It’s Monday–Adulting!

The fuel gauge read 15 miles left on my tank so I thought it might be time to fill up. I pulled up to the pump, typed in all the requisite information, and bam… $1.00 off a gallon appeared on the screen. You know that saying “Dance like no one is watching.” The party was on! I’m just hoping the security cameras can be scrubbed. Middle-aged dancing at a gas pump, though joyful and celebratory, is not pretty.

And, by the way, people were watching!

As I drove away, I thought to myself, “Wow, my reaction to $1.00 discount on a gallon of gas was almost on par with the moment my soon to be wife accepted my proposal, the day our children were born, and the Minnesota Twins first World Series Championship.” When did my life get so boring!

In common parlance, I was “adulting.” Adulting is the catchall phrase for the reality that what you never expected yourself to be doing when you grow up, you are now doing. You hear it mostly from the lips of 20 somethings. They sign their first renter’s agreement—adulting. They pay their own phone bill (I heard that happens in some families)—adulting. They buy a spatula—adulting.

When you are in your 20’s, it’s a sign you are growing into the next phase of life. But, it’s often spoken with a mixture of disbelief and disgust. Life was way cooler when your parents were helping with tuition, covering added expenses, and supplying you with any necessary household implements. You used to be able to spend your money on technology and craft beer and chipotle, six times a week. Now you are “adulting” with your rent and insurance and cheap wine because you have to buy your own.

Recently, I was talking to a college student at the Y about his summer job. He loved the interactions with campers and the collegiality of his peer counselors. But, in his words, “Working 40 hours a week is rough!” Who knew?

That’s adulting—living into the mundane and monotonous daily lives of, let’s say, “MOST EVERYONE!”

So, what do we do with that?

We need to recognize and acknowledge the anxiety that wells up within us when it feels like we are just going through the motions. We hear cultural messages like, “Live Your Best Life Always.” Then, we watch those best lives being plastered all over our Facebook walls and we think we are the only ones muddling through our days.

I’m convinced this cultural motivation to Live Your Passion/Follow your Dream/Discover Your Best Life/Make Every Moment Count, though compelling at times, doesn’t serve us well when life isn’t any of those. Relationships end and addictions begin at the intersection of what I think my life should be and what it really is. We’ve been seduced into believing that if our relationships are not life giving at any moment, then there must be something wrong with the relationship, something wrong with me. Most addictive behaviors (alcohol consumption, shopping, sex…) are misguided attempts to feel something again, to feel anything.

What would it take to reimagine our lives in healthy rather than destructive ways, even when living into the monotony of most days?

First, let this be your mantra:

I’m Muddling…But, I’m OK.

Bored… I’m Ok.

Mundane life…I’m still OK.

Even more than OK, can we allow these to be generative periods in our lives, like the dormant, slumbering life buried under a long winter awakening to the resurrection of vital, spring growth?

I’ve read numerous articles by child psychologists who lament the loss of free play and periods of boredom in our kid’s lives. We, as parents, can get so obsessive about meeting every one of our kid’s needs that we flow seamlessly from one source of entertainment to the next, which is both exhausting for parents and debilitating for our kid’s capacity to think on their own, to create, to grow.

It also creates adults who know nothing but a fully entertained life. It creates pleasure-seeking adults with limited capacity and desire to live the ordinary parts of life, to celebrate just being alive, to endure periods when they are just muddling through.

Reimagine Your Everyday Life. It sounds like a theme that will lift us to the heights of our personal possibility. Maybe, it’s a perspective on life that can carry us through the depths of our personal lethargy.

For me, the best antidotes for banality and boredom are gratitude and curiosity.

Gratitude grounds me in the sheer goodness of life—simple life, every day life, $1.00 off a gallon of gas life. So, I try to find ways to celebrate ordinary things.

Curiosity opens me to the possibility of being surprised. It awakens me to the vibrations of something intriguing or, in the least bit, new. It encourages me to ask new questions, to challenge assumptions, to non-judgmentally enter into the space of uncertainty, and then to be OK being there.

And I forgot, there is one more antidote, patient trust—in a God who walks with us through wildernesses and in whose resurrection proclaims to each of our ordinary lives…”New Day!”

It’s Monday. Even in the most routine of days, what can you be grateful for and curious about? Peace. Kai

It’s Monday–Stuckness and the Necessity of Imagination

Have you ever uttered these statements?

  • That’s just the way the world is.
  • That’s just the way those people are.
  • That’s just who I am.

If you have, you were probably feeling stuck—stuck in a world of racial injustice, growing economic disparity, and perpetual cycle of war that never seems to change; stuck in your perceptions of others, some formed by personal experience, some ill-formed by cultural stereotype and suspicion; stuck in your image of yourself, shaped by negative voices of your past, shaded by regret, and sharpened by a never-ending cycle of trial and failure.

