Category Archives: Reflections

Peace With “Them”

From Pixabay, by Ksar El Kebir. Click photo for original.

From Pixabay, by Ksar El Kebir. Click photo for original.

There “They” are, walking down the street in my neighborhood. Who do “They” think “They” are? Coming into my place as if “They” belonged here, coming into my faith, my country, my neighborhood, my screen, my mind! Why can’t “They” go somewhere else, be someone else, or be more normal like me? Why do “They” persist in believing, behaving, and thinking so strangely? Why do “They” have to be so strange? Why can’t “They” just accept that “They” are wrong?

I call the above sentiments the voice of anti-shalom in my head, the voice of division and wholesale devaluing of the image of God that is borne in “the stranger.” One of the key pieces of Christian theology is that every human being bears the image of God, that there is no person that does not, in some way, reflect the divine image. In other words, when I allow myself to fear the strangeness of the stranger I miss out on the way that person can uniquely usher me into the presence of God.

So, who are “They?” Really, who are those others who we find the most difficulty in seeing the divine image? I suspect that for some of you, I am part of that “They,” or maybe you are part of my “They.” For some reason, we humans feel the need to place people into categories and define them by others we have encountered or heard about in that category. We have many names for this behavior that end in “ism”, and it has become more and more convicting to me that Jesus sees something very different when he looks at this person or group for whom I feel disdain or fear.

In 2001 I began to be convicted to practice a new spiritual discipline to start building the Shalom of God in my heart. This discipline radically changed me and has been painful at times, but it has enabled me to obtain some of the peace that passes understanding. After the September 11th attacks the Holy Spirit began convicting me to pray for those involved. I wrote down a few names like Osama bin Laden and al-Queda and began to pray for God’s image to be visible to me in them. This earned me some very strange looks and the opportunity to practice the discipline a little closer to home, but I felt a sense of peace I hadn’t before.

The love of God began to drive out the fear of those “scary” others, and opportunities opened for friendships and relationships that weren’t thinkable to me before the Shalom of God’s love began to be welcomed into my heart. I would love to tell you that the work of Shalom is finished in my heart, but since I am still breathing there is quite a bit of work left to do. Now though, when I read, hear, or feel that command to welcome the stranger I think “The stranger the better. Let’s do this.”

I would love to invite you to practice this discipline with me and share how it impacts you.

  • Take some time to pray and ask God to help you discern and write down the name of someone or group that is strange to you or that you have a reflexive distaste for.
  • Now that you have this person or group in mind take some time to pray and ask God to reveal exactly how the divine image is revealed in that person or group.
  • Put a piece of paper or sticky note with the names or group somewhere you will see it every day, and whenever you do ask God to help you see how the divine image is present in those whose name or group identity you have written.
  • Whenever you encounter someone in that group or that person ask God to help you see that person or group through the lens of divine love.

I pray that this will be as transforming for you as it has been for me.

Video

Lament In Recovery

I am trying video blogging since the broken finger makes typing hard and slow.

Blank Spaces

I just discovered some blank spaces in my perception. I began a gorgeous bike ride from The incredibly beautiful rim of Crater Lake Oregon. It was beautiful, downhill and everything was going smoothly. It was going to be an 87 mile ride through a beautiful chunk of creation. I vaguely remember awakening in an ambulance waiting for the med evac chopper.I remember pieces of the ride in the chopper. I don’t remember landing. There are many holes in my recollection of last Saturday. I am told that my life was saved by my helmet, the ranger who found me on the side of the road, and that most of the damage is focused on one section of my face. 

First of all, let me thank that ranger. My wife was the second person on the scene and the ranger was giving the bloody mess of my face CPR. Whoever you are I owe you my life and I am deeply grateful for your hard work in saving me. I know you were just doing your job, but your exemplary performance of your job means that my girls got to give me hugs today. 

EMTs: You don’t get nearly the credit you deserve for the work you do. The trauma you face every day means that people like me who can’t even remember any of your faces are here to read bedtime stories to their kids. Your professionalism got me transported stablely to the surgeons who could put me together again. Kudos friends, I owe you my life as well. The ER surgeons did an amazing job of putting my face back together and while I still look like a bloody mess, at least the blood is mostly scabs.

