Tuesday, November 25, 2014

All Good Gifts Around Us....

I did not grow up celebrating Thanksgiving (obviously). All I knew about Thanksgiving I learned from Tom and Jerry Cartoons, and the occasional showing of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving - which was an odd cartoon to broadcast in the U.K. I never really understood why Peppermint Patty got so angry at being offered buttered toast, pretzel sticks, popcorn, and jelly beans. I did wonder if whether Woodstock eating Turkey at the end of the cartoon was actually cannibalism :)

Part of the joy of Thanksgiving for me has been the opportunity to embrace traditions and make them my own. My first ever Thanksgiving was spent just outside New York City. Snow was gently falling, and I was sitting at a large table with more foreigners than U.S. citizens and it felt like a wonderful reflection of the world coming together giving thanks to God for His blessings. I remember my first Thanksgiving after I became a U.S. citizen my self, it felt like my adoption into America was complete and I no longer felt like the outsider at the feast.

I have a personality that can easily stew on the negative, so Thanksgiving is a great reminder for me of the positive.

I am blessed. I have an abundance. I don't worry about what I'm going to eat (expect for chasing exciting new recipes), I have no fear about where I'm going to sleep tonight. I can afford what I need and what I want. Just having an abundance in the areas of food and shelter puts me way above many thousands in this world.

A few years ago I was leading a small group reflecting on Parables and Poetry and the parable that was randomly assigned for Thanksgiving was Luke 12:16-21

 Then he told them this story: “The farm of a certain rich man produced a terrific crop. He talked to himself: ‘What can I do? My barn isn’t big enough for this harvest.’ Then he said, ‘Here’s what I’ll do: I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll gather in all my grain and goods, and I’ll say to myself, Self, you’ve done well! You’ve got it made and can now retire. Take it easy and have the time of your life!’ “Just then God showed up and said, ‘Fool! Tonight you die. And your barnful of goods—who gets it?’ “That’s what happens when you fill your barn with Self and not with God.

That passage created some tension for me over Thanksgiving. My expressions of what I was thankful for had me sounding suspiciously like the rich man in the passage. As I reflected more however I found myself drawn to the phrase "The farm of a certain rich man produced a terrific crop". If consider myself as the Rich Man and my life as the 'farm' what crops am I producing?

My life seems to move through various seasons. Attitudes, relationships, abilities, all grow, blossom and die. Positive and Negative crops all grow together. I can be judgemental and petty, I can create music that helps people encounter God.  I can hold a terrific grudge and an abundance of unforgiveness. I can create spaces that are welcoming and hospitable. I can be stubborn and rude. Loving and gracious, jealous and suspicious.

My barn is very full!

It surprises me how tightly I want to hold onto my bad crops. Giving up a grudge or a prejudice can be difficult A closed fist seems to offer more protection than an open hand.

It surprises me how tightly I want to hold onto my good crops. If I give away my abundance I become fearful that I may get trapped in poverty, that I might spread myself too thinly.

There is a Staff Member at Chapelwood UMC Kathy Jo, who used to be homeless. She has a white board in her office, and she changes what it says weekly. This week it caught my attention because it says "It's not what we say about our blessing, but how we use them that is the true measure of our Thanksgiving."

The crops in my life  are opportunities for God to transform me more into the image of Jesus. They reveal where I am falling short of being the unique best 'me' that God has created.

The crops in my life are an opportunities for God to use me to transform the world.

I'm slowly learning to not put the crops in my life in categories of Good and Bad, but to simply ask God to show me what opportunities He is presenting to me through them.

What is growing in your life right now and how can you encounter God through it?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Checklist Spirituality

Thoughts for Sunday's Contemplative Service

St Theresa of Avila writes about prayer using the metaphor of watering the garden of the soul. She writes about different ways water can get to the garden. From a well, from an irrigation channel, or from the garden being located next to the river. (And from the rain...which we're not mentioning this week ion the service.)

Digging wells, and irrigation ditches both feel like a lot of effort. Carrying buckets of water is back breaking work. Theresa's third illustration is of the garden being next to the river. No work needs to be involved because the roots of the plants can grow deep down into the soil and receive water that way.

The only effort involved is the natural process of growing roots.

This can be an encouragement and a challenge.

