Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Sabbath for all

I think I've never fully understood what a Sabbath means. It seems to me that the only time that I have ever fully "let down" is when I am locked up in a monastery on a fairly lengthy (read: more than a weekend) silent retreat. I am normally inundated with items and distractions that take my focus from one thing to another. Yes - like many I suffer from the proverbial "Shiny Object Syndrome." Actually, there is a mild dose of ADD also in the equation as well.

I think there is something to this idea about an unfocused culture. We are a culture built around distractions. From an early age we provide children with lights and sounds and pictures, we expose our children at what I think is too young of an age to media such as prolonged television exposure (this coming from a media freak I know I must sound like a heretic). Mine was the first culture to be brought up with MTV and later now that we're older VH1.

We are told of the need to create five and ten year plans. We surround ourselves with diversions to take away the stress from those five and ten year plans. We use fast food, the internet and other addictions to medicate ourselves from feeling anything that might help us connect to the fact that inside of ourselves is a looming void that we don't know how to fill - or even fix.

We don't do very well in the relationship department either. Most of us are in and out of relationships - I can count on one hand how many individuals that I know who have a long term marriage (read over 25 years). Most of my friends and acquaintances have what is now termed "serial monogamous" relationships.

Then there is seminary. For those of you who know someone or God bless you are currently in seminary such as I am you know what I am talking about. Lectures and reading and conscribed small groups can take the place of forging genuine relationships. Large amounts of reading and digesting of material, parsing scripture, exegesis not isogesis in preaching and homiletics, self reflection without the benefit of spiritual direction all add up to the fact that so many of us by the middle of a ten week quarter are sleep deprived, snapping and overwhelmed at the prospects of ever making it through the final five weeks. Add to that those quarters when you are doing Field Work and you are just one ball of kinetic energy looking for a place to discharge. Chapel? Who has time for that? Quiet time? You attempt it but there are so many distractions not counting lack of sleep that play into the success/failure of the endeavor.

Our constant movement, our constant "need" to focus on so many aspects of our world which we have conjured up as being important and necessary really distract us from the one item which we are called to focus upon. Scripture exhorts us to "Be Still and Know that I AM God." This phrase alone is enough to cause us to go into a guilt induced shame spiral. Yet the question remains, are we really too defocused? I think we are. God I believe radically calls for us to be single minded - to put the focus on God as our SOURCE for everything.

My brother in law is a chiropractor. I always laugh when I heard their answering machine ending "you're not fine unless your spine is aligned" but it always makes me pause and consider the fact that it is a matter of alignment that consistently throws my body out of whack. Too much of this, too little of that. To be still and know that God is God is giving our spiritual life a serious alignment. It's reminding us that God is the ultimate source of our lives, the author of our life and salvation. In God we live and move and have our being. Nothing comes into this world without the creative DNA that comes only from the Divine One. Yet we go through our lives being pulled one way and pushed another.

Consider this. I am now embarking on six weeks of time accrued from unused vacation. On one hand it is wonderful to have the luxury of this time to relax and become refreshed yet on the other hand how incredible is it that in the eighteen months that I was on assignment I never really took time to have a Sabbath of my own? What kind of an example was I to those I worked with, to those I ministered too?

Sabbath, I am coming to find out is God given for many reasons. To refresh our bodies, to renew our spirits , to connect with God and bring our lives back into a balance that includes the acknowledgement that we ourselves are NOT God inspite of our delusions.

I'm starting to think that Sabbath is a mind set. It is a way to incorporate that wonderful gift of boundaries into our lives. To create a rhythm in our lives that allows us daily to be reminded of the fact that we are in relationship with God and this relationship needs to have time to gestate and develop.

Sabbath for me this week is renewing my surroundings. Taking care of the laundry, the house and then beginning tomorrow - resting before God. I am going to be entering into a conversation with God about how I can realign myself so that I can live a true Sabbath life.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Telling our stories...

One of the most powerful ways of communication is through story. Our earliest traditions and beliefs in humanity have been passed down through tribal oracles - those entrusted to remember the stories of their people. Stories are means by which we convey our own deep seated hopes, frustrations and aspirations for ourselves and for humanity.

I'm always struck by the healing power of stories - in recovery movements one of the vehicles of healing is actually sharing your story. In meetings one shares about the broken places in their lives and their journey towards healing. Therapists are trained to help an individual decipher the real story from the perceived in a patient's life. Spiritual Directors help guide their fellow pilgrim to take note of the special twists and turns that emerge on their road to God.

Brian McLaren speaks alot about the stories we share in relation to Christianity. It has made me think about the analogies and metaphors that Jesus used in the parables and what metaphors we can use from our everyday lives to communicate the passion and power of the message itself. That God loves us unconditionally, that until we embrace that divine love for our own lives we are in a state of disrest in our loves body, mind and spirit. What would the shape of our stories take if we dared to think of the power of story.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Saying Goodbye-prematurely

It's been a challenging week - in the midst of my own personal grief work related to letting go of this position I came into the office this past Tuesday to be asked to go over to the local Middle School as the 6th graders had experienced the loss of a classmate of theirs.

I spent the around six hours at the middle school with our Youth Pastor on Tuesday and another 3 hours or so doing some wrap up on Wednesday. The picture that was given to me of this girl was that she celebrated and loved life to the fullest. In the midst of being her own unique individual, she apparantly had a heart that looked out for others who didn't quite fit the middle school mold and took them under her wing. For many of these students it was the first time a peer had passed away, or it brought up many unresolved losses of grandparents or divorced parents in their own lives.

