Empathy Sees Below the Surface

OLY-2014-SKI-ALPINE-SUPERG-MENNBC execs made a conscious decision to spin the Bode Miller story in all the alpine events to maintain viewers.  It is an emotional story that hooks the viewers needed to justify the large amount of dollars paid to air the Olympics.  This has to be at least one factor why they aired Christin Cooper’s interview eight hours after it was taped.

Decision makers will continue to say they are just telling the story and Bode approves.  They, like all of us, can be blinded at time by that part of our DNA, which defaults to a ‘survive in the herd’ mentality.   This is at least part of the reason they choose to ignore voices in the room that surely must there pleading for empathy.

I just learned the Greek word empathy (in-pathos; in the illness; or feel your pain) was first used in the English language mid to late 19th century.  Some suggest the word didn’t have fertile ground to grow among the Brit’s with their “stiff upper lip” demeanor or frontier folk‘s “pull yourself up by your own bootstrap mentality.empathy

I do not expect our culture to help us see below the surface.  A  community of faith exists for this reason.  What would happen if all churches helped all people see below the surface?

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Published in: on February 19, 2014 at 4:02 pm  Leave a Comment  

Making Space: Extravagant Generosity Acts 9: 1-20

This is my storyWe’re persuaded we’re read more than a history book when we read the biblical text.  Saul’s conversion is our story; for we too can have a life changing encounter with Jesus.  Being Christian isn’t just going to a church, saying the Apostles’ Creed, or following the teachings of Jesus.  Being Christian means we can be changed by God; converted, for like Saul, when we believe in Jesus we are led into an authentic relationship with God.

Saul’s “stopped in your tracks by a heavenly flash and a voice” is not the only model for conversion.  The point of the story is Christ can find any of us to change us.  If God can save an enemy of the church, God can save anyone.  What every transformation has in common is Christ makes himself known; helping us see the way clear; and igniting greater spiritual growth whether our conversion is grand or gentle

Saul was “still breathing threats and murder” against the people of the Way.  The Way was the name early Christians claimed for themselves.  This assertion would have profound meaning to a Jew.  The halacha, the Law, which literally means, ‘the way’ defined the way for God’s people.  For early Christian to say they are followers of the Way meant they were claiming the law is embodied in the risen Jesus who they follow because he is the Way.the_way_logo

Saul would stop those following this New Way because they were a threat to his way.  He failed to see how the new Way is the old Way. He’s stopped on his way by the one who is the Way and blinded. The one who thought he saw clearly, now couldn’t see at all.  The one who bound Christians and led them back to the old Way in Jerusalem is unable to find his way without being led.  When he is led, it’s now toward the new Way in Damascus.

Usually before we can learn anything new, we have to realize we don’t know everything. Saul is cut to the quick when he hears this voice.  He knew these were words spoken by David to King Saul 1000 years ago.  He knew these words put him on the wrong side of what God was doing. Saul was not only in the way of those who followed Jesus; he was in God’s way.

Saul is a good man who had integrated his body, head, and heart (Stage 1 of spiritual growth, focus on self); he was aligned with the good guys, the Sanhedrin, (Stage 2 of spiritual growth, focus on my group); and was a learned man of great passion and intellect (Stage 3 of spiritual growth, focused on his thoughts and feelings).  Now, none of that previous spiritual growth will see him through (excuse the pun).  He is now at place where his own ego must die to if he is to know the person God fashioned in his mother’s womb.  Saul is hung between stages three and four.

plant-growing-out-of-bookWe will linger between stages three (where we left off last week) and stage four (where we pick up) when faced with a dying to self kind of moment. This is usually a prolonged time of darkness that leads us into letting go, so the ego can die.  Once we understand dying to self is necessary, we almost certainly will continue in our spiritual growth.  Today, we examine the growth needed to spur us to risk taking service and extravagant generosity.

