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It’s Monday June 30

More Everything Plan.  Last week, a commercial from Verizon Wireless nabbed my attention.  Their latest plan, to offer me the best service I can imagine and secure my loyalty as a Verizon customer, is called the More Everything Plan.  

What could be better?  More data. More talk. More texting. More storage.  More international messaging. More options for family members.  More, more, more.  What could be better?

Here’s what makes me crazy.  Rationally, I see through the gimmick.  It’s one more way to get me to spend more money over more time. Can they be more obvious? Who do they think I am?  

Yet, some part of me was sucked in by their subtle seduction.  I started to wonder what it would be like to have more. I started to imagine who I could message internationally—never mind that I don’t message anyone internationally now.  I could always start.   I started to ponder what it would be like to not worry about overages on texting or data, though I rarely go over my allotment anyway.   In other words, they had me.  I was like Pavlov’s dog, salivating at the mere suggestion of MORE!

More is better!  Though we say we don’t believe it, we live it.  The great paradox of a more obsessed culture is that we do end up with more; more anxiety, more depression, more loneliness, more stress related maladies for adults and more stress induced manifestations in our kids.  More, more, more. 

That’s the bad news.  The goods news is this— we can choose not to buy in.  Instead of a More Everything Plan we can choose a More Essential Things Plan.   

With a More Essential Things Plan, the driving motivation of life is not to do more things, but to do essential things more often.  What are those essential things for you?  I don’t know, specifically.  But, in general, as a follower of Jesus, anything that connects us more fully with the life-force of God reflected through the character of Jesus, is essential and life-giving. 

Jurgen Moltmann describes this life as a “vital life”— a life connected with the creative energy of God.  You will know you are experiencing this life when you can rest securely in the grace of God and not be bound by the expectations of others; when you can reach for new possibility though mired in recurring struggles of life; when you embrace the paradoxes of life rather than  default to black and white thinking; when you experience the wonder of the natural world and the relationships you engage each day; when you know your life matters wherever that life is lived; when you stop long enough to refresh, renew, revitalize. 

I’ll be reflecting and writing more about this “vital life” later this summer and into the fall. This spring, the Vision Board granted me a three month sabbatical to complete the writing of a book contracted through InterVarsity Press.  Every seven years, the pastoral staff is eligible for a three month sabbatical.  Sabbaticals are intentional times set aside for renewal, for study, for re-engagement with the “essential” things that feed life into our bodies and minds and spirits. 

My sabbatical time (July 20-October 20) will primarily be spent writing about the characteristics of a vital life—a life open to the creative energy and power of God.  For me, writing is life-giving and scary and risky.  It’s a discipline that pushes me beyond my natural limits.  In other words, it’s a pathway for growth.  

It’s Monday.  What would an essential things plan look like for you?  Peace. Kai

 

 

It’s Monday June 16

Hannah’s prayer in I Samuel 2 was the focus of our worship this past weekend. Her prayer envisioned a world where God’s kingdom or, in other words, God’s intention for us and for all humanity would be realized from generation to generation. 

As I lived in these words this past week, my imagination was piqued.  I wondered what I would imagine or hope for my kids as they engaged this sometimes terrifying, often exhilarating world.  Here is what I hope my kids know:  

  • God created the whole universe in love and for love.  That includes you.  God delights in you.  You were created in love, for love. 
  • More doesn’t necessarily mean better.  The world rewards numbers with numbers, the more the better.  Find your reward in people and relationships, the deeper the better.
  • Violence breeds violence.  The only way to peace is to be armed with love. 
  • Don’t worry so much about finding a better community to live in and work, make the community you live in and work better.  
  • Comparison kills your spirit.  Compassion breathes life into the world.
  • There will always be people left out, on the edge.  Invite them in.  Better yet, go to where they are and see what life is like for them.
  • Books are better than tweets.  Personal conversations bring more life than posts.  
  • To fail just means you failed, not that you are a failure.  
  • Don’t miss the ordinary moments of this life as you plan how to live your best life.  
  • Boredom is the birthplace of creativity.  Let the world slow down a bit and see what you discover. 
  • Suffering stinks.  Some of it needs to be railed against and changed.  Some of it will be the only thing that changes you. 
  • Let me say this again: God created the whole universe in love and for love.  That includes you.  God delights in you.  You were created in love, for love. 

