Monday, June 30, 2014

Reflection on Psalm 13

Here's the second of my reflections on Mulberry UMC's summer sermon series on Psalms. This is a reflection on Psalm 13.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Morality As An Obstacle to Holiness

I’m reading Life and Holiness by Thomas Merton, so over the next few weeks you will likely find my blog posts exploring some of the ideas from that book.

Merton says that moral goodness is an infantile conception of holiness. He observes that we don’t appreciate the meaning and greatness of our vocation to Christian holiness because we don’t know how to value the divine redemption and infinite mercy of God, so we content ourselves with exterior signs of respectability.

An article I read recently in Weavings magazine referenced three phases of discipleship described by Father Ron Rolheiser. The most basic phase, Essential Discipleship, is defined as the struggle to get our lives together. Moral goodness would seem to fit into this lowest level of discipleship. If being good in the sight of God and others is my goal, I remain in the shallow end of the pool of discipleship.

The second and third phases of discipleship are Generative Discipleship, defined as the struggle to give our lives away and Radical Discipleship, the struggle to give our deaths away. Jesus gives us the ultimate picture of what giving one’s life and one’s death away looks like. Jesus’ path of downward mobility, giving up one’s rights and privilege for the sake of others, is the way of holiness. This is not an easy way, especially when we are the ones who have rights and privilege. Merton notes that the way of Christian holiness means embracing hardship and sacrifice for the love of Christ and in order to improve the condition of people on earth. He says, “We may not merely enjoy the good things of life ourselves, occasionally ‘purifying our intention’ to make sure that we are doing it all ‘for God.’. . . Our love of God and of man cannot be merely symbolic, it has to be completely real.”

Such a love means we cannot close our eyes to the injustice that surrounds us in our own communities and across the globe. We cannot excuse our indifference or inaction by saying someone “deserves” their lot in life, or that exploitation is okay because it’s the cultural norm or that the problem is too big for me to make a difference.

The amazing thing about the path of holiness is that in giving ourselves away we discover freedom that is not possible when we content ourselves with being morally good and respectable. When all we have is available to others, life becomes joyful.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Reflections on Psalms

During the summer, I am writing a series of reflections for our church's weekly newsletter on to accompany a summer sermon series on Psalms. Here's the link to my reflection on Psalm 8. I hope you will join this journey through some familiar and not so familiar Psalms!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Becoming What We Do

Cynicism, criticism and negativity—it seems to me that these are the predominant attitudes I’ve encountered in groups of adults recently. Even when these are not directed toward me, the aura of these can feel like a heavy coat on a hot day. The sad part of these attitudes is that they are contagious—one cynic in a group suddenly becomes a handful. One critical voice can suddenly be a dam breaking forth, causing every other voice in the group to take up the banner of criticalness.

When did it get to be so popular to be a naysayer? Do folks think it is a sign of maturity to point out every possible flaw in people, plans or organizations? This morning I was reading in the book of Numbers, about how the Israelites complained that the only food they had to eat was the manna that God gave them daily. All they had to do was go outside and gather it up off the ground. It was pure gift to them, a miraculous food supply! And yet, they whined and complained to Moses because it wasn’t what they wanted to eat.

It seems to me that gratitude, encouragement and hope are absent when cynicism, criticism and negativity are present. It’s hard to be grateful for the opportunities and people around us when we are making fun of them or criticizing them.

As we increasingly focus on the negative, it gets harder and harder to see the positive. Douglas V. Steere, Quaker author and professor, says we become what we do. So we can’t make a habit of cynicism without becoming cynics. We can’t regularly criticize without become critical people. Consistent negativity makes us into bitter people.

As a frazzled young mother, trying hard to meet the insurmountable expectations I felt I had to meet, I remember three older women in my church who embodied for me what I wanted to be as I aged. They were positive, encouraging and magnanimous. They smiled a lot. They never had the attitude that they had “done their time” but continued to show up, cheering our children on, and interacting with younger folks at church. To me, they were ageless. And did I mention they smiled a lot?

Now that I am the one with the gray hair and grown children, I realize that I have a choice to make. I can choose to be grateful, cheerful and hopeful or I can criticize, nitpick and complain. I can encourage others or I can tear down what others are trying to build. Knowing that my individual choices in every circumstance become who I am, I pray that I will choose what is hopeful and life-giving.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Going On A Lion Hunt

As I child, I remember doing a chant about a lion hunt. It began with this line: Going on a lion hunt . . . we’re not afraid.