Stage four focuses on meeting the shadow self.  This means suffering enough necessary failure because of our egoistical tendencies divide God’s creation into categories that make sense to us.  We will only go here if we can remain open to what actually is and who we are; no matter how dark.   We must grow tired of wallowing in our mixed up ways, created by our confused ego.  If we will just be honest with God and ourselves, we will experience a breakthrough in spiritual growth.  In fact, this can feel so enriching our growth can be stymied as we resort to a higher level of individualism-self-absorbed with this rewarding inner work.shadow self

We must allow our shadow self to unfold as we meet it, sometimes in humiliating ways.  This requires eating a large slice of humble pie so we can see and say how much of our lives are spent keeping up appearances.  We come to see it’s our false self that makes the enemy other religions, races, classes, political parties or any other divisions that keep our lives tidy.  When we really meet our shadow self, we realize the real enemy is my petty, needy, and self-absorbed ways.  When we arrive here, we must trust our spiritual intuition to push through barriers erected by our egos that keep us from knowing a greater love of God, neighbor, or ourselves.

Stage five focuses on embracing the shadow self.  This is not only hard to understand; it’s hard to deal realistically with my phoniness, my mixed motives and my unloving ways.  It is hard to be honest enough to admit we have never really loved anybody more than ourselves.  No one likes to say about him or herself they are generally reluctant to sacrifice their life for the sake of another.  Your pastor doesn’t want to admit my own inability to believe and practice the very things I teach to others.

Spiritual-FriendsThis is what makes embracing our shadow self so hard.  It requires having someone beside us who will hold on to us.  They personify a radical sense of unearned grace that touches us at an unconscious level, surrounding us with the unconditional love of God, so we might see the light of God in the darkness.  Inside the darkness, the light God shines is truer, kinder, and softer.  It takes great patience and courage to embrace our shadow self.

Stage six focuses on being comfortable with our powerlessness. We don’t struggle as we once did with unexpected events, awkward persons, or undue suffering.  We don’t feel the need to understand, fix, control, or change things.  We trust the darkness; knowing it is a better teacher than our own certainty.  We are present with the reality, “I cannot do this”.  This may be the first step toward spiritual growth; ask any recovering alcoholic.

There’s no superior behavior, organization to join, role to play, belief to profess, or religious devotion to practice that will save us.  Our incapacity to love God, our neighbors and ourselves causes us to throw ourselves into the arms of mercy that is offered seventy-times-seven.  Once we are resting there, we grow more compassionate and forgiving toward others and ourselves. God is very real; we’re outside of God’s Waiting Room!”god-room

Stage seven focuses on a Deeper Source.  Conversion, transformation, or an identity transplant plugs us into a different outlet.  We hear the teachings of Jesus we’ve heard a hundred times before in a deeper way.  We know what Paul means when he says: “I live no longer, not I, but I live in Christ, and Christ lives in me”.  We experience a larger sense of self.  The false self dies in a significant way and we’re so much more than we thought.  The True Self takes over and it’s unequivocally not about me.

We act more often because it’s true, good, and beautiful, and not because it is popular or it works!  There’s a lessening need for social reward.  We possess a peace that makes us less reliant on our thoughts and feelings.  We no longer need to hold ourselves; another is holding us.  Extravagant generosity is not a choice, it is a lifestyle.  We are at the heart of faith.

TrueSelfStage eight focuses on meeting the True Self.  No one is conscious of this stage twenty-four hours a day.  We know that Jesus lived in conscious, loving communion with God and all God created.  He says, “I and the Father are one”.  We too can live in conscious, loving communion with God and God creation. God is no longer out or over there; separate from us.  God is in us and we’re in God.  We’re the Body of Christ.  The source of our life is divine; yet we’re still quite ordinary and human.  Every aspect of our persona, roles, titles, and bodily self is a passing ego possession.

We have found our soul, our True Self.  We are who we were before we did a thing right or wrong.  Our true self quite naturally says, “Yes” to God.  We dwell in a slice of heaven on earth when we learn how to trust this Divine Indwelling and draw from that deeper source.  We know we were created to be in conscious loving union with God and all the creation too.

Stage nine focuses on embracing the True self.   The true self sees religion as the fingers that point to God.  Any experience of being one with God causes us to be thankful for the Methodist, Baptist, Catholic, or any other person or thing that pointed us to God.  They are not God.  So, we set aside all those religious labels and categories because there is no need to appear to be anything other than who we really are in the eyes of God.Deep water

We’re dwelling in God’s presence: inwardly in all we think of feel and outwardly in all we do.  We’re detached from our self-image because we are living into God’s image of us, which loves both the good and the bad parts of lives.  There is serenity within our soul and freedom in our actions; living under the loving gaze of God and being just who we are, nothing more and nothing less. This is the goal of all spiritual growth.

