It’s Monday, February 8

A portion of this reflection is from a piece about Lent I wrote for Renovare’ a few years ago.

The season of Lent is one of those recurring rhythms in the church year that ritualizes the beauty of God’s life-giving, redemptive work in Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Though the concept of Lent, a season of preparation for the celebration of Christ’s resurrection, was being articulated as early as the second century, the liturgical season of Lent seems to have taken form in the 4th century. The Council of Nicea (325) called for two gatherings of the synods, one of which was to be held before the forty days of preparation for Easter. By the end of the 4th century, the forty days of Lent had become integrated into the yearly rhythm of the Christian community as they prepared, primarily through the spiritual disciplines of fasting and prayer, for the celebration of Christ’s resurrection.

The number forty has both biblical and spiritual significance. We recall the forty years of wandering in the wilderness for the people of Israel. Moses communed with God on the top of Mount Sinai for forty days and forty nights, eating no bread nor drinking water, as he inscribed the words of the Ten Commandments on tablets of stone (Exodus 34:28). Elijah journeyed to Mount Horeb for forty days and forty nights without food nor drink (I Kings 19:8). We also remember Jesus being led by the Spirit, following his baptism, into the wilderness where he fasted for forty days and forty nights (Matthew 4:1-2). In each case, whether forty years or forty days, the number forty spoke not only to a span of time but also a span of God’s ongoing presence experienced in trial and temptation, through accumulated wisdom and insight, and by God’s sustaining grace and love.

At Peace our theme for the season is Practice Makes Possible. Each week we will introduce a simple practice that will awaken you to the beauty and freedom of a life lived in God’s grace. This week we practice confession. On a daily basis, pray this prayer

Lord, thank you for the ways you were/are present in my day

Forgive me for ____________________________________.

Release me from the burden of guilt and regret.

Let me know the freedom of your love and grace. Amen.

The point of each practice is not its completion. You are not checking off spiritual lists to impress God. You are making yourselves available for the movements of God’s renewing Spirit.

Welcome to Lent. It is a forty day journey marked in days, but lived in grace.

It’s the Monday before Lent. Find a place to worship on Ash Wednesday. Enter the journey of grace. Peace. Kai

It’s Monday February 1

We’ve spent the first few weeks of this year reflecting on and living with Essential Life Questions, questions that create the lens through which we see the world and imagine our faithful response. “What is my image of God?” “How does my image of God affect how I see the world, others, myself?” “What hopes give shape and meaning to my life?” And this past weekend, “What life resources give me the strength and courage to act?”

As we anticipate this next season, the season of Lent that begins with Ash Wednesday, February 10, we will add another layer. Each week, to deepen your conversation and reflection, we are adding a life practice that will move your reflection to action.

Life practices, or holy habits as they have been called throughout history, take the reflections of the mind and make them tangible through the interactions of our inner and outer worlds—the space where the prompting of the Spirit meets the potentialities of the body. Contemplation becomes action.

These life practices are simple practices designed to wed and then further embed God’s character and ours. We practice wonder to better experience the wonder of God. We practice generosity with the hopes of becoming generous people. We practice listening to deepen our relationships and become more attentive to the desires of God and others.

Like any other kind of practice, we don’t wait until the skill is needed to start practicing. Swimmers visualize each stroke and imagine each turn to prepare for the race. Pianists begin by learning each note, each scale, each chord, each progression so that the music becomes part of them, not simply something they learn.

We practice to build our capacity. We practice so that we are ready when the time comes. We practice to become more than is possible to become without our intentional effort.

That’s why, whether we feel like it or not, we show up at the gym, plant ourselves on the piano bench, and participate in Christian community. In the words of Brian McLaren, “The ancient way (the way of practice) is about building up those reserves when they’re not needed so they’re available when they are. It’s about practicing things by heart so they’ll be accessible when your heart is broken.”

It’s Monday. What are you intentionally practicing in your lives? How does it help you reflect the goodness and graciousness of God? Peace. Kai

It’s Monday January 18

Let me begin with a few of my assumptions about the biblical narrative:

  • The biblical narrative is an evolution of thought rather than a static rendering of what God is about in all times and in all places.
  • Some who were “out” in the early portions of the narrative are “in” by the end of the written story.
  • The kingdom of God, in fits and spurts, continues to expand and be open to the new throughout the narrative, not contract and default to the old.
  • The end of the scriptural story is not the end of God’s expansive kingdom work. Each generation must ask itself, “How will God be known today, through whom, and whom else can we invite into the vision of this expansive kingdom?”
  • One of the consistent themes throughout the scriptures is that the people of God were frequently surprised, dare I say offended, by who was invited to the sacred dance of grace.

I lay these assumptions out for you to give you a sense of why I have given up trying to control God (by deciding for God who is in and out) and, instead, have decided to let God surprise me with the unorthodox and unpredictable ways God can be known and experienced in the world.