An encouragement because there are times when spiritual disciplines can be exhausting. I want to nurture my soul, but prayer feels unobtainable and my bible seems to be welded shut. Knowing that at some place in the depths of my life, I have roots that still draw from the water of life, gives me strength to make it though those times that feel 'dry'.

A challenge because being rooted to the source means I no longer can have a Checklist Spirituality. The hard work of digging wells and irrigation ditches, the drudgery of carrying daily buckets of water, all give me a to do list and a sense of achievement when I'm done. Praying for other people can feel a lot easier than simply allowing myself to rest in God's presence - resting feels like I'm not doing anything.

Inside each of us there is a place where our roots go deep into the living water of God. Our work is trusting that our roots will draw the nurture we need.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

The Well and the Water

Thoughts for Sunday's Contemplative Service

When I was a child I was remember watching an Episode of Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World that was all about water dowsing. It fascinated me so much that I made my own dowsing rods out of a spare wire coat hanger and walked around the back garden for hours. I never dug any holes by Mom's rose bushes, but I was captivated by the idea that somebody could walk around and tell you where to dig for water.

Much of my early spiritual life feels like that. I would listen to Experts telling me where I should 'dig' for Living Water. Whether it was retreats, books, revivals, preachers, denominations, particular practices, I would listen to the expert tell me how they had encountered God and then rush out and try and duplicate the experience in my life.

Most of the time I failed, or if I didn't fail, the results didn't last.

Of course when I didn't find water, I blamed myself, the 'expert' couldn't possibly be wrong. I misinterpreted what they said, I didn't pray hard enough, I had un-confessed sin that God was punishing me for etc.

I remember a Charlie Brown cartoon from when I was a kid. Linus was praying and trying to work out how to hold his hands like an antenna to get the best 'reception' from God. It seems funny to me now, but that is very much what I was doing.

I've come to realize that my interior landscape is as unique as my fingerprints. Other people can give me guidelines about where to dig wells to find living water, but they cannot speak with any certainty. I need to learn to trust my own spiritual intuition.

Digging wells is exhausting work. When it doesn't lead to water it is disheartening it causes me to doubt my own ability to hear God's voice. And there are other subtle traps I've noticed as well.

Somehow I've gotten it into my head that if I am digging in the correct spot it should be easy to connect to God. That living water will just flow naturally and effortlessly into my life. Digging wells doesn't work like that...and neither does my relationship with God. Sometimes it is back breaking work for me to connect with God. Every fiber of my being wants to stop digging, and it's only as I persist that I push through the ground to connect to living water again.

And sometimes, wells dry up.

I can get very attached to the location of a well. Particular practices that pour living water into me do not work for ever. I remember revisiting a book that was very meaningful to me at one time in my life. When I reread it 10 years later I couldn't work out what I saw in it.

Certain prayer practices work for me for a while and then they go dry.

Not all wells last forever.

The temptation for me here is I confuse the Well with the Water. I think because the well is gone, that the water is gone too.  The Well is not the Source, it is just how I access the source.

I'm learning to develop a nomadic spirituality. One that isn't afraid to trust that God will lead me to new sources of water.

For Reflection:

What wells do you currently have in your life? Where do you access living water?
Where might you be being called to dig somewhere new?

Friday, September 19, 2014

The shape of my soul.

This week I was asked 'What does your soul look like? What is an image for that place of connection between you and God?'

The image that came unbidden into my mind surprised me.

A jigsaw.

As I've sat with it over the past few days I've felt a connection to it. I remember solving jigsaws in my youth. Find the corners first, then build up the edges. Next sort the interior pieces by color and then match to the box image and slowly complete the puzzle.

In my teens and early twenties I had a fairly good idea not only of the dimensions of the jigsaw of my soul, but also of the image on it. And then, when I started building it, I discovered that the shape was not a simple rectangle like I expected. I found extra corners and edge pieces that didn't meet my expectations. I found corners that were not 90 degrees. I found small pieces that were beautiful unique shapes in themselves and I would pause to reflect on them. The picture was more different and varied than I could have ever imagined, and at times I've begun to wonder if this jigsaw is double sided or even 3 dimensional.

There is something beautiful to me about encountering God in the midst of something incomplete.Of knowing that I am partnering with God building something that is a beautiful mystery, that I will always be surprised by colors, and corners. Knowing that I will not have the jigsaw finished this side of Heaven adds a sense of relief and a release of pressure....

