Love Your Enemy. - Wednesday Silent Prayer & Meditation

Wednesday mornings we're inviting people to meet with us at Taborspace in SE Portland at 7am, but we're also welcoming individuals to take part remotely. Tuesday evenings the plans for Wednesday mornings will be posted here. We believe that life is better together, however we can make that happen. Please consider making this a regular part of your weekly practice.

We know that it is tough to find communities centered on Contemplative Christianity and hope this serves as a support for individuals who don't feel like they fit inside or outside of the church, but still haven't given up their seeking and knocking.

 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

S A C R E D  R E A D I N G

R E A D - Without bias, assumption, or expectation; fully and simply listen, with your mind and heart; read through the passage at least twice
R E F L E C TIs there a phrase, word, or impression that stands out to you? (Refrain from overanalyzing; keep it simple)
R E S P O N DAllow God’s inspiration to emerge as a brief prayer, even just one word (Again, keeping it simple, remaining centered on Christ rather than on your communication to Him)
R E S T - Simply be with God. Spend a few minutes practicing being as present to God as God is to you. Silently. Humbly. Lovingly.

 

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and send rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
– Jesus, Matthew 5.43-48

 

H O M I L Y

How often do we allow our subconscious to turn our acts of kindness into acts of contracts? Where we expect kindness for kindness? It could be in the car, when we wait for another person and they don’t wave. It could be in our homes, when we do chores and don’t receive the reception we had expected. It could be in our faith, when we give what we believe is asked of us and don’t receive the fulfillment we imagined. Jesus points out that we’re missing the point: Love. Love is the point; not reward or punishment, not even balance, but Love. Where these “acts of contracts” feel broken, we can find ourselves out of Love, and out of union with Christ. May we learn to love our friends, neighbors, enemies, and everyone in-between today as we also seek to love God with our whole hearts, souls, minds, bodies, and strengths.

 

S I L E N T  P R A Y E R

Make space for your mind to slow and be still. If thoughts grab for your attention, use a passage, prayer, phrase, or word to bring a focus and allow those distractions to pass without passing judgement on them or yourself. This time of “effortlessness,” which can feel like requires a lot of effort, is an act of trust in God that is engaging our whole heart, soul, mind, body, and strength. Simply aim to be as present to God as God is present to you and trust that that is more than enough.

When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. … And when you pray, do not keep on babbling …
– Jesus, Matthew 6:6-8

Pray without ceasing.
– 1 Thessalonians 5:17

 

T W E N T Y  M I N U T E S
O F  S I L E N T  P R A Y E R

 

C L O S I N G  P R A Y E R

Oh my God,
I want to love You;
Not that I might gain eternal heaven,
Nor escape eternal hell, but Lord,
To love You just because
You are my God.
Grant me to give to You
And not to count the cost;
To fight for You
And not to mind the wounds;
To labor and expect nothing in return,
Except for the knowledge that I serve my God.
– St Ignatius of Loyola

The Sanctuary at Mt Tabor Presbyterian Church and Taborspace, where we meet on Wednesday Mornings.

The Sanctuary at Mt Tabor Presbyterian Church and Taborspace, where we meet on Wednesday Mornings.

April 19th - Wednesday Morning's Silent Prayer & Meditation

Wednesday mornings we're inviting people to meet with us at Taborspace in SE Portland at 7am, but we're also welcoming individuals to take part remotely. Tuesday evenings the plans for Wednesday mornings will be posted here. We believe that life is better together, however we can make that happen. Please consider making this a regular part of your weekly practice.

We know that it is tough to find communities centered on Contemplative Christianity and hope this serves as a support for individuals who don't feel like they fit inside or outside of the church, but still haven't given up their asking, seeking, and knocking. Let's ask, seek, and knock together.

 

S A C R E D  R E A D I N G

R E A D - Without bias, assumption, or expectation; fully and simply listen, with your mind and heart; read through the passage at least twice
R E F L E C T - Is there a phrase, word, or impression that stands out to you? (Refrain from overanalyzing; keep it simple)
R E S P O N D - Allow God’s inspiration to emerge as a brief prayer, even just one word (Again, keeping it simple, remaining centered on Christ rather than on your communication to Him)
R E S T - Simply be with God. Spend a few minutes practicing being as present to God as God is to you. Silently. Humbly. Lovingly.

My prayer is not for [the disciples] alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
– Jesus, John 17.20-23

 

H O M I L Y

When we add up all of our unanswered prayers, how does it affect our faith or opinion of God? For many, it is reason enough to walk away from the faith and discount Christ. When we consider Christ’s only recorded prayer for the future body of believers, being for full unity, and how it has gone unanswered, how does that inform our opinion of prayer? While prayer might be about more than call and response, requests and answers, perhaps we could make today about answering Christ’s prayer rather than looking for answers to our own prayers. May we be One just as He and the Father are One.

