It’s Monday–Exercising Your Hope Muscle

I broke out of my workout routine last week and regretted it, for the moment, yet in the end it reinforced a simple principle—use it or lose it.

I try to work out four times a week, forty-five minutes at a time, primarily lifting weights. When I feel guilty not doing much cardio work, I’ll run a lazy-paced two miles just to say I did something. Then, it’s back to the weights.

Last week, I sensed it was time for something different. So I created a focused workout with just two exercises–.25 mile sprints on the treadmill (mind you, I’m a 53 year old guy so the word sprint is a relative term) on ascending speeds followed by lunges around ½ of the indoor track. Sprint/lunge. Sprint/lunge. Sprint/lunge for thirty minutes.

It was exhilarating and exhausting. I loved it… until the next morning. When I stepped out of bed the pain neurons in my brain lit up. I hurt in muscles I didn’t know I had and wasn’t even aware I had exercised. In your physical body, it’s true—if you don’t use it, you lose it.

I wonder if that isn’t also true for your spirit. I wonder if hope is a muscle that needs to be exercised regularly or we lose it.

For a few weeks following the election I was numb—emotionally spent and despondent from listening to story after fretful story, primarily from young people fearful for their future. I heard from a Muslim friend of my son who was anxious for himself and his family. I had three gay students in their teens and early 20’s directly contact me because of their fear for personal safety. I was sent a photo of a handwritten note shoved under a student’s dorm room door threatening physical violence if they don’t go back to their “own” country.

Now, I’m a white male in his 50’s. Chances are whatever the administrations look like in the remaining few decades of my life, I’ll figure it out. But, I found myself leaping down the rabbit hole of despair when I thought about my kids, their friends, and particularly those who have already been disenfranchised based on their ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation.

Let me tell you, when you don’t exercise the muscle of hope for any period of time, you feel like you lose it.

Then, a strange thing happened at the exit ramp off of 270 at Morse Road. As I exited I saw a carelessly dressed man, shivering in the damp cold, holding a barely legible cardboard sign. My first thought was “I hope I hit a green light and can drive past quickly.” As dumb luck would have it, the light turned red and I was forced to stop right in front of him and confront both his present life circumstance (whatever it was that brought him there) and my present state of heart.

The red light was interminable, giving ample time for the cash in my wallet to burn a hole in my pocket. And then, the nagging internal question, “You are despairing for a world that seems to be increasing concerned only for itself, what are you—not everyone else—what are you going to do?”

So, I rolled down my window and we talked for a few seconds while the drivers behind me honked their horns frantically so the could make the light (or not get stuck in front of this man). I handed him the cash I had and drove off.

Now, I’m not suggesting that I’m such a great person for giving that man some cash or that you should stop and give money to everyone on the exit ramps. Was I getting scammed? Maybe. Maybe not. In the end, that’s not the point.

What happened for me is this: In flexing a hope muscle for the first time in many days; in breaking out of my routine of just driving by and not noticing; I felt more alive, more connected with the plight of humanity, more convinced that small acts of generosity, of kindness still matter in this world.

I’m still aware of how much work there is yet to do. But, by exercising the hope muscle, I felt…more hopeful.

It’s Monday: The season of Advent is about expectant hope. How can you exercise your hope muscle today? Peace. Kai

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Monday–Breakfast with my Daughter

So, I had a few options in front of me this morning: 1) Write an insightful, inspiring It’s Monday to all of you as we enter the Advent Season or 2) Take my daughter out to breakfast before she flies back to medical school after this short holiday break.

I’m going to breakfast!

It’s Monday: Make the meaningful moments of life your priority this season. Peace. Kai

It’s Monday–Give Me Hope

With this short week for many, amidst the preparations and travel, and the anticipation of all the delightful and dreaded family gatherings, I simply offer this prayer for the season from Ted Loder:

Give Me Hope 

O God,

this is a hard time,

a season of confusion,

a frantic rush

to fill my closets,

my schedule

and my mind,

only to find myself empty.

 

Give me hope, Lord,

and remind me

of your steady presence

and gracious purposes

that I may live fully.

Renew my faith

that the earth is not destined

for dust and darkness,

but for frolicking life

and deep joy

that, being set free

from my anxiety for the future,

I may take the risks of love

today.

It’s Monday. What risks of love will you take this season? Peace. Kai

It’s Monday–Is God in Charge?

God is in charge. God is in control.

I’ve read many variations of those sentiments in the last week and, I’ll be honest, I’m not sure what they mean.

Is this:

  • An honest affirmation of someone’s faith in a God who ultimately has this whole crazy world under control in ways that don’t seem apparent to us now.
  • A way to avoid investing in the process of making anything better or different. If God is in control, I’ll let God work this one out.
  • Something we just say when we don’t have much else to say.