It’s Monday.  What would you add from your own imaginings? Peace. Kai

It’s Monday May 5

Dr. Sanjay Gupta from CNN described the current culture as experiencing an “epidemic of loneliness.”  George Barna discovered that, even with the rise of social media over the past decade, the numbers of people who self-report being lonely has doubled.  Dallas Willard spun this descriptive phrase, “Now loneliness is loose on the landscape.” 

I would venture to say that loneliness also precipitates a myriad of other cultural maladies.  In our attempts to be known we manufacture socially acceptable identities further heaping shame on who we truly are. Social scientists have documented the detriments of a relationally void life, trumpeting the social and physical health benefits of even a few close relationships.  And how often have we been victimized by mass shootings in our communities perpetrated by  the “loner”, the one everyone thought was just fine, though a little reclusive?  

What’s so paradoxical about this “epidemic” is that loneliness has no direct correlation with the numbers of people you encounter each day.  You can be relatively isolated from others but still maintain a relationship or two that energizes.  You can be absolutely surrounded by people throughout your day and have a soul devoid of life-giving passion or connection. 

Loneliness has little to do with how many people you know and much more to do with your willingness to be known.  But, being known taps into some very deep fears.  Will I be accepted for who I am? Will I accept others for who they are? Will I allow myself to be vulnerable even if I’ve been hurt in the past? Will the relationship endure? What will it mean for me if it doesn’t?

Whereas with other epidemics we encourage people to vaccinate themselves and isolate the hosts, with an epidemic of loneliness the only remedy is to engage; openly, compassionately, with holy patience, and steadfast love. 

A few practices that you might consider for this week:

-If you have a friend or neighbor who leans toward isolation, stop by, make a call, somehow connect.

-If you know someone navigating a loss in their life, ask them about it.  Then, just listen.

-Look into people’s eyes when you pass them.

-Before you go off on someone, consider what might be behind their behavior.  There is usually a back-story that, if known, would make a difference in your response.

-Communicate with an aging grandparent or parent.

-Rather than walking by the row of cubicles at work, poke your head in a few and see how your co-workers are doing.

-Identify the person sitting alone, at school or work, and ask if they would like some company.

-Ask questions rather than tell.  It’s surprising what you find out, if you only ask. 

 

It’s Monday.  Choose one or more of the above list.  Create you own list. Be part of the cure for the epidemic of loneliness. Peace. Kai

It’s Monday April 28

This weekend, my daughter Siri affirmed her baptismal faith.  When she was an infant, Patty and I made promises that we would do our best to raise her with some sense of the wonder and mystery of God, some knowledge of God’s love being made known in Jesus, and with an anticipation (at least a hope) that she would find a way to live that out uniquely in her own life.  

In the Lutheran tradition, the service of Affirmation of Baptism creates an opportunity for the students to say “Yes” to that life.  

During the service, Siri sang a song entitled Someday that helped us imagine what life would be like if God’s desire of love permeated our living.  One line leapt out at me.  “Someday, life would be fairer, need would rarer, and greed will not pay.”  

Listening, I felt the deep paradox of that vision.  I imagined the world the students live in and will encounter as they grow.  It’s a world, in some places, radically different from that vision.   There is shameful injustice, debilitating need, and ravenous greed that continues to create cavernous gaps between those who have and those who don’t, those who are satisfied and those who crave, those who make the rules and those violated by the gain of the rule-makers.  

