We frantically buy mirrors in which to primp, ladders by which we climb higher, swings by which we seek pleasure, but where is the food for our soul? Isn’t life more than these?
C. S. Lewis discovered that life was more than reading books and having discussions he knew he could win when Joy became part of his life. She was an American, Jewish, Christian, divorced mother of a nine-year-old boy. She had written letters to Lewis and then came to England to meet him. Their life together began as a friendship. She eventually asked him to marry her so that she could have British citizenship and stay in the country. He did, but he did not live with her or experience life with her until the day he learned that she had bone cancer. It was then he realized that he loved her more than his own life. While she was in remission, they took a trip to the country to see a valley that Lewis had held in a picture on his wall all his life, but had never experienced in person. There, Joy told him the truth of life. “The pain is part of the happiness now,” she said. “That’s the deal.”
Barbara Brown Taylor, Episcopal priest and professor at Piedmont College, tells of her many journeys overseas in which she always shops and brings back an item that will be a tangible reminder of her journey, until her trip to Greece. The villages she visited had no stores. Still, she could not accept the wisdom of the lilies, so she began to look for a rock or something else permanent that would help her avoid the knowledge that her life, like the lilies, is so sweet and fragile—here today and gone tomorrow—with no purchasable protection from that fact.
Finally, she and her companions climb a mountain where the rocks turn to shale and the trees to shrubs.“That was when I looked down and saw one tiny red flower blooming in the brown dust at my feet,” she wrote. “Since Greece gets no rain in August, it must have survived on dew. A little further I saw a yellow one—just one—and after that a white one, nestled in the
shadow of a stone. They were all so different, and so improbably alive. Compared to them, rocks were cheap. Rocks would always be there, while these small beauties held nothing back. It was now or never for them. I could love them or not—the choice was mine—but I could not own them. They were not made for that.”
It is now or never for us. We can love or not; the choice is ours. We cannot own this life, though; we were not made for that. It wasn’t until after his beloved Joy’s death that C.S. Lewis discovered that very real truth.
Jesus said that we have to lose our lives in order to find them.
Francis said, “It is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”
~ Michael Piazza
President, Hope for Peace & Justice
October 6, 2011
by Chris Glaser
July 13, 2016
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch:
“I ask you to turn to each other, not against each other.”
“Shoot first. Ask questions later.”
“The best defense is a good offense.”
These seem to be the mantras of our time. Waking as we do each morning to a new shooting in our country or bombing in our world, accompanied by sights and sounds of shots and explosions, shouting and screaming, followed by the heart-rending wailing of the grieving, gives new impetus to the cry:
O God, make speed to save us.
O Lord, make haste to help us.
Decades ago, I read of a study revealing that U.S. soldiers grew increasingly willing to fire their weapons from WW I to WW II to Vietnam. I would not be surprised if this same “progression” could be documented in the civilian populace, including the police and the communities they serve.
Most of us only shoot our mouths off, but the principle is the same. And it is multiplied exponentially through social media, where the snarky comment is common, where anger, paranoia, prejudice, and scapegoating present themselves as truth. However we pull the trigger, we must take responsibility, and expect “an eye for an eye.”
I have worked with people who have taken on an adversarial role with others or with me, when they could have easily gotten what they wanted with courtesy and conversation. And I have experienced toxic environments with unexplained animosity and bickering, much like that old Star Trek episode in which the crew of the Starship Enterprise could not explain uncharacteristic fighting among themselves, until they discovered a parasite on board feeding off their hatred, fear, anger, and violence; a parasite that could only be defeated by overcoming their animosities. (Gives a whole new meaning to “exorcism”!)
I do know how fear, anxiety, distrust, and poverty can make us more confrontational than we need to be. A small and everyday example: I have been undergoing a few sessions with a physical therapist for back problems. Having limited resources, I feared I was being taken advantage of, that I didn’t need a whole series of appointments. Apprehensive, I decided to talk things out with the clinic without expressing my worst fears, and found that indeed, they had my best interests at heart and were good people. The matter has been resolved without conflict or confrontation.