Being stuck becomes the filter through which we view the future and its ever-narrowing possibility. Being stuck unleashes the damning “I told you so’s” of our past. Being stuck nudges us consciously or subconsciously down paths where we seek to gratify our unmet needs in the present, too often in destructive ways.

Over the years I have found that the study of family systems theory offers great insight in these circumstances. Systems theory reminds us that when a system or family or individual is stuck, these characteristics emerge:

  • There is an unending treadmill of trying harder. We do the same things over and over again hoping something new will emerge. Maybe this time! Maybe next time!
  • There is a focus on finding answers rather than asking new questions. In times of distress, being stuck, we usually want an answer, a quick-fix, because we don’t want to deal with larger, longer term issues.
  • Our thinking becomes polarized, either/or thinking. Think about our cultural inability to deal with ambiguity, uncertainty. We look for people who tell us what’s right and what’s wrong. We want simple answers to complex questions.

When we are stuck, we lose the capacity to see beyond, to dream, to imagine. Systems theory reminds us that imagination is one of the keys to release the system.

Let me take you back to the text from Sunday. When the prophet Isaiah spoke to the people of Israel living in exile, a penetrating period of corporate and personal “stuckness” for the faith community, he invited them to see beyond, to dream, to imagine.

Thus says God, the Lord,

who created the heavens and stretched them out,

who spread out the earth and what comes from it,

who gives breath to the people upon it

and spirit to those who walk in it:  

I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness…(Isaiah 42:5-6)

You are part of a bigger story, a universal story, a story without beginning or end, a drama imagined in the mind of God. This creator of the universe breathes life and spirit into you. That’s how close our God is—as intimate as the breath you take, as integral to you as the activities that make you most alive. And this creator God calls you! The world continues to unfold-the plans of God are unfinished, the dream of God yet to be realized. God has called you to participate in making it happen.

We are invited by our creator to be co-creators of a more loving world.

 How? By loving what God loves—all people, all creation. By living well in the places we find ourselves each day. By receiving the gifts of forgiveness to release our past and hope to open a future.

It’s Monday. Each day this week, Reimagine Your Everyday Life by asking yourself, “How can I work with God to co-create a more loving world?” Then, smile at the strangers you encounter; surprise someone by going out of your way in something, anything; forgive each other when conflicts emerge; tell a hopeful story; live a hopeful life. Peace. Kai

It’s Monday–I’m Back!

Wednesday morning, August 17. We hugged our son, Anders, and watched him drive off to Suwanee, Georgia, his new home while on a two-year ministry internship. Two weeks prior we had moved our daughter, Annika, into an apartment in downtown Chicago. We hugged and watched her walk away to await a roommate she had never met and four years of medical school she had been working for most of her life. Within a few days, we knew we would hug our son, Leif, wave goodbye, and watch as he would drive off toward his junior year at Capital University.

The weight of separation felt unbearable.

As I walked into the office, I happened upon our new intern, Jared Howard, standing with his four year old daughter preparing themselves for her first day of pre-school. My mind went wild with memories. My heart seized with lament over the passing of years. I could barely contain myself as I stumbled back to my office. Once safely walled off from the rest of the world, I wept. I just wept for about an hour.

The joy and mystery of each birth. The jarring, maddening sleepless nights.

Peeling kids off our legs and ushering them into their yearly unknown. Pausing at the door and wondering what they may experience and know.

The wonder of discovery. The pain of friendships gone awry.

The unleashing of talents affirmed. The unlearning necessary when pathways closed.

A flood of memories washed over me.

Yet, there was a problem with allowing myself to drown in my longing for days past—the present moment called. I had to perform a funeral service within an hour. Life had changed for me, yes. But, it had also changed dramatically for a family at Peace.

In that moment I was struck by this insight—at each new phase of life, no matter how shattering or subtle, we have to reimagine what life can be.

Reimagine Your Everyday Life…Through God’s Eyes is our theme for our fall preaching series beginning Sunday, September 18. As we live in a world that can numb us with its oppressive demands, its insistent routines, its superficial relationships, can we create the space to pause, breathe deeply, and wonder what our lives would look like, not just Sunday but Monday-Saturday, if we knew in the very depths of our being that our lives mattered to God, that our ordinary interactions could reflect the extraordinary love of God, and that the end game is not personal success and recognition but a different kind of world, a more loving world, a world that reflects the sacrificial love of its creator.

So, we will explore the vision God has for us, the way we order our days, the value of our work, and the meaningful hope of our service to community.

Each of us has been invited by our creator to be co-creators of a more loving world.

It’s Monday. We look forward to being together in worship and seeing what might happen as we Reimagine our Everyday Lives… Through God’s Eyes! Peace. Kai

 

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