Part of me wanted to take all the students and say, “Let’s huddle close. It’s a dark world. Let’s do what we can to hold the darkness at bay for as long as possible.”  Yet, that would neither serve them well nor offer the would a chance to breathe again. 

Visions become reality when they become embodied in persons, in communities willing to courageously step into their world, sometimes with only a hope that what may be, can be! 

Life can be fairer.  Need can be rarer.  Greed can give way to generous living.  

Whereas part of me wanted to gather the students in, more of me wanted to send them out.  The world needs to be different.  The world needs fresh minded, imaginative, courageous students and adults willing to invest in the process of birthing that new world.

For some reason, God chose to work with us and through us to make that happen.  Sometimes, I wonder why.  At other times, I just wonder.  

You.  Me.  Us.  We’re part of God’s dream for a new humanity, a new way of being with one another, a new “someday” where life is fairer, need is rarer, and greed doesn’t pay.  

It’s Monday.  That new world awaits.  How will you be part of it?  Peace. Kai

It’s Easter Monday.  Three years ago I started writing these It’s Monday posts to provide encouragement for the community I serve and create a linkage between Sunday’s worship and Monday’s re-immersion in the world of work, school, life!  Though I intended on writing them for one season of Easter, three years later they have become part of the rhythm of my week and, hopefully, a source of inspiration for yours.

One of the joyous and unintended outgrowths of It’s Monday is that my daughter picked up on the concept and, as she became a Resident Advisor on her floor of sophomore girls at Vanderbilt, wrote a weekly piece of encouragement.  This morning I received a copy of her last It’s Monday of the 2013-14 school year.  She gave me permission to share her final, guiding words.  Having read it, I wouldn’t mind being on her floor!

1. Be kind: Of all the things that are important in life, this is number one.  You can never be too kind–to others and to yourself. 

2. Read: Read out of self-respect; read because there are too many good things going on in this world to not know about; read because your mind deserves to grow and learn each and every day.

3. Talk to janitors, talk to cashiers, talk to servers at the restaurant, and when you talk to them, look them in the eye, genuinely listening to what they have to say. Life is not just about how you treat the people you know, it’s about how you treat the people you don’t know, the people that you cannot reap any benefit from, the people you may never see again.  Talk to them and be kind to them because it’s the right thing to do.

4. Ask questions. We’ve all been to way too many gatherings where we are the only individual to ask questions of others–how they are doing, what they do for a living, what their dreams are  Don’t be that person that doesn’t care and doesn’t ask questions. Make people feel important. Ask.

5. Do what gives you life. I’d much rather be surrounded by people who honestly, and whole-heartedly love dungeons and dragons than by people who are too concerned with what is cool or popular to be who they are. Do what you love, not because someone else wants you to, but because you love it. And don’t think twice about it.

6. Feel the feels.  It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to laugh obnoxiously even if you’re the only one laughing.  It’s okay to scream. When you are feeling emotional, let yourself feel. Your spirit needs that.

7. Put your phone down and talk. There’s nothing that can be said via text, email, tweet, etc., that cannot be more powerfully and effectively said in person. Be present. Talk to professors, talk to hall mates, talk to friends, talk to family, talk to strangers. Talk.

8. Find time to be.  In our crazy world, it is important to just sit–to listen to good music, to close your eyes and wonder, to think deeply and thoughtfully about important things. Find time to do this. Just be.

9. There are two words that could always be said more in our culture-Let’s Dance! Dance because it’s freeing, dance slowly, dance weirdly, dance spontaneously, dance in public, dance alone, dance with your mom, dance with your life partner.  In the words of a Japanese proverb, “We’re fools whether we dance or not… so we might as well just dance.”

