Article: Sacred/Secular and loss of divine action

It seems like today’s cultural view on God has shifted mainly towards His inaction. Faith in our culture seems to have little to no transcendent quality. There is no more “mystery, transformation, and ontological encounter”. The writer’s use of baptism and the ontological reality that happens is getting lost.

Taylor’s perspective gives us both a window into the challenges we face and an explanation of why faith-formation initiatives have missed the mark. Seeing secular3 as the construct of an immanent frame allows us to see why a deeper theological construct is necessary, for the believability of divine action itself has come under question. To discuss faith in ministry, we are compelled to do so theologically, exploring how transcendence might be testified to in a secular age of unbelief.

https://www.catalystresources.org/faith-formation-in-a-secular-age/

Brene Brown on Midlife Unraveling

I felt my life start to unravel last year. Questions of life significance, my body feeling different “chronic” conditions, and feeling the depression of “is this IT?” Unraveling is a better way to describe what is happening.

Midlife is not a crisis. Midlife is an unraveling.
By definition, you can’t control or manage an unraveling. You can’t cure the midlife unraveling with control any more than the acquisitions, accomplishments, and alpha-parenting of our thirties cured our deep longing for permission to slow down and be imperfect.
Midlife is when the universe gently places her hands upon your shoulders, pulls you close, and whispers in your ear:
I’m not screwing around. All of this pretending and performing – these coping mechanisms that you’ve developed to protect yourself from feeling inadequate and getting hurt – has to go.

https://brenebrown.com/blog/2018/05/24/the-midlife-unraveling/

From Nominal Faith to Holy Obedience

Nominal Christianity.
Convenience/Consumer Christianity.

There is nothing nominal or convenient about Hebrews 4. Theme’s of trusting God, obedience, and praying in a manner that we are honest about our motives don’t give us the option to pick and choose.

Nominal/Convenience Christianity won’t allow us enough time to sit in prayer, becoming aware of our hidden agendas and motives, in the light of God’s holy presence.

Hebrews 4 is the ultimate #checkyourheart. The writer is recalling a story of when the people of Israel did not enter into the promised land because of their disobedience. It would have been a time of rest and trust in a God who called them the beloved, the apple of His eye. Instead, they turned to ideologies and beliefs which were more convenient.

Followers of Jesus are in constant dialogue with the King. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we are reminded that it’s about His Kingdom and His will. We pray about everything! For our decisions, kids, marriage, work, finances, hidden motives! Everything!

Relying on God’s work to shepherd us–to guide, feed, protect, and care for us–is to enter His rest. We go at His pace, asking for what He wants in all situations. And how liberating it is to admit that I’m limited in power, wisdom, and humility! I’m not meant to be ruler of my life.

I used to think obedience, trust, and faith were heavy tasks and so demanding. But then life kept smacking me. Failures turned into prayers of help. Seeing my limitations in full display have brought me to my knees. I need a King! I need a Savior. I need the God of Scripture who longs to guide and lead for His good purposes, which somehow end up being good for all of us.

Are you burned out? Stressed? Hiding your twisted motives? Living in constant worry and fear? Lacking direction? The Gospel (good news) is that Christ longs to shepherd us. But it requires an active trust and obedient heart. It’s okay. If you don’t have that kind of mind/heart, admit it and ask God to change you.

Unbelief as Mistrust

Hebrews 3:12,14 (The Message)So watch your step, friends. Make sure there’s no evil unbelief lying around that will trip you up and throw you off course, diverting you from the living God.If we can only keep our grip on the sure thing we started out with, we’re in this with Christ for the long haul.

Observation 1: Biblical trust is more than doing a free-fall and letting others catch you. Trust is more like a relationship you build with a local favorite restaurant. The waiter/waitress knows your order and they deliver every time. You keep going back because you feel cared for, the food is good, and the service is worth it.

Observation 2: Unbelief (mistrust) usually causes a turning away. We don’t feel safe. It feels too vulnerable to trust so we hide or turn away. There is an evil force working to create mistrust between us and the Living God. Can we confess our unbelief and how it’s caused us to turn away? It’s caused my heart to be distrusting and skeptical. And this has led to nothing good.

Observation 3: The phrase “Living God” and unbelief would go together. Living God is about a God who is active, present, and cares about us and this world. I don’t always feel or trust that. Nothing good has come from it.

Observation 4: To be in Christ means that it’s the power of Christ that is moving us towards a deeper trust, relinquishing all mistrust and unbelief. Christ is an active reality in our hearts and minds that is renewing us to have hearts of deep trust.