I’m uneasy with any of those responses these days. If they work for you, I certainly can’t take that away from you. But, they don’t work for me. I just don’t know what they really mean when we get down to specifics and how they provide comfort to:

  • The three gay students who contacted me last Wednesday, anxious and fearful about their future.
  • The freshman student at a local university whose personal space and safety was violated with a pencil scrawled note shoved under their door that threated his “kind” of person in this “new” America.
  • The Muslim women accosted in her car by people screaming at her to get out of their country.

What does it mean to them to say, “God is in charge.” “God is in control.”?

Help me out.

And if you stick with that line of reasoning do we backtrack through human history and offer the same balm to all victims of threat or violence based on their race or creed or orientation? I don’t know that I have a right to say that.

So what does it mean? I don’t presume to have the final answer. But, let me offer a few guiding insights that I use to frame up my response in times such as these:

  • God created the world in love, for love. That is my starting point. If you don’t agree with me on that, we will necessarily come to different conclusions. It’s simply my starting point.
  • Love cannot be coerced or manipulated. For love to be love, it cannot seek to control the other person. In fact, love gives up a sense of control, of being in charge. And love does so for the sake of the other person’s freedom.
  • Therefore, love can be rejected. Hatred and indifference and division can be chosen in relationship to others. They are not God’s desire or God’s intent for the world. But, based on a world designed in love, for love, hatred and indifference and division are possible. We see this being played out in myriad ways throughout history and certainly in our time.
  • The presence of hate doesn’t diminish the promise of love. God, in my mind, has not chosen and will not choose a different path than love just because it doesn’t work out in all times and in all circumstances.
  • God, in God’s wisdom or foolishness (I wonder sometimes), chose for that love to saturate a love-starved world through people like you and me.

 What that means for me is simply this: Yes, God is in charge. God is in charge of the design of the world, the intent of love planted within us, the redemption that comes when we stumble and fall, and the decision to make us co-creators of a more loving world. Again, sometimes I wonder about God’s wisdom or foolishness in that decision. But, I believe the invitation stands.

Therefore, in the words of American poet, Clarissa Pinkola Estes,

Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good.

 What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more, continuing…

 It’s Monday. What movements of enduring good will be part of your charge today? Peace. Kai

My Vote

My vote.

I cast my vote early because I can in this country. My voice can be heard and counted. I’m grateful for that right and privilege.

I won’t tell you specifically who I voted for I will tell you directionally what I voted for. This is certainly my opinion—but it is my opinion based on years of studying the ancient scriptures, listening to what the Spirit of God is saying now, and living, as best I can, in a way that reflects not only what God has said but also the direction the Living God is moving.

Let me explain: I am guided by a simple interpretive principle when I read the scriptures. Sometimes we need to do what God says. Sometimes we need to head the direction that God is leading.

Sounds simple. Not so much. The process includes hours of intentional work, discernment, prayer and action. For that reason, I am convinced that all too many in the Christian community don’t want to or choose not to do the work. So we fall back on what we learned when we were growing up, we don’t critically reflect on or ask what God might be saying today, or, in a worst case scenario, we blindly follow leaders who often are corrupted by the seductive impulse to power over the lives of those in their care.

Maybe that sounds a little harsh. But, it’s real. I know it because I’ve seen it and because, as a leader, I’m tempted to succumb to the voices in my head that say, “Just tell people what they want to hear.” Or even worse, “They won’t ask questions anyway, so just tell them what to do!” It’s easy to be seduced by those voices. I live in that tension all the time.

So, back to my interpretive principles: Sometimes we need to do what God says. Sometimes we need to head the direction that God is leading.

 Sometimes we need to do what God says. In this case I look for consistent, unchanging themes throughout scripture. A simple example is: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. Love your neighbor as yourself.” The theme is woven throughout the history of the people of Israel and the early Christian community. Another example is God’s decided heart motivation toward the “widows, the poor, and the orphans.” In other words, anyone who, because of circumstance, needs to rely on the community, the community is obligated to extend help and care. Christian communities and any community that desires to reflect Christian values should be known by how it cares for and includes those who are easily excluded, have no voice, or face discrimination and injustice at the hands of a dominant culture. These themes are threaded throughout the fabric of the biblical narrative. Sometimes we need to do what God says.

Sometimes we need to head the direction that God is leading. A specific example: In Deuteronomy 23:1, eunuchs are excluded from the worshipping community. Later in the biblical story, the prophet Isaiah imagines what the world will be like when God’s kingdom is realized. In Isaiah 56, the prophet proclaims that a sign of the emerging kingdom will be that eunuchs and foreigners will be invited to participate in the kingdom life. In Acts 8, when the early church is going out to announce the kingdom is at hand through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, one of the first to hear and receive the call is an Ethiopian eunuch.

Look at that:

Deuteronomy: Eunuchs no.

Isaiah: Eunuchs, maybe, in the future.

Acts: Eunuchs, yes.

See the direction! The direction of God in the scriptural narrative is expansive and inclusive. God’s desire is for more to be welcomed and given a chance to participate fully in community, not less. Yes, there were times when the community became isolationist and resisted. But, God’s Spirit has always been prodding us forward. Two steps ahead. One back. Two step ahead. One back.