 

S I L E N T  P R A Y E R

Make space for your mind to slow and be still. If thoughts grab for your attention, use a passage, prayer, phrase, or word to bring a focus and allow those distractions to pass without passing judgement on them or yourself. This time of “effortlessness,” which can feel like requires a lot of effort, is an act of trust in God that is engaging our whole heart, soul, mind, body, and strength. Simply aim to be as present to God as God is present to you and trust that that is more than enough.

When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. … And when you pray, do not keep on babbling …
– Jesus, Matthew 6:6-8

Pray without ceasing.
– 1 Thessalonians 5:17

 

T W E N T Y  M I N U T E S  O F  S I L E N C E

 

C L O S I N G  P R A Y E R

Oh my God,
I want to love You;
Not that I might gain eternal heaven,
Nor escape eternal hell, but Lord,
To love You just because
You are my God.
Grant me to give to You
And not to count the cost;
To fight for You
And not to mind the wounds;
To labor and expect nothing in return,
Except for the knowledge that I serve my God.

St Ignatius of Loyola

Wednesday Morning Silent Prayer & Meditation

Wednesday mornings we're inviting people to meet with us at Taborspace in SE Portland at 7am, but we're also welcoming individuals to take part remotely. Tuesday evenings, the plans for Wednesday mornings will be posted here. We believe that life is better together, however we can make that happen. Please consider making this a regular part of your weekly practice.

We know that it is tough to find communities centered on Contemplative Christianity and hope this serves as a support for individuals who don't feel like they fit inside or outside of the church, but still haven't given up their seeking and knocking.

 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

S A C R E D  R E A D I N G

R E A D - Without bias, assumption, or expectation; fully and simply listen, with your mind and heart; read through the passage at least twice

R E F L E C T - Is there a phrase, word, or impression that stands out to you? (Refrain from overanalyzing; keep it simple)

R E S P O N D - Allow God’s inspiration to emerge as a brief prayer, even just one word (Again, keeping it simple, remaining centered on Christ rather than on your communication to Him)

R E S T - Simply be with God. Spend a few minutes practicing being as present to God as God is to you. Silently. Humbly. Lovingly.

When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.
– Jesus, Matthew 13.19-23

H O M I L Y

In this parable, Jesus characterizes God’s wild behavior of giving. There seems to be very little concern for where the seed is thrown, as well as, little judgement for the quality or condition of the soil. God is humble and generous. But who are we? Are we receptive? Or are we stuck in confusion, given to shallowness, or submitted to worry?

What kind of soil do you find in your heart today? What steps can you take toward being tender and receptive?

Sow righteousness for yourselves,
    reap the fruit of unfailing love,
and break up your unplowed ground;
    for it is time to seek the Lord,
until he comes
    and showers his righteousness on you.
– Hosea 10.12

S I L E N T  P R A Y E R

Take 20 minutes to sit attentively in silence. Make space for your mind to slow and be still. If thoughts grab for your attention, use a passage, prayer, phrase, or word to bring a focus and allow those distractions to pass without passing judgement on them or yourself. This time of “effortlessness,” which can feel like requires a lot of effort, is an act of trust in God that is engaging our whole heart, soul, mind, body, and strength. Simply aim to be as present to God as God is present to you and trust that that is more than enough.

When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. … And when you pray, do not keep on babbling …
– Jesus, Matthew 6:6-8

Pray without ceasing.
– 1 Thessalonians 5:17

C L O S I N G  P R A Y E R

Oh my God,
I want to love You;
Not that I might gain eternal heaven,
Nor escape eternal hell, but Lord,
To love You just because
You are my God.
Grant me to give to You
And not to count the cost;
To fight for You
And not to mind the wounds;
To labor and expect nothing in return,
Except for the knowledge that I serve my God.
– St Ignatius of Loyola

Seeking Balance in the Christian Pendulum

By love may God be gotten and holden, by thought never.
– The Cloud of Unknowing

There really is no more central a concept or message to Christianity than Love. So much so that Scripture finally culminates with the revelation in 1 John 4.16, “God is Love.” But today, the word “love” has become almost void of real meaning from so many various levels of meaning being pushed into it. Love is romance. Love is desire. Love is an emotional impulse. Love is an obligatory term for family. Love is brief excitement. Love is nostalgia. Love is sex. Love is fascination. Love is obsession. And so on.

‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.
– Jesus, Matthew 22.37-40

For the past few months, this simplification of faith given by Jesus has been on my mind a lot.

For the majority of my life until my mid-twenties, I had known a Christianity that identified far more with the “Love God Commandment.” We often looked down on people who we deemed as not loving God or not loving the real God or not loving God the right way. It was a clear-cut, somewhat comfortable faith, but ultimately very pious and Pharisaical way of living.

The eventual crisis point of that side of Christianity came as a result of paying little attention to Jesus’ connecting the Love God Commandment to the Love Neighbors Commandment when he says that the second is like the first. The Greek word that we’ve translated to “like” is Homoios, which means: like, similar to, resembling, of equal rank. Christianity has also largely ignored the third Love in these two commandments: as yourself. It is a compass for how to love neighbors which is like loving God.