These holes in my memory are scary things. When I look at my bike, I know that something serious happened. I know that: that is indeed my shoe jammed in there like that, but somehow my foot is only lightly bruised. 

I know that yes, those forks are bent backwards and have no idea what kind of force would be needed to cause that degree of bend in metal. While these holes are explained with the word concussion, I still wonder what is in those gaps. I want to know what caused this so I can avoid that in the future. I really, really never want to regain consciousness in the back of an ambulance wondering how I got there. 

I have a long way to go towards health, and this will probably be a bit more than $10,000 out of pocket for the dental work and hospital stays. If you would like to help you can contribute at YouCaring.

Listening to My Daughters Pray

In a recent blog post (Dear God Time) I shared our family bedtime ritual. The key pieces of our bedtime prayers are in asking my kids who they want to thank God for, who they want to pray for, and what part of the beautiful creation they are thankful for or want to pray for. This has become a time of holy listening for me as I get to hear my daughters’ perspective on what is important, who really needs prayer, and to hear their words of faith and wonder.

One key practice in listening well to their faith is not to put words in their mouths, but to allow them to direct these pieces of prayer. By asking them to initiate I get to hear who the really special people are. My girls have a very short list of people who they are especially thankful to God for, and I have not yet made their list. What I have found is that they list off the people who have gone out of their way to build connection, not the default family members, but the people from outside who have especially invested time and love into them. I have learned through listening to my girls who the treasures are in their lives, the surrogate aunts and grandparents and surrogate grandparents who they know love them. I have come to treasure these friends above and beyond because they love above and beyond.

My girls’ “pray for” list is equally illuminating to me. I get to hear about the bullies and the bullied, the pieces of hurt that I miss, but my kids see. I hear them pray for friends that have moved away, old church folks from my previous call, and I get this incredible window into the compassionate heart of my children. By listening to their compassion I have learned who I might have missed, and how often I miss. I also get to hear them wrestle with things they have heard about that they don’t quite grasp and are confused about in others and by listening to their confusion I can begin to wrestle with my own. Given free rein to bring anything or anyone to God, my girls do, and I have learned a lot about the childlike faith of lament and bringing “owies” to be kissed by the presence of God.

The last piece of listening really taps into childlike wonder at things we adults stopped noticing a long time ago. During our prayers for the beautiful world there was a six month period of time in which one of my girls was thankful for the clouds that give us rain, snow, sleet, hail, and shade from the sun. For how the clouds turn pretty colors and make fun shapes. Six months of wonder at something I occasionally swear at. What a perspective shift it is to be given the gift of listening to wonder and awe. Over time there were thanks for dogs, mountains, waterfalls, dogs, forests, sheesh dad take a hint dogs, beaches, and any body of water larger than 3 inches. Pacific City

We tapped into that wonder when at her first time to the ocean our youngest looked out with wide eyes and shouted “Puddle!” and prayed for that huge “puddle” for weeks.

I have found that listening to the prayers of my children has opened my eyes to a joyous wonder in being a child in God’s loving arms. Sometimes I even get to model that love, but most awesomely, I get to rest in that love as I listen to the prayers of my children.

 

 

Video

Dear God Time


In a recent conversation on a Facebook parenting group, we were discussing prayers at bed time and how we approached end of the day prayers with our kids. It was a fun discussion, and there were some fun aspects to discussing kids and God. One of the things I noticed was that the bedtime prayers really opened a window into the parents’ relationship with God. Our bedtime prayers have evolved over time as both of our children resonate with different pieces and have helped them change. So it is a little early, but welcome to what my daughters call “Dear God Time.”

Dear God thank you for (Children’s names). Help them to have a good night’s sleep and wake up silly, happy, and ready for a fun day (with people, at school, etc.)

Is there anyone you want to thank God for? (At this point my girls have a short list: Sarah, Nana, and Uncle Josh. Our youngest usually adds “Mama’s friend Winda.”)

Is there anyone you want to pray for? (This is such an amazing window into their lives and the people they are concerned about.)

Thank you for this beautiful world we live in. Help us to take good care of it, appreciate its beauty and love it as you do. Is there anything in the world you are thankful for or want to pray for? (We had a six month period of praying for the clouds.)

Thank you for our friends, our family, and all the people with whom we share this beautiful world. Let all of us know your love, your presence, and your peace.

