waves lie in a pre-modern world.  I suspect that there are treasures that have been found by people who have journeyed before us (maybe even a long time before us?) that are important, even necessary, for us as we step into the future.

Most of this is not my own original thoughts, but a compilation from others as a part of my journey. Recently I have been reading one of the best books  you have never read by an Author named Ian Morgan Cron. Here are two mall excerpts as the author compares the times of St Francis of Assisi to our current times:

“Francis (St Francis of Assisi) lived in the gab between two historical periods – the middle ages and the pre-Renaissance – the opening days of modernity. We are living in the synapse between two moments in history as well – modernity and post modernity. People in Francis’ time felt the same anxiety that comes from living in a rapidly changing society that we do today.”

“Another similarity between the Middle Ages and today has to do with the state of Christendom. In Francis’ day the church was hemorrhaging credibility, it was seen as hypocritical, untrustworthy and irrelevant. Some people even wondered if it would survive. Clergy were at the center of all kinds of sexual scandals. It had commercialized Jesus, selling pardons, ecclesiastical offices and relics. Sermons were either so academic that either people couldn’t understand them, or they were canned. Popular songs ridiculing the church and clergy could be heard all over Europe, the laity felt used by the professional clergy, as if they were there to serve the institution, not the other way around. The church had also become dangerously entangled in the world of power politics, and war. Some fringe groups were beginning to say that you couldn’t be a Catholic and a Christian at the same time. Disillusionment with the church inspired many people to turn to astrologers and other alternative spirituality’s…To top it all off Christians were at war with Muslims.”

The future will no doubt involve a humble, open, compassion spirit that see’s opportunities and not dead ends.

The future will demand people to enter into ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue like never before, while being open to those who are not religious at all. (how can we work for peace together? end hunger and poverty together? etc)

The future will involve new ways of seeing and being…it will involve large amounts of creativity.

But most of all the future will involve an anchor that keeps one grounded and I think we will find this from the past.

I don’t think most churches or religious institutions need better coffee, a slicker website, a bigger band or a more hip/trendy pastor.

I think we need authentic spiritual guides who have done the hard work of uncovering the past and yet are creative enough to bring it into the future in a fresh way.

Well..at least that seems to be my take on it.

 

A bridger

So I have written on my personal struggle of confusion, uncertainty, and how the future seems often unclear.

What I have learned from this is that I am not alone…there are many of us.

I think there are a growing number of people (mostly young adults) who are going to bridge some gap between the old and the not yet.

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Now, I don’t assume to have the answers, but I have heard from several people within the last several weeks that I am a bridger. At first it didn’t really mean much, but this week I met with someone who brought this up for the third time and something stuck.

I don’t know what it means specifically for me, but I have some hunches on generalities and what it may mean for many of us.

My hunch is that there is a growing number of people who are frustrated with the way the religious and cultural landscape has been and currently is. We are not ok with simply accepting a belief system that has been handed to us – we are finding many answers lacking and would much rather converse with someone who thinks differently than be taught precise answers to predetermined questions (oh, I should also add that many of these are answering questions that few are still asking).

I think there is a growing number of young Christians who resonate more and more with the spiritual but not religious group and have personally experienced places where religion was used for violence, coercion, domination, exploitation, marginalization and oppression.

There seems to be a growing number of young people who care more for what they stand for than what they are against and want to work for peace, reconciliation, healing, equality, and justice. I would much rather work with an atheist or a Muslim for peace than to debate why I think I am right and they are wrong – it’s just not that interesting to me.

What about church?

I think many of us bridgers are still drawn to an understanding that there is something more – there is a God, Divine, Reality, Creator, Energy (whatever word you use) and we are drawn to this. We tend to see beauty and sacredness in all kinds of places and that includes outside of the church walls.

I think most of us still have a desire to build rhythms and patterns in our lives, to engage in rituals, prayers, meditations, spiritual readings that cultivate an awareness of the Divine and a sense of awe and wonder.

The problem is church has often (though not always) been either a social club or a lecture hall which either invites one to be a member (with a membership card, group language, and group dress codes – I have heard from so many that oftentimes church has clicks that are hard to break into) or teaches one what to think and believe for the purpose of convincing everyone else around them of these things.

I wonder if it is not religion, God, and church that we are ultimately turned off by, but it is how religion, God, and church have been handed down to us.

In other words, I’m not ready to forsake all these things, but I do think many of us feel the way these things have been packaged no longer works. We appreciate the many great things that have been given, yet we cannot simply continue to pass them along as they stand.

I see two choices

1 – ditch the whole thing because it’s a mess

2- build a bridge

Build a bridge from our experiences, thoughts, knowledge, and desires from what we have been given to what can be.