We know from Paul’s letters he would go on from Damascus and soar in his own spiritual development; making reference to something he called the third heaven.  But, neither he nor do we take a non-stop flight toward spiritual growth that leads us into risk taking service and extravagant generosity.  Neither he nor can we skip or engineer this growth.  We are being led and God will make sure we get what we need when we need it.

In our desire to make space in this place for every face, we must embody Jesus words, “Those who become like little children will enter the Kingdom of heaven”.  As your pastor, I can do many things; but if I am not asking you to let your ego go, so your false self can die, I’m not doing what is best.  It is our charge to create ways people can happily give their selves back to God exactly as they are.  If we allow people to do that freely and often enough, their spiritual journey will lead them into Larger Worlds.

making_room_for_everyoneThe church that makes space nurtures an environment of radical hospitality so they may create a playpen of passionate worship and intentional faith development that sends God’s children out to the playground of risk-taking service and extravagant generosity.  This happens when all of God’s children in their naked state can be what they once were; comfortable with whom they are now; and assured God will always love and accept them.  Will you join me in making space by growing in these five practices?

Published in: on February 16, 2014 at 3:51 pm  Leave a Comment  

Making Space: Risk Taking Service Acts 8: 26-40

Making SpaceMaking space requires the fundamentals of radical hospitality, passionate worship, and intentional faith development.  Those are space-making skills improve as a faith communities repeat the proper techniques they learn.  It takes something deeper to integrate risk-taking service and extravagant generosity into the fabric of the followers of Christ who make up the Body of Christ.  While some growth happens naturally, the kind of significant growth that is needed for these last two practices happens to those who are willing to take the inward journey of spiritual growth.

Phillip goes to a wilderness road after being told by an angel.  There he meets the never-named eunuch, minister of Candace, Queen of Ethiopia.  The eunuch is reading from Isaiah as Philip joins him and asks if he understands what he is reading.  The eunuch says, “How can I unless someone guides me?” They read the scripture together.  We read: “Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this scripture, he told him the good news of Jesus.”  Philip opened his mouth, and told the story of Jesus.  my-story

Let’s linger on the phrase, “He told him the good news.”  Philip spontaneously told him the good news of Jesus.  He didn’t have time to prepare or to speak from notes.  He jumps to it, despite being on a dusty road in the middle of nowhere.  He told the story of Jesus because it was his story; it was the fabric of his values and motivations, knowledge and experiences that had shaped his life and identity.

I keep my sermon prep and devotional life separate.  They are both equally important; I don’t one to substitute for the other.  This last week, during the early hour, I’ve been reflecting on the stages of spiritual growth with the help of the Richard Rohr.  It became clear to me was how stages of spiritual growth and these last two space making practices, risk-taking service and extravagant generosity, go hand in glove.  Risk taking mission happens when we open ourselves to deep inward growth until the Jesus story is our story and our lives, along with our words, tell the story.

light-to-darknessSpiritual growth is movement toward oneness with God, each other, and our very self.  This involves the human-divine connection; unity with other persons; and our heart, mind and body coming together.  What prevents us from be willing to make all things one is our ego insisting divisions.  Our desire to compare and contrast our lives to others rather than seek what we have in common can stop spiritual growth dead in our tracks.

What usually jumps start spiritual growth, so we can move to the next stage of development is a curtain falls and we enter into a nighttime experience in life-a season of pain or a time when we’re no longer assured as we once were.  What we have been doing doesn’t work.  So, we take a faith step; we go beyond learning about faith to have faith.

Love is our goal; but it is our faith that moves us closer to loving of God, others and ourselves more fully.  We can be thankful for the grace of any circumstance that moves us to the next stage of growth, particularly when we come to the place to takes steps toward risk-taking service.  I will unpack stages of spiritual growth this and next week that can change our lives and others when we serve and give in these deeper ways..

Infant Eating Baby FoodThe first stage focuses on the fleshly person, the most fundamental parts of the human condition.  It is at this stage we have not yet integrated body, mind, and heart. Paul makes reference to the saints in Corinth as “infants he fed you with milk, not solid food, for they were not ready”.  At this stage, the admonition by Jesus to not worry about the secular trinity of what we eat, drink and wear makes no earthly sense.