Can I trust that the Living God is present and actively longing to be Lord of my life? To guide, lead, and provide?

Can I confess my unbelief knowing very well that it’s led to hurt and pain?

Can I trust that I’m not missing out on anything because God is active in our lives?

Becoming through Committing

Photo by Jonathan Bowers on Unsplash

“Spiritually and morally he was searching, sincerely and even desperately, for someone or something to commit himself to; but, even as he flirted with faith and church, his restlessness and bad habits made it difficult for him to commit himself to anything in a consistent way.”

– Ronald Rolheiser, source link

The quote is leading towards a deeper truth about contemplative prayer; mainly that through this form of prayer, we are becoming more attuned to the eternal in the ordinary-everyday experience. I get this at some level in my soul. I sometimes feel restless and ask myself, “is this all there is?” It may be, but eternity is staring me in the face and I may not be aware of it…

What struck me most about Rolheiser’s quote regarding Thomas Merton is the principle that we have a need to commit ourselves to something or someone (or both), in a consistent way. It makes sense that one of the original wounds some of us struggle with is fear of commitment and abandonment. We feel stuck, isolated, afraid that “this is it”. But we don’t see how we become more of ourselves when we give our lives away to someone or something.

When Merton gave his life away to the trappist monastery, he was committing to something greater than himself. It was a commitment to pray, serve, practice solitude, and learn to live in community. Our commitments are no less. His life of contemplative prayer helped him to see the eternal in his lifelong commitment.

While I’ve given my life away to marriage, parenting, and being a chaplain, there seems to be something deeper calling me. I’m still seeking a deeper level of commitment; something that will cost me my whole life. I also recognize that my own practice of contemplative prayer is opening me up to see the deep eternal purposes in every day life and my current commitments. Eternity is present in the now to these commitments. I’m just praying for the eyes to see the depth and the ears to hear the eternal in my marriage, parenting, and those I serve. There’s more happening than I realize!

I’m also becoming more sympathetic to those who have committed themselves to a work/vocation of being engineers, sales and marketing strategists, technicians, gardeners, or artists. Many have found their calling in such endeavors. I envy them in some way. And yet, I think we need better ways to honor their calling and commitments.

Have you given your life away to something or someone? How have you experienced the eternal (the depth) of this commitment? How has it shaped you?

Understanding Contemplative Prayer

The difference between meditation and contemplation is predicated on this: In meditation we focus on icons, on God as God appears in our thoughts, imagination, and feelings. In contemplation, icons are treated as idols, and the discipline then is to sit in a seeming darkness, beneath a cloud of unknowing, to try to be face to face with a reality which is too big to grasp within our imagination. Meditation, like an icon, is something that is useful for a time, but ultimately we are all called to contemplation. As the Cloud of Unknowing puts it: “For certainly, he who seeks to have God perfectly will not take his rest in the consciousness of any angel or any saint that is in heaven.”

Ronald Rolheiser, source

I’ve been practicing contemplative prayer (off and on) for the past 10 years. What’s been unnerving is the jittery anxiety I feel during the prayer time itself. If I’m to let all thoughts and feelings ascend to God–even my loving images of who God is so that I might be present to the reality of God–then I feel totally out of control! It’s been a great way to keep surrendering to the Great Other! I see the prayer as an act of sweet surrender to all the God is…beyond the icons, constructs, or images we might have (good or ill). It’s very healing in the long run.

Barbara Holmes on the human task

“. . . As I see it, the human task is threefold. First, the human spirit must connect to the Eternal by turning toward God’s immanence and ineffability with yearning. Second, each person must explore the inner reality of his or her humanity, facing unmet potential and catastrophic failure with unmitigated honesty and grace. Finally, each one of us must face the unlovable neighbor, the enemy outside of our embrace, and the shadow skulking in the recesses of our own hearts. Only then can we declare God’s perplexing and unlikely peace on earth. These tasks require a knowledge of self and others that only comes from the centering down that Thurman advocates. It is not an escape from the din of daily life; rather, it requires full entry into the fray but on different terms. . . . Always, contemplation requires attentiveness to the Spirit of God. . . .”

Barbara Holmes

Aching for Greatness

I’m not yet fully convinced of this truth, but I’m convinced it’s what my work is:  that my greatest accomplishment will be to claim my belovedness and live it out.  It’s the work of hearing, receiving, and claiming the words spoken over Jesus as the Beloved One, as my own.  

Ministry has its trappings:  Am I good enough to care for others, is my care good enough, is my presence and care making a difference, is so-and-so better at it than me.  These voices of shame, pride, and fear choke out the voice of belovedness, causing disruption and ache.  