When we love God without loving our neighbors or ourselves, we worship an idea of God that is incorrect and doomed.

Concepts create idols of God, whom only wonder and awe can teach us anything.
– Gregory of Nyssa, 6th century

I remember thinking years ago, “If my faith leads to less relationship in my life, it’s wrong.” Not because faith is a popularity contest, but because I should be loving my neighbors/enemies/friends/family more, rather than creating distance.

Now, since my mid-twenties (a decade ago), I’ve found myself swinging to the other side of the Christian pendulum, knowing a Christianity that identifies far more with the Love Neighbors Commandment. It is so needed and important and has brought much healing and depth into my life. If I am honest though, I still find a lacking.

There is a lack of sincere love for God on the other side of the pendulum. I realize it has largely to do with the bad taste in our mouths from the pious side of the pendulum, but the crisis point of this side of Christianity is that we end up using Christ’s Love Neighbor Commandment as a way to make us feel better about ourselves. We subconsciously distort loving our neighbor as ourselves (divine unity) into loving our neighbor for ourselves (objectification). It makes us feel better than the other side of the pendulum, which has hurt us. It makes us feel loved, appreciated, and valued by others. It makes us feel relevant in a time when Christianity seems far from it. We often attempt the appearance of love with the ambition of being admired.

That doesn’t only apply to Christians, it is a human condition. We want to be loving and accepting so that we will be loved and accepted, but we inadvertently allow our identities to dissolve. We grow a mile wide and an inch deep. We lack character, personal identity, and the magnificent depths of True Love. Nearly everyone is doing it without knowing or acknowledging it (even the other side of the pendulum, only in a theological manner). But as followers of Jesus, who modeled True faith, hope, and Love, which resulted in his unpopularity and murder, we need to pay more attention to our Teacher.

The importance of loving God with our whole hearts, our whole souls, and our whole minds is that it frees us from a self-centered distortion of true Love. It delivers us from worshiping an idealized version of ourselves or our lives and centers us on Love/Christ, in all and through all. Living in Love, in all and through all, allows us to see life as it really is rather than clamoring for how we’d like or expect to see it. When we lose sight of this, we begin acting out of an idea of who we could or should be and stop living in the freedom of who we are.

We need to wholly love God, our neighbors, and ourselves, not merely because it is a commandment, but because of the reason it is a commandment: it is good for us. If God is Love and we are all created in the image of God, then we are Love. So wherever we leave love out of the equation in our lives (ourselves, our neighbors, our enemies, or God), we leave a part of ourselves out of the equation. We divide and contradict our very selves, creating damage and brokenness.

Jesus points us to wholeness, that we may have life and life more abundantly, for his yoke is easy and his burden is light. Learning to follow Jesus in fully loving God, our neighbors, and ourselves is not easy, but once we get over mental and emotional conditions, fully loving God, our neighbors, and ourselves is easy. There is nothing more natural. Every moment of every day, I sincerely want and seek to remind myself of this revelation of Reality.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.
– Jesus, Matthew 22.37-40

church < Church: Homosexuality, Church, and Contemplative Christianity

Over the last few months, I’ve had some of the most encouraging conversations with Pastors and Christians that I thought I’d never have regarding Christianity and Homosexuality. To be fair, I’ve had some discouraging and even hurtful conversations too, but they’re hardly worth much attention. The vast majority of response I’ve received has been surprisingly encouraging and warm, and many have come from pastors through private messages.

I am noticing a growth and deepening of understanding happening in the hearts and relationships of people all ages in churches. I’ve had conversations with elders who have grown up in Foursquare and aren’t leaving it, but also aren’t compromising this emerging understanding about homosexuality and the church. There is also strong movement among younger people that is especially encouraging.

Last month, I was speaking with two really wonderful students at L.I.F.E. Pacific College who expressed such tender and open hearts to the LGBTQ community that they’re seeing being rejected in many churches and theologies. As they study Scripture and allow their hearts and relationship with Christ to grow, they’re uncovering a theme of love, acceptance, and grace that transcends limited contextual understandings and the idolatry of morality, Scripture, and culture.

Sadly, there are few people supporting these younger people as they navigate these callings in their lives though. Very few "elders" are stepping up to have this conversation with them or, even more importantly, just simply listen. There is only an uncomfortable and unproductive silence.

As I continue to see the conversation of Homosexuality and Christianity move forward within the church, I am encouraged. I am realizing I am far from being alone! I’m brokenhearted by the representation of Jesus presented by so many theologies, but I am encouraged by the revelation of Jesus’ love and presence emerging within the Church.

Lisa Ann recently attended the Gay Christian Network Convention in Philadelphia and texted me about how she was touch by the amount of tears and grief due to the damage done to people’s lives using the name of Jesus. Perhaps it’s more in the name of Scripture, but what it has done is created a belief of distance between God and people, which God has fought hard to bridge and close, and continues to fight hard to close. I want to be a part of closing it.

