Tuesday, July 26, 2016


Nothing of the old remains.
A life utterly new, not a rebirthing
but birth, a first birth—
like all first births, painful,
bloody, forced upheaval marks
its occurrence.
The caterpillar’s soul longed to fly.
What seemed an impossibility
instead is deep truth.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Threat of Silence

Many people I know have a difficult time practicing silence and stillness. They’ve bought into the myth of our Western culture that we are what we produce, that our worth is based on our busyness. Sadly, I see many in the Church who do not value silence, some who even laugh at it as if it is trivial, silly or nonessential to one’s spiritual growth. Yet I have seen some of these same people anxious, reactive and rootless, changing like a chameleon to please whatever audience offers them approval.

We tend to dismiss what we do not understand. It’s part of the reactive nature of our culture. One does not need to look far to see that this is true in this political season. But such dismissing happens within religious communities just as much as it does in politics.

Take a look at this pointed quote about silence from Joan Chittister:
Those who cringe from silence see it like the plague, fearful of its weight, cautious of its emptiness and the shock that comes with its revelations. The heaviness and emptiness we feared give way very quickly to turmoil and internal pressure for change. Silence enables us to hear the cacophony inside ourselves. Being alone with ourselves makes for a demanding presence We find very quickly that either we must change or we shall surely crumble under the weight of our own dissatisfaction with ourselves, under the awareness of what we could be but are not, under the impulse of what we want to be but have failed to become. Under the din is the raw material of the soul.

When we set out to practice silence, we soon discover that what is within us is disordered. We find that we begin to question things we had once accepted as absolute. When we get uncomfortable with the way that silence works like a spotlight into our soul, our reactive nature causes us to want to run away from the silence back into the comfortable environment of distraction and back into the moral codes we substitute for discipleship.

Without a regular practice of silence, one soon runs up against a wall that prohibits any further spiritual growth. Such a person is like a child who continues to play in a sandbox when just over the bluff is the beach and an entire ocean. We miss the immense joy of freedom because we choose to stay confined in a small, constrictive space.

The discipline of silence is essential to spiritual maturity and wisdom. The way forward is not easy and is best done with a wise spiritual guide, one who has been where you want to go. But the journey, though difficult, is the way to live a life of freedom, detachment and grace. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Unspoken Implications of What We Say

Recently I heard someone talk about a pleasant surprise she had experienced. She was making a large purchase and discovered when she was about to settle the transaction that a significant discount would be applied to her purchase. She said it was a blessing. I wanted to say “No, that is not a blessing. It is good fortune, but hardly a blessing.”

Some Christians attach the word “blessing” to capitalistic, materialistic, self-promoting ventures. I do believe we are blessed, but not when we get a bigger house, a better deal, or an award. We are fortunate to receive such things, but not blessed.

If we call these fortunate events a blessing, then what do we call it when our house is foreclosed, when the car repair costs more than we expected or when we are passed over for a promotion? Do we say that God is cursing us? That God does not find favor with us?

The other expression that carries the same weight is “It’s a God thing,” as if God really cares that we got a better interest rate than expected on the car loan for our new Lexus. God is not Tinkerbell, or Santa Claus, or a genie who grants our wishes. I think most of us know this, but we still debase who God is through our choice of words and the weight they carry.

I had the privilege of hearing someone talk about the way her faith had grown through the years. She used the word “blessing” but not to describe some fortunate turn of events. Instead she said that although her first husband had been an alcoholic, there was blessing in her circumstances because she learned to cling to God through the difficulty. Years later, she says that had she not had the struggle of that painful marriage, she would not have the faith she has today.

I’ve heard similar stories from cancer patients, from those who are financially destitute and from people who have suffered in other ways. I don’t think God causes these difficult events of life. I don’t believe the unexplainable and unexpected pain of life is a barometer of God’s favor.

What I know is that my faith has to be like the roots of a tree, firm and grounded in the heart of Christ. Seasons change, storms blow hard and break us open, sun shines and life takes fortunate turns. I’m no less blessed in the storms than I am in the sunshine.  It is not the presents of God that bless me, but the presence of God. To be content with who God is—that is a blessing for me and a blessing for God.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016


This morning at Vineville UMC in our morning prayer service using Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, a proverb quoted by John Perkins was included in the liturgy. You’ll see it in the photo. 

It’s a good challenge for anyone in a leadership role, and for a leader who claims to follow Christ, such leadership shows love and respect for the people one is leading.

This way of leading recognizes that patience and listening are important, and that offering one’s best work involves much preparation, consideration of existing conditions, and grace. It also involves an absence of ego, especially as to concern about who gets the credit or who leaves the legacy. In building on what already exists, in listening to and learning from others, a leader shows humility, respect for others and gratitude for the gifts and abilities of those who have given years of faithful service to a community.

I have seen leaders who lead with forbearance and humility and I’ve seen leaders who scorch the earth as they aggressively pursue their agendas. There are leaders who lead by demanding respect and leaders who gain the respect of others because they are not above doing whatever is needed, even the most menial task. Love, not accolades, motivates their service.

When I think about humble leadership, I think of how Paul exhorts the Philippians to model their lives after that of Jesus: who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6-8)

Particularly in the Church, we need leaders who lead with love and humility, who listen and learn. And all of us, leaders or not, are challenged to follow the example of Jesus, not claiming special privilege, but serving with love and grace.