Psalm 57 talks about lions, in fact, it talks about being surrounded by them:
My life is in the middle of a pack of lions.
                   I lie down among those who devour humans.  (Psalm 57:4a)

Last week, I blogged about the importance of knowing your boundaries and living within them. I mentioned that it isn’t easy to live within our boundaries because doing so goes against cultural expectations and others don’t always support our efforts.

It takes constant awareness to recognize the pack of lions that surround us as we seek to live within boundaries that keep us healthy and whole. The lions around us may have different names such as guilt, procrastination, criticalness, sloth and cynicism. They may roar at us through criticism or they may purr at us through guilt, but always they urge us toward unhealthy ways of living.

It took many years before I even recognized that I was being devoured by lions. Mired in stress and stretched by many good demands on my time, I thought this was just the way life was supposed to be. And when I tried to set the boundaries that I hungered for, I felt selfish and guilty. I began to recognize the lions when I learned to slow down and move at my natural pace.

It’s a process that continues to unfold. But one of the ways in which I am able to recognize lions is by paying attention to what causes me discomfort. Here’s an example: I do not do well when I have to rush. A few weeks ago, I had an early morning appointment. Instead of allowing myself the time I know I need to do what is important for me to begin my day well, I tried to get myself ready on my husband’s schedule. I was a wreck before I left the house. As I drove to the appointment, I recognized the lion of accommodating had devoured me that morning.  By reflecting on the experience and realizing its effect on my health, I resolved to respect my boundaries the next time I had an earlier than normal morning schedule.

A lion hunt is necessary if we are to live the lives God has planted in us to live. What is unhealthy for my spirit may not affect another. A lion for me may be a kitten for someone else and even if it is a lion for another, they have to recognize it for themselves. It takes discernment, attentiveness and the discipline to slow down and become aware of what causes me pain and also what brings me peace.

There will always be lions but as we connect more intimately with God, we find it easier to recognize and repel the lions that want to devour us. The peace of such intimacy lures us to honor our boundaries and keep the lions at bay.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Freedom of Boundaries

O God, you are my portion and my cup;
   it is you who uphold my lot.
My boundaries enclose a pleasant land;
   indeed, I have a goodly heritage.          
                                                Psalm 16:5-6

Culturally, we push back at the thought of boundaries. We don’t want to be limited, don’t want anyone telling us we cannot go somewhere or do something. We believe that freedom gives us the ability to live life on our terms.

But I’ve come to realize that living without boundaries is not healthy. Lack of boundaries was draining life from me. Limitless living, while it sounds exhilarating, is really exhausting. I am recognizing that I must be conscious of what is actually mine to do, and, perhaps more importantly, what is NOT mine to do. As I stay within my boundaries, I develop a greater recognition of what nourishes my soul. Drinking from the cool waters of my Divine Center, my True Self, I am so refreshed that I am grateful for the boundaries that allow me the freedom to say no to what is beyond my limits.

It’s a wonderful cycle of staying within my boundaries, which allows me to go deeper in the knowing of my soul, which helps me know my boundaries more clearly, which takes me even deeper into knowing myself (and thus knowing God). Instead of living in the so-called freedom of no limits, where I’m scattered and splattered over too many activities, I live in the true freedom to be who God created me to be—and no more.

Over lunch recently, several folks who had been to Haiti were talking about the boundary between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. They noted that even without a fence separating the two countries, the border was obvious because of the contrast in the actual land. The land of the Dominican Republic is lush and fertile, while Haiti’s land is barren of vegetation because prior farming practices stripped the land of its nutrients until the land itself was exhausted. This happens to us when we attempt to live beyond our limits.

Sadly, there are not many who will support us as we live within our boundaries. It is countercultural to our society’s message to “be all you can be.” But knowing our boundaries actually does allow us to be all that we can be—all that God has created us to be. If you desire to live a life that nourishes your spirit, find a friend or a spiritual director who will help you discover your boundaries and hold you accountable to them. Live in the pleasant land encircled by boundaries that draw you into greater intimacy with God.