But not everyone has the opportunity to do that. Either there is such a long and painful history with “the system,” or “the system” is impervious to correction and change, that peaceful resolution seems impossible. But as Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”
Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn found himself entangled in the multi-generational feud between the Shepherdsons and the Grangerfords. With the Grangerfords, Huck recounts:
Next Sunday we all went to church, about three mile, everybody a-horseback. The men took their guns along, so did Buck, and kept them between their knees or stood them handy against the wall. The Shepherdsons done the same. It was pretty ornery preaching—all about brotherly love, and such-like tiresomeness; but everybody said it was a good sermon and they all talked it over going home, and had such a powerful lot to say about faith and good works and free grace and pre-foreordestination, and I don’t know what all, that it did seem to be one of the roughest Sundays I had run across yet.
We need more brotherly and sisterly love, “and such-like tiresomeness,” without our defenses at the ready to blast one another.
Jesus’ answer to violence was vulnerability. Ask questions first, try to understand, and don’t shoot at all. His best offense was no defense. It has changed many hearts that otherwise might have remained hardened.
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch proclaimed the gospel last week when she said, “I ask you to turn to each other, not against each other.”
Click Here to Link to Chris Glaser’s Blog
In a recent conversation, someone mentioned to me that they were not quite sure of the purpose of the Church Council other than maintaining what we have and making sure to leave the door open to anyone who might want to enter. They, of course, also saw the need for spiritual leadership from the Pastor. I didn’t have the words to express my conviction of the importance of moving forward even when we are quite happy staying right where we are.
Tom Ehrich, in this article below written for Progressive Christianity, says,
“…with no one actively scanning the future, celebrating it and preparing for it, the future doesn’t happen.
Continuation of today happens, but that continuation grows increasingly out of touch with emerging realities.”
And, since we are currently searching for a Pastor, his comments about seeking entrepreneurial clergy are timely. Read the rest of his article below and let us (the Staff and Church Council) know what you think.
Peace & Joy, Kathie
Churches, like other enterprises, need several kinds of leadership: maintenance (tending the store), financial (keeping the doors open), staff support (serving constituents), marketing (selling the product), quality control (freshening and problem-solving), and training (transmitting skills and values.) There is one more leadership skill needed, and this is the critical one. Its absence is keenly felt. That skill is looking into the future. Every leadership team needs some person or group whose charge is to look down the road, to see emerging needs, to see opportunities, to read trends and to imagine the new into being.
Future-minded leaders aren’t sufficient by themselves, but their absence leaves the enterprise doing little more than maintenance.
Churches aren’t kind to their future-minded leaders. Since the future always involves change, the downdraft of change-resistance tends to stifle the future-minded leader. Since the future always entails risk and the unknown and spending resources not yet in hand, the normal values of settlers – be realistic, don’t risk anything, don’t change for the sake of change, don’t reinvent the wheel, don’t forget the old folks, don’t get too far ahead – add to the stifling.
I am convinced that the near-collapse of mainline Christianity in America was mainly a refusal to see and adapt to the future. The trends were there to see in the 1960s and 1970s, but there was so much inertia among leaders, so much whining about change, that the future-minded leaders fell away. Church councils – like corporate boards of directors in the same era, interestingly – became populated by stand-patters, maintainers, settlers. (The same inertia was crippling the auto industry, remember, and the steel industry, telecom industries, and public education.)
For a time, clergy took the role of future-thinker. But as they got clobbered in conflicts, many clergy shifted into maintenance mode. At a time when churches needed their clergy to be entrepreneurs, clergy were working on liturgies, in-house communications, and their own continuing education.
Lay leadership teams, meanwhile, tended to value maintenance and keeping the peace more than getting ready for tomorrow. Even “visioning” retreats looked only at incremental changes on a short horizon.
Problem is: with no one actively scanning the future, celebrating it and preparing for it, the future doesn’t happen. Continuation of today happens, but that continuation grows increasingly out of touch with emerging realities. The major course changes that any enterprise must embrace aren’t on the table.
What do churches need to be doing? Two things.
First, they must hire entrepreneurial clergy and then allow them to do entrepreneurial work. Stop burying clergy in maintenance work, and stop attacking them when they do look down the road. Clergy need to let go of the dream of long tenures. They must be change agents, now more than ever, and change agents tend to have short tenures.
Second, lay councils must include some people whose charge is tomorrow. Those future-minded leaders must have more clout than the budget-managers who tend to dominate council meetings. Churches won’t become lively and healthy by paying their bills on time, but by working with God on the new things God is doing.