How terrible for you, teachers of the law and Pharisees! You are hypocrites! You close the door for people to enter the kingdom of heaven. You yourselves don’t enter, and you stop others who are trying to enter.
– Jesus, Matthew 23:13

We have to stop pretending we’re in the business of deciding or judging who is in or out of the kingdom/presence of heaven and start focusing more on being transformed by living in the kingdom/presence of heaven ourselves. And let’s be welcoming. 

I’ve had pastors ask me why I am taking this personal process or dialogue so publicly and my reasoning is this: churches have been and are damaging lives and souls under the guise of Jesus’ Name and it should be challenged, lovingly. I don’t believe anyone is being villainous. In fact, almost everyone I’ve dialogued with has been extremely sincere. But, while churches (myself included) are busy discussing and debating, people are being rejected and marginalized and given the impression that it is an expression of who Jesus is. We have to find a more loving way to process our faith and theology.

A distinction I’d like to make is between the small “c” church or churches and the capitol “C” Church. The Church isn’t “church.” It isn’t an organization or institution. It is the Body of Christ, alive and well; operating everywhere, at all times, and in all things. It can’t be captured, monopolized, or manufactured. The purpose of churches should not be to multiply churches, but to simplify all of life to a conscious participation with the Church, the Body of Christ, living in unison with the heart of God. That is much larger than a contemporary Sunday morning tradition. The purpose of going to church is to gather together with others around this belief, with an emphasis on practicing and waking up to this reality more and more outside of church. 

Someone told Jesus, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
– Matthew 12.47/48

“Churches” come and go and that’s okay, likely even good. But the Church is here, transforming the world, and affecting people’s lives every single day, all around the globe: giving love, patience, kindness, humility, gentleness, fearlessness, and endurance through all things for God and each other.

For my many friends who do not feel at home inside or outside of churches, if your or any church does not welcome you, don’t be disheartened as if God or the Church rejects you. It doesn’t. You’re in it. You’re a part of it. It needs you. And, if I can be so ridiculously bold to say this, you need it. I know I do. But we can be freed from believing that God sees the Church as something incorporated or over-organized and move forward in discovering what it really is; who we really are.

I Want To Introduce You To Lisa Ann

I N T R O D U C T I O N

Lisa Ann and I worked together years ago. At that time, her contemplative spirit was of substantial importance to me. We only worked together for a short time, but stayed in touch periodically over the next couple years. Few people have the capacity and humility to listen with such receptivity that you can almost hear the echo of your own words, you can hear what you sound like while you speak; Lisa Ann has this rare gift. When she and I talk, I hear myself more clearly. Sometimes, I speak with greater confidence and clarity, other times I don’t like what I hear and it helps me refocus, but in either case, she listens with an open and loving heart. It is an amazing example of Christ in my life that provides a Light for me in my journey.

A number of months ago, Lisa Ann came to meet me at where I work. She seemed heavy hearted and discouraged. In a few minutes of conversation, she explained how after years of internal conflict, deep spiritual work, prayer, and counseling, she’d finally come to terms with the reality that she is a lesbian. This was not easy for her, after a lifetime of unquestioned loyalty to her church’s theological understanding and the underpinning fear this created in her life. But as she sincerely sought to love God with all heart heart, all her soul, all her mind, and all her strength, she discovered that there was a part of herself that she believed was to be left out of the equation of “all.”

Today, Lisa Ann is exploring how to love God, her neighbor, and herself with her all; aiming to leave nothing in the dark so that she can love more fully, the way Jesus instructed. I have a hard time imagining a more fitting example of a disciple of Jesus. She is following Christ in way that has cost her friendships and community on both sides of the spectrum, cost her comfort and security, and cost her the life she’s known. She is picking up her cross and following Jesus in a way that I and most Christians may never fully grasp or experience.

We need to be and live honestly, openly, vulnerably, and fearlessly with each other. Lisa Ann is modeling this for me. I am so grateful for her kindness in allowing me and my family to accompany her in this remarkably painful and beautiful journey. She is now a part of A Modern Monastery and I’d like to continue this long article with my interviewing her, so that her gift of honesty, vulnerability, and courage can be better shared and communicated.

 

I N T E R V I E W

What has been one of the greatest challenges/obstacles to your coming out?

For me, this journey of coming out, has been more about honesty and identity than it has been about anything else. Often, when we reach the place of sincerity with who we really are, we will most likely find ourselves being in what Saint John of the Cross stated so well, ‘A Dark Night of the Soul’ -- a season of darkness, discomfort, and brokenness. Regardless if we are heterosexual, bi-sexual, trans-sexual, or wherever we would find ourselves on that particular spectrum,  we’re always facing our human condition, our true and false self.  Being willing to be honest with that reality, opens us up to a genuine work of grace, though often in the face of deep pain and vulnerability.

I think for me, my greatest challenge was knowing the impact this admission would have on my immediate family (husband and son who have been extraordinary as we’ve journeyed together in this) as well as my vocation. Adjusting to the shift in relationship and behavior from many whom I adored, who had influenced me greatly, whom I respected and loved over the years that view my sexual orientation as a sin, has been an experience in grief as well.

