Thursday, October 27, 2005

....towards peace

Since the beginning of the war in Iraq the main intersection of our town has been a place for protest. Often, there are "Women in Black" waving black flags and signs that say, "No War" on one corner, while on the other side of the street people are waving American flags with signs saying "Support Our Troops."

Usually I drive through and honk at whoever I know on either side of the street, but last night I slowed down because there was a candlelight peace vigil taking place on both sides of Main Street. The beauty of the lights moved me to consider and appreciate the efforts of all those who were out that night. I was encouraged by their presence and my thoughts were drawn towards peace.

Today my company had the opportunity to photograph a beautiful painting. The portrait was painted by one of over fifty well-respected artists, representing more than 21 countries in a multi-media art exhibition, The Missing Peace: The Dalai Lama Portrait Project. With the Dalai Lama's life as its inspiration, the purpose of the collaborative effort is to turn the world's attention towards peace.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

That prophetic vision....

My daughter is visiting from Minneapolis where she has been working as an intern and now has been asked to be on staff with an intercity outreach called SOURCE. One evening I knocked on her bedroom door to see if she was awake; I found her reading an old book of mine, Ronald Sider’s Rich Christians in and Age of Hunger. I was surprised mostly because I had recently commented to a friend about the experience of reading the same book almost twenty years ago.The subject came up because I was reading Ronald Sider’s latest book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience: Why Are Christians Living Just Like the Rest of the World? I had exclaimed that the last time I had read one of Sider’s books I woke up in a cold sweat and in tears.

Rich Christians in and Age of Hunger, echoed the voice of the prophets, called believers to the age old message, before consumer Christendom and the prosperity teachings of Kenneth Hagin or Kenneth Copeland, the positive thinking of Norman Vincent Peale or Dr. Schuller’s, Hour of Power, before mega churches, that fishy symbol or tee-shirts and bumper stickers that told people that you were a Christian, “Not Perfect, but forgiven” or “God’s not through with me yet.” When gospel was more than “sin management” and “pearly gates,” before Gallop polls shouted hypocrisy! The gospel was to be lived out daily and we were called to serve those who are less auspicious…

In a real sense our concerns about the poor are revealed in how we spend our money. Jim Wallis says, “That prophetic vision reminds us that budgets are moral documents, revealing our true priorities, and must be judged morally, not just economically.”

In Leonard Sweet’s book, Soul Salsa I was reminded of the mistake of separating the issues of overpopulation and consumption. He points out that Americans seem to be conscious of the issue of overpopulation and are having fewer children, but that the average consumption of resources used to raise one child in the USA could provide for as many as twenty children in less affluent countries. That would translate into providing for forty children in comparison to the two children my wife and I have raised. Families with five children would be equal to one hundred and so forth.

Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Sunday, October 16, 2005

The reason for doing something....

I am about a month into the 2005 fall quarter at Fuller Theological Seminary. I am currently taking two courses through the Distance Learning program in hope that this will be the beginning of my studies toward a Master of Divinity degree.

A number of those whom I have told about my academic plans have been puzzled as to why I would be doing this at this time in my life. The common questions have been, “Are you going to be a pastor?" “Do you want to have a church?” “Will you be selling your business?” Not surprisingly, living in the Wine Country of Sonoma, some people have asked, “Does that mean you won’t be able to drink alcohol?” I would say that these people probably don’t know me to well because I quit my “love affair” with drinking almost four years ago. Those closest to me, my family, friends and I hope those whom I work with on a daily basis have seen transformation or change since I reconnected with my faith.

Initially when I was asked questions like these I was uncomfortable. I was not then and I am not now completely convinced of my intentions for pursuing this path. I appreciate the statement Malcolm Muggeridge makes in the introduction of his book A Third Testament, “It often happens that the reason for doing something only emerges clearly after it has been done, conscious intent and all the various practicalities which go therewith being but the tip of an iceberg of unconscious intent. In any case, as has often been pointed out, time itself is a continuum, and not divisible into past, present and future tenses” (1).

A few years ago a close friend gave me a book by Tom Chappell, founder/CEO of the successful company, Tom's of Maine. In his book, Managing Upside Down: The Seven Intentions of Values-Centered Leadership, Chappell tells the story of how he and his wife considered selling their company. Tom even stepped back from his role as CEO and enrolled in Harvard’s School of Theology with the goal of gaining a Master of Divinity degree. Ironically the very thing that Tom thought would lead him away from his involvement in business was the thing which became the catalyst for his reentry into business.

I think at some level, the completion of this academic goal and my hope of anticipated growth as a follower of Christ will provide or lead me to a better understanding of my reasons for beginning this undertaking. On the other hand the more I have heard myself respond to the question about being a pastor with an affirmative yes, the more I can see myself in this sense. I think the implication of all this is that I am uncomfortable with predicting the outcome of my decisions. My experience is that things never happen exactly the way I first plan; it is usually during the process that I begin to refine and grasp the vision.

