#SoulRenewal Reading

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I am about to embark on a grand adventure of 14 weeks away from the church I love for an extended time of Sabbatical renewal. Words truly cannot convey the care our family feels at having this opportunity to soak in God’s goodness. I will be on a rhythm of “serve, learn, play” which are 3 of the ways my soul connects with God. We will be traveling for 6 weeks, then home for 8 weeks.

For the “learn” component, one aspect will be some unstructured reading time.  I’ll give a brief annotated bibliography below with links if anyone is interested in grabbing one of these books.  Reading good theologians has been formative in my relationship with God and my outlook on faith.  Continue reading

When I Decided to Burn My Suit

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For the last 11 years I have owned only one suit. I bought it shortly after my phone rang in Spring 2005.  Our dear friend Kathi was riding in a car from South Dakota to Las Vegas when it slid off the road and Kathi was killed. I was to officiate the funeral. She was about my age – a few years younger. We put our skills together and honored her in a beautiful and tragic ceremony in a local Black Hills church. JD and Kristi sang “Somewhere Down the Road.” Kathi was one of those larger than life people, very quick to laugh and a wonderful companion to her husband, one of my dear friends.

I was actively interviewing with Discovery Church when Kathi died, in fact I had to call Linnea the search team leader to postpone our application process. We joined this small, gritty church in September of 2005 and soon met Brad, one of the core members and a staunch follower of Jesus. He was in the later stages of battling cancer and on a few Sundays he was too sick to leave his car. I’d climb in with him during the music and we’d chat life. He died around Christmas and I put the suit back on.

Funeral. Jared sang, “Who am I?” Church next day.

Brad was about my age – a few years older and the father of two wonderful kids.

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Sean Palmer on Truth and Humility

I have really appreciated Sean Palmer’s writing lately. Below is an excerpt from an outstanding blog article about the nature of online interactions, truth, manipulation and enemy language.

“Some of us use the truth to camouflage the fact that we’re mean and malicious people.

Others of us, see only the truths that we want to be true.

We then have to figure out a way to dismiss or diminish the evidence that doesn’t support our truth. The people on the other side are liars or ill-educated or stupid. The other side’s evidence is tainted somehow. Or we just keep asking for more proof. If our opponents offer 6 examples, we’ll ask for 7. They come up with 7, then we need 8. We figure out ways to keep upping the ante so we can keep saying we have “the truth.”

But to love God, we cannot be this carefree about “the truth.”

Full article is here.

Easter Saturday and Rich Mullins

Easter Saturday is one of my favorite days of Easter week because I think it is the one day we spend most of our lifetime living. It is the day of “not sure.” The day between despair and great joy – where we spend so much of our lives.

So on Easter Saturday I turn to familiar voices that provoke me to build a hunger in my soul and a fire in my belly. I want to wake up on Resurrection Sunday with my heart wide open with expectation and hope, which is to say that my heart is also wide open to great let down. I wish to peak inside the tomb, or better yet to boldly walk in and see that he is not there as I supposed, but he is risen. And to let that resurrection resound deep into my corpuscles and to those around me. I want to be astonished and worship.

Rich Mullins is one of the voices I turn to. I listen to his music, but once in a while, I listen to him speak as well. I come away from an encounter with Rich with a hunger for God’s presence. Maybe because he is experiencing now what I so long to experience here on Easter Saturday.

You may watch this clip and wonder how I ever connected his testy answers to journalist questions to resurrection Sunday, but somehow for me it fits. He was contextualizing his answers to a multi million dollar Christian industry, peeling back layers of the crazy talk we use to describe a relationship with God, pointing to something so much grander than our attempts to capture it. It gives me courage to glance into the tomb and stare in wonder.

And they traveled on for a day thinking Jesus was in their company…

“…which is kind of like most of us. Maybe even like our whole tradition. We travel on for a couple of centuries thinking Jesus was in our company and we look around. “Where is he? I thought he was with you.”

Thanks, Renae Loring, for prompting me to watch this gem from Bart Tarman

“…Jesus was in the temple, but he was not teaching. he was sitting amongst the elders. He was listening to them and he was asking them questions and they were astonished at his answers. That is the Jesus way. He is sitting with, he is listening to and he is asking meaningful questions of. What if his followers did more of that…”

Mark 10:32, “They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples who were close to Jesus were astonished, while those who were behind were afraid.” For the rest of my life, I want to be right up close to Jesus and be astonished. How far back are you following?

Speaking of Jesus – Jay Pathak

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Jay came to our staff meeting to give us some wisdom. Jay speaks about Jesus to people who don’t know Jesus in a way that I find endearing.  I asked Jay to come give some thoughts on this and here is what he said:

Jay’s family heritage: faith was the thing you make fun of. The kind of thing weak or stupid people need, because smart and strong people don’t need a crutch, they just live their life and take responsibility for their life.   After an encounter with Jesus, Jay became a Jesus follower and the a pastor, but still feels somewhat like an outsider to the “church system” and he scratches his head at some of the more bizarre aspects of our “tribe.”