My coming out after 19 years of marriage and a lifetime of contemporary church ministry, wasn’t because of an affair or any action, it was simply me facing and accepting this aspect of myself that I had always known, yet in the shadows of fear and my own conservative theology, was difficult for me to voice.

Yet, if I were to continue to be honest with this question of what my greatest challenge has been, I think it has been in the last months realizing that I didn’t have to live with the shame that I did for so long, and realizing that so many still do.  

How has this unveiling of who you are been a gift to your faith?

This past summer, I sat with some people and told them of what I had been facing the past few years regarding being a lesbian and how I had been holding that to the light and about the efforts I had made to try to fix this part of me via therapy, prayer, and other means. After sharing about my journey in this, and how I had finally come to the place of acceptance to this part of myself, one dear soul, (who is a very lovely and faith-filled man) asked me: “So, you can honestly sit here in front of me and tell me that you’re okay with your relationship with God?” With much emotion, my response was something like, “Oh yes...I’m more okay than I have ever been.”

There is this beautiful scripture, that has had its work in me like those little yeasts, having their work in a big lump of dough:  

But everything exposed by the Light becomes visible, for everything that is illuminated becomes light itself.
– Ephesians 5:13

Most of my adult life I worked in the non-profit or ‘missions’ sector that lead me to over 40 countries, never really staying in one place for very long. In 2009 my family and I had moved back to the states and started to settle. What I had discovered after a few years of being settled was that much of my life, I was running from my inner-landscape and from things becoming visible. Though I was being formed, and spiritually growing, this aspect of identity acceptance and allowing the Light to expose, was the real work that I often distanced myself from. Now, I had moments of confession regarding being gay, trying to share this part of me during that time-span, but shame was strong...and shame, is never helpful, regardless if you would deem what you or another is going through as sin, or not: Shame has no place in the presence of Christ and confession. Shame is what He came to heal.   

I would be amiss to not express my gratitude for those who have supported, accepted, listened, and loved me on this journey. I don’t know what I would have done without such friendships; though small in number, so extravagantly huge in presence. I remember one day in particular I was texting Shawna and Josh and told them that I was having a hard time getting out of bed....again, and they replied: “So, you’re human?!” It was a faithful reminder that we are pilgrims on a tough journey, much of the time.

In my first year of seminary, I was enrolled in a course named Shame & Grace. For 16 weeks my assignment was to look at my historical shame patterns. Good times! This required and allowed me space to gaze into aspects of myself, that would later lead me to a greater understanding of what is just truly human: We all have things we hide.

We all have parts about ourselves we find difficult to accept. We all have identity-crisis’ that make us question if we are truly loved, loveable, or can ever live free. We have intimate aspects of our nature that we work so hard to keep hidden from those around us, masking the way we present ourselves to the world. Yet in time, if we can stop running there will be illumination; our biggest secrets, our largest fears, insecurities, avoidances, and pain...can then actually become a beacon of hope. “...for everything that is illuminated, becomes light itself.”  

How would you describe where you are at in your journey today? 

So, there’s this common story...it’s when Moses lead the Israelites out of oppression and slavery by Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Lots of sensational events took place, in order for this deliverance to occur: frogs, death, and stuff. Yet after all of this, after such a radical delivery, after being released from underneath the weight of identity oppression...there they all were, in the wilderness. I am in the wilderness right now.  

At times I can intimately relate with the people in this story who requested to go back to the hand of Pharaoh, because they thought that might be easier than what they were experiencing in the unknown insecurity of wilderness. At least there, even though under oppression, there was some predictability, at least there was familiarity, at least there was ____…

At times I can relate with those who said, “screw this ‘God being with us’, thing...I’m just going to make myself a little golden calf so I can have some comfort.”

At times I can relate with the reminiscent who longed for when their bellies had their fill stating, “...you delivered us into the wilderness to kill us with hunger.”

But then, there are these times where I see this cloud by day and I feel the fire at night and I trust He’s guiding me. There are times I gather up what has been provided for me, just enough for that moment, and I gain strength. And there are even times that I’m a wee bit hopeful that I will see green grass on the horizon. But, there is wilderness first before the promised land.

There is cost to being known. Truly nurturing our authenticity can be disorienting and feel like wandering at first, because many of those false parts and shadows we hid in for so long soon dissipate with truth. So today when I look around while stumbling, trying to get my footing, trying to lean on or hide in a little shame here or a bit of falsity there and see there’s nothing to grasp onto anymore...I am reminded that He has made me free.

Thank you, Lisa Ann. Shawna, Ellis, and I are so grateful for you, your ministry, and especially your companionship in our lives.