.....and every encounter has an opportunity to reveal a new piece of the puzzle.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Openness and Authenticity

(notes for this Sunday's Contemplative Service)

Two weeks ago in the Contemplative Service we handed out cards with names on them. The names were drawn randomly from various sources, all the names were real people from  around the world. We were encouraged to pray for these people. We did not know them, did not know how to pray for them, and would not ever know how our prayers were answered.

Why did we do this? So many of us pray our own agendas when we pray. We tell God exactly what He should do and how He should do it. This exercise removed that possibility. All I could do was hold my two people out to God and pray that He would be with them in some way.

So Tom and Tam became my companions for a while, and I learned about openness and mystery in prayer. I surrendered my agendas and even allowed the way I pray for them to change how I pray for myself.

That same week my friend's five year old son Arthur had open heart surgery.

I tried to pray in the same way, to be open to the mystery of prayer and pray without expectations and agendas....and I couldn't do it. I got angry with the whole exercise. I told God in no uncertain terms exactly how I wanted Him to be with Arthur and how I wanted Him to make sure that Arthur's surgery was a success. Anything else felt like lying, I couldn't, wouldn't surrender the outcome of the surgery to God.

Arthur came through the surgery wonderfully well and is already back home.

I'm so grateful to God for that.....and I still find myself getting angry even imagining any other outcome.
I'm still wrestling with this issue of authenticity and openness.

How do I pray honestly for what I feel and still be open to the mystery of God and not become attached to the outcome? How do I pray in a way that feels honest about who I am and what I want, and acknowledges that ultimately I have to hold things loosely?

I've heard talks on the benefits of praying specifically. How articulating what you want to God helps you process and reflect on it. Be authentic to God, He knows when you are not anyway.
I've heard talks on the benefits of praying generally. How you should simply surrender the other person to God and be open to God doing whatever God wants.

In the midst of all this advice and suggestions, I find comfort from Jesus in the Garden.

"....Let this cup pass me by" is specific and authentic
"...not my will but yours be done" is a prayer of openness and surrender.

So this week I've tried to hold onto the tension of Openness and Authenticity. To ask God to help me find the place where they intersect, and when I get angry at the thought of what could have happened to Arthur, I try and place my anger in God's hands as well.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Jesus gets it backwards.

Had I been Jesus' script writer I would have worded the sentence a little differently:

"....where the plants produced thirty, sixty or even a hundred times as much as was scattered!"

Start with the lower number and then increase as you raise your voice, get the listeners really excited about the possibility of a hundredfold return. That's the way to really sell this story Jesus.

But that is not what Jesus does in the Parable of Sower

But a few seeds did fall on good ground where the plants produced a hundred or sixty or thirty times as much as was scattered. - Matthew 13:8

I've lost count of the number of times I've read that parable, but this is the first time I've noticed the word order. I was reading the passage aloud for worship and was putting some emphasis and emotion into the reading to keep people engaged. It was the process of that interpretation that I suddenly noticed the word order in that sentence.

How do I read it aloud? Do I read it getting louder and more excited to make it seem that a thirty fold return is even better than a hundredfold? Or do I allow my voice to trail down after the one hundredfold so that the sixty and thirty fold return sound like a Disclaimer?

Interestingly enough Mark's version of the Parable has the yields listed in ascending order, and Luke's version only lists a hundredfold return. Both of these sit more comfortably with me than Matthew's telling. 

I wonder if my confusion over how to read Matthew aloud displays my Reward Mentality. What do I get out of being planted in good soil? How do I maximize the return on my investment? How do I grow spiritually as quickly and deeply as possible? Mark and Luke are much more inviting in this regard, especially Luke. I'd like the hundredfold only option please.

What if this Reward Mentality that seems so ingrained has me focusing on the wrong thing? Instead of putting my efforts into somehow obtaining a hundredfold return I should instead be focusing on being good soil and leave the volume of growth to the Sower.

This Parable of the Sower (also often called the Parable of the Soils) is one of the few parables that Jesus explains. In Matthew's retelling of the explanation he writes this:

But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty. - Matthew 13:23

There it is again, that descending order of numbers that started my problem, and there too is the phrase 'hear the word and understand it'.

Many of us do not hear. We do not listen to our own bodies. We do not hear the cries of the poor and needy. We do not hear people who hold views different to us. We hear only what we want to hear.