(1) Reprinted from Copyright © 2004 by The Bruderhof Foundation, Inc. Used with permission.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

....a sage and a mentor

Eugene Peterson is probably best known for his modern translation of the Bible, The Message. Bono (U2) was asked about his favorite reading materials: "...there's a translation of Scriptures -- the New Testament and the Books of Wisdom -- that this guy Eugene Peterson has undertaken. It has been a great strength to me. He's a poet and a scholar, and he's brought the text back to the tone in which the books were written."

I have been reading a series of pastoral books Peterson has written. His book, The Contemplative Pastor is full of insights. He says that busyness is a hindrance for pastoral ministry... and that the calendar is always given ultimate authority... busyness can also be an ego driven impulse, because if we are busy we are important...

In a recent interview with Peterson, he was ask if spirituality is about becoming emotionally intimate with God. He says this is a na├»ve idea…”This promise of intimacy is both right and wrong. There is an intimacy with God, but it's like any other intimacy; it's part of the fabric of your life. In marriage you don't feel intimate most of the time. Nor with a friend. Intimacy isn't primarily a mystical emotion. It's a way of life, a life of openness, honesty, a certain transparency”.

When asked about evangelicals telling people they can have a "personal relationship with God" and this suggesting a certain type of spiritual intimacy, he responded,

“All these words get so screwed up in our society. If intimacy means being open and honest and authentic, so I don't have veils, or I don't have to be defensive or in denial of who I am, that's wonderful. But in our culture, intimacy usually has sexual connotations, with some kind of completion. So I want intimacy because I want more out of life. Very seldom does it have the sense of sacrifice or giving or being vulnerable. Those are two different ways of being intimate. And in our American vocabulary intimacy usually has to do with getting something from the other. That just screws the whole thing up.”

“I don't want to suggest that those of us who are following Jesus don't have any fun, that there's no joy, no exuberance, no ecstasy. They're just not what the consumer thinks they are. When we advertise the gospel in terms of the world's values, we lie to people. We lie to them, because this is a new life. It involves following Jesus. It involves the Cross. It involves death, an acceptable sacrifice. We give up our lives. The Gospel of Mark is so graphic this way. The first half of the Gospel is Jesus showing people how to live. He's healing everybody. Then right in the middle, he shifts. He starts showing people how to die: "Now that you've got a life, I'm going to show you how to give it up." That's the whole spiritual life. It's learning how to die. And as you learn how to die, you start losing all your illusions, and you start being capable now of true intimacy and love. It involves a kind of learned passivity, so that our primary mode of relationship is receiving, submitting, instead of giving and getting and doing. We don't do that very well. We're trained to be assertive, to get, to apply, or to consume and to perform.”

I love this man, he is a sage and a mentor. I am also reading his latest offering, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places.

Saturday, October 8, 2005

Generous Orthodoxy....

In Brian McLaren's book a Generous Orthodoxy, he "seeks to see members of other religions and non-religions not as enemies but as beloved neighbors and whenever possible, as dialogue partners and even collaborators"(35). He does not advocate syncretism but hopes to honor the beliefs of others while celebrating truth.

A few months ago I read Thich Nhat Hanh, Living Budda, Living Christ and found the book to be a great encouragement to my faith. I had been discussing "spirituality" with another friend and I appreciated his willingness to share some about his own spiritual journey. Our discussion about Buddhist philosophy sparked my interest to investigate beyond my limited experience and reading in comparative religious studies.

Thich Nhat Hanh says, "For dialogue to be fruitful, we need to live deeply our own tradition and, at the same time, listen deeply to others. Through the practice of deep looking and deep listening, we become free, able to see the beauty and values in our own and others tradition" (7).

"If we think that we monopolize the truth and we still organize a dialogue, it is not authentic. We have to believe that by engaging in dialogue with the other person, we have the possibility of making a change within ourselves, that we can become deeper.... We have to allow what is good, beautiful, and meaningful in the other's tradition to transform us" (9).

It was in the lives and dialogue with Thomas Merton, Martin Luther King, Daniel Berrigan and others that Thich Nhat Hanh saw some of what's "beautiful and meaningful" in the teachings of Christ. These teachings are living and transforming for those who embrace them and are empowered to do so by the Spirit. Thomas Merton is often spoken of as one of the most prominent Christian contemplatives of the twentieth century. He considered Thich Nhat Hanh as his spiritual brother. I have learned much from Merton and thought I would provide some quotes from his writings too.

In a book called, Seeds it says, "At the heart of Merton's spirituality is his distinction between our real and false selves. Our false selves are the identities we cultivate in order to function in society with pride and self-possession; our real selves are a deep religious mystery, known entirely only to God. The world cultivates the false self, ignores the real one, and therein lies the great irony of human existence: The more we make of ourselves, the less we actually exist."

Merton says, "Everyone of us is shadowed by an illusory person: a false self. This is the man that I want to be but who cannot exist, because God does not know anything about him. And to be unknown of God is altogether too much privacy" (NS, 34).

Friday, October 7, 2005

Uncover what is covered up....

