It’s Monday–November 2

In response to our celebration of All Saint’s this weekend, with its paradoxical life themes of suffering and joy, darkness and light, death and new life, I offer you a piece I wrote for the Renovare’ Book Club on the creative energy of paradox.

A few weeks ago at the Apprentice Gathering in Wichita, I had the opportunity to lead two workshops on the themes of my recently published book, Renew Your Life: Discovering the Wellspring of God’s Energy. At the end of one of the conversations, a participant approached, a quizzical look on his face, and asked, “I can see how things like grace and possibility can be creative, life-giving energies. But, what about paradox? How is paradox a creative energy?”

Great question.

My response is this: Paradox, by its very nature, is replete with energy. When two seemingly opposite forces compete for our attention and allegiance, our minds spark with energy—the energy of new possibilities, new ways of seeing the world, or new insights awaiting birth. As with any birth, the process can be painful, but the rush of mental and spiritual endorphins that accompanies the new idea that emerges makes you feel more alive.

Think about the paradoxes we live with each day:

We are in control and not in control at all.

We reject the power of sin and then fall under its power again.

We live in the midst of the struggle of love and hatred, light and darkness that we see in the world.

We live in the midst of the struggle of love and hatred, light and darkness within us.

We long to hope for the future even as we cling to the disappointments of our past.

And I recently tripped over this paradoxical aphorism from Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, “The greater light you have, the greater shadow you cast.”

Even reading the list, did you feel the conflicting energy? The struggle with paradox is replete with energy.

But, let’s go back to my earlier metaphor of childbirth. As we know, the process of childbirth is painful. New life emerges only through a period of struggle. I’m convinced that is why, in too many places in our lives and in too many faith communities, we avoid the struggle with the paradoxes of life, settling for a non-critical thinking certainty. It’s too painful to struggle with both/and so we default to either/or thinking.

We are told what to think about God and what to avoid thinking about. We are told who is in and who is out. In some cases, we are even told that if you are “good Christian” you should vote in this certain way on specific controversial issues. There is no grey—only black and white.

I guess, in some ways, it’s easier. But my fear is that we will never mature, never grow into the fullness of life that God desires, never grasp the abiding hope of the kingdom of God if we are unwilling to struggle with paradox.

Life is complex and hard. Fr. Richard Rohr, in his book Falling Upward, describes it this way, “Life, as the biblical tradition makes clear, is both loss and renewal, death and resurrection, chaos and healing at the same time; life seems to be a collision of opposites.”

What’s true of life in general is also true of the Christian faith. I love Parker Palmer’s insight from The Promise of Paradox. “The promise of paradox is the promise that apparent opposites—like order and disorder—can cohere in our lives, the promise that if we replace either-or with both-and, our lives will become larger and more filled with light. It is a promise at the heart of every wisdom tradition I know, not least the Christian faith. How else can I make sense of the statement, ‘If you seek your life, you will lose it, but if you lose your life, you will find it?’”

What a great hope—our lives will become larger and more filled with light. That is the creative energy of paradox.

It’s Monday. Find someone who stands on another side of an issue than you do and listen closely to their way of thinking. Let your mind and heart struggle with another way of thinking. Peace. Kai

It’s Monday October 26

In the Lutheran Church we celebrated Reformation Sunday yesterday. Nearly 500 years ago a German monk, led by the conviction of his theological insight and a passion that his church be more reflective of a God of grace, went public by hammering 95 Theses (points for conversation, protest, disputation) on the door of All Saint’s Church in Wittenberg.

Luther went public and the consequences reverberate to this day.

Yesterday, hundreds of members of this community made public commitments to their relationship with this gracious God and our common work. As the waves of people flowed up to the altar to lay down their commitments and then to receive a blessing from one of our Vision Board members, my heart began to reverberate with gratitude. With so many other choices vying for our attention, so many other allegiances tugging at our hearts, so many options, good options, for doing God’s work in the world, the Spirit keeps saying yes in the hearts of the people of Peace. Yes, we honor and worship a gracious God who invites all. Yes, we have work to do.

I was reminded, again, of how inspiring it is when people “go public” with their life of faith. Granted, we have all been turned off by some public expressions of the faith—the loud, clanging voices that spew hatred as opposed to love, division and not unity, exclusion rather than inclusion. They don’t reflect the God I know and love, whose nature I want to emulate in life and daily living.