A future-minded leader is concerned about emerging trends in the larger community, hearing voices outside the walls, imaging new ministries, seeking new constituents, and taking risks. Many longtime constituents will cry “Foul.” Let them. Their self-serving is understandable – and it’s certainly what churches have tended to reward – but it is abuse of the church and its future.
About the Author:
Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the publisher of Fresh Day online magazine, author of On a Journey and two national newspaper columns. His website is Church Wellness – Morning Walk Media.
When I rise up
let me rise up joyful
like a bird.
When I fall
let me fall without regret
like a leaf.
I first heard these words sung as a chant at a retreat at Lake Tahoe almost two decades ago. As I pondered this photograph, that memory surfaced. When I looked online, I discovered many variations of this chant/song, but this core quote is attributed to Wendell Berry. I am not sure that brilliant Kentucky farmer, environmental spokesperson, and writer is much of a chanting sort of man, but he is a poet. He would probably approve of our taking his words and breaking out into song.
Yesterday, I spoke with a resident of an assisted living community who is really struggling with the changes in her life. So much so, she wonders if God is punishing her. I believe at her core she is an optimistic and faithful person who can eventually accept this stage of her life. When she does that, she will be able to find meaning once more, and she did seem encouraged after our conversation. Most of us struggle with at least some of the ebb and flow that makes up our lives. We like the rising up joyful part (even when we forget to do so), but the falling down? Not so much. We struggle, and that weighs heavily upon us, like an unopened parachute. That burden can result in some pretty rough landings. I recently heard a suggestion that when we find ourselves down, we should not rush getting back up. Rather, we should look around and get our bearings. Take a compass reading. I believe there is wisdom in this idea. Even a short pause will help us rise, not in frantic fear, but with courage and resolve, and yes, maybe even with some joy.
As we journey today, let us remember to take a moment to look around and give thanks. Regardless of whether we are up, down, or completely sideways, God is with us. We are loved that much. No wonder we sing.
~ Rev. Sue Ann Yarbrough
~ by Chris Glasser
These days of “do-it-yourself” improvement techniques have spawned an industry of providing sometimes simplistic solutions to life’s problems. So my title is a little tongue-in-cheek. I don’t present what follows as “dramatic truth,” or “divine revelation,” let alone “the secret”!
At the same time, I remember a friend reared as a United Methodist telling me he had never been given a spiritual path until he was introduced to The Twelve Steps. Another United Methodist—a college professor of mine—shocked everyone by candidly answering “no!” to an ordination question, “Are you on the road to perfection?”
Path or no path, I believe that integrity, not perfection, is the goal.
Henri Nouwen wrote in Reaching Out, “The really great saints of history don’t ask for imitation. Their way was unique and cannot be repeated. But they invite us into their lives and offer a hospitable space for our own search.” So this is simply what I’ve gleaned from those we may consider saints, past or present. And you might note that every other step toward sainthood is humility!
Step 1. Awareness
Religious traditions call this by different names: awakening, conversion, enlightenment, mindfulness, transcendence, born again. It’s not so much “knowledge” as an eye-opening, perhaps heart-rending, experience. We have a taste of this when we fall in love, have a baby, or encounter injustice.
Something or someone draws us out of ourselves and our self-concerns. It might be an experience of awe—say, viewing the Milky Way in a very black sky. It might be an experience of terror, or of hitting rock-bottom, and realize our need to reach out to a Higher Power or other people. However it comes our way, it’s an awareness that we are not alone, but not just that, that there is something greater than us, deeper than us, more vital than us. Some call this God, others call it Spirit, others simply the human community.
Many people think they have arrived, that they’ve done all that’s needful when they experience this conversion, this awakening, this awareness. Maybe they’re right. Taking this step is a good thing in and of itself.
Step 2. Humility
Don’t think of ourselves as superior because we may be aware. This is perhaps the greatest liability of religion. Converts think they have arrived, that they have the answers, and that somehow they’re better than those who haven’t converted, sometimes even better than those who converted long ago, proving the cliché, “No one more zealous than a recent convert.” Cockiness, false-confidence, I know all there is to know, I’ve done all there is to do, and I’m saved, or enlightened, or complete—and you’re not.