Hearing is exhausting. 

Understanding is worse. The more you seek to understand the more you realize that even the simplest concept is complex beneath the surface.

Why bother? 

When I hear and when I seek to understand, a relationship is formed between the Listener/Knower and the person/object/concept/issue. I can no longer view them as separate from myself. There is only one field, one seed. Their growth may look different to mine and their harvest may be lesser or greater, but hearing and understanding leads to acceptance and embrace.

Who do you need to hear and understand today?

Friday, July 18, 2014

Slow Cooker Beef Stew

I love this recipe. It may take a little more time than the average 'throw everything in a slow cooker' recipe, but the taste is definitely worth it....and I definitely suggest buying and cubing your own stew meat as opposed to purchasing the packets of mystery meat (and gristle) that they sell for stew at the store. It does take time to cut up the meat, but you get a better quality of flavor and reduce the amount of fat in the stew. If you can't find chuck eye roast look for something similar.


3 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 medium onions, minced
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves (or 1 teaspoon dried)
1 1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 1/2 cups low sodium beef broth
1/3 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons minute tapioca
2 bay leaves
1 (5-pound) boneless beef chuck eye roast - trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces
Ground Black pepper
1 1/2 pounds red potatoes, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
1 pound parsnips (optional), peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
2 cups frozen peas

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a skillet. Add onions, tomato paste, garlic , thyme and a pinch of salt. Cook stirring often until the onions are softened and lightly browned 10 - 12 minutes. Stir in the chicken broth, scraping up any brown bits.

Put the onion mixture into the slow cooker. Stir in beef broth, soy sauce, tapioca, and bay leaves. Season the beef with salt and pepper and add to the cooker.

Toss the potatoes, carrots (parsnips if using) with 1 tablespoon oil and season with salt and pepper.

Using two sheets of foil wrap the vegetables in a large sealed foil packet and and set it on top of the stew in the cooker then put the lid on the top...chances are it is a tight fit, mine usually is, but carefully wrestling with the shape of the foil packet helps. If the foil rips, just add another layer :)

Cover and cook on low for 9 to 11 hours or on high for 5 to 7 hours.

When cooked transfer the vegetable packet to a plate. Turn off the cooker and let the stew rest for 5 minutes and then tilt and scoop off as much fat as you can (this shouldn't be much if you trimmed the meat well).

Remove the bay leaves from the stew then stir in the vegetables and any juice from the packet.

Stir in the peas and let the stew sit for 5 minutes for them to cook through. Season with salt and pepper to taste before serving.

Enjoy the taste (and the aroma)

How to do the Prep work the night before

Chop the carrots, parsnips (if using) and the onions.

Cook the onion mixture as listed above (up to the point you put it in the slow cooker) and instead store it in an air tight container in the fridge. Store the chopped veggies in another container. Store the cubed meat (unseasoned!) in a third covered container.

The next morning put the onions in the bottom of the slow cooker. Season and then add the meat. Chop up the potatoes (it takes just a moment to do). Then continue from 'Using two sheets of foil.....'

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Rain

(For Sunday's Contemplative Service.)
Take some time to read this slowly, prayerfully and reflectively.

Imagine a field baked by the sun.
The ground dry, cracked, dusty.
The breeze blowing away the topsoil.

A few straggling grasses bleached and wilted by the heat.
The atmosphere feels unrelenting, heavy, oppressive.

I look at my life, for places where I feel like that field.
The dry, forgotten corners.
The areas where growth feels stunted and fragile.
Abandoned projects.
Forgotten dreams.
Cherished resentments.
Closed attitudes.

I allow these places to speak to me,
To let them know that I honor their voices.
I listen without judging, blaming or condemning.....

As I gaze across the field I notice a small cloud,
A promise of shelter and nurture on the distant horizon.

The cloud seems to form a recognizable shape as it comes closer.
It brings a sense of peace along with its relief from the heat.

A gentle mist of rain begins to descend.
Cleansing the atmosphere as it falls on the dry ground.
I remember how it feels to be kissed by the rain,
To feel my thirst being quenched as I stand beneath the spray.....

As the rain continues it forms into mini rivers on the soil.
I notice where the water flows across the field,
How some places receive more nourishment than others.
I reflect on how I feel about that.....