On Speaking of Jesus: “I’m amazed at the great lengths we go to to make people weird in the way they share their life with Jesus.” Jay talked about being a waiter at a restaurant when someone left him a ‘tract’ as a tip.  “Why would you do this?” he asked the customer. The customer replied, “I don’t know, our pastor gave it to us….we have 20 of these and we have to get rid of them!” Clearly the people were in some version of an “evangelism class.” The goal of the class is getting people to share their belief in Jesus, but it actually pushed people away from following God because of how weird and unnatural this makes us.  Continue reading

Faith and Doubt: Interventionist or Deist?

Lately I have been considering faith and doubt through the lens of deism. I recently heard a skeptic share on the “Unbelievable” podcast that churches should downplay their teaching that God is an interventionist and we should instead teach that God is all powerful, yes, but not involved. In the skeptic’s opinion, teaching a deistic God would alleviate the angst that a believer experiences when God does not intervene the way we wish God would.

At my darker moments I have offered an ‘amen’ to that notion, a deistic God would relieve our hearts that too often cry, “God, why don’t you do more?” The problem is, underneath those moments of doubt, I stand on a bedrock belief that God is indeed an interventionist. God is greatly concerned and involved in our lives. Christmas, if nothing else, is the most wondrous of reminders that God intervenes by sending himself.

Immanuel. God is, in fact, near and close.

Skye Jethani wrote a beautiful and wrenching article on this very thing. I have pasted an excerpt below. If you’d like to read the whole article (and you should) you can find it here.

Looking back to that Christmas in 2004, Isaac’s condition did not cause me to question what my faith said about the future. Instead it caused me to question the usefulness of Christianity in the present. I still believed Christ would someday redeem all things, but with a sick and possibly dying child, a grieving wife, and an angry soul, I needed to see evidence of that redemption now. It wasn’t enough for Christianity to offer a hope for tomorrow, my weak faith—like the faith of so many others today—was searching for evidence of God’s power today . That became my prayer. I needed my eyes opened to see that God was with us and the power of his resurrection was at work in the ordinary brokenness of my world. He answered that prayer.

Big T and Little t Trauma

As a staff, we have discussed the reality that we don’t serve in a vacuum.  We are human and the people we serve are human, each carrying hopes, fears and pain. We asked Stacey Blank, licensed EMDR therapist to teach us more about trauma and its effects on us and the people we serve. We gained much from our time with Stacey. Below are some highlights.

Trauma is ‘when what we know and what we feel gets split.’  I love the clarity of that definition. 
Classic clinical definition: exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury or sexual violence. But now we see that trauma occurs as an exposure to something deeply distressing or disturbing that creates physical or emotional shock
Big T trauma: on this day, this event happened and then an event stays physiologically and emotionally after it is over.  PTSD is when the event or experiences stay for a month or longer.
Little t trauma: getting bullied, coming home from school to an empty home and you fear being left alone.  smaller, perhaps recurring events, but they add up to create a trauma response in you.
Some trauma is of course caused with malicious intent, but many “little t traumas” are not from malicious intent, but they become trauma because of how the person’s brain processes them.
Trauma causes us to believe lies about self and about God and we live out of those beliefs, out of a felt need to protect ourselves. We create our own ‘self salvation strategies’ depending on self to survive rather than God. We make conscious and unconscious agreements with self about others and these agreements become idols that grip us and leave no room for God. Example: someone who holds fast onto fear as a protection mechanism so he or she decides to be afraid of everything all the time, thus ‘protecting’ themselves against surprise. Trying to ‘out fear the fear’ is a technique of self survival or self salvation.   
So many survival techniques actually serve very well when we are children (we don’t have power, we’re trying to navigate an adult world) but they can be strangleholds when we are adults. So repentance then becomes a tool of healing because a person can repent of what they are holding fast to and choose to trust God over trusting self.

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TBT: Benedictine Spirituality

In January, I did a two day spiritual retreat at a Benedictine Monastery and came back invigorated for the coming season.

I’ve done many spiritual retreats before, but never one so structured and “other” than what I was used to.  The Benedictines practice the daily office – a rhythm of 7 worship gatherings a day (starting at 4:50am!  Youzers) and they sing Gregorian chant style.

A few observations:

– Monastic life has no parallel in the protestant tradition.  It is distinctly Catholic and was a reminder of just how wide and diverse God’s Kingdom is.

– 4:50am.  Are you kidding me?  It felt crazy, until I came into a beautiful candlelit chapel, chanted 3 psalms in a row and sang inviting God’s guidance, protection and presence this day.  It was the right start to avoid the usual mental “to do” list.

– Benedictine spirituality incorporates repetition and physicality that protestants lack.  3 or 4 times per service, 7 times per day, we bowed and sang, “Glory be to the Father, to his Son Jesus and to the Spirit who resides in our hearts. Amen.”  We sang this at the end of every Psalm and every Hymn.  We sang it in a bowing position to show our subservience to God.  A powerful experience, proclaiming allegience well over a dozen times a day, while bowing down.

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