But, when people “go public” by reflecting the character and nature of the God reflected in Jesus, the consequences reverberate day to day. I think of leaders who abandon self-interest and pursue just and right working conditions and environments for their workers. I think of health professionals who know their patients as names not just numbers. I think of teachers tapping in to the innate potential that lies dormant in so many students. I think of politicians who listen attentively to their people and not just those in power. I think of parents who teach their kids both to think on their own and be compassionate to others.

Some would say, “My faith is a private experience. It’s between me and God.” I would agree and disagree. Yes, your faith can be a personal experience, but it was never meant to be a private expression. Homes don’t change, communities won’t change, and systems can’t change with private experiences of faith! Think of what would reverberate through your world, this world, if each day you “went public” in such a way that you helped turn hatred into love, harm (physical or emotional) into healing, division into reconciled unity, and despair into abiding hope.

You may not be nailing 95 Theses on a church door this week, but you can knock on a neighbor or co-worker’s door because you know they are struggling. You may not be able to help everyone who is in need, but you can notice one other person whom others would walk by. You may not be able change everything in your toxic work or home environment, but you can resist your impulse to criticize and feed your desire to build up.

It’s Monday. How will you “go public” this week? Peace. Kai

It’s Monday October 19

I wrote this for the Renovare’Book Club recently. I thought it provided a positive direction to live out last week’s It’s Monday.

One of my mother’s guiding faith questions was this: How can this new person I am meeting expand my vision of God?

When she would encounter people from other cultures, religious traditions, socio-economic strata, races, lifestyles, etc., rather than simply, subconsciously asking, “Does this person fit neatly into my categories of what is a good or right or acceptable person?” (the question we all subconsciously ask), she would consciously ask, “How can this person expand my vision of God?”

Note: This, for her, was not an exercise in “whatever”-whatever they believe, whatever they do, however they live, it doesn’t matter. It wasn’t an articulation of the watered down, generic spiritualties of our time. It was, in fact, a robust belief in a God whose ways are higher than our ways and thoughts higher than our thoughts (Is. 55:9).

Rather than being afraid or distrustful of those who were different, she hoped that, through the relationship, she might be made different-more trusting in the God who created all and a more gracious recipient of all God created.

When I began the reflection and research that eventually led to my recent book, Renew Your Life: Discovering the Wellspring of God’s Energy, a similar insight emerged. The stories of renewed lives that I heard about and witnessed came from every possible demographic; young and old, rich and poor, black and white, Christian and non-Christian. Whatever their background, they described the transformation in similar ways. They had to come to grips with where they were in life. They sensed possibility for something new. They discovered a source of strength and courage that allowed them to overcome the times of struggle. They almost always had a friend or loved one or coach who walked the journey with them. They adapted their lives around a new life-giving rhythm.

It was so similar that I began to ask my mother’s question, “How can these relationships expand my vision of God?” Rather than boxing in God’s life-giving capacity and energy, limiting God to the categories I knew and was most comfortable with, could it be that Gods renewing energies were not just embedded in the organized church I was leading but were also integrated into the orders of creation, from the very creation of the world?

Could it be that God’s grace and possibility and paradox, etc., are simply the ways God has been enlivening the world from the beginning? Could it be that wherever people are coming alive, with newfound energy and purpose for living, God’s creative energy is pulsing through them? Could it be that my vision of how and why and through whom God worked could be expanded before my eyes?

With those questions in mind I reengaged the Jesus’ narrative in the gospels and was struck by this insight: With almost every interaction, people were confronted with the question, “Can we imagine a God that acts and speaks like Jesus acts and speaks?” What was painfully obvious is that the so-called religious people (people like me!) were not willing to have their vision of God expanded, even as those outside the religious community were having their minds blown by a new vision of the kingdom of God.

And then it made me wonder again, “How have I boxed in God?” “In what ways have I limited God’s capacity to my own limited ability to imagine God?” “Am I a religious person with a contracted image of God?” “Am I like the outsiders who were willing to have their vision of God expanded?”

If I’m honest, I’m some of both. But, I keep being drawn back to my mom’s guiding question, “How can this person I am meeting expand my vision of God?”

It’s Monday. What about you? Peace. Kai

It’s Monday October 12

This weekend I attended and spoke at the Apprentice Conference in Wichita, Kansas. Many of the other speakers I had already known or read their material. Yet, one of the great surprises for me was Dr. Christena Cleveland. Dr. Cleveland is a professor of Social Psychology at Duke University, a consultant for communities pushing toward reconciliation, and the author of Disunity in Christ.

One of the studies she cited sent chills down my spine. The study included Christian and non-Christian focus groups. Each was asked to first think of people like them and then was asked a number of different questions in response to that person. They were then asked to think of someone different than them (racially, religiously, socio-economically) and posed with the same questions in response.