I imagine channeling the water flow to places of my choosing.
I look at where I steer the stream of water,
I name what parts of my life I wish to receive more rain.....

And yet the stream flows where it will.

Finally I consider the other fields connected to mine.
The other people, all with their own thirsts and needs.
I see the rain flowing out to them.
Falling on good and bad,
Righteous and unrighteous.
Those I call worthy and those I call unworthy

It is grace that lets the rain fall on me.
It is grace that lets the rain fall on others.

Loving God, let your river flow...

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Whispers and Shouts

(Random thoughts for Easter Sunday's Contemplative Service)

When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead he called out in a loud voice 'Lazarus, come forth' - John 11:43 Jesus raises his voice and calls out in a shout that reaches all the way beyond the grave. A shout that leaves no question about who holds the keys of death and hell.

When Jesus raised Jairus' daughter from the dead, he simply took her hand and said 'Little girl get up' - Mark 5:41 Jesus tells the mourners and musicians who were weeping and wailing to go away, and in a scene of quiet intimacy he whispers life back into the girl.

Resurrections happen in our lives in shouts and whispers.

There are parts of my life that need to loudly raise my voice and proclaim the ancient Easter greeting 'Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.' I need to shout resurrection at a volume louder than my fears. I need to shout out in a voice that reaches into the dead places in my life and declares their resurrection through the power of God. I need a shout that resounds in my ears when faith fades away, a shout that keeps echoing through the gaping canyons of my soul.

Other parts of me need to whisper the resurrection. A loud shout sends me scurrying away in fear like wild deer. I need to whisper as a gentle invitation that I will not be met with condemnation. I need to whisper so I know I will be greeted with understanding. I need to whisper because at times that is all I I can do, and therefore if resurrection can only be shouted I am excluded. I need to whisper because parts of me are so fragile that a shout would destroy them and I would crumble like the walls of Jericho. I need to whisper because God is a God who speaks in whispers as well as shouts.

An honest whispered 'Help me' can contain more resurrection than a fake shouted 'Hallelujah!'There is loud exuberant praise in Heaven, and there is also intimate silence.

When you reflect on your life right now, do you need to whisper or shout?

Friday, April 04, 2014

I Am a Platypus

I've posted on this theme before (see this post on ice cream) but I found myself reflecting again this week.

In 1799 the naturalist George Shaw, Keeper of the Department of Natural History at the British Museum, received a truly bizarre animal specimen from Captain John Hunter in Australia. It appeared to be the bill of a duck attached to the skin of a mole. Shaw dutifully examined the specimen and wrote up a description of it in a scientific journal known as the Naturalist's Miscellany, but he couldn't help confessing that it was "impossible not to entertain some doubts as to the genuine nature of the animal, and to surmise that there might have been practiced some arts of deception in its structure."

Despite Shaw's doubts about the reality of the animal, he gave it a name: Platypus anatinus, or flatfoot duck. The scientific name was later changed to Ornithorhynchus anatinus, but it popularly remained known as the Duckbilled Platypus.

Other naturalists were equally suspicious that the creature was just a hoax. The surgeon Robert Knox later explained that because the specimens arrived in England via the Indian Ocean, naturalists suspected that Chinese sailors, who were well known for their skill at stitching together hybrid creatures, might have been playing some kind of joke upon them. "Aware of the monstrous impostures which the artful Chinese had so frequently practiced on European adventurers," Knox noted, "the scientific felt inclined to class this rare production of nature with eastern mermaids and other works of art."
It was only when more platypus specimens arrived in England that naturalists finally, grudgingly, granted that the creature was real. This made the platypus one of the more famous instances of a hoax that proved not to be a hoax after all.

(taken from the website Museum of Hoaxes)

George Shaw did not want to believe the Platypus was real, even when presented with the evidence in front of him. His belief system of what a mammal should be, combined with his scepticism born of fear of falling for a hoax made him unable to see the evidence before him. I could imagine him saying "They don't fit my paradigm of what an animal should look like, therefore I refuse to believe they exist."

The Christianity of my youth was very narrow and rigid. I had a tightly controlled set of beliefs and practices and if you didn't fit into them you weren't a 'true christian'...which to be honest was a coded way of saying you weren't a christian at all.