It is for freedom that Christ has set you free.
– Galatians 5.1

Lisa Ann and I hope that our conversation will prompt more open, honest, vulnerable, and fearless conversations in our friends’ homes, relationships, churches, the Foursquare denomination, culture, and also in hearts and prayers. If you’re interested in engaging with us, we’d love to know: Where are you in your own journey? How do you know God’s embrace today? Please feel free to comment or email us at conversations@amodernmonastery.com

Faith Without Borders

Yesterday, I happened to have a phone call with someone who is a bookkeeper for a very large company. He has a lot on his plate, including a staff he oversees and the impending tax season, not to minimize his also having a life and family outside of work. When I asked him how he was doing, his answer sounded slightly worn down, which was understandable.

I asked if everything was alright and he mentioned everything I just described, but then added that he has a retired friend who periodically stops by his office and inflicts a political discussion on him, which never goes well. The emotional toll of these conversations alters his day and he later called him to say that they couldn’t repeat these meetings any longer at work.

His worn out response to this interaction is a perfect picture of what I am seeing around me and feeling inside of myself. We are worn out, on all sides of the equations. It’s not my goal to communicate any political opinion or solutions. What I am seeking in my own life and hope to share in this ambiguous online community is a faith that transcends, embraces, and transforms circumstances.

I am not advocating becoming numb to circumstantial realities, but I am reaching to mentally and spiritually live with a breadth of faith, hope, and love that not only embraces our current plight, but also has the capability of vision to see beyond it and then think and live accordingly. I want to have a faith that informs my view and response to the array of life’s circumstance, rather than a reactionary mindset leaving me tossed and blown about by the wind of circumstances.

Jesus’ words and life exemplified this transcendent existence and Scripture expounds on it:

My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
– John 14.27

Finally, believers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable and worthy of respect, whatever is right and confirmed by God’s word, whatever is pure and wholesome, whatever is lovely and brings peace, whatever is admirable and of good repute; if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think continually on these things [center your mind on them, and implant them in your heart].
– Philippians 4.8 (Amplified Bible Translation)

Those passages evoke a faith that challenges how we allow our minds to wander. Do we allow circumstances and subconscious impulses to direct the wandering direction of our minds? As life comes at us, do we leave our understanding and perspective unquestioned while our fear and imagination run wild with our thoughts? Or, do we face our circumstances with a belief and understanding bigger than them, informing how we progress forward? What I’m asking is: do we take an active role in how our thoughts are directed and our minds, and so lives, are shaped?

I believe that God desires us to live fuller lives than as slaves to circumstance. As faith draws me beyond the borders of my vision in circumstance, it also draws me beyond my vision of others. Jesus always erased and dissolved borders; He reached beyond them and crossed over them, whether they be social or circumstantial. I honestly long to be a part of a community that lives this same way. I believe we’re closer than we ever have been, but we still have a long way to go.

How do we live in Christ/Love so deeply that what we’re experiencing or who we're around doesn’t define it, but rather, presents opportunities for us to express and experience it in new ways? I believe applying the practice described in Philippians 4.8 (above) to not only circumstances, but also to every single person we meet and our own selves is key.

Whatever is true, honorable, respectable, right, confirmed in Jesus/God’s Word, pure, wholesome, lovely, brings peace, admirable, of good repute in anything, anyone, and yourself, fix your mind on it. If there is any excellence, or anything worth praise, keep your heart and attention centered on it. This type of living requires intentional searching, seeking, knocking, and asking. Not waiting for these things to magically reveal themselves to us, but consciously choosing to have eyes that see it. Always.

When we increasingly become people who do this, the division between ourselves and others will be blurred, as will the division between us and our desired circumstances, because there is always, always, always something true, honorable, respectable, right, confirmed in Jesus/God’s Word, pure, wholesome, lovely, bringing peace, admirable, or of good repute, in all and through all.

She sees that her gain is good; Her lamp does not go out, but it burns continually through the night [she is prepared for whatever lies ahead].
– Proverbs 31:18

A Moment to Unwind

At the end of November Josh wrote a profound reflection on the beauty of the why and how it shapes our lives. He drew our attention to what this simple word can uncover, how asking why can be a very active part of love, and he helped us understand how clarity and centeredness may often find us in its presence. Not only is the why alone powerful, but many questions we ask ourselves, God, or one another can lead us toward such great wisdom, compassion, and relationship.

This week I’ve been trying to set aside time to just simply unwind from what this last year has given, and in some cases, taken away. Soon I may write more about some of these personal experiences, but today…I unwind. And as I take some deep breathes in and then slowly empty my lungs from all they’ve been holding, I’m accepting that there is still so much transition ahead. Not just personal change but also on many local and global levels of community and world. So, instead of jotting down different resolutions and goals, I find myself more curious about who I will choose to be and behave in this year ahead:

What kind of person am I going to be?
What kind of spirit will I exude?
How will I treat and respond to myself and others?

After writing down some of these questions and more, I found myself doodling all over my journal page: “…and why?”

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In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said some pretty crazy and difficult things, like don’t be mean to people and stuff. He filled chapters with words like that and with concepts such as: meek and grieving people were blessed. I mean that’s crazy talk, or at the very least it defies some of my cultural or imbedded religious beliefs about what “blessed” looks like. Why did Jesus teach and live such a message, such a gospel? 