I need to tell you how freeing it is to not take out the yardstick of judgment and constantly measure my own motivations or the motivations and/or behaviors of others.

How did I get there? Through painful years of never feeling like I measured up to my parents, my siblings, and a cloud of witnesses that I now call my mentors and peers. Through painful circumstances when my righteous actions caused harm, sometimes irreparable harm, to others in relationship. Through painful introspection where my image of God was challenged, deconstructed, then reconstructed again.

Even through the pain of it all, spiritual growth is an exhilarating journey.

The next step on the journey we are taking together is to ask the question, “How does my image of God affect the way I see the world, others, my own life?”

For those of you who are reflecting on the next layer of questions with a friend or small group, here they are:

  • Comparison fatigue is the experience of being overwhelmed by the constant comparisons we make with others. Can you describe specific circumstances when you are more susceptible to the negative effects of comparison? 
 What does that do to your sense of self?
  • How would you like others to see God’s presence in you, in your life? If you feel bold enough, ask a friend or family member to share how they see God’s presence in your life.
  • What kinds of people do you have the hardest time seeing God’s presence in? How could you learn more about “those people,” whoever those people are for you?
  • What would it be like to imagine them through the eyes of God’s grace, just as God sees you?

It’s Monday? Put on the lenses of God’s grace this week. What do you see? Peace. Kai

It’s Monday January 11

In my sermon yesterday, I mentioned my deepening appreciation for the insights of Fr. Richard Rohr. In his Sunday meditation this week, he told a story of how a chance encounter with a recluse affirmed his vision of how God is present in our world.

I was walking down a little trail when I saw this recluse coming toward me. Not wanting to interfere, I bowed my head and moved to the side of the path, intending to walk past him. But as we neared each other, he said, “Richard!” That surprised me. He was supposed to be a recluse. How did he know I was there? Or who I was?

 He said, “Richard, you get chances to preach and I don’t. When you’re preaching, just tell the people one thing: God is not ‘out there’! God bless you.” And he abruptly continued down the path. Now I have just told you what he ordered me to do. God is not out there!

 As we launched our series focusing on Essential Life Questions we turned our attention to the question What is your image of God? 

What I believe is this: Our image of God creates the kind of relationship we can or choose not to have with God. The kind of relationship we have with God, elicits how we live our lives in response. Put simply, Our image of God creates our relationship. Our relationship elicits our response. That’s why this question is so essential.

This week, we invite you to reflect on multiple layers of this one question at home, at work, over coffee or beer, with friends, small groups, wherever and with whomever you can create the time and space to thoughtfully ponder your image of God.

What is your image of God?

  • What pictures (if any) of God did you have in your mind when you were growing up? What phrases would you use to describe God? Where do you think those pictures/phrases came from?
  • How has that image changed? What circumstances in your life caused you to re-examine you image of God?
  • If you were able to imagine a God of grace and love, how would that change how you see yourself, your life—imperfections and failures included?

I believe, as does Fr. Rohr, that our God is not “out there.” Our God is both as vast as the expanding universe and as intimate as each breath we take. Our energy for living, our confidence in dying, our capacity for creating, our need for re-creation, our hope for the day, our days when we feel hopeless, are synchronous with the life of God. And in the end, we have simply one call, to co-create a more loving world.

In short, that’s what I think about God. What about you?

It’s Monday. Don’t miss the chance to wonder about your image of God with a friend this week.  Peace. Kai

It’s Monday December 21

Have you ever been swept up by the energy of a crowd? You bring your best personal energy to the event and so do your neighbor and their neighbor, on and on. But, what you sense is that there is something else going on, something beyond the accumulation of individual effort and energy. You are part of a grand movement, a movement that can accomplish far more than the sum of all the individual effort combined.

If so, you know the spiritual energy of focused attention and action.

In 2016, we hope to release the spiritual energy of this community through focused attention on, what I call, Essential Life Questions. Questions like: What is the energy of personal transformation? What is my image of God? What hopes give shape and meaning to my life? What life resources give me the strength and courage to act? What life circumstances have forced me to wrestle with the paradox of light and darkness?

We will be preaching on these questions each week but we have also added multiple layers of engagement. If you are in a small group currently, we encourage you to wrestle with these questions as a whole or break down into groups of 2-4 people who will meet consistently with one another to ponder the questions together.

We will also be encouraging Renew Your Life Friendships. These are gatherings of 2-4 people who commit to meet with each other through January and February. These friendships can be existing friendships that you want to deepen. Think about people you already meet with regularly after work, at the coffee shop, or at the gym. Invite them to join you in reflecting on these questions together.

You can also sign up to be placed in a group of Peace members by sending an email to info@peacegahanna.org.

Each week you will be asked to focus on another Essential Life Question and then wrestle with clarifying questions that will help you dig deeper. For example:

January 10: What is my image of God?