I remember the first time I encountered a practicing catholic - Mike. Up until that point Catholics had existed in my life only as a category - a group of people who (in my thinking at the time) belonged to the false church as mentioned in the Book of Revelation. Mike didn't fit in my box labeled 'Catholic'. He had a thick Brummie accent (in my mind all Catholics were Irish or foreign), and an obvious deep abiding spiritual life. He and I were touring in a musical together, he played Jesus and I played St. John the Divine. So here I was onstage most nights having to act like he was part of the Godhead while wrestling with having been taught that Catholics were only one step up from satanists.

My interaction with Mike caused me to throw out my definitions of Catholic.

Mike was a platypus.

The way we react to someone whose theology is different to ours is crucial. One denomination ordains women, another asks them to worship in silent submission....and both are doing so because they believe it is biblical. Calvinists, Arminianists, Creationists, Theistic Evolutionists. Those who affirm gay relationships, those who oppose - Everyone believes their way is biblical...and someone exists who believes being biblical means believing the opposite.

We are all a platypus to someone else.

(As a side note I find it strangely hilarious that their is no consensus on the plural form of Platypus. Options include Platypus, Platypuses and Platypodes. Apparently the only incorrect one is the one that is most common Platypi. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Platypus#Taxonomy_and_etymology)

We all need to learn to respond to the platypuses we encounter with grace.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Fasting and Feasting

Lenten Fasting and Feasting  
by William Arthur Ward

Fast from judging others; feast on the God indwelling in them.
Fast from emphasis on differences; feast on the reality of life.
Fast from words that pollute; feast on phrases that purify.
Fast from discontent; feast on gratitude.
Fast from anger; feast on patience.
Fast from pessimism; feast on optimism.
Fast from worry; feast on trust.
Fast from complaining; feast on appreciation.

Fast from negatives; feast on affirmatives.
Fast from unrelenting pressures; feast on unceasing prayer.
Fast from hostility; feast on nonviolence.
Fast from bitterness; feast on forgiveness.
Fast from self-concern; feast on compassion for others.
Fast from personal anxiety; feast on eternal truth.
Fast from discouragement; feast on hope.
Fast from facts that depress; feast on truths that uplift.
Fast from lethargy; feast on enthusiasm.
Fast from suspicion; feast on truth.
         Fast from thoughts that weaken; feast on promises that inspire.
Fast from idle gossip; feast on purposeful silence.

Gentle God, during this season of fasting and feasting,
gift us with your presence, so we can be a gift to others
in carrying out your work.


Tuesday, March 04, 2014

40 Journaling Questions for Lent

“Lent is the shadow the Cross makes on the world in the light of the Resurrection”.

Traditionally Lent is a time for reflection and commitment. These questions are designed to be used as springboards for your personal journaling. Attempt to write an answer to one question a day and also try to write a prayer a day as a response to your own journaling (you get Sundays off). If you feel a question does not apply to you or you are unwilling or unable to answer it, journal about why this is so.

Wed March 5th 1. How would you describe your current relationship with God?
Thurs 6. What activities help you connect with God?
Fri 7. Where are you encountering joy in your life at the moment?
Sat 8. What gives you delight and how is God in that experience?

Mon March 10th 5. Describe a time you felt especially close to God.
Tues. 11. Describe a time you felt especially far from God.
Wed. 12. How does God delight in you?
Thurs. 13. What does God say when He looks at you?
Fri. 14. What emotions arise when you think about God? Why?
Sat 15. What has shaped your image of God?

Mon March 17th 11. What strengths do you have?
Tues 18. How are you unique?
Wed. 19. What are you afraid of?
Thurs. 20. What do you dislike about yourself?
Fri. 21. What do you like about yourself?
Sat. 22. Write about one aspect of yourself you would like to change.

Mon March 24 17. What was one great thing about growing up in your family?
Tues. 25. What was one frustrating thing about growing up in your family?
Wed 26. How are you like your parents?
Thurs. 27. How are you different from your parents?
Fri. 28. How have your parents influenced your perception of God?
Sat. 29. What are your favorite memories of your childhood?

Mon March 31st 23. What are you angry with God about at the moment?
Tues. 1. How do you feel God has let you down?
Wed. 2. Where do you need to experience God at the moment?
Thurs.3. What kind of person feels ‘unsafe’ to you?
Fri. 4. How do you react when you feel threatened?
Sat. 5. How does God feel ‘unsafe’ to you?