10. Be the best YOU you can be: “The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are” -Joseph Campbell. You are perfect in all your imperfections, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise! “You is kind, you is smart, and you is important.” (from the movie, The Help)

It’s Monday.  My daughter found a way to share her Easter life with those in her sphere of influence.  What about you?  And remember, “We’re fools whether we dance or not… so we might as well just dance.”  Peace. Kai

It’s Monday April 14

Yesterday, I shared this brief reflection about the Garden of Gethsemane story.  First, the story:

Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane. He said to the disciples, “Stay here while I go and pray over there.” 37 When he took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, he began to feel sad and anxious. 38 Then he said to them, “I’m very sad. It’s as if I’m dying. Stay here and keep alert with me.” 39 Then he went a short distance farther and fell on his face and prayed, “My Father, if it’s possible, take this cup of suffering away from me. However—not what I want but what you want.”

40 He came back to the disciples and found them sleeping. He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you stay alert one hour with me? 41  Stay alert and pray so that you won’t give in to temptation. The spirit is eager, but the flesh is weak.” 42 A second time he went away and prayed, “My Father, if it’s not possible that this cup be taken away unless I drink it, then let it be what you want.”

43 Again he came and found them sleeping. Their eyes were heavy with sleep. 44 But he left them and again went and prayed the same words for the third time. 45 Then he came to his disciples and said to them, “Will you sleep and rest all night? Look, the time has come for the Human One[e] to be betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46  Get up. Let’s go. Look, here comes my betrayer.”

What is the state of your soul these days? Hard question isn’t it? It’s much easier to reflect on our external world—I’m doing well at work; here is a list of my successes and failures.  School is almost over, my grades are good or I could be doing better in my classes.  My relationships are in good order; some struggles, yes, but overall I’m doing well.  

It’s much easier to reflect on the externals.  

But, the question is this: What is the state of your soul? 

The late Dallas Willard was once asked how to pinpoint where we are on our spiritual journey and what might be an appropriate next step. He pondered for a moment and then said, “Maybe you need to ask, ‘What’s bothering you?’”

What’s bothering you? What bothers you enough to incite action?  What bothers you so much it paralyzes?  What’s bothering you?

Back to the Garden of Gethsemane.  This transient moment in time is one of the most penetrating insights into Jesus’ soul.  “I’m very sad,” he says.  “It’s as if I’m dying.”  What’s bothering him? He’s trapped in that enveloping chasm between what he knows is ahead and what he wants to avoid, what he knows is right and what he wants to do.    

Have you ever been there?  Caught between what you know is right and what you really want to do instead, what you know is ahead and what you would rather avoid. If we are honest, we most often choose the path of least resistance; the pathway that avoids our pain, our loneliness, our isolation.  

In this gripping story of self-revelation, Jesus soul is laid bare. Take this cup from me. Remove this suffering.  Take this sadness.  Remove this loneliness.  Though surrounded by his disciples, Jesus was utterly alone, alone with his wrenching inner struggle.  

As I read this story over and over this past week, I couldn’t help but be grateful.  Grateful for a God who knows struggle and loneliness and loss. Grateful for a God whose heart is opened to the pain and confusion we all face when trying to discern what it right.  Grateful for a God who doesn’t stand over, but walks with.

It’s Monday.  What is the state of your soul?  What’s bothering you?  How can we make this journey together this Holy Week?  Peace. Kai

 

It’s Monday April 7

Eugene Cho, pastor at Quest Church in Seattle and founder of One Day’s Wages, a non-profit formed to alleviate global poverty, spoke at the Renovare National Conference this past week. He told a story about when he was studying theater and was told by his teacher that “He just wasn’t very good.”  In order to immerse himself into a particular role as a homeless person, it was suggested that he live the part for a few days. 

He did. He clothed himself in ratty apparel, set out a container for donations, and positioned himself outside a local department store. 

His discovery:  Almost no one looked him in the eyes.  Thousands of people crossed his path, most averting their eyes so as not to be drawn into any level of relationship.