Here is what she discovered: When the participants were asked to think about someone like them, the self-professed Christians in the group soared in response. They were more loving. They imagined themselves more willing to give generously in time and money. They were more compassionate toward the suffering of those who were like them.

But, here is the rub. When the participants focused on someone who was different than them, the responses of the self-professed Christians plummeted. They were far less loving. They were more spiteful in their responses toward the downtrodden. They were far stingier than other non-Christian participants in the study.

So, it seems, that Jesus’ command to love your neighbor really means the neighbor that’s like you. And his command to love your enemies, we summarily dismiss.

Now, I understand that one study does not cover all circumstances and all Christian people. But, my mind began to wonder. In a country that has 70% of the people claiming to be followers of Jesus, why such deep divides? How can we so easily dismiss those who don’t think like us, act like us, or look like us? What is the source of all the vitriol spewed at those who oppose us?

My hunch is we often confuse what it means to be a citizen of this country and followers of Jesus. Though the two may have some intersecting values, they are not the same. So, our reflex is to respond first with our opinions (well thought out as they may be) and our rights as citizens. We also seem to be constantly responding out of fear that something is being taken from us (Take Back America, Take Back Gahanna, etc).

Let me suggest this: Using personal opinions, individual rights, and fear as starting points for conversation will never lead us forward, at least forward together.

If we say we follow Jesus, our questions should first be these:

  • What kind of world did Jesus hope for, live for, and die for?
  • Whom did he seek out?
  • How did he treat them?
  • What did he ask us to do?

To ask those questions gives us a radically different starting point. Now, it certainly won’t lead us to agree on everything, that wouldn’t be any fun. But, it would remind us that love for neighbor (those like us and those who are different), sacrifice for the sake of others, and reconciliation are at the heart of who we are as followers of Jesus.

All that means we wrestle hard with the questions, remain humble in our responses, and challenge ourselves to go beyond our already formed opinions—for the sake of our neighbor and world.

Finally, Dr. Cleveland also challenged us with this statement. “I can’t be a follower of Jesus if I only hang around with people like me.” That struck close to home. I’m still wondering what to do with that one.

It’s Monday. What does all of this mean for you? Your life? Your interactions? Your hopes for our community and world? Peace. Kai

It’s Monday October 5

Each week we continue to add layers to the faith formation process we are calling A Path to Peace. Our assumption is that the Spirit of God is present and available to Renew Your Mind, Renew Your Body, and Renew Your Spirit. The question remains—will we say yes and then step out on the path?

Thus far, we have preached about The Quiet Mind (our need to pull away from the chaos and rest in God), The Engaged Mind (our need to have our minds stimulated by ideas, especially kingdom ideas), and The Physical Body (that’s obvious). I want to alert you to a few upcoming options that are connected with each area of renewal:

Mindfulness & Spiritual Connection (Quiet Mind):  Daniel Stover, Leadership Consultant and Executive Coach at Integrated Leadership Systems, will discuss how the mind works with both positive and negative emotions.  Staying with positive emotions is simple, but staying present with negative emotions is much more difficult.  Learn how to be more mindful and aware with difficult emotions. A one-night presentation on Oct 15, from 7 – 8:30 PM.

Lutheranism 101 (Engaged Mind): We have had many inquiries, especially from those who have come from outside of the Lutheran tradition, about what it means to be a Lutheran in our time. Pastor Doug will lead this class about the unique and powerful claim of God’s grace that rests at the heart of Lutheran identity, then and now. Monday nights for five weeks beginning October 12.

It’s Monday Seminar (Engaged Mind): In these seminars we help participants make the connection between our profession of faith on Sunday and the living of the faith on Monday. This month’s focus will revolve around these questions, “What do we do when we feel stuck?” “What keeps us stuck?” “What are the fears, challenges, life-stage issues that hold us back?” Monday, October 26 from 7:00-8:30.

Yoga (Physical Body): We are offering two sessions of Yoga to help you connect your body to your mind and, in the process, renew your spirit. Wednesday evenings and Thursday mornings starting at the end of October. Sign-ups will be available within the next week.

As an added resource we are loading the adult ministry page of our website with books and/or spiritual exercises that connect with each aspect of renewal in your life.

This weekend I preached on Jesus’ question to the man by the pool in John 5, “Do you want to be made well?”

Do you?

It’s Monday. The Spirit of God is available. What step will you take on your Path to Peace? Peace. Kai