Build a bridge from an exclusive, self righteous, anti science, pro violence way of being to an inclusive, humble, non violent way of being that seeks to be as intellectually honest as possible.

Build a bridge where faith is not about having all the right answers  but where doubt, questions, and uncertainties are welcome and reflective of a mature spiritual life.

Build a bridge with people of different religious affiliations, different religious traditions, and those who claim no religious affiliation – not to “convert” them, but because this is what we want to do and find life in doing (i.e. loving the other).

Build a bridge from the past traditions, rituals, prayers, books, sacred writings, to a way of speaking, seeing, and being that makes sense to a post modern 21st century people.

The main struggle of course, is that the future is unclear – it’s unclear because we have yet to create it!

Does this make sense?

If so, maybe you are a bridger.

 

Reflection on Advent 2 of 2

For the last three advents I have been reading through a reflection book by Richard Rohr and each year I find it deeper and deeper. One advent reflection recently deeply resonated with me so I decided to share it with you.

Hope you enjoy and have a great holiday season!

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And Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord – Luke 1:45

When it comes to the gift of contemplations, every major religion in the world has come to very similar conclusion. Every religion – Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, the eastern religions – all agree, but each in its own way, that finally we’re called to a transformed consciousness, a new ind or being “born again” a second time in some way. Each religion has different words for it, and probably different experiences, but somehow they all point to union with God. Religion is about union. Somehow to live in conscious union with God is what it means to be “saved”.

The word religio means “to retie” to rebind reality together, to reconnect things so that we know as Jesus did that “I and the Father are one” (Jn 10:30). To live in that place is to experience and enjoy the Great Connection, to live in a place where all tings are one, “with me in them and you in me” (Jn 17:23). When world religions become that mature, we will have a new history, no longer based on competition, rivalry, cultures or warfare, but on people who are actually transformed (Gal 6:15-16). These people will change the world, as Mary did, almost precisely because they know it is not they who are doing the changing. They will know they do not need to change other people, just themselves. God takes it from there.

My confession – I resonate with the spiritual but not religious

I’m spiritual but not religious

Have you ever heard someone say that?

It seems to be a growing statement among many, but especially among millennials. I am a millennial and I have to say I resonate with this group more and more these days.

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This is an odd confession as a seminarian pursuing an MDiv and seeking to be a pastor. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how unclear the future is and I think this has a great deal to do with that.

What do you do when your a walking oxymoron?

I’m in seminary and yet I am so turned off by much of what is called Christianity these days. I’m not anti-gay, anti-science, anti-progressive, and I greatly dislike religious language (e.g. righteousness, sin, salvation, condemnation, judgement, submit, obey etc).

I’m a post modern, progressive millennial who hates labels (see what I did right there…labeled myself while confessing how much I hate labels – paradox).

I am drawn to an ancient, mystical and contemplative spirituality, but simultaneously I am very much a product of my culture and I do not speak the language of most religious people.

While I actually do like much theology (at least progressive, inclusive theology and critical scholarship), I’m not interested in debating – never really seen this be helpful.

If I meet someone who is a different Christian, a different religion, or non religious I feel no pressure to try to convince them of my beliefs. I would much rather talk to them about theirs and learn from them while hoping we both become better people because of it.

In a world where religious people in general, and Christians in particular continue to argue, debate, demean and dehumanize others I cannot help but think this just misses the whole teaching of Jesus (and I think of most religions for that matter).

Yes, I’m a paradox and I honestly don’t know what to do about it.

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Advent Reflections 1 of 2

Hi, my name is Aaron and I’m a busy-holic.

It’s true, for much of my life I have been addicted to being busy.

I tend to idolize those who seem to be doing so much which only exacerbates the problem. I see those who are married, have kids, job, volunteer, and usually jungle a few other things while being extremely successful – if I’m honest I envy them and want to be like them.

I cannot begin to count how many times in my life where I have had a full plate and am doing well, only to add more stuff onto an already full plate (eventually you would think I would learn). This leaves me feeling overwhelmed and also at a point where now I have to say no to something I have already said yes to.

If you say yes to to many things, you cannot do them all well.

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So this is only the second year I have really entered into advent. By “enter” I mean engage in  on a daily basis, with reflections, Scriptures and prayers while meeting on a weekly basis with a church that emphasizes the liturgical year.

The past several months I have embraced being a stay at home dad. While previously  my wife and I shared much of the house duties as we were both in school, I have taken the majority of the duties because my wife is in medical school. I struggled with this for a time, but have found that I actually enjoy it…well at least most of the time;)

What this has taught me and continues to teach me is to find the sacred in everyday, ordinary life. In other words, the dishes, the laundry, walking the dog, cleaning the bathrooms, vacuuming the floor, studying for school, spending time with our kids…these are all sacred things.