In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen

This is usually followed by singing a couple of songs, blowing kisses, and a silly game in which I say a bunch of words that begin with the letter “p” to which my girls respond “No! Pillow!”

 

 

If You Keep Picking At It…

I heard these words often growing up, and there was something about the temporary relief from the itch of healing skin that made me not care. In the healing process we often choose temporary relief over long term health, and this shows up in our mental health as well as physical. I am part of some online groups of people who are recovering from church inflicted wounds, and some of the posts I judgmentally assign into the category of scab picking. This is something I get to wrestle with in my healing journey, and it is entirely possible that the only scab being picked by those posts are mine. This post is more about my journey and recognizing that I am not so much judging as projecting my experience at “picking at it” onto others.

The “picking posts” I see are usually some egregious meme copied from Facebook or “Can you believe what this person from the tribe we left said?” My response is usually, “Yes I can believe it, which is why I left in the first place.” Part of me wants to yell  what my mom told me so long ago: “If you keep picking at it, it won’t get better.” Another part recognizes the need for some kind of relief or validation. “Please tell me I am not crazy for wanting to leave this!” I get it. I have been there. The pain and need for relief are REAL!

There is a point at which I have to stop picking, stop checking back to see if things have gotten better, and recognize that the loss is real and restoration of relationship is beyond my ability to achieve. I have to say that on my healing journey away from the fear-mongering in some evangelical subcultures I have found that repeated exposure to the fear-mongering doesn’t bring healing. Watching from the sidelines and chewing over what is happening just reopens the wounds and the bleeding starts again.

The more we pick, the greater the chance that there will be scars.While there are some people who I love and care for still in the old tribe, I will ruthlessly cull them and everything from the tribe they are attached to from my social media feeds when their posts reopen wounds. This is the hard part of the healing process: cutting myself off from the source of my wounds. There are strained relationships, but saying to these friends and loved ones: “Sorry, I only want to be connected to you in real life, not social media.” sets an important boundary. Setting this boundary gives me the opportunity to be in relationship with them and to not have the daggers of fear and misplaced rage surface in my daily life.

I can’t tell you that you are picking at scabs, (Unless I actually see you do that. Then: Ew! Gross!), but sometimes what I see in groups and ex-evangelical writing feels like scab picking to me, so maybe it is worthwhile to raise the question: Are we applying healing balm or picking at scabs? For me the answer can vary by the hour, but maybe asking the question is what’s important?

 

The Rough Side of the Mountain

There is an old gospel song with the title of this blog post, and the more I think about my experience of the last few years and some of my experiences hiking with my wife, the rough side of the mountain feels like a pretty apt metaphor. There are times in our lives when it feels like every possible “other shoe” that could drop has dropped, when all the balls that were being juggled are bouncing around us and one precious ball is being cradled in our arms. The rough side of the mountain looks different depending on the burdens we carry as we climb, but in my case the helplessness of sick kids combined with community loss helped me make a huge realization about who I am and what I am called to be as a pastor and father.

In many ways I have dropped almost every other ball to focus on supporting my three-year-old daughter and to keep our home a place of warmth, welcome, joy and solace. I get to be that Daddy right now, but after so many blows it feels like I am climbing up the rough side of the rock slide. Every time it seems like we got to the bottom of all the health issues with our daughters, a deeper issue surfaced. Still happening, but the other stresses have cleared. I made it through the depression and the anxiety following the loss of a community, and now stand at this strange place of waiting. Not yet hopeful, but not despairing. Knocked to the bottom of the mountain I looked up and realized: “I have been climbing the wrong ____ing, God______, stupid mountain.” I had tried to live up to expectations that God had not created me to meet. (I will pause for the experienced pastors to twitch/grimace.)

I am called to nurture others, to live out Jesus’ care for the marginalized, the hungry, the hurting, to mentor others as they grow in faith. These come with a different set of roughness, but roughness I am designed for. Right now I have the joy of practicing my gifts of nurture by holding my hurting girls tight, giving them snuggles and kisses, singing silly songs that make them giggle, and remembering and living out who I am and what I am called to be. I am climbing the rough mountain of realizing how far I strayed from my true self, and now am finally happy to be where I am: At the bottom of a new, still rough sided, mountain. But it is my rough mountain now and not the deadly peak of others’ expectations.