  • What pictures (if any) of God did you have in your mind when you were growing up? What phrases would you use to describe God? Where do you think those pictures/phrases came from?
  • How has that image changed? What circumstances in your life caused you to re-examine your image of God?
  • If you were able to imagine a God of grace and love, how would that change how you see yourself, your life— imperfections and failures included?

Imagine this: Peace members and friends gathered all over this city, in cubicles and coffee shops, gyms and pubs, personal homes or a neighbor’s house, thinking about and reflecting on Essential Life Questions. Imagine being filled by the renewing power of God’s Spirit through these conversations. Imagine what it might mean for us as a community.

It’s Monday. Who will you invite to join you as you Renew Your Life in 2016? Peace. Kai

It’s Monday December 7

Fr. Richard Rohr has a daily devotional that I devour every morning. Today he wrote about what it takes for us to grow and mature.

“The study of neuroscience and brain development indicates that we are wired for transcendence, for the ever bigger picture, but it is all highly dependent on being exposed to living models and personal nurturance as we move from one stage to the next. Fowler and Kohlberg said the same thing: We all need living models. How important we are for one another! This is a good argument for some form of church community–to gather enlightened, transformed, loving people together so they rub off on one another. Beyond models, we also need nurturing: mothering and fathering, loving, and partnering at the critical stages of brain development, which are almost all in the first twenty-five years of life.”

I was struck by his words “living models.” In this season of hope at Peace, I began to wonder, “Who are my living models of hope?”

If we spin the conversation, it’s easy to find models of despair, of fear-mongering, of hate-speech, of doomsday prognosticating. Flip through social media when a controversial issue is presented. Channel surf the 24/7 news cycles. Be in a rowdy crowd at a championship soccer match (as I was last night) when an obvious call is missed. If those were our models, we could only assume that life, as we know it, is over. We are doomed.

But I won’t go there. I can’t. My soul demands I seek out something other, something beyond—transcendence. My soul demands I seek out hope.

A quick scan of the past few weeks, reveals abundant living models of hope:

  • Families grieving the loss of loved ones band together and courageously walk into a new day.
  • College students at the Capital University Christmas Concert singing gloriously about the yearnings of our hearts breaking open up the possibilities of peace and hope in our time.
  • Two churches, one in the suburbs and the other in the inner city, work together to lighten the financial stress of hundreds of families and to brighten the Christmas Day for kids who will receive their generous gifts.
  • A few leading executives in our community restoring an abandoned school building on the south side of Columbus and creating a holistic community center for the local residents.

My list could go on and on. And that is just the past few weeks. When you look for hope, it’s amazing all the places you find it. I think Rohr is right,  “How important we are for one another!”

It’s Monday. Who are your living models of hope? How do they help you imagine and then create a different world? Peace. Kai

It’s Monday November 30

This weekend we showed our first video featuring member responses to the question, “What gives you hope?” As I mentioned in my sermon, I was intrigued by the comments made by one of our sixth graders about the Greek myth of Pandora.

I loved being surprised that our students are learning about Greek mythology. I get concerned that so much of our educational system, with its increasing battery of mandated tests, is being geared toward technical knowledge. We teach to the test. What gets lost in the mix is our humanity. We are not machines designed to spit out the products that perpetuate our materialist culture. We are humans designed in the image of God whose souls soar in the presence of beauty, whose minds imagine their way out of the quagmires of conflicted relationships, whose spirits connect across the boundaries of race and culture and religion.

The point of these cultural myths is to help us deal with the great questions of life, “Where did we come from?” “Why are we here?” And, “How did we get into the mess we find ourselves in?” That’s why it’s so important to learn and know these stories.

So, let’s get back to Pandora. In brief, the jar Pandora was given, once opened, released all sorts of evil into the world. What remained bottled up in the jar was hope.

It feels like that today doesn’t it? All sorts of evil permeate every corner of the known universe, every community, every cell of our being as we stare at the images on our screens. And hope seems to be bottled up.

If that is the only story we know, the only story to be told, life would be driven by our base instincts to compete and win, to survive, to get what we can, when we can get it, at whatever cost.

But, Advent reminds us we are part of a different story. Pandora is not the only story that speaks to us in our time. In fact, the narrative we live into as followers of Jesus is in stark contrast. Instead of releasing all sorts of evil into a good world, we extend all sorts of good into a world wracked by evil. Rather than bottling hope, we throw off the lid with each act of kindness and generosity and surprising grace.

We know, on our own, we can’t cure all the evils of the world but we can work to mend the parts that are under our influence. Each seemingly insignificant helpful action serves as a subversive agent of goodness and hopefulness overthrowing the cultural narratives laced with evil and despair.

We do have a story to tell this season. It’s the story of God entering a broken and despairing world and offering nothing but love—a patient and persistent love that casts out fear and co-creates hope.

It’s Monday. What is the story you are living in these days? Peace. Kai