I ask this slightly rhetorically, as there are most likely more ideas and thoughts as to why than I could ever cover here. But I will mention just one, one reason why Jesus may have taught us ways such as these and invited us to journey on a path such as the one He walked when with us: Because it’s the best thing for us. It literally is.

All of these things we are told to do like forgive, not hate, not wound, love, go the extra mile…are all said from a Divine Christ that has only our best interests in mind and the very best intentions for us. Not just the recipient, but the one who chooses to forgive, the stranger who doesn’t hate, the friend who doesn’t wound, the ostracized who loves instead, the leader who goes the extra mile. 

I don’t want to end one year more hardened than the year previous, but pain and division can form hard and crusted walls over our hearts. I don’t want to manifest a message of hate, offense and intolerance, but how do I not do that? Jesus showed me how.

So as we approach the next season on this earth ball, where it begins yet another orbital revolution around the sun, if there is any aspect of what lies ahead that may bring trepidation or unrest, perhaps…there is someone to forgive. Perhaps there is a new person to love. Perhaps going the extra mile will be our road to healing.

Why.

One thing that remains consistent through the various ups and downs I experience in life has been “why.” Why am I doing what I am doing; why am I thinking the way I’m thinking; why am I living the way I’m living? Before what or how or even when, I am trying to learn the practice of consistently returning to why.

The why informs what and how I do and when I do it.  Of course, this is something that comes up at home every day.

  • FOR EXAMPLE: Why am I running in circles around my house chasing a two-year-old while making whale noises and speaking in childish sentences? Because Ellis is worth it and I love him. Also, Shawna is worth supporting, deserving of being supported, and I love and admire her a lot. If I’m not firmly rooted in the conviction of that why, I quickly burn out and implode.

Another obvious area where why comes up daily is at work. Work is where it is easiest for me to get caught up in the whats: What am I doing? What are the needs? What are the answers? What are the steps toward solution? And so on. I like big whats and I cannot lie. … (gotta meet my dad-joke quota) … The abundance and opportunity of whats can make life exciting and interesting and instill a feeling of importance, but when they are not centered on why, the result is a self-centered mess that often tramples all over the most important whys in my life.

Ultimately, when the details of whats eclipse my why, then my how becomes distorted and compromised.

A good person produces good from the good treasury of the inner self, while an evil person produces evil from the evil treasury of the inner self. The inner self overflows with words that are spoken.
– Jesus, Luke 6:45

How I do life, faith, family, and work can quickly turn into methods of the lowest common denominator when my attention is more on what I’ve got to do now, next, and tomorrow rather than why. How keeps me awake at night and wakes me up early. When I’m absorbed in what I’m doing (or in how tired I am from what I’ve been doing all day), how I do things becomes reduced to expedience or convenience. How can I get something off my plate as quickly as possible? With that motivation I’ll easily cut corners, lie, or even just brush things under the rug and ignore them for as long as I can because my focus is on what I am doing rather than why.

Another way of looking at the why in my life is to realize it is my motivation. When I ask myself, "Why am I doing this?" an honest answer will reveal my motivation behind the behavior. Orientating my attention onto the why that is motivating me beneath the surface is incredibly revealing and purgative. When I stop to ask myself why I am doing something or behaving a certain way, it’s often that the answer surprises me.

For instance, years ago, I discovered that I predominately used anxiety as my why; my motivation. If I had a deadline (whether for a project or a birthday gift), I would always wait until the last minute because then I had found my motivation for why it needed to get done: IT’S DUE TOMORROW! Before that point, I was far less motivated because, when my answer to why is that it has to be done it doesn’t motivate me, knowing it doesn't have to been right now, yet.

When I observed this about myself, what struck me was noticing the absence of love. I had thought of myself as a loving person, but this perspective had shown me that I was a far more anxious than loving. At first, I had no idea how to comprehend being motivated by love, but I saw how, without Love as a motivation, there is no true understanding God or the purpose of life. How could I understand the motivation of Divine Love if all I had really known was the motivation of anxiety?

Seeing that Jesus was not motivated by anxiety but by Love, it opens my understanding of his instruction, “I tell you, do not worry. Don’t worry about your life…” Worry or fear would have brought reluctance to the cross, but there was no sign of that, there was a motivation of Love, expressed by full acceptance and forgiveness.

Of course, the cross is an extreme example, but it is the ultimate reality of our Teacher and can be brought into normal circumstances all day, every day. Why am I doing what I am doing; why am I thinking the way I’m thinking; why am I living the way I’m living? I have to ask myself those questions repeatedly, constantly, to help cultivate a conscious response of Love, so that I can live the fullest life possible. I don’t want to waste my time being motivated by tasks, responsibilities, or opinions. I want my why to be Love, always.

You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.
– Jesus, Matthew 22.37-40

Homosexuality, Christianity, and the Bible: Moving the Conversation Forward pt2

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After a few weeks and two posts on the matter of homosexuality and Christianity, I’m still having a hard time moving my mind and heart away from it. The continuous responses I’m receiving and conversations its started has kept me wanting to move the conversation forward. Most interactions have been warm and encouraging, for which I am very grateful. Those that have not been, still seem to end well.