A few persons will get stuck at this earliest of stages; failing to align their body, mind and heart.  They become overly concerned for their own pleasure and security. They are often suspicious of education, arts, spirituality and culture.  Their moral compass points them only to places that help them maintain their place.  However, the great majority or persons will not get stuck here because something will happen that will shine a less than favorable light on the folly of pleasure and it strips away all illusions that they can secure their own lives.  Can I get a witness?

The second stage focuses on corporate behaviors that establish the group.  We become focused on keeping laws, codes, and behaving as expected.  We want to look good for the sake of the group.  This is a required step of spiritual growth; it fosters a sense choseness that establishes our identity and boundaries that will aid us in moving toward future growth.team uniformity

Eventually, someone in our group will disappoint.  A person will act unkindly, dishonestly or worse.  Sometimes persons will work hard to sweep under the covers these unexpected behaviors.  This gives birth to our shadow self, which hide behind pretense, so all will look good on the outside; speaking and behaving as expected.

We can’t remain to long in this place; lest we end up living in a childish dog-eats-dog world for most of our lives; emitting a spirit of destructive We must be willing to do the necessary shadowboxing with our shadow selves so our true self comes out hiding and we can grow deeper in our faith; loving God, neighbor and ourselves even more deeply.

shadowboxThe third stage focuses on thoughts and feelings, forming the individual who wants to break out of the group.  We embrace common sense and critical thinking.  At this stage, we’ve probably experienced a degree of education and/or accomplishment.  We have read a few books and we can quote sources that reinforce our faith in new ways.  Through self-discovery, we’ve learned to express our feelings and share our thoughts.

Most of what we think and feel is self-preferential, which trap us to our egocentric lifestyle.  One mark of this stage is we don’t play well together we like our feelings and thoughts.  Dying to self for the sake of the common good of others is hard.  Most of us do not want to pass through that grief.  This is why most of educated Europeans and Americans are stuck; we’re good people whose good conversations make good friends; but we are not willing to go beyond our egocentric world-view.just-be-nice

The false or ego self must die to keep growing.  In order for this to happen we have to linger for a while between stages three and four; growing into the possibility of dying to self.  This prolonged time of darkness and not knowing forces us into letting go so the ego can die.  What usually motivates us (has to motivate us) to remain in this limbo state is the desire to know a greater love in life.  We long for such love that we are willing to undergo a great suffering, major setback, or even public humiliation.  It is during these times the ego (false) self goes into shock. This is the great dying, which Jesus spoke when he said, “Unless a grain of wheat dies, it remains a grain of wheat. If it dies, it will bear much fruit.” (John 12:24)

growthWe can see why most persons are slow to take this step of faith.  Sometimes initiation rites like confirmation, baptism, or a private or corporate encounter with the living God gives a person a taste of stage four.  Once a person experiences this dying to self in a significant way, spiritual growth will continue, for they understand that dying to self is central and necessary for all spiritual growth.

Once we have repeated the practice of letting go, risk-taking service naturally pours out of our lives.  We no longer have to be certain of every step along the way; making us more tolerant of ambiguity and able to embrace paradox. The meaning of faith becomes clear; we are called to walk in the darkness with trust; into places of risk taking service, like Phillip to open our mouths and tell the good news of Jesus.

Published in: on February 9, 2014 at 9:56 pm  Leave a Comment  

Holy Land Excursion November 2014

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Teaching standing on the shores of the Sea of Galilee

Announcing a Holy Land Tour this November.  I will be leading my second group to Israel and Jordan.  This will group will be between 25-30 people.

The full experience will travel from near Mt Hermon in the north to Eilat on the Red Sea in the south.  There is an optional excursion to Jordan to see the ancient ruins of Petra.

This is a trip of lifetime that will cause familiar words to jump off the page and come alive.  I look forward to answering your questions and eventually traveling with you.  We need a minimum of 25 persons booked by April 15 for the trip to make.  So, look over the brochure and plan to join me.  The link to the brochure is below:

2014 Holy Land Experience Brochure FINAL

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Sitting on the s1st century outh steps of the Temple

Published in: on February 9, 2014 at 2:20 pm  Leave a Comment  
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