People, Pain, and Deconstruction

Friday night we watched, Bridge to Terabithia. It’s about the awkward friendship of two fifth graders, Leslie – a girl, and Jess – a boy.

Leslie’s joy is the first thing to infect her neighbor and soon to be best friend. She was from an artistic family who told stories, wrote books, and slopped bright paint on their living room walls as they danced. Jess is the only son of a working class couple scraping together whatever they can to make ends meet for their five children. His family are faithful church attendees. They have the stern faces and serious demeanor to prove it. Leslie, on the other hand, had never been to church before and seemed to be captivated by the entire experience of it. 

Out of all the high’s and low’s of their story, this in my opinion, is the most compelling scene.

http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=swcEExbjVMQ

“You have to believe it and you hate it. I don’t have to believe it and I love it.” 

How does that sit with you?

Who do you most identify with in this scene?
– May Belle – certain of a harsh God who’s purpose is to damn people to hell
– Jess – confused as he reconsiders what he’s always accepted as truth
– Leslie – free to embrace the beauty of Jesus without the baggage of dogma

Why do you think that is?  

Whenever I watch this scene I long for the freedom Leslie exudes. I love the simple way she embraces the beauty of Jesus without all the baggage of dogma. 

But I see myself in both of the other characters too. As a young adult I was so certain about things…I felt I had to be. I was so sure about certain doctrines that Jesus and grace got lost in it all. Then about ten years ago I started going through a time of deconstruction myself. I don’t think I was necessarily wrong about all the things I thought, believed, and taught. I just look back and see somethings that were out of focus and other areas that were incomplete. 

God seems to use two primary tools to help us grow. 
1. People – ‘Leslie characters’ in our own lives. If we’re paying attention God seems to bring them into our lives to give us a clearer picture of Him. Some of them stay in our lives for a long time and others only for a season. 
2. Pain – My friend Larry calls, ‘disorienting dilemmas.’ These are experiences and events that rock us to our foundation. They can help us challenge things we’ve always accepted and distill what we believe.   

Who in your life is calling you to live more fully?

Are you in a place where it feels like your belief system is getting in the way of knowing God more completely?

Do you tend to embrace disorienting dilemmas or bury them?

Do you have someone to share that with?

Does it feel like you’ve laid claim to your own beliefs, or more like you’re living a second hand faith of your parents or pastors?

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Reconnecting your Head to your Heart

Last week I threw out some suggestions of why we rarely experience long term change even though we really mean it when we declare our resolve to start something, stop something, do more, do less, and change. 
1. Sometimes our goals aren’t big enough.
2. We often don’t have a plan.
3. No one has been invited to walk with us on our journey.
4. We resist admitting that the power to change is beyond us. 

This week I want to zero in on the area of spiritual transformation. 

One of the things I miss about pastoring is being able to stand in front of a group of people and assure them that no matter where they are or what they are experiencing God is near, concerned, and accessible. To be part of God’s awakening process is both thrilling and humbling. I know…Sunday sermons aren’t the only vehicles that God uses…in fact I’m sure he’s had to intercept what came out of my mouth way more than once. But I have vivid memories of people encountering hope. Often times their eyes water, their cheeks redden, their posture changes, and they nod unknowingly.  

The message informs, excites, and moves us toward the mission (the identity and calling) God has for us. Naturally we get excited. We might even get a new Bible or buy a new journal. And for a few weeks we do great. Sermons and podcasts keep us going. Our small group or Sunday school class keep us on track. And for a few more weeks we do alright. We’re doing things…good things…things we’re supposed to do…but if we’re really honest it feels like we’ve just exchanged one type of busyness for another. 

And in our quiet honest moments we hear ourselves wonder, “Where is the life? Where is the joy? Where is the change?”

Do you ever feel like that? I do sometimes.

The answer is not: Leave your church, drop out of small group and put your Bible on the shelf.  

The answer may be: Try something different. Take a few minutes and jot down answers the questions below. It is a brief experience in spiritual direction. 

– Describe your communication with God. How and when are you speaking to him? How are you hearing from him?
– Describe the last time you felt close with God. Be sure to note when that was, where you were, and who, if anyone, was with you.
– If Jesus was sitting in the chair next to you, what would you tell him?

The Enlightenment period emphasized science and reason. Humanity began to seek answers by pulling things apart, observation, and examination. The scientific method was born and applied to all areas of life – including faith. So the spiritual life that once lived in the healthy tension between heart and head shifted mostly into our head. 

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In our desire for transformation, our head has been trained to take over and we default to persuing more information and mastering certain skills as the answer. “If I only knew more about the bible…or better understood what Christianity is about…or could explain it better…that would help me grow and be the evidence that I’m changing.” Not true. 

Author Dallas Willard said, “Spiritual people are not those who engage in certain spiritual practices; they are those who draw their life from a conversational relationship with God.” (Hearing God) 

Our process for spiritual growth must bring our thinking and feeling back into a proper tension. Spiritual direction helps reconnect your head to your heart and reframes your thinking. Our perspective ceases to be, “I need to learn more,” and becomes, “I need to pay attention more.”