I am learning that I cannot juggle as many things as some people can and that’s ok.

It’s ok.

It’s ok to say no.

It’s ok to embrace my limits.

Only in saying no and embracing my limits can I actually do a few things well.

Now advent is that time of the year were we live in anticipation. We should be slowing down to make room in our lives for Christ, and yet our lives tend to ramp up like it’s on crack!

So, this advent season (and actually the last several months) I have felt invited to slow down, to see things in a different way, and to embrace my limitations.

Maybe you can relate to my addiction to busyness, overproduction, and saying yes to to many things? I now believe most people can really only do about 2 or 3 things well and we only hurt ourselves when we add to many more.

I invite you to ask

what are the 2 or 3 most important things in my life that I feel called to or that are most important right now.

Then I give you permission to say no to all the other things that demand your time, money, talents etc.

 

 

The book of Job & liminal space

What does the book of Job have to teach us about liminal spaces? – A lot!

My last post was an honest, raw confession of where I am at personally.

Several people have contacted me about feeling like they are in a liminal space of their own. I think there are many reasons for being in a space like this (some of it is the time of life, some of it is part of the spiritual journey, but I also think much of it is the shift in consciousness), but there are several things that stand out to me which I would like to explore in the future (stay tuned!), but for now I wanted to share a few thoughts about the book of Job.

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Last year (about this time actually) I took a seminary class that was focused entirely on Job. Job is a complex book that has become my favorite book in the Hebrew Bible.

That being said one can read Job and leave frustrated and confused – Every time I read it I feel this way, yet for some reason I still find comfort in it (maybe because I find comfort in mystery and uncertainty and not in shallow, pat answers?)

One can read Job and conclude the following:

God caused Job’s pain – if not directly than indirectly by allowing “the accuser” (not the same person as the biblical character Satan which was developed over time and only really become a demonic fallen angel during the inter-testament periods) to inflict suffering. The picture of a heavenly wager is an ancient form of literary genre and should not be read literally for by doing so it paints a pretty horrible picture of God!

It can seem as if God bullies Job into surrendering –  one can walk away with the idea that we shouldn’t question. (Actually I think the opposite is true!)

Because Job is blessed ten-fold in the end all the suffering was worth it.  -Really?  ok if I’m honest that just sucks!

In class we discussed the different ways Job can be interpreted and what kind of story it actually is – is it an actual historical story? Is it a story taken from other cultures who had their own Job story? Is it a sort of fable or play?

However one interprets the book of Job, I was left with more questions than answers which I think is the point of the story. One thing that did stand out was the following;

Job was wrestling through a liminal space, i.e. how does he move forward when he was raised and taught to believe one thing, but has experienced something different?

Ever been there?

I have, many times and often it is a difficult and unclear journey because you don’t have the answers. All you can do is confess, “this old way of thinking, being, or seeing doesn’t work for me anymore” – often these experiences come in the form of pain, heartache, loss, grief, change, or transition.

Job was raised to think that everyone who followed God would be blessed, and those who were cursed clearly did not (retribution principle). This made the world black and white and easy to understand. You could look at someone and if they were poor or suffering it was because they had done something wrong, i.e. it was there own fault.

Now the story makes it very clear that Job was a good man who had done nothing wrong and yet was experiencing some tremendous suffering. Job defends himself while his three friends continue to argue that he must have done something wrong because he was going through such suffering.

Ever feel like people just don’t seem to understand why you can’t believe, see, or think the way they do?

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Sometimes I feel helpless because I just don’t have the words to articulate why exactly I do not see things the same way.

His friends were stuck in the old way of thinking, but Job’s pain, suffering,  and grief had given him an experience where this old way of thinking just didn’t work – the answers he was taught and the answers those around him were giving just weren’t good enough anymore.

Ever feel like people give you answers to questions for a world that no longer exists? Answers that seem to see things as clearly black and white, only your experience has opened your eyes to see the world in so many different colors?

I think Job can relate to this – I find comfort in this.

As I am writing this I realize that I find comfort in mystery, uncertainty, and in the grey – this seems to be where I find God. I think this is because it is not shallow. I was taught to have all the answers, and then to present them (argue) to others. This causes one to seem superior and often arrogant because they always have all the answers and others need to see the world the way they do.

Like Job, the old way of seeing the world as black and white no longer works for me, and yet I struggle at times to find the words to articulate and explain why.

Next post I plant to share many personal examples and experiences that have lead me through liminal spaces.

 

 

Divine Mystery

So, my first post was about what I used to think the good news was. I will continue this post next week, but I wanted to share something a little less theological and more spiritual and recent (the other post was something I wrestled through several years ago but of course I continue to bump up against since many link penal substitutionary atonement as the gospel).