We make a move toward a more open, inclusive community, then the forces of fear and perceived scarcity become threats and we shrivel in retreat—regressing rather than progressing.

Diminishing one’s humanity because of race—regression.

Diminishing one’s humanity because of gender—regression.

Diminishing one’s humanity because of sexual preference—regression.

Diminishing one’s humanity because of creed—regression.

Sometimes we need to do what God says. Sometimes we need to head the direction that God is leading.

 I voted today to keep heading in the direction that, I believe, God is leading the entire human community, not just the Christian community. Yes, it’s a stumbling, scratch your heard, can’t believe we got ourselves into this place, kind of journey. Two steps ahead. One step back. In then end, it has less to do with the flawed candidates. And I’m certainly not saying God has a candidate in mind.

But, I do believe God has a direction in mind. God is always calling us forward to a more inclusive vision of human community—more loving, more compassionate, more hopeful.

That’s just me. I’m glad I had a chance to vote today.

Peace. Kai

 

It’s Monday– A Life Re-Imagined

 

A Life Re-Imagined.

 This is the theme for our retreat, Friday, November 11 (7-9pm) and Saturday, November 12 (9-4) at Peace Lutheran Church. We are going to take the transformative insights we have been working with in our sermon series this fall and do two things simultaneously: 1) Help you take a deep, accepting look at your present life, and 2) Give you the framework to create an intentional plan for the next phase.

Here are the themes we will be engaging:

Every Day a Birth-Day: For the first time since I have been at Peace (that’s a long time!) I will teaching the Cycle of Grace—a gift one of my favorite teachers, Trevor Hudson, has given me in the past few years.

Like a Child: To reimagine our days, our lives, our relationships, we have to develop a new capacity to dream, to be child-like in wonder, to hope.

Adolescence—The Struggle is Real: Much of our growth happens through times of struggle and pain. How can we embrace the renewing potential of these times in our lives?

Adulting: How do we make peace with the normal, monotonous, non-inspiring tasks of adult life? Can we find joy in the ordinary, pleasure in simplicity?

Everyday a Birth-Day: In God’s grace, each day is a new day. The past is gone. The future awaits. With the intentional plans you will have created, the present moment will be one to be celebrated—a birth-day, of sorts!

This retreat is not just for the Peace community. It would be a great time for you to invite a good friend or a neighbor or someone you know from the gym—anyone who is open to experience the renewing power of God’s grace and love. Anyone who might want to Re-Imagine Their Everyday Life.

The cost is $25. I will leading these sessions along with Kevin Ryan, our mindfulness and yoga instructor. Michael Lester, our Minister of Music, will be creating times of musical reflection and meditation.

It’s Monday. Do you need to get a gift for yourself? Join us on November 11 and 12. A Life Re-Imagined. Peace. Kai

Register: www.peacegahanna.org or email your name and your intention to attend the retreat to info@peacegahanna.org.

It’s Monday: Haters breed haters

“People who haven’t come to at least a minimal awareness of their own dark side will always find someone else to hate or fear. Hatred holds a group together much more quickly and easily than love and inclusivity.” -Fr. Richard Rohr

When I first read these words I was lured into the trap. I immediately projected onto all the “haters” my disdain for their divisive tone, their dangerous parsing of people groups and ideologies, their duplicitous rhetoric of patriotism. Of course, I was on the side of love and inclusivity. Of course. If only they could see the world like I see the world.

That’s the trap. Haters breed haters, even reluctant haters. I would never want to be known as one of them, as someone who creates either/or categories of people and ideas and policies. But, that’s what happens when I attempt to deny my own dark side, the side of me that is easily seduced into tit for tat, he said/she said, I’m right/you’re wrong thinking and being. My heart overflows with the very vile thoughts and attitudes that I despise. Haters breed haters, even reluctant haters.

I think Rohr is right. Hatred holds a group together much more quickly and easily than love and inclusivity. Love and inclusivity are hard. I have to be willing to listen to those I would, in any other world, despise. I have to be willing to suspend judgment and first check my own heart to see if what I’m opposing isn’t just something that I’m struggling with in my own life. It’s always easier to cast stones at external circumstances than to cast our gaze at our inward disposition. Hatred easily binds us together.

But friends, just because something is hard, doesn’t mean we take the route of complacency and indifference, retreating to our places of comfort and hoping against hope that the pettiness and destructive rhetoric of this season fades away. Love and inclusivity is the vision. It’s the hope of God for human community and, thus, is worth the work.

 As followers of Jesus, our voice must be heard, and even more so, our lives must resound with expectant hope. Even as we honestly wrestle with our own dark sides we can press toward the vision for our common humanity that grounds itself in love and inclusivity. Yes, haters breed haters, even reluctant haters. But, lovers breed lovers, even reluctant lovers!

It’s Monday. We have much work to do. How will that vision of love and inclusivity shape your interactions this day, this week? Peace. Kai