The reason I find importance in talking about homosexuality and Christianity is because I am seeing the absence of this conversation cause a lot of damage, on both sides. It is not helping churches to be unclear on whether or not there are limits to their level of acceptance (most might welcome a gay person, but where service and ministry are concerned, it becomes complicated). It is also not helping everyone outside of churches to feel the awkward ambiguity, especially as it relates to being an expression and impression of Jesus.

I have had a number of pastors and people question me over my theology. Part of me understands these questions, while another part of me is perplexed. I am a licensed Foursquare pastor because of our radically progressive and inclusive roots. While Foursquare is now a more conservative and traditional denomination, the originator of our movement was a remarkable and somewhat reckless woman, who we affectionately refer to as Sister Amiee.

She defied many of the traditional boxes we still find in religion today. She helped us to begin seeing deeper and greater dimensions of Scripture. During her lifetime, the understanding of divorce was very one-dimensional and damning. Sister Amiee, though, had an exceptionally complex life and was divorced and remarried twice. I am thankful that her relationship with God is revered and respected because of its fruit, rather than deemed as invalid because of a moralistic theological opinion.

While Jesus never blatantly addressed homosexuality, he did directly and bluntly address remarried divorcees in Matthew 5.31/32, calling it “adultery,” which appears to be Scripturally condemned far more times and explicitly than homosexuality throughout the entire Bible. Thankfully, today the majority of Christianity understands that these statements are symbolic and meaningful, much more wonderfully than on some level of face-value legalism. Scripture always aims to lead us to these deeper levels, not mere moral behavior-control; to Relationship with God and others, rather than mere opinion about God and others.

Therefore, if you died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you subject yourself to legalistic rules? “Do not touch! Do not taste! Do not handle!” These all are to perish with use and are aligned with the commandments and doctrines of men. These things have indeed a show of wisdom in self-imposed worship and humility and neglecting of the body, but are worthless against the indulgence of the flesh.
– Colossians 2.20-23

They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.
– 1 Timothy 4.3-5

In most Christian denominations today, the seemingly clear words coming directly from our Lord about divorce and adultery, along with all the many passages addressing adultery, are understood differently. We have 6 verses regarding homosexuality and over 50 about adultery, but we thankfully aren’t preaching or saying behind closed doors that remarried divorcees need to return to their original spouses or else be rejected by God, the church, or from inheriting the kingdom of God.

So, why hasn’t our interpretation of the 50+ verses translated to the 6? Maybe it’s because we know so many remarried divorcees who are obviously in an intimate and fruitful relationship with Christ, like Sister Amiee. Maybe it’s because we can more easily identify with their heterosexual circumstances. Either way, it is revealing an inconsistency in our theology and treatment of people who are made in the image of and loved by God.

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
– Galatians 3:28

…there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.
–Colossians 3:10

I should confess and clarify, I filter everything Paul writes, and all of Scripture, through the life of Jesus Christ. Jesus stated that all of the Law and Prophets hang on loving God with our whole being and loving our neighbors as ourselves. (Quite a few people have had a knee jerk reaction to my emphasis on this passage and Love because they felt I was being sentimental. I promise you, that could not be farther from the truth. Love is patient, kind, does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs, does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth, always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love is brutally challenging and life-changing and there is no greater culmination of this reality than the cross. Sincerely trying to live that way, inside and out, on a daily basis is life’s greatest and most daring and Divine challenge. It is hardly sentimental. This is what I mean when I use the word love: "God is love,” 1 John 4.16. So, as I was saying...)

Jesus stated that all of the Law and Prophets hang on loving God with our whole being and loving our neighbors as ourselves, but there are pieces of Scripture that don't actually hang on those two commandments. Some even contradict them and, in turn, Jesus contradicts those passages; even contradicting the very words attributed to God in Leviticus 24.20 & Exodus 21.24 when He says in Matthew 21.24, "You've heard it said 'eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth.' But I say, do not resist an evil person. Love your enemy and bless those who persecute you."

It is not my goal to belittle or demean Scripture. I love the Bible, read it on a regular basis, believe in its relevance and importance, study it, seek God with and through it, wrestle with it, and allow it to guide my life. But, I filter everything I read through Jesus' life (present then and present now). Simply having a knowledge of Scripture is not what Jesus wants for or from us, neither is it what Jesus modeled. Again, I’m not wanting or trying to change or devalue Scripture, but to lift it up, open it widely, and look under, over, and through it with the lens of Christ. The words have far greater meaning than what is at face-value.

Christ is the tentpole of Scripture; the fulfillment of it and the revelation of God. If something doesn’t hang on the commandments “Love God with your whole being and love your neighbor as your very self,” then I’m not going to waste time trying to hold it up myself (though I will wrestle with it). Jesus Christ is the point of Scripture, not the other way around.

You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.
– Jesus, John 5.39/40.