John’s gospel often uses a word for seeing or sight that has dual meanings—both physical seeing and spiritual insight.  I wonder if the act of looking into another’s eyes does both.  We see them and then we “see” them; in their glory or depravity, smitten by unspeakable joy or bitten by unspoken despair.  In seeing them, we gain insight into ourselves, our God.  What draws us?  What repels us? What can’t we avoid? What can’t we stomach?  We grow in self-understanding when we reflect on our gut reaction to people.  

If we allow ourselves, our imaginings about God are also expanded. 

Jesus saw the blind man on the side of the road, he gazed into the eyes of the Samaritan woman at the well, he didn’t look past the lepers or the morally depraved. 

He sees you and me—in all our glory and depravity, smitten by unspeakable joy or bitten by unspoken despair.  What he sees, he loves!

So, I decided to do a little experiment of my own.  My daughter and I went to the grocery store this afternoon. As we were entering the store I said, “Let’s do an experiment on the art of small talk.”  Each aisle we entered, I threw her a knowing elbow, approached the unsuspecting person, looked them in the eye, and opened up a conversation.  

Other than the person who fled yelling “Creepster!”  it was a successful experiment. (Actually no one fled yelling creepster.  If they were thinking it, they didn’t let on!)  The mom with her young child choosing spaghetti sauce, the woman examining granola bars, the man buying lottery tickets from a machine, the cashier who rang us out were all part of our experiment.  

Our findings? Mostly smiles, laughter, and positive human connection.  

I don’t really know what that means other than it leads me to believe that community is still good, relationships matter, human interaction edifies, and looking people in the eyes can be a holy gift.  

I suppose it also means that if you want to be alone in a grocery store and you see me enter your aisle… flee! 

It’s Monday.  Who do you need to “see” today?  Peace. Kai

 

It’s Monday March 31

A moment of honesty: If you would have told me fifteen years ago that I would link arms with the local Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, or Nazarene churches to forge a community ministry serving the needs of the Gahanna community, I would have snickered first, then imagined all the reasons why it wasn’t possible. Our theological issues would divide. Our social or political leanings would be all across the spectrum.

But, something changed in my heart and developed in the common heart of the local congregational leaders. We discovered this: Service unites!

I/we began to imagine a local community that reflected the nature and character of Jesus’ life.

“The greatest among you is the one who serves.”
“I came not to be served but to serve and give my life as a ransom for all.”
“This is my command: Love each other as I have first loved you.”
“When I was hungry, you fed me. When I was naked you clothed me…”

My friend, Kathie Nycklemoe, the author of the Service week in our Engage devotional said it this way, “True service is much more than something we do—it is who we are created to be. It is more than an activity, it is a way of life.”

When that begins to happen, the other issues (theological, political, etc) give way and a bond of unity is formed. Service unites.

This month at Peace we are collecting money for GRIN (Gahanna Residents in Need) so that we can hire a part-time executive director. Along with eleven active congregations and other civic organizations, we want to honor the call to serve our neighbors. Loving our Neighbors—Together.

I’ve been increasingly compelled by the vision of a God who came to serve without condition. I’ve been increasingly humbled by the generosity of spirit and resources that so many of you have already exhibited.

In the end, this is not just something we do, it’s who we are!

It’s Monday. How will your community, your world be better because you are there? Peace. Kai

It’s Monday March 24

“I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be full” (John 15: 11).

This weekend we experienced the spiritual exercise of Celebration.  On the surface, it seems a self-evident aspect of our lives, especially our lives following Jesus.  Practically, many have a very different experience of the Christian journey or those who profess to be Christians.

Have you ever met a joyless Christian?  I have.  At first, I’m critical.  Lighten up.  Don’t take yourself or the faith so seriously.  Upon reflection and, usually, if I take the time to ask the question, I discover a back-story that moves me from being critical to compassionate.

In my experience, there are three reasons that have led to a joyless Christianity:  1)  That’s all they know.  They grew up hearing about a demanding God who was ready to pounce on the first hint of immorality, insensitivity, or a life lived in direct opposition to God’s will. Down deep they know they can never meet the demand so the joy Jesus speaks of seems foreign.