True awareness makes me see myself, my experience, as only a part of the whole. True awareness makes me see “my” answer as only one among many. True awareness makes me see my lifespan here on earth as a second of eternity. This is the meaning of eternal life, that we have been given a glimpse of eternity, an eternal perspective through which to view our brief lifespans. True awareness contextualizes my life, puts my life in its proper context, not greater than, not lesser than…
Step 3. Practice and expand awareness
Many stop at awareness, but an old awareness can become as stultifying, limiting, or paralyzing as no awareness at all, as a person who is clueless. I have been given a clue by my awareness, but it is only one clue, and does not solve the mystery of life, if solving such mystery is even desirable, let alone possible.
To practice my faith, I need to expand my awareness to avoid being entrapped. Buddhism calls it letting go of the lower rungs of the ladder. Zen Buddhism calls it “killing the Buddha.” In Christianity, Jesus said he must leave for the Spirit to guide his followers into further truth.
As we deepen our faith, we may expand our awareness enough to embrace other faiths, other spiritual paths. We do this in prayer, meditation, using sacred and inspirational texts, participating in spiritual community, consulting diverse spiritual guides: those whose spiritual authority we recognize who may serve as soul friends or spiritual directors.
Step 4. Humility
I must not think I have “earned” awareness or its benefits. The film Amadeus was about two musicians, Salieri and Mozart. Salieri thought by devoting his music to God that he would be rewarded with timeless compositions. Mozart lived a wild life, yet we are much more familiar with his name and music.
Though we practice awareness, we can’t expect, as Salieri did, that our devotion will earn us timeless illuminations. The Spirit blows where she will. We may only make ourselves available to feel it.
Step 5. Move
Much regard is given taking a spiritual stand, as in “I shall not be moved!” Yet to me, spiritual metaphors imply movement. Abraham and Sarah left Ur. The Hebrews were liberated from Egypt to search for a promised land. Christians took their gospel to the ends of the earth. The Buddha left his princely home. Think of the quest for the Holy Grail or Pilgrim’s Progress. Egypt to search for a promised land. Christians took their gospel to the ends of the earth. The Buddha left his princely home. Think of the quest for the Holy Grail or Pilgrim’s Progress.
The spiritual quest means we are headed somewhere, if “only” spiritually.
Step 6. Humility
Don’t make a show of it. In our recognition-hungry and drama-driven culture, I might want to make this spiritual movement a public production involving a cast of thousands. It might be valued if it makes a big splash, appears on TV, receives awards, and has a million Twitter followers.
But most spiritual quests are very personal affairs, often unseen. Jesus advised against praying on street corners, favoring going into one’s closet to pray.
Step 7. Arrive
A spiritual quest has a destination, a vision, a hope. A promised land. Peace and justice. A spiritual commonwealth, how I refer to “the kingdom of God.” Buddhahood. Nirvana. A future in which lion and lamb may lie down together.
Let’s celebrate whenever the commonwealth of God comes near or is in our midst!
Step 8. Humility
Don’t stay there. When I feel that I have arrived, that’s spiritually the most dangerous place. If I think I have no need to grow, nothing to learn, nothing to receive—well, “it’s hard to be humble when you’re as great as I am!”
The Bodhisattva is one who returns from Nirvana to show others the way. In Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, we help others through acts of charity and justice.
“Faith without works is dead.”
A sociological axiom has it that, at an oasis in a wilderness, those who talk about where they have been rather than where they are going have been at the oasis the longest. They have contented themselves with the oasis and have an “oasis mentality.”
One Jewish tradition has it that the Israelites spent most of their forty years in the wilderness at an oasis within sight of the Promised Land!
So I think of these eight steps as a spiral of repeating cycles. I believe that, in the spiritual life, there is no “finish line.”
Click below to link to Chris Glaser’s Blog
Chris Glaser has a ministry of writing and speaking. Since graduation from Yale Divinity School in 1977, Chris has served in a variety of parish, campus, editorial, and interim posts. He has spoken to hundreds of congregations, campuses, and communities throughout the U.S. and Canada, and published a dozen best-selling books on spirituality, sexuality, vocation, contemplation, scripture, sacrament, theology, marriage, and death.
Redwood City, CA
(Shared driveway with Smart & Final ~
We are at the end of the second parking lot)
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