I have been on a faith journey. Actually, I think we are all on faith journeys (even if you’re an atheist or agnostic), but mine has taken some very unexpected twists. Like all exciting journey’s, I have found myself in unfamiliar territory – heck if it’s all familiar it’s not very fun is it?

I am taking several classes through a Hybrid MDiv program and loving them. My favorite class has been about spiritual practices and spiritual formation (i.e. meditation, centering prayer, etc). This has led me to engage in contemplative theology and experience something I cannot fully express in words.

What contemplative spirituality has taught me is that there is a way to be religious and yet remain in a dualistic either/or mindset – in fact most people have! In this lower level religion (as Richard Rohr often puts it) everything is clear because the ego demands this. Everything is easily defined, easily recognized, everything is black and white and it is clear who is “in” and who is “out”. This way of believing, often found within many different religions, only feeds the ego and the need to be right and to try to convince everyone else to think the way you do. In other words, I have the one and only key and if you want it you have to go through me to get it. Within Christianity this is most easily seen with those who feel the need to argue their way every single time they disagree – what an exhausting way to live!

For a while I could not explain why I thought the way I did because I did not have the words to articulate my experience. I knew it had to do with Divine Mystery and how to be a Christian without being exclusive, but I had never witnessed this before. This is difficult because many believe Christianity must be exclusive even if they are not Christians themselves. I am no longer convinced of this, but that does not mean that I do not think Christianity can be a beautiful thing…I still very much do and I am still very much a part of the Christian tradition.

As part of the class we read through a book titled Will and Spirit which was very insightful, and toward the end the author gave words to my experience (when this happens it’s like a release valve).

Much of the book was about surrender and about this topic the author writes, “I would pose that surrender is dangerous whenever there is any known, definable cause, group, person, or other substantive and limited entity that is used as an object of surrender.”[1] Later he continues, “This is true even if the object of surrender is called God, as long as God remains an object that one presumes to know and to understand”.[2]

Now if you were raised in the Christian tradition like myself, you’re probably thinking that of course God can be known and to think otherwise is ridiculous – this is not Christian. I too have thought this.

The author continues, “It is only when one can surrender to the ultimately unknowable Mystery behind the images of God that the act of surrendering can result in less self-definition rather than more”.[3] My focus here is on the ultimately unknowable Mystery part.

This is where I began to understand what I was experiencing. It is easy to remain at a lower level religion (dualistic thinking) where God has been clearly defined, articulated, and packaged. Then all one needs to do is convince others of that specific package – the problem is

God is always bigger than the package we place God in!

This thinking, I believe, is driven by the ego. Those who are “in” are those who agree with me. There is a clear box, but what happens when that box no longer works and you have experienced something bigger? It may be that we all need to begin at this lower level, but to remain here is like, as I recently heard, arguing about the menu instead of experiencing and enjoying the most delicious meal.

Now, the author is not suggesting that God cannot be known, but he is suggesting that God can never be fully known.

There is a difference and it’s big.

“God can become very real, alive, and active in a personal way. The first is through images that are acknowledged to be incomplete, expedient tools”.[4]

In other words, we can experience God, and understand God but it is like peeking through a small crack or hole, you can get a glimpse but it’s incomplete. I think it is important here to acknowledge them to be incomplete, if you do not then we develop a sense of superiority and feel a need to convince others that this is the way to experience God.

I think the author puts it well when he writes, “But in all such cases it is important for me to remember that these ways of seeing God, while real, are never complete”.[5]

Those who believe they have the complete or full picture of God are not really that interesting nor are they fun to be around. Usually they argue and push back against everything and seem extremely dogmatic and defensive. Who wants to live like that?

In the Hebrew Scriptures it talks about God’s ways being so far above our ways…in essence we cannot completely understand God for God is so far beyond, so much greater, so much more inclusive, loving, forgiving, and beautiful than we can possibly imagine!

I think if we begin here, we can enter into a more fruitful dialogue with those we disagree with and with those of other religions because we don’t have the one and only key. As I have experienced this, I have seen God at work in all kinds of beautiful ways. I am more curious than argumentative, engaged in exploration and not defense, and more interested in conversation that dogmatic debates. I have learned from others whom I do not agree with and have become a better person and have seen God in different ways because of this.

  • Is there a way to be Christian without being exclusively so? I say yes, I am an example of this and I know I am not alone.

I invite you to see God, not as easily defined, but as Divine Mystery which can never be fully known. Then we are free to see God in so many ways we never imagined possible.

[1] Gerald, G. May, Will and Spirit (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1982), 304.

[2] Ibid, 304.

[3] Ibid, 304.

[4] Ibid, 305.

[5] Ibid, 305.