It’s Monday January 27

For many years, I have preached one summer weekend at Bald Head Island, North Carolina.  Bald Head Island is known for its environmental sensitivity; preserving the forested areas even through its housing growth and caring for the wildlife that inhabit the island, especially the loggerhead turtles.  

The conservancy on the island offers courses on loggerhead turtles, has strict regulations about disturbing turtle nests, and will take visitors on late-night beach hikes in hopes of seeing just one turtle in its nesting routine. Loggerhead turtles are a big deal on Bald Head Island. 

One summer, upon arrival, we scampered down to the beach as the sun was setting.  In the distance, we noticed dozens of people gathering so we made our way in their direction to see what was happening.  When we arrived, we discovered that they had been excavating a vacant turtle nest and, to their surprise, one turtle, no bigger than the size of a quarter, emerged from the sand and began the long journey to the ocean.  

To assist the process, those who had gathered, dug a twenty foot long trench in the sand.  I asked, “Why don’t you just pick it up and put it in the ocean?”  The reply shocked me, “We have to let the turtle imprint this journey on their mind so that dozens of years later, after countless journeys up and down the Atlantic coast, if they survive, they will return to this same beach and lay their eggs.”  

Dozens of years.  Thousands of miles.  Same beach.  The journey is imprinted so deeply within the turtle, they return to the same place and the cycle of life begins again.

 

We hosted my dad and mom for a five-day visit last week.  Living in Iowa, we get very few opportunities to spend extended time with them. When we do, it’s almost always with many other family members.  This time, we had them to ourselves. 

One evening, we were sitting together in our living room; my mom and dad, Patty and me, my 17 year old son Leif and my 12 year old daughter, Siri.  So, I asked my parents, “What were you guys like when you were 12 and 17 years old?” The stories were both uproariously humorous and searingly painful.  Some I had known.  Others I was hearing for the first time in my 50 years. 

One story struck me in regard to who we are and can be in Christian community. My dad was not connected with the church when he was young, but was encouraged by his mother to go to the middle school ministry at a local Lutheran church.  There, his life changed.  Not an understatement. What impacted me in the story was that he remembered six specific people, some staff, some volunteers.  He remembered their full names, the kind of welcome they extended to him, the encouragement they offered.  

Think about that: Dozens of years later he went back to that same place, in his mind, and recalled the deep imprint these six people made on his journey of faith.

It’s Monday.  Your relationships matter.  Your interactions leave imprints.  Peace. Kai

It’s Monday January 20

It’s the National Day of Remembrance for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  This weekend, as we considered the impact of our image of God on our lives, I couldn’t help but reflect on how Dr. King’s image of God shaped his life’s work.  For Dr. King, God was a liberator.  The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob freed the Israelites held captive for hundreds of years in Egypt. The God of the prophets continually called God’s people back to lives of justice when blinded by apathy and indifference.  The God revealed in Jesus raised the bar on the span of God’s and our love when he not only commanded us to “Love one another as he first loved us,” (John 13:34) but also to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).

Dr. King’s image of God shaped his life’s work.

Reflect on these words from a sermon he delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama, on November 17, 1957.

“Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, ‘Love your enemies.’ It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies.”

Dr. King’s image of God shaped his life’s work.

It’s Monday. What is your image of God?  How does it shape your life’s work?  What will it mean for you today? Peace. Kai

It’s Monday January 13

I wrote this for the Renovare’ Book Club as an introduction to Trevor Hudson’s book, Discovering our Spiritual Identity. Check out http://www.renovare.org for more information on the book club.

My two college-aged children have had vastly different experiences. My oldest has been in a community that accentuates the best of who he is. The warmth of the community embraced him and encouraged him to extend himself to others. The creativity of his classmates tapped into a deep reservoir of musical potential transforming a fine high school musician to an exceptional vocal artist. The openness of the community created an environment for self-discovery that led to his decision to pursue ordained ministry following graduation.

My daughter’s experience has been as difficult as my son’s experience has been life-giving. She worked for and sought out a premier academic institution, with a diversity of students, that would provide an on-ramp to a distinguished medical school. She made it. There, the academic pressure thrust her into manic hours of study with little time to renew and just be. The social pressure forced her hand into joining organizations that are neither life-giving nor relationship building. The lack of spiritual presence propelled her into a personal wilderness where life became more and more about her and her own ability and less and less about trusting that her life and ability were in the hands of God.

In the process, we have had long, tear-choked conversations. “Why can’t my college experience be like my brother’s?” “I thought these years were supposed to be some of the best years of my life?” “If I’m working twice as hard for lesser grades what does that mean about me, about my choice of career?”

What is at stake for both of my kids? They are both in the process of answering the age-old questions, “Who am I?” “What have I been called to do in the world?” Both are having their identities forged, though in very different ways. My son’s identity is being drawn out. My daughter’s identity is being pushed against. My son’s identity is a natural outgrowth of an environment where he is native. My daughter’s identity is being tested like a foreigner in a strange land. My son’s identity emergence receives communal acceptance and encouragement. My daughter’s identity emergence comes only from internal affirmation that she is doing the right thing.

As we begin our journey with Trevor Hudson’s book, Discovering our Spiritual Identity: Practices for God’s Beloved, notice that the questions, “Who am I?” and “What I am called to do?” are woven throughout. Our identity has many shaping influences–the families we are born into and the communities that nurture or wage war against us; the bodies we inhabit; our mind’s capacity and what we choose to focus our mind’s eye on; circumstances of joy and pain. As my kids have discovered, each forms and shapes us over time; some like the rolling of a gentle stream over a shallow rock bed, some like the crashing of mighty waves on a shore indiscriminately scattering their crushed debris on the shoreline.

But, notice something else. Hudson launches this journey with a question that precedes all those influences, though all those influences feed into our response to the question. “What is your image of God?” Our identity, especially our identity as a child of God, is not dependent on what happens out there, in our external world, it is a gift received first in the deepest part of who we are, then lived in the worlds we inhabit everyday.

In the opening chapters, Hudson wrestles with the interplay of our image of God and our image of ourselves. Both can be life giving. Both can be destructive. In his words, “When distortions creep into our picture of God, their negative effects reverberate throughout our lives” (p. 14). “When we see ourselves wrongly, we often end up in the muddy pit of worthlessness with its attending despair” (p. 23).

Hudson invites us to begin the discovery of our spiritual journey in the heart of God, by knowing God’s nature and receiving God’s promise. His recollection of words by Archbishop Desmond Tutu define the source and life-giving power of our identity. “You don’t have to earn God’s love. It is not a matter of human achievement. You exist because God loves you already. You are a child of divine love” (p. 27).

Independent of the environment within which we live and move and have our being, Hudson asserts that our identity has already be established. You are a beloved child of God. When communities affirm that identity, we rejoice. When communities push against, we hold doggedly to that essential core. When life successes bring joy, we are grateful. When circumstances cause pain, we trust in a God whose suffering brought redemption.

One of the practices that Hudson invites us to participate in is the creation of a Beloved Charter (p. 30). The Beloved Charter is our personal statement of God’s promise for our lives. One of the statements I included in my Beloved Charter is Eugene Peterson’s translation of Mark 1:11, “You are my Son, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life.” As a consistent affirmation, I insert my name, “Kai, you are my child, chosen and marked by love, pride of my life.” That’s who I am.

As we make this journey together, you may want to insert your own name and rejoice in the abiding promise.

It’s Monday. Say this to start your day: (_______), you are a child of God, chosen and marked by love, pride of God’s life. That’s who you are. Peace. Kai