2) They are wired that way.  Many have a disposition that leads them to be fearful, anxious about life,  and bound up by the daily grind.  They project their life posture on the life with God and weight gets added to weight until it becomes overwhelming.  Duty describes their journey. Delight eludes their grasp.

3) Some are nearly crushed by life events. Life is hard, unbearably hard for some.  For them, joy seems like the wishful thinking of a by-gone age.

I’ve known people in all three categories.  Sometimes they are able to open themselves to the joy Jesus comes to bring.  Sometimes not.  What I’ve discovered in conversation with them and what I’ve experienced on my own journey is that the emergence of joy is both gift and conscious choice.   It is gift in holding firmly to a God who brought life from death, joy from sorrow, and hope out of despair.

It is also a conscious choice that I and others have made in their lives.  Here are four transformative insights that have guided me back to joy:

1)  Celebrate progress not perfection:  If we wait until we get life right, we may never arrive.  To celebrate progress is a conscious choice to be grateful for new insights, surprises in relationship, and small movements toward greater health—spiritual, mental, physical.

2)  Stop long enough to wonder about something:  To wonder is to access the expansive goodness and creativity of God.  On a recent trip to London, I sat outside St. Paul’s Cathedral and wondered how it could be that people had gathered for worship in that space since 604ad and that majestic space had been imagined and constructed almost 1500 years ago.   Stop long enough to wonder about something, anything.

3)  Celebrate what is right with the world: We have any of number of reasons to focus on what is wrong in the world.  That could be an endless conversation.  But, I’ve come more alive when I, even in the midst of struggle, have asked, “What is right about today, my life, my world?”  That simple question reorients my mind to search out and, yes, find what God has already been up to.

4)  Connect your joy with the joy of God:  This has been very helpful for me.  My joy is a gift from God.  God’s joy is a grace that works through me.

It’s Monday.  What can you celebrate today?  Peace. Kai

It’s Monday March 10

We continued our Lenten worship theme Engage this morning with Dr. Rick Barger, President of Trinity Lutheran Seminary, preaching about the spiritual discipline of study.  The core text he referenced was from Paul’s letter to the Romans, “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind”  (Romans 12:2).

The renewing of your mind.  As he preached, I was reminded of two of my guiding life principles:

  1. What we focus on and do, we become.

Many years ago, Robert Benne wrote a book entitled Ordinary Saints. In the book he described two sins that are pervasive in American society: pride and distraction.  Distraction.  Did you watch the Bachelor this week?  Or see what so and so posted on Facebook? Or find the recipe I posted on Pinterest (I heard someone say that… that was not me!)? Or… Or…. Or…   

None of these, in themselves, are destructive.  In accumulation, they dull our spirits, numb our minds, and constrict our imaginations.  When asked about our lives, the normal response these days is “Busy.”  My question is, “With what?”  

As followers of Jesus, an important question for us to consider is this: What am I doing each day to renew my mind, to connect me with the source of life, to build into my life the character of Jesus?  Remember, what we focus on and do, we become.  

    2.  If we can imagine it, we launch the process toward achieving it.  

I love reading the prophets, especially those that spoke to the people Israel during the exile.  Remember, the people had been overtaken by the Babylonians; their land ravaged, their temple destroyed, their families killed or enslaved in a foreign land.  The writer of Psalm 137 captures the pathos of the people at the time, “By the waters of Babylon there we sat and wept as we remembered Zion (Jerusalem).”  

In the midst of their suffering, voices of hope emerged, helping the people to imagine, even in the depths of despair, that life could be renewed, relationships could be restored, dignity could be reclaimed.  Even before it happened, hope was beginning to be planted within the people.  Even in imagining it, the process of hope was initiated. 

It’s Monday.  As you engage this week, what will you focus your mind on?  What will you read, watch, what conversations will you engage, that will help you imagine something new for your life?  For others?  Peace. Kai

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