Real Transformation Requires A Big Step

We need to come to the point to honestly say, “I am powerless over this habit, compulsion, practice and I need help.”

That’s a tough thing to admit. We’ve been brought up to be independant. In our culture it is one of the marks of adulthood. So to confess we can’t handle something equates to failure. For many asking for help is an admission of being less than they should be and therefore we muddle along in denial, disfunction, and defeat. 

And it’s not just other people we have a hard time asking for help. The sea of American Individualism that we swim in seeps into our understanding and relationship with God. We even resist asking Him for help.  

Do we actually think He’s too busy?
Do we believe He is uncaring?

No, I think many of us…myself included have this idea that whether it’s a physical, emotional, relational or even spiritual challenge, we should be able to handle it ourselves.

Let me assure you:
– God does not grow weary of hearing for us ask for help. 
– He never takes a posture of crossed to say, “You should be beyond this by now.”
– God never says, “I give up on you.” 
– He doesn’t tap his foot in impatience when he thinks of you. 

God wants to be included…no, He wants to be the source and sustaining power in your transformation. 

So let me also assure you:
– God loves to hear our pleas for help.
– He always takes a posture of open arms to say, “Welcome child.”
– God is always cheer, “You can do this.”
– He dances in celebration as you walk with him.

This is good news…you can do it! But the irony is you can because you’ve finally realized you can’t.

I mentioned AA in my last post. It would be good to read their 12 steps no matter what your situation.

http://www.aa.org/en_pdfs/smf-121_en.pdf

Why our resolutions fall flat Part 2

My resolutions rise and fall on my resolve

It’s easy for me to get excited about a good idea. I can start initiatives, hobbies, and new ventures with the best of them. But my enthusiasm can only carry me so far. You can read a plethera of articles explaining both the science and speculation of why our resolutions crash and burn but today my blue collar logic says it has everything to do with support or the lack thereof. 

I’m talking abut two types of support in particular:
– We don’t have a stragey to support our desire to change. 
– We don’t have a person or a people that supports us emotionally.     

These are synergistic. Both are equally important and yet the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This is something Weight Watchers, CrossFit, and AA understands. There is structure and community. There is a plan to follow and a people to journey with. Multiple levels of change happen. 

But in the church, the place were we should experience a divinely inspired plan and the deepest of community, there often isn’t. That isn’t a slam on the church, only what I’ve come to observe after 50+ years of experience with it. Whether it’s because we’re unknown in our congregation, we’re afraid of being judged or rejected, or there isn’t a climate of openness, we shrink back from the risk of being authentic. And thus starts the cycle of, “I really mean it this time. I’ll try harder. I’ll do better.” You know where that leads because the truth still is: My enthusiasm can only carry me so far.  

Without the structural support of a plan and the emotional support of fellow participants we will not reach the place we dream of. 

“But my people live hundreds of miles apart.”

I hear you. Relationships are difficult in our mobile society. My children and I live in three different parts of the country in different time zones and have extremely different schedules. I get that you may be physically far away from the handful of people you love and trust. 

The good news is that the technology of our day is miraculous and can be harnessed for a greater purpose than posting pictures of what we had for dinner. So I invite you to consider how to go beyond enthusiasm and trying harder. Let the possibilities stew, simmer, marinate, or insert your other favorite cooking metaphor.

Happy New Year!

I’ve waited three weeks to write my New Year’s blog. 
I’ve waited on purpose. 
I’ve waited until this strategic week. 

Why this week?

This is when researchers say a third of the people who made resolutions fail. That’s right, one third of the people who made a resolution by New Year’s Eve don’t make it to the end of January. And furthermore, by this time next year only 12% will have reached their goals. 

Why is that? 
Well, you can read the experts theories online but I will attempt to respond to that question in my next three posts.

Today – Why our resolutions fall flat #1: They are often too small.

The list below may look familiar. They show up almost every year in some form or fashion for Christians and church-goers. 
– Read through the Bible this year
– Have a daily quiet time 
– Start using my gifts 
– Share your faith with someone at least once a week

Who could be against any of those? Me. And you should be too.

For we who have been made in the image of God…the ‘God who does far more than we can ask and imagine,’ small dreams, small hopes, small goals just don’t cut it. And over time we can be lulled into thinking that they do cut it.

By and large people don’t keep their resolutions not because they’re too big, but because they are too small.  

Now look at this list:
– Fall so in love with scripture that I’m drawn to it daily
– Practice the presence of God throughout the day
– Serve passionately when I encounter need
– Learn to join in the conversations the Holy Spirit is already having with the people around you

Which list stirs your heart and pulls you forward into a new year? I bet the second one does. This whole conversation reminds me of what Antoine de Saint-Exupery said, “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”

We have broken down following Jesus into managing resources and assigning tasks and forgotten that he calls us to the immensity of life in Him.

So dig out that list of resolutions, goals, or dreams for 2014. Look it over and ask, “Are these big enough?” And just so you know I’m applying this to my life too, I will share my big goal with you. In 2014 I will start my Spiritual Direction practice. In fact, thanks to some friends much work has already taken place and we will be transitioning this blog over to a new site. The new site will also provide information about spiritual direction and scheduling appointments via Skype, FaceTime or in person.