Fear, shame, and pride can take their toll, breaking the spirit and heart of a person.  It makes us focus on our own willpower, shortcomings, or lack.  These voices cripple a person to the point of depression, hopelessness, or resentment.  This year, I’ve had to confess these voices to God in hopes of touching the hem so that I may be rescued.  Sometimes all I can do is simply confess and cry out for mercy.  

The ache for significance, greatness, and accomplishments is real.  Because we are made in the image of God, we long for greatness.  But we don’t get to greatness without death/burial/resurrection.  We don’t get to greatness without first hearing and living out the words of belovedness, that God is already pleased with us, loving each part of us.  

Can I claim this truth to the point where it alters my life?  When I’m searching for guidance, discerning next steps in my life, the one work I can count on is claiming this deep truth:  I am beloved by and I belong to God.  I want and need to hear that in the core of being so that it shapes what I say and do, how I am and how others experience caring presence.  

Dear friends, I want you to hear this: what is said of Jesus is said of you. I know this can be hard to affirm. You are the beloved daughter or son of God. Can you believe it? Can you hear it not only in your head through your physical ears but in your gut, hear it so that your whole life can be turned around? Go to the scriptures and read: “I have loved you with an everlasting love. I have written your name in the palm of my hand from all eternity. I have molded you in the depths of the earth and knitted you in your mother’s womb. I love you. I embrace you. You are mine and I am yours and you belong to me.” You have to hear this, because if you can hear this divine voice speak to you from all eternity, then your life will become more and more the life of the beloved, because that is who you are.

Nouwen, Henri J. M.. Discernment

When I hear this voice of love, it is not only for me to revel in.  This voice of love and belonging compel me to share and bear witness.  It’s a cup that gets poured out in joy.  The movement will lead outward towards the blessed presence of others, proclaiming with them our belovedness.  This work will cause us to reflect the divine life of Jesus, the One who renews, restores, and redeems us all.  

Listening to the Pain

The dilemma with trying to write something every day is that I get so busy and don’t feel like I have anything to offer on some days.  

Some days that I’ve skipped, I’m struggling with my own personal demons and don’t want to think or write about that.  Maybe I should.  I tend to learn better when externally processing what is happening inside of me.  

I read recently that in the future, we’ll be able to alter our thoughts.  If we don’t like a thought, we’ll be able to pluck it out so to speak.  I’m not sure that will be healthy for everyone, especially someone like me.  In general, we (speaking as a middle class westerner) tend to avoid pain and discomfort.  But discomfort and pain have been great motivators in my life. In one example, they propelled me to leave a childhood denomination that was suffocating and crushing at best.

Pain can be a source of wisdom and insight towards changes that need to be made.  But it requires listening and attentiveness, something that I’m not always good at.  

Recently, I’ve endured a few moments of pain.  Some of the incidents have been wake-up calls to hunches I’ve been sensing.  Call them course corrections.  A mentor said not to waste the pain.  I’ll never forget that phrase.  Trying not to waste pain in my current dark night.  

Discovering Mission and Call for our Lives

I’m reading a few books on discernment, specifically because I’m at a place in my life and ministry where I’m asking “God, what is your mission and call for my life.”

I’ve turned to two resources:

“Discernment:  Reading the Signs of Daily life” by Henri Nouwen

“Discernment, God’s Will & Living Jesus:  Christian Discernment as a Way of Life”, by Larry Warner

Henri Nouwen has reminded me again and again about leaning into the heart of God and his love.  These are the most important as we discern.  The questions can get heavy.  The fears or insecurities of searching for answers can wear on us like heavy towels after a spill.  Refreshment comes as we lay the questions at His feet and ask God to help us know His heart and love.

Nouwen says,

What I tell others who ask these questions, and remind myself with surprising conviction, is this: “God has a very special role for you to fulfill. God wants you to stay close to his heart and to let him guide you. You will know what you are called to do when you have to know it.” New vocations are full of promise. Something very important is in store for us. There is a hidden treasure to discover.

Nouwen, Henri J. M.. Discernment (p. 99).

It’s that middle line that got me:  “you will know what you are called to do when you have to know it.”  Can I trust that God will reveal it when I need to know it?  That’s my prayer today.

As I think about discernment, call, and knowing the heart of Jesus, two thoughts immediately came to mind.

  1. I’m not someone with all the answers that is present to equip and empower people.  But I hope my words, actions, and life do equip and empower others.
  2. I used to think I needed to have all the answers to people’s questions, mostly so they’d like and admire me.  Now I’m okay to say “I don’t know”.  I have a few answers, but not all.

peace,

chaplain roy