Five months ago today, I was on the internet reviewing the educational options of seminaries across the country. Should I get an M. Div., or MA? Should I consider a pastoral or missions concentration and can I even get through a masters degree program? Can I learn Hebrew or Greek? Am I to old? How will I pay for it? Do I need more education? Will it lead to a new beginning? Eugene Peterson says, “Pastors are the persons in the church communities who repeat and insist on the kingdom realities against the world appearances, and who therefore must be apocalyptic.” Can I stand resolute in my own convictions? Can I communicate with “crimson urgency and purple crisis” a clear message of hope to others? Am I living in the Spirit? Am I being an example of this blessed life? I want to pastor and love people, but am I doing it now? All these self-doubts loom over me.

I was trying to envision where my wife and my lives might fit into God’s plan for ministry in the church, missions or the work place? I shared some thoughts with my wife. I told her I did not want to have the job description of a modern day pastor: “Someone who runs a church.” I have managed a couple of businesses now and my guess is that running a church would be even more frustrating. What I really want is to uncover what is covered up, “repeat and insist on the kingdom realities!” I want to be a greater man of prayer and make the time for reflection and study. I want to put self-importance behind me and make time for people. I want to listen and love people into the presence of God.

With the intention of being encouraging, she suggested that I can be doing these things now, and my inner critic said, “Yes… she’s right… you don’t do these things enough now, so how will you do them in the future. You are naive and foolish to think you could serve God and people. You just want to feel important, intelligent, enlightened! You really don’t like people, you can’t relate. Why didn’t you avoid that argument at work or with your partners for that matter? How much have you prayed and studied this week? What is your stance on salvation anyway? Would a God of love be so ambiguous? You are delusional and a failure! What do you have to offer?”

I left the room agreeing with my wife’s comment but secretly feeling overwhelmed with these self-doubts. It was then that I realized or possibly that God pulled the veil from my eyes and I saw that these accusations were malicious! They want to steal the gifts that the Father has given me! I am his offspring and his Spirit abides with me! God has given me all things with his Son. God displays his glory in my weakness if I rely on him. Through inner logic I know these things to be true. The Lord has brought me to this place of new decision. Listen to what the Spirit is saying… “I have put this desire in you. You are my child. You are a new creature. This is a reality, not just self-talk! I want you to uncover what is covered up, you are a light! The Spirit of God lives in you!”

How often do we let these accusations douse the fire that God has ignited in our souls. The apocalyptic pastor says, “But you belong. The Holy One anointed you, and you all know it. I haven't been writing this to tell you something you don't know, but to confirm the truth you do know, and to remind you that the truth doesn't breed lies” (1 John. 2:21).

Thursday, October 6, 2005

Sabbath Keeping....

My sister and I were recently talking about our lives and how it is important to make time for ourselves in spite of the continuing demands of work. The conversation reminded me of Israel being slaves in Egypt. One of the reasons God commanded the Sabbath was because slavery dehumanizes people. It treats them like machines or objects. People need rest, community and healthy relationships to feel human. We also need the downtime to reflect and consider our fortunate state. Eugene Peterson says that the Sabbath day of rest provides a needed rhythm for our lives. We work and rest, work and rest, work and rest… Without the rhythm we suffer anxiety and exhaustion.

We must pause from our work in order to consider our need for God. Overworking squeezes out any sense of praise and gratefulness to God, because after all we are more than competent to do the tasks required of us. That is what working is all about: my expertise, my abilities, my being self sufficient and up for the task. It is this confidence or competency in ourselves that causes us to ignore our need for God. The Sabbath repose can be a time of humility, refreshment, prayer, and fun.

The Sabbath day is for “praying and playing.” All work and no play can make us unhappy, unbalanced, unappreciated, and unappreciative of all that we have been given. Family, friends (if you have time for friends) good books (for me), dinning out with persons you love, taking in a movie, doing something just for the fun of it (even with our kids). Alternating between work and refreshment provides a certain rhythm that allows us to enjoy ourselves.

If we make time for ourselves and family, work and other responsibilities will not suffer. On the contrary, they will benefit from it! We will be better people (more human) having had the time to rest, reflect, pray and interact with others for the sake of just being with them. God is more recognizable in all we do when we realize it is not all up to us.

Wednesday, October 5, 2005

As it turns out....

I have been sick for the last week and was checked into the hospital by my Doctor last Tuesday morning. I thought I had the flu... As it turns out I had a kidney infection and was experiencing the systemic effects of high fevers, chills, body aches, etc. After a day and a night in the hospital I begged for release to go home. In the hospital I was given heavy doses of antibiotics intravenously and at home I am continuing taking an oral antibiotic. Although I am still recovering I am feeling much better.

Being ill sometimes has the positive effect of causing me to reflect on what has been important in life. I have been reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Letters & Papers From Prison and although the circumstances may be quite different I identify with the heart felt sentiments in this passage written to his parents:

"It's remarkable how we think at such times about the people that we should not like to live without, and almost or entirely forget about ourselves. It is only then that we feel how closely our lives are bound up with other people's, and in fact how the centre of our own lives is outside ourselves, and how little we are separate entities" (p.105).