It’s Monday October 21

l like going to my local grocery store. Over the years I’ve gotten to know the check-out people and a few of the people who stock shelves on a first name basis. In the process of casual conversation I’ve discovered a little about their families and they mine. The lady at the Starbucks calls me honey, which I thought was endearing until I heard her call everyone in the line honey. Still, it makes me feel connected.

A few of the grocery baggers know me well enough that if I go to their line they pretend like they are going to leave, like they have something better to do. In return, I’ll often ask the check-out person for a real bagger if they’ve stuck around and we all share a laugh. Almost every time I’m there I run into people from Peace Lutheran, the congregation I serve, or the larger community. I like going to the grocery story.

What I have at the grocery store is a network of casual acquaintances. These casual acquaintances add some benefit to my life, give some sense of connection, albeit a thin connection, and they often add a little levity to my day. But, and this is a crucial distinction, they don’t change my life in the least. They don’t press me to think differently about my world. They won’t show up if I’m in desperate straights. I’m not bound to them in any way. If I’m next to another grocery store and it’s more convenient, I’ll go there. I won’t think about them in between visits to the grocery story and chances are they don’t think of me either.

What is obvious is this: There is a qualitative and marked difference between a casual acquaintance and a transformative relationship, a relationship that changes my life, even if in small ways. Transformative relationships are people who make me think differently about myself and my life; who expand my vision of my place in the world, who will show up when I need it; who allow me to be who I am, even as they cheer on small movements toward what I am becoming.

That distinction caused me to ask myself, “What is my present relationship toward Jesus?” A casual acquaintance? A transformative relationship?

I wish I could say, at this present moment, that it is a transformative relationship. But, I’ve been in a little slump lately, and it feels like it’s leaning more toward a casual acquaintance relationship these days. In the past I would freak out and press harder into the relationship, forcing myself to read more, do more, believe more (Can you really force yourself to believe more?). But, for this phase, I’m just choosing to trust more. Trust that the life-giving promises of the past will blossom again like a spring flower after a dark winter. Trust that what I say, “God loves me no matter what” is true. Trust that our faith is not just an individual faith but a community faith where we carry one another at times. Trust that there are seeds yet to be planted in the fallow ground of my soul.

It’s Monday. Casual Relationship? Transformative relationship? Where are you? Peace. Kai

It’s Monday October 14

Daniel Goleman, author of the groundbreaking book Emotional Intelligence, recently published his latest contribution to the cognitive and social sciences, Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence. From the cover, “Attention works much like a muscle; use it poorly and it can wither; work it well and it grows.” In the swirling chaos we call modern living, those whose contributions will be most recognized are the ones who have and/or develop an uncanny capacity to focus in on what contributes to their own development, enhances creative problem-solving, and advances social connection for the good of the community.

I was fascinated by his description of how the “two minds” of the brain function cooperatively or in competition with one another. The Bottom-up mind is faster, involuntary, impulsive, the driver for our habitual routines, and the manager of our existing mental maps. The top-down mind is slower, more effortful, voluntary, and has the ability to learn new models and mental plans.

In other words, the bottom-up mind goes with what it knows. The top-down mind is able to consider and reflect upon new ways of being, living, and relating. The two minds are in conflict when we are thinking about adapting to a new behavior or developing a new attitude (the top-down mind) but the new behavior or attitude hasn’t become integrated or habituated (the bottom-up mind).

For example, if we are basically a stingy person, whose habituated response is to keep things to ourselves, but we want to become more generous, the pathway to move in that direction is by giving. Seek out opportunities to give, even when your reflex is to keep. Start small. Then, do it consistently. Then, increase what you offer and, over time, the new behavior (the idea of the top-down mind) becomes the reflexive behavior (the function of the bottom-up mind).

To sum it up, what you focus on and do, you become!

Consider the implications: Is it possible to train our two minds to work in harmony with one another and become the kind of people we imagine?

What Goleman describes physiologically, the leaders of spiritual formation have known spiritually for centuries. The good news in spiritual formation is the work is not all about us–our initiative, our power. In fact, the real power and source of life we draw on comes from the living Spirit of God-who is both the generative and transformative power of our lives. God longs for us to continue to reflect God’s nature which is rich in compassion, mercy, sacrifice, justice, love. We can become more compassionate, merciful, and loving. That’s good news.

It’s Monday. What will you focus on this week? How does it reflect God’s nature of love? Peace. Kai

It’s Monday October 7

We change our culture, we change the way we imagine our lives, by changing the stories we tell and live. So what stories are you telling by the way you live your life? What stories are we telling at Peace?

In my 20 years of ministry at Peace, the stories told have shifted in their focus and the dynamic of the community has continued to evolve. For instance, for a decade I was able to share ministry with Pastor Ron Lee. Throughout that time we told stories of the radical grace of God that invites all people to experience God’s love and gradually, over time, those who began to join the community were not just Lutherans moving in to the area but people, from multiple faith traditions or no faith tradition at all, who were moved by God’s Spirit to imagine their lives differently.

We told stories about how the passion of ordinary Peace members compelled them to create new ministries outside of the static structures of our community and gradually, over time, the structures were changed to give people permission to respond freely and quickly when God called.

We told stories about those who embodied the servant heart of Jesus and gradually, over time, we became a servant community whose stories evolved, in the words of Fr. Richard Rohr, from “life is about us” stories to “we are about life” stories.

These stories continue to breathe life in us and through us for the sake of our community.

We change our culture, we change the way we imagine our lives, by changing the stories we tell and live.

So, what’s your story? What will our story be?

Look around. It doesn’t take long to recognize that the cultural story we live in is increasingly polarized, the divisions deeper, the acrimonious speech more piercing. We can relent and conform to the cultural storyline that prizes only personal achievement, appearance, and affluence or we can repent and change the story.

It’s Monday. Our culture desperately needs people whose lives have shifted from “life is about us” stories to “we are about life” stories. Change the story. Change the culture. We have work to do, stories to live. Peace. Kai