Mon April 7th 29. What is your favorite bible verse and why?
Tues. 8. Are there any parts of the bible you wish weren’t there? Why?
Wed. 9. What is your favorite bible story and why?
Thurs. 10. What lies do you tell yourself?
Fri. 11. What do you want people to say about you when you die?
Sat. 12. What is your biggest struggle and how have you encountered God through it?

Mon April 14th 35. What image comes to mind when you think of God?
Tues. 15. How has God used you recently?
Wed. 16. How has God shown His love for you during this season?
Thurs. 17. What is God trying to say to you at the moment?
Fri. 18. Which question was the hardest to answer honestly?

Sat. 19. How have you changed/grown through answering these questions?

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Naked in the House of God

"Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society." ~Mark Twain

"Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
But not expressed in fancy—rich, not gaudy,
For the apparel oft proclaims the man,
And they in France of the best rank and station
Are of a most select and generous chief in that". ~ Hamlet Act 1 Scene 3. Shakespeare

For the past few weeks in the Contemplative Service we've been considering clothes as metaphor. Here is Part 1 and Part 2 

This week I've been reflecting back on the first appearance of clothes in the bible.

In Genesis chapter 3, Adam and Eve eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. There first response after swallowing is to realize that they are naked and and sew fig leaves together to make coverings for themselves. They hide their naked selves from each other and then proceed to hide their nakedness from God. 

In their original state Adam and Eve had no concept of Right and Wrong, and no concept of naked or clothed. Every animal they were surrounded by was naked, and they saw themselves as no different. After eating the fruit they suddenly become self conscious about they way they present themselves to each other. Being vulnerable and naked is suddenly no longer an option because the wisdom gleaned from the fruit tells them it it wrong. Not only does it feel wrong to each other but it feels wrong to be that way before God.

Adam and Eve can no longer present themselves to each other or God as truly themselves. The knowledge of Good and Evil has removed that possibility. They craft an image of themselves that is not who they really are. Their real selves  are not acceptable to each other any more, and they believe they are not acceptable to God either. 

I find it interesting that God in his rebuke does not demand that Adam and Eve remove their clothes and become naked again. After God curses them He chooses to re-clothe them in animal skins. Once you become aware of Good and Evil it seems that you cannot forget it again.

And so we have dressed ourselves ever since.

Clothes; that began as a way of hiding our 'bad parts' from God and from each other have transformed into a way of presenting our 'best selves' to God. They become a way of crafting an image ourselves. They become a way of altering our mood. We dress to impress, to intimidate, to conceal weakness, to protect ourselves from harm. I have so many different versions of myself that I present. The Sunday Best, The Gym, The Hang Out with Friends, the Conference. I subtly dress different at these places and present myself different as well.

Naked I came from my Mother's womb,  and naked I will return - Job 1:21

All these thoughts of clothing and metaphor over the past few weeks can be paralyzing. I can spend so much time obsessing over what image I am presenting to the world that it becomes an excuse for inaction. I need to do the best I can and trust that God sees the intent behind the clothing.

The gospel writers say that Jesus was stripped of his clothing at the crucifixion. Most pictures of Jesus on the cross put some kind of loin cloth on him. It was Roman practice to strip the prisoner naked however. God, stripped of power and might, of majesty and glory hangs naked before the world. 

Where we could not become naked before God, God became naked before us

God invites us to him, clothes and all. God accepts not just our best selves, but our worst. Not just who we desperately want to be, but also who we are afraid that we might be. There is not a single part of ourselves that cannot be hidden in God.

And as God clothed Adam and Eve, he offers to clothe us in Christ. 

My work is not critique others of their Right and Wrong, I have too many beams in my own eye for that. My work is to slowly exchange my clothes - the many layers of my false self, for the life that God is building within me.

If Mark Twain and Shakespeare are correct that the 'clothes make the man', then I need God to be my Master Tailor.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

What should I wear?

Last Sunday I led worship not in my Sunday best, but in jeans and a tee shirt that said 'I make stuff up' on the front of it. For the reasons why click here

On Sunday we are inviting the congregation to come just as you are - to dress however they feel comfortable instead of how they feel they 'should' dress. I've spent much of the week debating what I should wear this time. I feel an uncommunicated expectation that I should wear something funny or thought provoking, it's what I am known for....and it's a role I enjoy. It's another image I project.