Yet the one issue that I heard over and over again from kids was that they never had a chance to say "sorry." I shared with those that I was listening to that most adults would agree that the WORST years of school would be middle school. Everyone is trying to fit in and you're still trying to figure out who you are, and the last thing in the world that one wants to do is stand out and be DIFFERENT! I had the girls/guys try to channel some of that regret into creating a book of "lessons that X taught them." It seemed to be helpful and appreciated by the counselors who were in and out of the safe room.

Working with grieving kids is never easy. My first weeks in ministry in Oregon had me working with parents, adults and kids as one of our beloved families was involved in a horrific car accident where the mother was seriously injured and the oldest daughter killed. Previously, I've worked with families involved in murder/suicides and I think that the most challenging ones are those whose deaths are unexpected.

The last bit of news which I heard at the school this week was that this girl's life was truly a miracle. An undiagnosed defect was the root of her passing, and in reality it is a miracle that she lived 12 lively and energy packed years.

And in the meantime, please keep my Aunt's family in your prayers as we received word on Wednesday evening that my 48 year old cousin was found dead in his apartment. His life will be remembered.

For those of you who work are interested in "boning up" on your grief work skills I recommend two programs that are outstanding in their work.

Rainbows - ( is a nationally recognized grief recovery and support group for children and their families experiencing a wide variety of loss - from divorce recovery to death of sibling/parent. They have a wonderful facilitator training program which I was able to participate in and later facilitated groups through a Hospice program at a major medical center.

Dougy Center ( is another nationally recognized support group founded in Portland, Or.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Via Media Kids - a blog especially for kids and their parents!

Hi all-

Just wanted to let you know that I have a new devotional blog for kids called "Via Media Kids." You can reach it here at this link:

Please pass the link onto kids and families who might be interested.


Friday, January 05, 2007

Plastic Dashboard Jesus and the Communities that Love Them

What can I say about today? I had on my Master Calendar list for January (prepared way before I was leaving or announced my decision to leave) that it was time to work on the closets upstairs - so between myself and my friend we got two closets cleaned out and sorted with everything labeled for easy access. It will be a lot nicer than what was left for me when I arrived at work 17 months ago...I'm glad because nothing is worse than not knowing what has been done, where things are or who to go to for an answer on a question.

I've been asked to contact people individually to listen to them after receiving the email. Most have nothing to say, or are curious as to what in store for me. The hardest one to hear this afternoon was from someone who basically said that no one would ever tell me what they really felt but there will be a sigh of relief that I am departing because "I was the worst thing that ever happened to this church." When I asked if they could elaborate (yes, I am a glutton for punishment) they shared that they felt that there was too much of a push for parents to be taking responsibility for the spiritual raising of their children. That if they wanted their children to be raised to be a part of the world they would not be Christians because Christians are to "not be of this world." I was diametrically teaching what they didn't want their kids to hear and they were having to "unteach" them every weekend after they went to classes.

God bless that individual. I am sure they do not represent all members of the congregation, nor the families of the kids who attend weekly. If they do - I'm sorry and I hold firm to the belief that so many of us are ghettoized in the proverbial "Christian world" exclusively that we are oblivious to how those who aren't Christians view us. I want so much more for our kids - they are soaking up a culture and a world which feels that Christianity is more of a nusance rather than an important part of one's core beliefs. There is a pantheon of spiritual beliefs from which to choose and as long as it's good for you and doesn't hurt others do it. We long for community yet isolate ourselves creating a form of community which meets needs but not the truest need of being known and vulnerable to another individual. It just seems we need to be available to the world at large rather than safely tucked away in our plastic universe.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

I'm Spent

There is this old Noel Paul Stockey worship tune from the late 70's - my time in youth group that easily sums up todays spiritual exercise

Hand it over to the Father
Hand it over to the Son
Hand it over to the Spirit
Till the work is done...

I guess that is today's exercise in spirituality - don't hang on to stuff, turn it over till the work is done. Oh, and by the way the work is never done on this spiritual plane. Last night I turned in my resignation to our Leadership after having done so earlier in the morning to my Executive Pastor. Today I shared with the staff - not an easy thing to do. I don't think many were surprised. Since then I've been spacing out phone calls to key ministry individuals letting them know because they will be receiving an email informing them about my decision and another one from the Sr. Pastor inviting them to a "summit meeting" to discuss the transition period.

I'm spent. While I'm a fairly strong person emotionally the one area that I struggle with (and who doesn't) is acceptance. In spite of what I know to have been some wonderful seeds planted, I fear that all which would be shared during that meeting would be a complete listing of all my failings and shortcomings. There might be some of that - not everyone will always be in agreement and when someone leaves the first thing to happen is to focus on what you didn't like to keep yourself from feeling pain and loss.

The upswing is that this evening I get an opportunity to see Newberg Christian School's "Christmas Program." No, they are not keeping to the early church concept of Epiphany, the evening they were to perform Oregon was hit with a record breaking windstorm - 100+ mph winds and rain which caused havoc, destruction and unfortunate a few lives lost throughout the State. Most schools and cities cancelled their Christmas programs and other events so we are having the rescheduled version performed for us tonight. If that is not an example of redemption - what is?

So, keep me in your prayers this weekend. I'll be sharing the news of my departure this weekend with the kids (preschool excepting...they'll be the week before my departure). My last Sunday is the 21st and I am assuming that also means that I will have to have my office cleaned out at that time as well. I know God is in the process but personally, this is the point in the adventure that life just sucks.