As I stared at my tee shirts and tried to pick one I became aware that every item of clothing I wear communicates something about me. Even the cheap Target plain white tee shirts are an attempt to communicate an aura of 'I don't care what I wear, I've set my mind on more important things'.

Normally I just grab the same pressed shirt and pants and race out the door. I don't think about it, it's like wearing a uniform to work. This week I've spent a lot of time wondering about what is exactly the right message I want to convey in the clothes I wear...and it is exhausting.

And it's not just clothes. My haircut (or lack of it) , my facial hair, earring and tattoo all present a particular image. Everything I post on Facebook communicates something about me. How I choose to spend my money, the subjects I choose to steer the conversation towards, the books I read, whether I'm an iphone or an android guy, Mac or PC, it all influences how I want everyone else to perceive me, and advertising knows that and tries to present their product as vital if you want to present the 'right' sort of image.  Even when I talk about being vulnerable and authentic there is still some part of me that wants to be known as the person who is vulnerable and authentic.

All of this analysis paralysis is rushing through my head while I'm trying to pick clothes for church!

And now I want to find some deep meaningful thought to end this post, something insightful and provoking....

...and that desire is also about what kind of image I present to you.

I've got nothing.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

'My life is no longer mine'....wait....what???!!!

(Random thoughts for Sunday's Contemplative Service)

Every Sunday I get home from Chapelwood and immediately go upstairs and put on something more comfortable. The clothes I wear to church on Sunday - my 'Sunday Best', represent a little of the ideal me that I want to present to the world. The stretched stained tee shirt and pajama flannel shorts that I wear around the house seem inappropriate in the house of God.

As Jerry said last week, along with dressing up our outsides, we feel the pressure to dress up our insides. We hide the stains and tears that mar our souls and try and make ourselves as spiritually presentable as possible. It is as if our wounds, jealousies, hurts and fears are as inappropriate in church as tee shirt and shorts.

There is the Ideal Me - the me of the Sunday Best, the me I aspire to be, and then their is the Real Me. On any given Sunday I am at various places on the continuum. The gift of Contemplative Worship has been allowing me to bring whatever me I am currently experiencing into the presence of God.

The very songs we sing reflect this tension, some of our songs express an ideal - All To Jesus I Surrender, All to Him I freely Give. That lyric expresses an attitude of surrender that I may never attain in this lifetime. Other songs express the reality of our comfortable clothes Take, O Take me as I am, summon out what I shall be.'

Over 15 years ago I wrote the song My Life Is No Longer Mine:

My life is no longer mine, to do with as I will
I gave all my rights away
When I gave myself to You
Surrender all I am, giving all I have to give
I'm trusting in You alone
To give all I need to live

When You gave Yourself for me
You gave all You had to give
When I give myself to You
I can give no less
Take my life now, take it all
Do with me as You desire
I surrender to Your love
I can do no less

Take my life, take my all

(To listen to it, click here)

It's proved to be one of my most popular praise and worship songs........and it bites me in the butt regularly.

It expresses a 'Sunday Best' ideal that at times I aspire to, but at other times I wish I hadn't written - if the composer cannot live up to his words and sing them honestly how can anyone else?

Gave all my rights away....Surrendering all I am....Trusting in You alone....When I give myself to you I can give no less

Well actually I can and frequently do give less than my all.

Do with me as You desire....

Err...not so much.

Sometimes this song expresses who I want to be, other times it feels that every line is an excuse to beat myself up for not being the kind of Christian I think I should be. My inner critic loves to berate me for not measuring up to some impossible christian ideal, and this song lyric becomes another yard stick that I can measure myself by and find myself wanting.

I would much rather sit with the lyrics to another song of mine.

Love, like a waterfall, falling on us
Flooding our hearts with grace and peace.
Healing waters flow, flowing on us,
Flooding our hearts with love.

Every moment of every day God is loving us,
Showers of mercy and waves of forgiveness are covering us

Love, like a waterfall.....

(For an explanation of how that song came to be written click here)

Some days I respond to the bold spiritual challenge, other days I feel so fragile that all I want is for God to hug me in silence....and I'm grateful that whether I'm reaching for ideals or wearing my wounds like an armor, I have a place I can just 'be' who I am in the presence of God.

What does your 'Ideal Me' look like? When do you feel at your most comfortable?